Bird GuideHawks and EaglesWhite-tailed Hawk

At a Glance

A hawk of tropical grasslands and savannahs, the White-tail is fairly common in places on the coastal prairie of Texas. It is a rather bulky bird, with noticeably broad wings and short tail, and it soars with the wings held in a shallow 'V.' Although it seems particular in its choice of habitat, it is a generalized feeder, preying on a wide variety of small animals.
Hawk-like Birds, Hawks and Eagles
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Direct Flight, Soaring

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Not truly migratory, but may move to different areas for winter; for example, some winter on Padre Island, Texas, where they no longer nest.


21-23" (53-58 cm). W. 4' (1.2 m). Bulky, with very short tail, broad wings that taper to a point. Soars with wings held up in shallow V. Adult shows striking pattern, especially in flight, when white tail (with black band) and white rump may be visible at great distance. Also note rusty shoulders, smooth gray back, contrasting white wing-linings. Juvenile very dark at first, usually with whitish patches on face and chest; tail pale gray.
About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed
Tail Shape
Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A musical ke-ke-ke-ke-ke or cutta-cutta-cutta-cutta.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Scream, Whistle


Dry grassland, coastal prairies. In Texas, found mostly on open grassland with scattered shrubs or low trees, such as mesquite, hackberry, and oak. Mostly on coastal prairie, also inland in ranch country. Generally not found where land is farmed or heavily grazed.



2, sometimes 3, rarely 1 or 4. White, sometimes lightly spotted with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, 29-32 days.


Apparently both parents bring food to young in nest, but roles of sexes in feeding young not well known. Young are able to fly at about 46-55 days after hatching; may remain with parents and be fed by them for up to 7 months or even longer.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts by watching for prey either from a perch or while flying; dives steeply when prey is spotted. Sometimes catches flying insects in the air. Is attracted to grass fires, where it will catch creatures trying to escape the flames.


Quite varied. Known to eat rats, mice, pocket gophers, rabbits, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, crayfish, crabs, insects. Sometimes feeds on carrion.


Breeding behavior not thoroughly studied. In one courtship display, both birds land on ground, male goes through act of pulling at grass blades and weeds. Nest site in Texas is usually on top of low tree or shrub, averaging about 10' above ground; sometimes as low as 3', sometimes higher, rarely up to 40'. Nest (apparently built by both sexes) is a bulky platform of sticks, twigs, grasses, weeds. Nest may be used more than once.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Declined in Texas from 1950s to 1970s, possibly as a result of pesticides. Numbers probably now stable in Texas. May be declining in Mexico, probably because of overgrazing of habitat.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the White-tailed Hawk. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the White-tailed Hawk

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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