Harris hawk

Parabuteo unicinctus

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. It prefers scrub containing mesquite, cacti and yucca. Like all raptors, it is a carnivore.

Hawk lingo

  • Buteo: a genus of hawk characterized by broad wings and soaring behavior
  • Accipiter: a genus of hawk characterized by short wings and a long tail
  • Harris's hawks are of the genus Parabuteo, meaning "similar to a buteo." They are medium-sized, heavy-set birds with broad wings like a buteo and a narrow tail like an accipiter.

Did you know?

  • Harris's hawks are extremely social birds and typically live and hunt in social groups. This lifestyle, unusual for raptors, has earned them the nickname "Wolves of the Sky."
  • Harris's hawks exhibit an unusual behavior called "stacking." A single Harris's hawk will perch on a cactus, and 2 to 3 additional birds will stand atop his back. With a shortage of tall trees in their habitat, this behavior helps them to better see prey and predators.
  • The Harris's hawk was named after Edward Harris, a friend of John J. Audubon.

Harris's hawk behavior and facts

  • Harris's hawks combine hunting and flight characteristics of both buteos and accipiters. Like an accipiter, it may perch in a low tree; dashing through thorny bushes in search of prey. Conversely, in the early morning, it may circle like a buteo on thermals high above. It usually perches low, on the ground or in a cactus.
  • Harris's hawks prey on rabbits, small mammals, quail, other birds, reptiles and insects. Carrion is eaten, if available.
  • At adulthood, sexes look alike. Legs and feet are orangish-yellow, with the tarsi feathered halfway. Talons are long and powerful. The tail is black with a white base and a white band near the end. Shoulders and thighs are chestnut and the rest of the bird is dark.
  • Juveniles are lighter in color with a white underwing and some chestnut coloring throughout. The breast and thighs are streaked with a brownish color. Shoulders are rusty. The tail is sometimes narrowly barred, and is white-tipped, with a white patch at its base. The face and throat are white streaked.
  • Their most common calls are an extended, harsh call or a low, growling sound.

From birth to death

  • Females are polyandrous: they may have more than one mate. Often, birds form a trio with two males breeding with one female. The female and her mates all care for the young.
  • As with many raptors, aerial displays are an important part of Harris's hawk courtship. Males will dive vertically for several hundred feet, and then land near or on the back of the female.
  • Nests are built in cacti or trees, 8 to 30 feet aboveground. Nests are made of sticks, twigs, mesquite and yucca.
  • The breeding season is long, from February to June; two or three broods can be hatched.
  • A clutch of two to four eggs are laid.
  • Incubation: 35 days. Both males and females incubate the eggs.
  • Other birds, from recently fledged juveniles to adults, often assist in raising the young.
  • Fledging: 40-45 days
  • The young remain the nest area two to three months after hatching.
  • Lifespan: 10 to 12 years in the wild; 20 to 25 years in captivity.

Vital statistics

  • Females: 1.4 to 2.6 pounds with a 40- to 48-inch wingspan
  • Males: 1.4 to 2.0 pounds with a 38- to 45-inch wingspan
  • Length: both sexes: 18 to 24 inches


Harris's hawks are rare in parts of their range. Populations had decreased dramatically in California after development projects resulted in severe habitat loss. By the 1950s they were nearly extirpated from California. In 1979, the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group began to reintroduce Harris's hawks into the state. Their only real predators are coyotes and bobcats that pull down nests they can reach.

Harris's hawks, the Oregon Zoo and you

Sonora is a female who is part of the zoo's Wild Life Live! shows. She arrived at the zoo soon after hatching in 1991, and can be seen free-flying in the summer shows on the zoo's concert lawn.