North American raptors don’t typically travel in flocks, but the broad-winged hawk is not your typical bird. This small bird of prey is one of the continent’s most common hawks. It is often spotted along wood lines.
In the fall, nearly every broad-winged hawk leaves North America and migrates to South and Central America. With an estimated population of more than one million birds, that’s a lot of raptors in the sky at once.
The broad-winged hawk is truly a unique bird. Here are 10 things that make the broad-winged hawk so special.
1. The Broad-Winged Hawk Is A Social Raptor
Most birds of prey are solitary creatures that only come together during mating season. But the broad-winged hawk is different.
Every fall, broad-winged hawks congregate in huge flocks to fly south for the winter.
The flocks, or kettles as they are called, followed traditional migratory routes to Central and South America. People visit certain points along the routes to see thousands of hawks flying together.
2. They Refuse To Fly Over Salt Water
The broad-winged hawks are rather peculiar in that they refuse to fly a great distance over salt water. Great flocks of the hawks will converge at various places so they can get to their winter homes in South America while remaining over land.
In the summer, broad-winged hawks can be found as far north as Ontario, Alberta, and the Upper Great Lakes region. In the winter, they settle in Ecuador, Panama, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil.
3. Broad-Winged Hawk Migrations Last 70 Days
Broad-winged hawks leave earlier on their migration than most other birds. They hit the road in mid-August. Kettles of broad-winged hawks will make their migration in 70 days.
In that time, they will cover between 2,000 and 3,800 miles and average more than 63 miles per day. They get a boost by riding thermals, heated air masses.
4. They Have Short Wings
As the name suggests, the broad-winged hawk has broad, yet short wings, as compared to other hawk species. With a tapered shape and pointed tips, the broad-winged hawks’ wings are different from those of other hawks.
Adult broad-winged hawks are roughly 13 to 18 inches long, with the females slightly larger than the males.
Mature birds are covered with dark brown and grayish-black feathers on their heads, backs, wings, and tails. The chests and bellies are white.
5. They Use Acrobatic Skills To Court Mates
During the breeding season, the broad-winged hawks impress their potential mates by soaring high into the air, flying in circles, then diving straight for the ground at a high speed.
They also use their calls, which sound like high-pitched whistles, to communicate with their mates.
Broad-winged hawks form bonded pairs during mating season. Mates stick together for a year or two.
Researchers, however, have sometimes observed a male broad-winged hawk cheating on its mate with another female.
6. Broad-Winged Hawks Often Use Abandoned Nests
Although they are not above constructing their own nests if necessary, the broad-winged hawks often use abandoned nests that were built by other hawk species, or crows.
They prefer to nest in tall trees with their nests as much as 40 feet above the ground.
7. Broad-Winged Hawks Share Parenting Duties
While the female broad-winged hawk incubates her clutch of two to four eggs, her mate will supply her with food. Eggs hatch after approximately 30 days and the male will continue to handle the hunting duties for its young family.
The young chicks can fly by the time they are about five weeks old. They learn to hunt soon after that.
8. They Prefer The Swoop Method Of Hunting
Broad-winged hawks perch on tree branches or telephone poles at the edges of wooded areas.
When they spy on their prey, they swoop down on it. They capture and hold it in their sharp talons and tear the animal apart with its strong beak.
Among its favorite foods are squirrels, mice, snakes, frogs, voles, lizards, and turtles. Broad-winged hawks have even been observed catching and eating fish.
Interestingly, broad-winged hawks rarely hunt – or eat – during their annual migrations.
9. Broad-Winged Hawks Can Be Prey, Too
Even though it is a bird of prey, broad-winged hawks are not immune from other predators. Bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, and great horned owls sometimes prey on the smaller broad-winged hawks.
Broad-winged hawk eggs and young chicks in the nest are vulnerable to crows, black bears, raccoons, snakes, and porcupines.
10. Broad-Winged Hawks Were Hunted A Century Ago
In the early 1900s, hunters shot great numbers of broad-winged hawks during their migrations. This caused a decline in their populations.
The birds are now legally protected and their numbers have bounced back up.