Harris’ Hawk

October 18th, 2011

Harris’s Hawk

Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus

Alternate Names: Desert Hawk, Bay-Winged Hawk, Dusky Hawk

Size: Medium sized hawk. P. u. superior is the largest of the three subspecies.

Weight: 565-2000 g

Wings and tail: Long wings and long tail.

Wingspan: Colours: P. u. harrisi and P. u. unicinctus: Sooty brown with chest-nut shoulders, under-wing coverts and thighs. P. u. superior: darker.

Voice: ‘Eechip’ (2 sec.) when begging, ‘eerrp’ (1-3 sec.) when an adult expects prey to be transferred’, ‘eee-eee-eee-eee’ (3 sec.) when disturbed. Sometimes croaks and caws almost like a crow.

Migratory Type:  non-migratory


Range: P. u. harrisi: Southern United States; Louisiana to Kansas Southern Texas, Mexico, Central America to Ecuador and Peru. P. u. unicinctus: and south-eastern California to Chile, Central Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela and Brazil. P. u. superior: South-eastern California, south-western Arizona, south-western Mexico

Population: Declining in North America due to encroachment of man on their natural habitat.

Habitat: Lowland areas, sparse woodland and semi-desert. Prefers a moderate amount of taller vegetation.

Breeding: Polyandry is common among Harris’ hawks, and mostly so in the western range. The third member of the family acts as a ‘nest-helper’, by feeding the young and supplying prey to the nest. Occasionally the ‘nest-helper’ is a juvenile female from an earlier clutch. The pairs/families maintain individual breeding territories. Nests are usually found in low-lying and isolated woodland. They are placed in cactus, spanish bayonet, mesquite, and other trees. Nests are made of sticks, twigs, weeds lined with green mesquite, leaves, bark, grass and moss. Breeding season is from february to october, with most eggs laid in early march. Mating starst about three weeks before egg-laying. Two to four eggs are laid. The incubation period is 33-36 days. The nestlings fledge at about 40 days of age. Double clutching is occasionally observed.

Food: Small and medium sized mammals, and medium sized birds. Examples include jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, lizards, snakes, mice, ground-squirrels, crows, starlings, and sparrows. The occasional large insect serves as meal also.

Hunting Technique

A quick descending glide from a high perch or a soaring position, or flying horizontally from the perch and making a steep downward plunge at the quarry. If successful, the hawk remains on the ground with the quarry, or carries it to a nearby elevated perch to feed. If unsuccessful, the hawk might take perch near the last sighting of the prey, and await its reappearance or till it tires from waiting and flies of to a higher perch. If the quarry is flushed, the hawk chases it with quick wingbeats and might eventually stoop at it before it reaches cover again. If it does, the hawk swoops vertically upwards a couple of meters, sometimes make a tight circle and then it descends on the quarry if it reappears. Hovering above prey or its cover is never observed. Harris’ hawks often hunt in groups of 3-6 hawks. They fly from one perch to a neighboring perch, which, if not vacant, becomes vacated when an approaching hawk comes near. This move-searching hunting tactic eventually ends up with the intire group pursuing quarry which is engaged in a series of stoops or by a dominant hawk pursuing and capturing quarry and the rest of the group following to assist if necessary.

Use in Falconry

The Harris’ hawk has become the most popular hawk in North American Falconry  in the 21st century. It is a most versatile and adaptable hawk. It will perform in all sorts of country-side, in all sorts of weather, fly at all sorts of quarry and do it in all sorts of ways. It is the easiest of all hawks in falconry to train and handle. Due to it’s social behaviour, the Harris’ hawk tames quickly and develops an affection for it’s handler. They are quick learners, quite intelligent and will improve with age. They are very consistent and will take quite large quarry: rabbits, hares and ducks. The Harris’ hawk is easy to train to fly with other Harris’ hawks in casts or even groups. Many experienced falconers do not recommend Harris’es to beginners. They are considered too easy to train, and the beginner is not believed to learn enough about training a hawk from training a Harris’ hawk. Never the less, falconry owes a large part of its growing popularity in the last 20-30 years, to the Harris hawk, as it has become the most common hawk in western falconry.


Bibiliography and Credits:

*This text and information is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License from Wikipedia. All credit and attribution goes to the original authors.

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