Harris's Hawk

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Is the Harris's Hawk right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Harris Hawk; Bay-winged Hawk

Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus

The basics:
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.)

Average size:
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

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