Harris’s Hawk

Parabuteo unicinctus

Harris’ hawks are very social.

Harris’s hawks are extremely social birds and typically live and hunt in social groups. This cooperative hunting behavior, unusual for raptors, has earned them the nickname “Wolves of the Sky.” Their hunting style works much like that of mammals, where some members of the group flush out the prey and chase it towards the other hunters in the group.

When perches are few, Harris’s hawks have been observed “stacking.” If you have ever seen a cheerleading stunt called the “pyramid,” you will get the idea. Unique only to Harris’s hawks, stacking sounds exactly like what it is—they stand on each other’s backs. Sometimes as many as three or four birds will be stacked neatly one on top of the other.

Harris’s hawk have excellent vision.

Harris’s hawks have excellent vision, possibly eight times greater than human vision. Hawk eyes are very large and move only very little. As with most birds, the eyes are supported by a bony scleral ring. In hawks and owls, the scleral ring is stout and firmly anchored to the eye’s orbit. The stouter the ring and the more firmly anchored, the less the eyes can move. The Harris’s hawk, like many hawks, can be seen to turn its head to direct the vision, just as owls do.

A female Harris’s hawk has more than one mate.

Uniquely, Harris’s hawks are polyandrous, meaning one female has more than one mate. Often, females will form a trio with two males and she and her mates all care for the young. Both males nest with the female, helping to feed the setting female and the chicks. Nests are built in cacti or trees, eight to 30 feet above ground and are made of sticks, twigs, mesquite, and yucca.

Animal Facts

  • Lifespan Harris's hawks live approximately 10 to 12 years in the wild, and 20 to 25 years under human care.
  • Habitat The Harris's hawk lives in semi-arid areas of Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, with its range extending into Mexico, Central, and South America.
  • Diet Harris's hawks prey on small mammals, other birds, reptiles and insects. Carrion is eaten, if available. At the Zoo, Harris's hawks eat Birds of Prey diet and whole animals like mice and chicks.
  • Size They are between 17 and 24 inches long, with a wingspan of about 45 inches.
  • Conservation Status Low Concern

Did You Know?

The Harris’ hawk was named after Edward Harris, a friend of John J. Audubon.