Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Harris' Hawk

(Parabuteo unicinctus)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in savanna, open woodland, and semi-desert habitats from the southwest United States down to Argentina.

Size: 18-23 inches long; 1.5-2.5 pounds; wingspan 40-45 inches

Wild Diet: Rabbits, rodents, lizards, snakes, squirrels, gophers, quail and other small birds; occasionally carrion

Predators: Great horned owls and coyotes

Lifespan: 11-14 years

Reproduction: Harris' hawks breed year-round. Their nests, built of twigs and weeds and lined with soft mosses and grass, are constructed in saguaros, palo verdes and mesquite trees. Females often have two male mates that share her nest cooperatively and assist in incubating eggs and feeding hatchlings. Chicks take flight about 40 days after hatching and leave the nest after 5-6 weeks.

Behavior: Harris' hawks are diurnal and non-migratory. They are highly social, often hunting cooperatively in groups of 2-5 and sharing food with family members. Each hunting group is led by a female. Groups may hunt by converging and pouncing on unsuspecting prey, flushing prey out of a hiding spot while other hawks wait nearby for the ambush, or herding prey toward each other until one hawk eventually catches it.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Harris hawks are protected from harassment and shooting by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Many farmers respect these hawks for their role in controlling rodent populations. Unfortunately, Harris hawks often converge on electrical transformers, which is costly to electrical companies and fatal to the hawks. In Arizona, they are also threatened by agricultural development. However, the species has a large range and its populations are large enough that it is not considered threatened.

Did you know?

  • Harris hawks are often seen perched on telephone poles. When perching sites are rare, they may perch in “stacks,” with three or more hawks perched atop each other on a cactus or tree.
  • Cooperative hunting strategies enable them to take down much larger prey than they could handle individually--including jackrabbits.