Harris’s Hawk

Parabuteo unicinctus
Range Map

Formerly known as the Bay-Winged Hawk and as the Dusky Hawk, this wide-ranging bird lives north into the desert southwest (mostly south Arizona and southern Texas) and south to Chile and Argentina. One thing that makes the Harris’s Hawk special is that it has a social structure unlike any other raptor. These birds hunt as a group. One individual will pursue prey, usually small mammals, even running on the ground to chase the victim through brushy thickets, while its partners keep a watch from above. Should the prey elude the ground pursuit and flush into the open, other members of the team will continue the chase. These tag-team efforts make it one of the most successful predators on the planet.

The social nature of these birds includes nesting and rearing the young. One female in the group does all the nest duties while the rest of the members bring food to the nest. This strategy is so successful, some families can raise two or three sets of babies in a year. Despite this success, populations are in a slight decline, losing about 2% a year across North America, mainly because of habitat loss.

Today’s science recognises two subspecies of Harris’s Hawk:

  • P. u. harrisi lives in North America, Mexico, and northern Central America.
  • P. u. unicinctus lives in South America.

In early December 2020, I had the remarkable experience of participating in a falconry demonstration in New Mexico with a pair of Harris’s Hawks in the Rio Grande Valley. The younger of the two birds (both female) seemed to enjoy perching atop my head. I was thankful for the cap I was wearing and the protection it provided from the talons on my skull.

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