Classification and Range
Harris's hawks are in the family Accipitridae, which includes kites, eagles, accipiters (forest hawks), buteos (soaring hawks) and harriers. Harris's hawks are considered buteos. Buteos are the most diverse group of diurnal (day active) raptors in North America with the greatest variety of habitats and prey.
Harris's hawks range in the United States primarily from southern Arizona through New Mexico to central Texas. They have also been reported in California, Nevada, Utah and Oklahoma. Harris's hawks are also found from Central and South America to Chile and northern Patagonia.
Harris's hawks reside in semi-open habitats.
With a wingspan of approximately 3.5 feet (1 m), Harris's hawks are considered medium-sized hawks. They weigh between 1.25 to 2.5 pounds (.6-1.1 kg) with the males smaller than females. Their entire head and most of their body is dark brown with chestnut wing patches and a white rump patch and tail tip.
In the wild: Fast-flying hunters, they swoop from a perch to catch desert rodents, reptiles and birds during the summer. During winter months they focus on the cooperative hunting of rabbits.
At the zoo: Quail, mice and rats.
Pairing is variable, but many times a female will mate with two males. Often several other birds will assist with the hunting and nesting efforts. The average breeding territory size is 1 to 2 square miles (2.6-5.2 km). A nest of twigs, roots, leaves, grasses and/or bark is built in a tree or on top of a tall yucca or cactus. Clutch size is two to four white eggs. The female incubates the eggs for 33-36 days. The primary male, and often the secondary male, are allowed to feed the nestlings along with the alpha female. After 43-49 days, young fledge and fly for the first time.
Harris's hawks hunt in early morning and evening hours. Using their excellent eyesight, they scan for prey from a high perch such as a tree or utility pole, or while soaring high above the terrain. These hawks are not a migratory species and usually remain in the same area year round.
Wolves with Feathers
Like wolves, Harris's hawks show a strong pattern of cooperative behavior during the hunt. This behavior is rare among hawks. Often three to five family members can be seen hunting together and sharing the kill. The attack is methodical. Once prey is located, each hawk takes its turn chasing it. Over a period of time, the unrested prey begins to wear down. If the prey hides in underbrush, the pursuing hawks fly to the ground and circle its location. One or two hawks then go into the brush and flush the prey from its hiding place. The chase resumes until the prey, totally exhausted, is captured and killed.
Working together in this way enables the group to catch larger prey than one hawk could catch alone. In a show of cooperation, it has been sometimes observed that adults wait to eat until the juveniles have had their fill.
Location at the Zoo
A Harris's hawk can be seen at the zoo's Raptor Center. Other birds that can be viewed at the Raptor Center include the bald eagle, the gyrfalcon, turkey vulture as well as spectacled and barred owls. Additionally, owls can be seen in the zoo's Temperate Forest bioclimatic zone; a great gray or spotted owl adjacent to Bug World and a barn owl at the Family Farm. The zoo's Eagle Release Program has rehabilitated and released back into the wild more than 80 eagles, plus other raptor species.
Many raptor species are in danger. Human-caused changes in land use are escalating, and this affects the habitats and migratory corridors required by some raptors for survival. Vast forests are removed for timber and other paper products, and industrial emissions pollute water and air resources. Critical shoreline and riparian zone habitats are rapidly converted by expanding human communities and agricultural needs. Shooting and trapping are also lowering raptor numbers. It's only a matter of time until more raptor species may face extinction, unless we take measures to protect their habitats.
Humans need raptors. Here are only a few of the benefits raptors provide:
- Raptors help keep animal populations in balance.
- Raptors consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.
- As top predators of their food chain, raptors are an indicator species of the overall health of the ecosystem in which they live.
- Of equal importance, witnessing wild raptors enriches each of our lives. Imagine what life would be like if we could no longer hear the haunting evening call of the owl.
How You Can Help!
Efforts to save threatened and endangered raptors require cooperation and support at international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Recycle forest products. Eliminate or reduce pesticide use. Support breeding programs for endangered birds of prey at zoos and other animal care organizations. Let your elected representatives know your views about the conservation of migratory birds and their wild habitats.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Discover more about raptors by contacting the Peregrine Fund at their Web site www.peregrinefund.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Clark, William S., and Brian K. Wheeler. 1987. A Field Guide to Hawks –— North America. Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA. 198 p.
Weidensaul, Scott. 1996. Raptors: The Birds of Prey. Lyons and Burford, Publishers, New York, NY. 382 p.
Burnie, David. 1988. Bird (Eyewitness Books). Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY. 64 p.
Zoobooks. 1986. Birds of Prey. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 16 p.