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GALLERIES > BIRDS > FALCONIFORMES > ACCIPITRIDAE > HARRIS'S HAWK [Parabuteo unicinctus]    [plot on map]

Harris Hawk Photo @
Location: Cochise, AZ
GPS: 32.1N, -109.9W, elev=4,138' MAP
Date: August 24, 2008
ID : 7C2V8017 [3888 x 2592]

Harris Hawk Image @
Location: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
GPS: 22.9N, -109.9W, elev=16' MAP
Date: September 2, 2007
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

bird photography

Harris Hawk Picture @
Location: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
GPS: 22.9N, -109.9W, elev=16' MAP
Date: September 2, 2007
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

bird photography


The Harris's Hawk or Harris Hawk, formerly known as the Bay-winged Hawk or Dusky Hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey which breeds from the southwestern USA south to Chile and central Argentina.

Its scientific name is Parabuteo unicinctus. It is the only member of the genus Parabuteo. The name is derived from the Greek para, meaning beside or near, and the Latin buteo, referring to a kind of hawk; uni meaning once; and cinctus meaning girdled , referring to the white band at the base of the tail.

John James Audubon gave this bird its English name in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter, and friend Edward Harris.

Individuals range in length from 46 to 76 cm and generally have a wingspan of 1.1m. In the United States, the average weight for males is about 710g, while the females average out to about 1020g. This is a sexual dimorphism of about 40%, with the female being larger than the male. They have dark brown plumage with chestnut shoulders, wing linings, and thighs, white on the base an tip of the tail, long, yellow legs and a yellow cere. The vocalizations of the Harris's hawk are very harsh sounds.

The juveniles are similar to the adults but are more streaked, and when in flight the undersides of the wings are buff-colored with brown streaking.

There are three subspecies of Harris's Hawks:

P. u. superior: found in Baja California, Arizona, Sonora, and Sinaloa. P. u. superior was believed to have longer tails and wings, and was more blackish in color than P. u. harrisi. However, the sample size of the original study was quite small with only five males and six females. Later research has concluded that there is not as strong a physical difference as was originally assumed. Other ecological differences, such as latitudinal cline were also brought up as arguments against the validity of the subspecies segmentation.
P. u. harrisi: found in Texas, eastern Mexico, and much of Central America.
P. u. unicinctus: found exclusively in South America. It is smaller than the North American subspecies. The habitat of Harris's Hawk is sparse woodland and semi-desert, as well as marshes (with some trees) in some parts of its range (Howell and Webb 1995), including mangrove swamps, as in parts of its South American range (Olmos & Silva e Silva, 2003)

The diet of the Harris's hawk consists of a wide variety of small creatures including birds, lizards, mammals, and large insects. Because it will hunt in groups, the Harris's hawk can also take down larger prey, such as jackrabbits.

They nest in small trees, shrubby growth, or cacti. The nests are often compact and can be made of sticks, plant roots, and stems, and are often lined with leaves, moss, bark and plant roots. They are built mainly by the female. There are usually two to four white to blueish white eggs sometimes with a speckling of pale brown or gray. The Nestlings start out light buff, but in five to six days turn a rich brown.

Very often, there will be three hawks attending one nest: two males and one female. Whether or not this is polyandry is debated, as it may be confused with backstanding. The female does most of the incubation. The eggs hatch in 31 to 36 days. The young begin to explore outside the nest at 38 days, and fledge, or start to fly, at 45 to 50 days. The female is sometimes bred two or three times in a year. Young may stay with their parents for up to three years, helping to raise later broods.

The Harris's hawk is quite unusual in the world of raptors because, while most raptors are solitary, only coming together for breeding and migration, Harris's hawks will hunt in cooperative groups of two to six. This is an adaptation to the desert climate they live in. The Harris's hawks employ various hunting techniques. One is a "leapfrog" technique in which a small group flies ahead, scouts, then the other one flies ahead, and scouts, and this continues until prey is bagged and shared. Another is when all the hawks spread around the prey and one individual flushes it.

Harris's Hawks are permanent residents. They do not migrate.

The wild Harris's hawk population is declining due to habitat loss; however, under some circumstances, Harris's hawks have been known to move into developed areas.

Their social behavior gives Harris's Hawks an easygoing nature that makes them desirable captive birds. Since about 1980, Harris's Hawks have been increasingly used in falconry and are now the most popular hawks in the West (outside of Asia) for that purpose, as they are the easiest to train and the most affectionate.

Hunting with Harris's Hawks often works best with two or more birds. (In contrast most other raptors cannot be flown together, as they will attack each other.) When prey is flushed, the birds can work together to corner the animal compensating for their relatively low acceleration and speed. Harris's Hawks will happily treat the falconer as a hunting partner, and will follow from tree to tree and perch until the falconer flushes a rabbit from the bushes.

In the United States desert southwest, Harris's hawks sometimes engage in a behavior called 'stacking'. Two or three birds may perch one atop the other. Researchers note that when this occurs, the more dominant bird is actually the one on the bottom of the stack. The social dynamics are that when a low-status bird is approached by a higher status bird, the low-status bird will abandon a perch. However, a higher status bird will retain its perch, and end up with one or two lower status birds atop it.

The Harris's Hawk can, if trained well, take a wide range of prey, being able to almost match the Goshawk. They can easily catch and kill a rabbit, a hare or even a pheasant, but its natural prey are small rodents and reptiles.

Aside from falconry, Harris's Hawk is now widely used in European towns to scare pigeons and starlings. Many airports employ falconers to scare these birds away from the land around runways and reduce the risk of birdstrikes on planes. A Harris Hawk, for example, was hired in the summer of 2007 to keep seagulls away from the pitch at BMO Field, home of Toronto FC. (There have been reports of escaped Harris Hawks breeding in the wild in England.)

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harris_hawk's Range Map Click here to see the Harris's Hawk's range map!
Listen to the Harris's Hawk Song:

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