Photo: Erick Houli/Flickr Creative Commons

Zone-tailed Hawk

Buteo albonotatus

Seen soaring at a distance over rugged country in the southwest, the Zone-tail looks remarkably like a Turkey Vulture. It may be overlooked even by birders who are searching for it. This close resemblance may fool other creatures as well: Small animals in the west learn to ignore the abundant and harmless Turkey Vultures, and they may fail to notice an approaching Zone-tailed Hawk until it is too late.
Conservation status Uncommon and local, and has disappeared from some former nesting areas. Loss of nesting sites, such as tall cottonwoods along streams, may be a factor in declines.
Family Hawks and Eagles
Habitat River woodlands, desert mountains, canyons. Mostly forages over open country, such as grassland, desert, chaparral, or areas with scattered trees. Seems to favor hilly or mountainous terrain, and may soar on updrafts from cliffs. Nests in very large trees, often in isolated groves along rivers, in steep canyons, or near cliffs.
Seen soaring at a distance over rugged country in the southwest, the Zone-tail looks remarkably like a Turkey Vulture. It may be overlooked even by birders who are searching for it. This close resemblance may fool other creatures as well: Small animals in the west learn to ignore the abundant and harmless Turkey Vultures, and they may fail to notice an approaching Zone-tailed Hawk until it is too late.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

In hunting, it soars and circles like a vulture, and thus may be ignored by smaller animals below. When it spots prey, it continues to circle as before, but gradually moves off to side and lower; as soon as it is screened from the prey animal by some kind of cover, the hawk turns and makes a direct, powerful attack, taking the prey by surprise. Sometimes makes steeper direct dives without this kind of stealthy approach.


Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3. White (or pale bluish-white when freshly laid), sometimes with a few spots of tan or gray. Incubation is probably by the female only, about 35 days. Young: Probably the female stays with the young during the first two weeks after they hatch, while the male brings food and female gives it to the young; later, both sexes hunt. Young are able to fly in about 6-7 weeks.


Young

Probably the female stays with the young during the first two weeks after they hatch, while the male brings food and female gives it to the young; later, both sexes hunt. Young are able to fly in about 6-7 weeks.

Diet

Mostly lizards, mammals, birds. Diet varies with location. In some areas, may specialize on certain large lizards, such as spiny lizards or collared lizards. In other areas, birds are main items in diet. Also eats many small mammals, plus some frogs, snakes, insects, centipedes.


Nesting

In breeding season, pairs may circle high in air, calling. In another display, bird flaps to high elevation while calling and then dives steeply, almost to ground. Nest site is typically in tall tree such as cottonwood or pine, along river or near cliffs; tree is often somewhat isolated and is usually among the largest in the vicinity. Nest is usually more than 30' above ground, up to 100' or higher. Sometimes nests on cliff ledges. Nest is a bulky platform of sticks, lined with green leafy twigs. Same nest site may be used for many years.

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

Migration

Most withdraw from United States in winter, although a few are seen in southern Texas at that season.

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Migration

Most withdraw from United States in winter, although a few are seen in southern Texas at that season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud scream falling in pitch at the end.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Zone-tailed Hawk

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Zone-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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