Conservation status Very uncommon in Florida (perhaps fewer than 500), but numbers probably stable. May be increasing in Mexico, and now showing up more often in the southwestern U.S.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat Pines, wood edges, cypress swamps, mangroves. Main feature of habitat in Florida is presence of open country next to woodland. Trees involved may be pines, cypress, mangroves, or mixed swamp forest, but must have large expanses of open prairie, farmland, or marsh nearby. In tropics, found in similarly semi-open country, in both lowlands and mountains.
This rather small tropical hawk enters our area only in Florida. Even there it is uncommon, with widely scattered pairs nesting along the edges of woods in the central part of the state. It seldom perches in the open; when hunting, it regularly soars very high, where it may go unnoticed by the observer on the ground. Unlike most of the Buteo hawks, the Short-tail feeds mostly on small birds, dropping from the sky to take them by surprise.

Feeding Behavior

Searches for prey mainly in flight, rarely from a perch. Often appears to hang motionless in the air, or glides very slowly into the wind. Dives steeply after prey is spotted. Mostly attempts to catch birds perched in tops of trees or shrubs.


2, sometimes 1-3. White to pale bluish white, sometimes with brown spots. Incubation is apparently only by female, about 34 days. Male brings food to female during incubation period. Young: Female remains with young most of the time while they are small; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.


Female remains with young most of the time while they are small; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.


Mostly small birds. In Florida, eats birds ranging in size from small songbirds up to Mourning Dove and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Occasional items in diet (in Florida and elsewhere) include snakes, lizards, tree frogs, rodents, insects.


Breeding behavior not well known; has been studied mostly in Florida, not much in wide tropical range. In spring, male displays over nesting territory with aerial acrobatics, alternately climbing and swooping, flying in high circles, diving headfirst. Nest site is in tree, especially pine or cypress, usually higher than 25' and often near top of tree but under canopy of foliage. Nest is bulky platform of sticks, twigs, Spanish moss, often with leafy green branches added for lining. Male brings most material, female builds nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Pairs nesting in southern Florida may be permanent residents, but those from northern Florida winter in southern part of peninsula. Migration is late in fall, early in spring. Birds from Mexico have very rarely strayed north to Texas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A high-pitched squeal, kleeeea, dropping in pitch at end; usually silent away from nest.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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