Species group: Birds of Prey
Other common names: Harris Hawk; Bay-winged Hawk
Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus
Known to birders and ornithologists as the wolf of the air, the Harris's Hawk is an unusual species of hawk that forms cooperative packs to hunt. A bird unknown to traditional falconry, this species was cautiously tested by North American falconers in the 1960s. When they discovered the true value of these naturally intelligent and cooperative birds, breeders began to produce them in numbers. Today, it's probably the most commonly encountered working and falconry hawk found in North America, Europe, and perhaps beyond.
The Harris's Hawk is a New World bird of arid regions ranging from Texas and the American Southwest through Mexico, Central America, and well into South America, as far south as Chile and Argentina. Apparently, early observers noticed flocks sitting on prey and classed this species as a carrion-eater like the New World vultures frequently seen in the same habitat. Eventually, people caught onto the highly social nature of this species, which will hunt in packs as well as pairs or trios and willingly (instead of reluctantly) share the kill.
Because of the licensing and expertise required to be a responsible owner of a bird of prey, the following information is offered only as a hint of what you will need to learn to work with Harris's Hawk. There is no substitute for hands-on training, which we strongly recommend that you pursue before trying to acquire any bird of prey.
Adult Harris's Hawks are dark chocolate brown raptors with a “bay” colored patch on the wings that matches the “bay” thighs. Although the term is seldom used except in reference to plumage, the color “bay” is a striking bright chestnut. The sexes look about the same, but females are larger-- sometimes substantially so. The somewhat smaller South American subspecies may eventually be split into a separate species. Weights are given for a study of North American birds.
Male: 735 grams (26 oz.)
Female: 1,047 grams (37 oz.)
52 centimeters (20 inches)
20 - 25 years
Behavior / temperament:
The Harris's Hawk is probably the most highly regarded hunting hawk and is one of the most highly regarded of any bird of prey species used in modern falconry. Naturally tame and gregarious, evolved to work in a partnership, the bird seems to be a natural at assisting humans, whether hunting for prey or simply scattering nuisance pigeons in a public square. Captive-bred birds will live two decades or more, and these social hawks cannot be set aside and forgotten in a back gazebo once you tire of them, so be sure you are well-trained and utterly dedicated before you acquire one.
Worth noting: Falconers who fly Harris's Hawks may enjoy a unique event at falconry meets called “gang hawking” or “social hawking” where owners of multiple birds may fly their birds together in pursuit of prey – an activity that would be unwise if attempted with most other species.
The Harris's Hawk will require a large pen or aviary that includes a roof to keep off the weather and a source of heat to protect against extreme cold. Their feet, in particular, are not adapted to deal with freezing weather. In nice weather, like most birds of prey, they will enjoy some clean, shallow water for bathing. Molting birds, or birds that are not flown for some other reason, will require some toys to keep their active minds entertained. Simple foot toys like tennis balls have been used for this purpose.
The Harris's Hawk is a carnivore that needs to consume some whole prey in order to allow its digestive system to work properly. Successful breeders and falconers warn against the practice of only feeding one food, such as day old chicks or jack rabbits. A varied diet that includes chicks, rabbits, rodents, quail, and more is much healthier. Although they are indeed a bird of the arid regions, they should be supplied with drinking water if you don't want them to occasionally drink their bath water.
Written by Elaine Radford
special bond, training process, striking appearance, awesome hunting partner, beginner falconer
Prey wildlife rescue, falconry centers, research, falconry licence, hare rabbit
Oh the joys of Harris' Hawks...
As I also posted in my review of red-tailed hawks, Harris' hawks are not pets either. Hawks are wild animals, no matter how well-"trained" and hand-tame they are. But they can still be very rewarding animals to keep and work with, as long as you have your permit... I'm going to start off by talking about male Harris' hawks, because I have worked with a few of them and I really have an affinity for them. Male Harris' are generally smaller than females (as with all hawk species), and so are not as capable at taking larger prey, but they will try their hardest to do whatever it is you ask of them. That is the first thing I love about them: they are usually eager to please. The other thing I love about male harris' is that they are as close as you are going to get to a "dog in hawk form" - that is, a hawk that actually seems to "like" you. I've delighted in having a Harris' hawk follow me around - on the ground or in the air - just like a dog, and proceed to land gently on my knee or even my head to hang out for a bit. That being said, disposition is unique to every hawk just as it is to every human, so never try any of those things with a hawk unless you fully trust it (and even then, you're a fool for trusting a hawk, really). Females tend to be a bit more feisty, but that's not to say they can't be sweethearts as well. I have met a couple female Harris' that loved to sit with me and grumble or coo when I talked to them, and generally hang out, but which are also absolute beasts when it comes to hunting. Male Harris' can be fantastic hunters as well, but because of their smaller size it can sometimes take a lot of convincing to get their confidence level up to the point of being able to take down prey larger than they are. Some male Harris' are divas, which can be cute but also frustrating at times. For example, not wanting to come out of their aviaries unless you have a big chunk of food for them, or not returning to the glove because they're having more fun sitting in a tree watching you... but with some patience and persistent positive-reinforcement training, you can usually work those kinks out without too much trouble. Overall, a beginner falconer would do very well with either a male or female Harris' hawk, but I recommend them to anyone interested in falconry because of their capacity to be great team-hunters (unlike most hawks), their dynamic hunting styles and abilities, their wonderful and unique personalities, and high trainability. .
