Learn About Harris Hawk

The Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) is a medium-large bird of prey which breeds from the southwestern USA south to Chile and central Argentina.

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. The average weight for males is about 710g, while the female average is 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 a tip of the tail, long, yellow legs and a yellow beak.

The bird lives in sparse woodland and semi-desert, as well as marshes (with some trees) in some parts of its range, including mangrove swamps. Harris’s Hawks are permanent residents and do not migrate.

The Harris Hawk is famous for its remarkable behavior of hunting cooperatively in “packs”, consisting of family groups of two to six. Unusual as most raptors are solitary hunters.

The Harris Hawk also displays a unique behavior by stacking themselves on each other’s backs…probably to get greater sight lines, but that theory is not conclusive.

The diet consists 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 and roadrunners.

They nest in small trees, shrubby growth, or cacti. The nests are often compact, made of sticks, plant roots, and stems, and are often lined with leaves, moss, bark and plant roots. The female does most of the incubation. The eggs hatch in 31 to 36 days. The wild Harris’s Hawk population is declining due to habitat loss.

Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Parabuteo
  • Ridgway, 1874
  • Species: P. unicinctus

References: *BirdLife International (2004). Parabuteo unicinctus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 10 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern *Jobling, James A. (1991). ‘A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names’. *Audubon *Udvardy, Miklos D. F. (2001). ‘National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds “Western Region”‘. *Dunning, John B. Jr. (1993). ‘CRC Handboook of Avian Masses’. *National Geographic Society (1983). ‘Birds of North America’. *Sibley, David Allen (2000). ‘National Audobon Society The Sibley Guide to Birds’. *Rappole, John H. (2000). ‘Birds of the Southwest’. *Bednarz, J. C. (1988). “Harris’s Hawk subspecies: is superior larger or different than harrisi?”. in Proceedings of the southwest raptor management symposium and workshop’: 294-300. *Bednarz, James C. (1995). “Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)”. *Olmos Fábio & Robson Silva e Silva (2003) Guará-Ambiente, Flora e Fauna dos Manguezais de Santos-Cubatão Empresa das Artes, *Kaufmann, Kenn (1996). ‘Lives of North American Birds’. *Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J. O. (1997). ‘Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds’. *Ligon, J. David. (1999). ‘The Evolution of Avian Breeding Systems’. *Baicich, Paul J. and Harrison, Colin J. O. (1997). ‘Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds’. *Cook, William E. (1997). ‘Avian Desert Predators’. *Discoll, James T.. “Harris’s Hawk”. Retrieved on 2007-11-19. * Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb (1995) A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America