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12 Interesting Facts About Broad-winged Hawks

The Broad-winged Hawk is a favorite for bird watchers because it’s easily observed during migrations, which is somewhat unusual for raptors. Similar in size to the Red-tailed Hawk, the Broad-winged Hawk is a fascinating species that can be found throughout much of eastern North America. Here are 12 interesting facts about Broad-winged Hawks.

Facts about Broad-winged Hawks

1. Do Broad-winged Hawks migrate?

Yes, broad-winged hawks migrate. During the breeding season, they are spread over much of North America. Most of them breed and nest east of the Mississippi River, but in Canada they range west into British Columbia. Their wintering grounds are in southern Mexico and Central America, as well as the southern tip of Florida. There is a population of broad-winged hawks in Cuba that is not migratory.

2. What do Broad-winged Hawks look like?

As the name suggests, they have broad wings. They have banded tails, brown backs and barred undersides. There is a dark morph, though- adults with a uniform dark brown color except for a white band on the tail. These individuals are rare.

3. Where do Broad-winged Hawks live?

Broad-winged hawks prefer to live in woodlands, usually deciduous or mixed forests rather than coniferous forests. Their short, broad wings allow them to fly and maneuver between the trees more easily than falcons or eagles, which have much longer wings in relation to their body size.

During the breeding season they will build their nests near clearings and bodies of water, far from human settlements.

4. When do Broad-winged Hawks lay their eggs?

The breeding season for Broad-winged hawks begins in April and lasts until August. The eggs will be laid early in that season, sometime in April, but the exact timing will vary for each breeding pair. 

5. What do Broad-winged Hawks eat?

Small mammals, amphibians and insects are the most common food items for broad-winged hawks. This species is unique in its particular ways of preparing its food. While small mammals are typically consumed whole, it takes the time to skin the amphibians and reptiles it catches. When they catch birds, they carefully pluck all the feathers before they begin to eat.

6. Are Broad-winged Hawks endangered?

Far from it. Broad-winged hawks are widespread, numerous, and their population is growing. Habitat destruction does still pose a threat, however. Broad-winged hawks need forests to live in, and as cities and suburbs grow these habitats are threatened. They don’t adapt to urban life as well as some other raptors do, and large tracts of wilderness are vital for their survival. 

Broad-winged hawk (Image: Andrew Cannizzaro | CC BY 2.0 | wikicommons)

7. How long do Broad-winged Hawks live?

The average lifespan for wild broad-winged hawks is 12 years, if they can survive to adulthood. The oldest broad-winged hawk on record was 14 years and 4 months old. 

8. What sounds do Broad-winged Hawks make?

Broad-winged hawks use a high-pitched vocalization that sounds much like a whistle. Their alarm call is a stuttering, squealing whistle. People often assume they’re hearing a smaller bird when in fact it’s a broad-winged hawk.

9. Where can I see Broad-winged Hawks?

Broad-winged hawks are famous for migrating in massive groups. There are places called hawk watches all along their migration routes where they can be sighted by the thousands. Hawk Cliff in Ontario, Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, Hawk Ridge in Minnesota, and the River of Raptors in Veracruz are all famous for the huge crowds of hawks that congregate there.

image by synspectrum via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

10. What time of day do Broad-winged Hawks Hunt?

Broad winged hawks are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day and sleep at night. In some areas where they have to rely on thermals to generate lift they’re most active at midday when there are more thermals for them to use. In other areas, where ridges and cliff faces cause updrafts and provide high places for hawks to perch, they tend to be more active in the morning and evening. 

11. How long have Broad-winged Hawks existed?

The oldest broad-winged hawk fossils that have been found are roughly 400,000 years old, so this species has existed for a very long time. It’s certainly possible that they were around much earlier than that, too, we simply don’t have fossils of this species older than that. 

12. How many eggs do Broad-winged Hawks lay?

Broad-winged Hawks lay between 1 and 5 eggs in their nest. The eggs will hatch after about a month, and the first chicks to hatch have the best odds at survival. They get a head start on their growth, so they’re bigger and stronger than the youngest chicks, which means they can prevent their youngest siblings from getting enough food.

The following video is about Broad-winged Hawks in Colorado specifically, but this video has the president of the Raptor Education Program holding a Broad-winged Hawk and giving some really cool info about it!