From TBrown Mar 7 2017 11:31PM
Beginner's bird for a good reason
One thing I love about Harris' hawks is the fact they're incredibly compliant.
A display bird as well as a hunting bird, Jake was always keen to perform, be it displaying his flying in front of hundreds or in a more intimate hunting setting. He was a fantastic hunter, too. It's always fascinating to watch a bird do what it does naturally. I still feel bad for rabbits, though.
I couldn't possibly fault Jake at all. I've seen a few who haven't been handled the way they should be but he was very content and patient. Although I wouldn't recommend testing this on a bird with a beak that can do just a bit of damage, it was possible to stroke his crop or give him a kiss on the beak without repercussion.
He was used frequently in child-dominated environments. He could deal with them shouting (unlike me) but obviously you don't want leapy shrieky kids disturbing your hawk because they do have sensitive hearing and children have high-pitched screams. Both are facts.
Of course, they have their moments. Always keep your hawk in the safety position, especially when it could be at risk of people. (I'm an animal-lover, I will automatically protect my birds from people - while the hawk can do a lot of damage, a scared human slapping the hawk away can kill the bird.) For example, if you happen to be in a school with the bird and it's only in safety position and isn't tethered to the glove and it gets slightly loose because its foot slipped and then it realises you've not got a tight grip and decides to go on a flying tour of the school, which obviously never happened to me ever, it's just a for instance - ahem - you can guarantee it will seek out everyone in the immediate area who's scared of birds.
The brilliant thing about a well-trained Harris' hawk is that they're fantastically compliant; after they're found everyone scared of birds, they (in the experience I didn't have) land, turn and look at you and return immediately to the glove.
Largely rather quiet, you'll likely find out near feeding time that their voice is piercing. Once they see the food, though, it tends to become this oh-so-adorable twittering. There's arguments about what the twittering means - I've seen it with owls. It's cute, but it basically means "gimme the food and get lost." Possibly not even that polite.
Like owls, you need to be devoted to these guys and you need to be able to trust someone if you want to take some time away from the home. Or, you know, go somewhere where you'll be able to take your hawk too. The cleaning I would say is slightly worse than owls, though. Owl poo goes down. That's not necessarily a guarantee with hawks, falcons or eagles. You'll be scrubbing the walls as well as the floor. I have been hit on the leg by both eagles and buzzards from four metres away. I have been hit a lot higher from a lot closer. Those were not my happiest days.
Food you can get in bulk from online suppliers who deliver fresh and frozen. It'll save you money to buy in bulk and your choices are much wider than they would be in a pet shop. On demonstration days - and when training - we used chicks. However, quails, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice would be highly recommended too.
Hopefully you're going to be flying your bird too, in which case you should keep an eye on its weight.
Unlike owls, hawks are quite intelligent. They're not as freakishly smart as eagles, however you can't use tricks to get them out of trees such as waving a chick at them and then not giving it to them as punishment. They'll learn that habit and remember it. As with all birds of prey, if you have one it's best to look on it as a partnership. Some people regard their hawks and falcons as tools. While in essence they are just that, the partnership idea works best. It will train you just as you will train it.
Harris hawks are social birds and have an ability to hunt with virtually anything so try to keep it social. It'll be happier. Chances are it'll choose a human or even your dog or cat (the cat probably won't like it much) as a mate.
As soon as you have it young enough, Harris hawks are somewhat easy to train, but they're not for those who just want an easy pet. They're not pets.
If you've never had a bird of prey, I recommend training and studying up on the subject. They'll be the best birds you can get for a first time, but as with everything, they're a commitment for at least 20 years. If you put in the work and effort, though, you'll be rewarded. They're fantastic creatures..
From QuinnT Sep 9 2014 7:28AM