Harris's Hawk

Harris's Hawks, Harris' Hawks, or Bay-winged Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) are found in arid desert scrub and in scrubby open areas from the southwestern United States southward down to Chile and Argentina in South America. Harris's Hawks are common here in Tucson, Arizona, and the ones shown here are members of a family group living near the eastern end of Broadway Boulevard. We often see these large hawks perched on power poles or Saguaros when we walk our dogs in this area.

Harris's Hawk, Harris' Hawk, or Bay-winged Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Harris's Hawks are large and mostly sooty dark brown in color with chestnut-colored shoulders, thighs, and wing linings, white surrounding the base of the tail, a white-tipped black tail, dark eyes, yellow skin at the base of the beak, and yellow legs. The sexes look similar, but the females are larger.

Harris's Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) flapping its wings

Immature Harris's Hawks are browner in color with white streaking, scaling, and banding below.

Immature Harris's Hawk, Harris' Hawk, or Bay-winged Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Harris's Hawks usually live in small groups, and it is quite common to see more than one of them together. These social hawks have a rather unusual, communal lifestyle, especially here in the Sonoran Desert, and during the breeding season, they may be polyandrous (two males with one female) and cooperative breeders (non-breeding adult offspring helping out with the young).

Harris's Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Harris's Hawks feed on a variety of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and large insects, but rabbits like the Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) are some of their favorite prey. As with breeding, hunting is also a cooperative effort for Harris's Hawks. Groups of these social hawks will hunt together rather like a pack of wolves, with some members of the group scouting ahead for prey and others flushing prey out of the bushes for the others to capture. Being pursued by one large hawk is a frightening thing for a prey animal like a rabbit, but being pursued by up to six or seven large hawks at one time must be something like a rabbit's worst nightmare. Not surprisingly, the Harris's Hawks that hunt in groups here in the Sonoran Desert have a higher success rate.

Harris's Hawks will unequally share captured prey with each other according to the dominance hierarchies within the group. The alpha (breeding) female is dominant over all other group members, and as the leader, she will eat first. The non-breeding adult offspring will eat last.