Animal Facts

Harris's Hawk

Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus

Fast Fact:

Harris’s hawks practice polyandry. This means that a female will mate with two males, both of whom contribute food and help raise the young.

Harris's Hawk

This bird, along with the Harris’s sparrow, was named after nineteenth-century American naturalist Edward Harris. Fellow naturalist John James Audubon wanted to honor Harris for his friendship and support.

STATUS: The Harris’s hawk is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

HABITAT: Harris’s hawks live in semi-dry and arid country, mostly in Mexico, Central America, and the northern half of South America, but they have been known to range into southern Texas and the southwestern United States.

DIET: These hawks hunt small mammals, reptiles, some birds, and occasionally carrion.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: They are medium-sized hawks, measuring about 17½ inches to two feet long with a 45-inch wing span. Sexual dimorphism is pronounced, which means that the female is larger than the male. Dark brown feathers cover their bodies, while their shoulders, under-wing coverts, and thighs are a bright chestnut.  The base and the tip of Harris's hawks' tails are white.  Their bills are strongly hooked, and their talons are slender and curved.  Long, broad wings not only allow this bird to soar in search of prey, but they can also generate a lot of speed, and the hawk’s tail provides maneuverability when chasing prey through the bushes and mesquite. As with other birds of prey, their eyes are set forward to allow for binocular vision and depth perception.

Cooperative Hunters

As with all birds of prey, Harris’s hawks have extremely good eyesight and find food by using their great vision. Hunting can be done from the sky or perch. By hunting cooperatively, especially in arid areas, Harris’s hawks increase the chance of a successful hunt. One bird will typically flush the prey out while the others chase it, sometimes on the ground.  The hawk that catches the prey will not share until it is full, after which food will be taken back to the nest to feed the chicks. Harris’s hawks living in the savanna areas of South America often act more like typical raptors and hunt alone.

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