Broad-winged hawks are small, stocky hawks. They are about 34 to 44 cm long and weigh 265 to 560 g. Their wingspan ranges from 81 to 100 cm. Adults have a dark brown back and a pale chest and belly with horizontal cinnamon or chestnut stripes. Their tail is black with a big white stripe across the middle and two smaller white stripes near the base and the tip. In flight, broad-winged hawks have pointed wing tips. When perched, their wings are shorter than their tail.
Young broad-winged hawks look similar to adults, but have cinnamon colored stripes running up and down their chest, instead of across it. Young broad-wings also usually have more white on their chest and belly than adults. Males and females of any age look similar, but females are usually bigger than males. ("The University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Information About Raptors", 2004; Goodrich, et al., 1996; Snyder and Snyder, 1991)
Broad-winged hawks are native to the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They breed throughout the eastern United States and most of southern Canada. Their winter range includes southern Florida, the Pacific slope of southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America. (Goodrich, et al., 1996; Snyder and Snyder, 1991)
Broad-winged hawks prefer to nest in dense deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests. They like to have water and openings such as roads, trails, wetlands or meadows nearby. Broad-winged hawks use these openings for foraging hunting. They are shy and tend to avoid nesting near humans.
In winter, broad-winged hawks can be found in the forests of Central and South America. They may live at any elevation between sea level and several thousand meters high. ("The University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Information About Raptors", 2004; Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawks are monogamous. Breeding pairs form soon after arriving in the spring. Broad-winged hawks use courtship displays, such as fancy flight displays to attract a mate. They also use courtship feeding (one member of a pair brings food to the other) as part of courtship. Breeding pairs may split up after one season, or they may breed together for more than one year. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawks breed between April and August. They raise one brood of chicks each summer. Pairs begin building their nest in late April through mid-May. The male and female both build the nest. It is usually built in a tree, and is made of twigs and dead sticks, and lined with bark chips. Some pairs may fix-up and re-used old nests instead of building a new one.
The female lays 2 to 3 eggs. She lays one egg every other day or every two days. The eggs can be white, pale cream, or a little bluish. The female then incubates the eggs for 28 to 31 days. During this time, the male brings food to her. The chicks are helpless when they hatch. They can't move around much, but they are covered in gray down and have open eyes. For the first week, the female broods the chicks to protect them and keep them warm. The male brings food to the nest, and the female tears the food up and feeds it to the chicks. The chicks leave the nest 5 to 6 weeks after they hatch. They stay in their parents territory for another 4 to 8 weeks, learning to hunt and care for themselves. They begin to hunt for their own food when they are about 7 weeks old.
Most broad-winged hawks do not breed until they are at least two years old. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Both parents build the nest and feed the chicks. The female incubates the eggs and broods the nestlings by herself. However, the male does all of the hunting while the female is incubating. Both parents keep the nest clean by removing the chicks' fecal sacs from the nest. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Based on a study conducted between 1955 and 1979, the average expected lifespan of wild broad-winged hawks is 12 years. The oldest known wild broad-winged hawk lived at least 14 years and 4 months.
Broad-winged hawks are solitary and territorial, except during migration. Unlike most raptors, broad-winged hawks migrate in flocks, called kettles. These flocks can contain as many as tens of thousands of raptors, and may include other raptor species. Like many hawk species, broad-winged hawks soar on thermal air currents during migration. They can save energy this way because they don't need to flap their wings as much.
Broad-winged hawks are territorial during the breeding season, and probably during the winter as well. They use calls to defend their territory. Broad-winged hawks are diurnal (active during the day). (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
The home range size of broad-winged hawks has not been studied. Breeding males appear to have larger home ranges than breeding females. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawks use calls and body displays to communicate. There are four calls that are used by broad-winged hawks. The most common call is a short, high-pitched whistle that sounds like "kee-ee" or "peeoweee." Broad-winged hawks use calls to communicate lots of different messages. For example, they may use calls to defend their territory or to communicate with a mate or their chicks. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawks are carnivores. They eat whatever food they can catch, so their diet changes depending on the season and where they are. Foods that they eat include insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. During the summer, they eat a lot of chipmunks, shrews and voles (genus Microtus and genus Myodes). They also eat frogs, lizards and nesting birds during the summer. In the winter, much of their diet consists of insects, lizards, frogs, snakes, crabs and small mammals.
Broad-winged hawks hunt from a perch. Typically, they swoop down on prey to surprise it, and capture it on the ground. ("The University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Information About Raptors", 2004; Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawk eggs and chicks are eaten by raccoons, porcupines, American crows, black bears and great horned owls. We do not know much about the predators of adult broad-winged hawks. They are not killed nearly as often as eggs and chicks. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Broad-winged hawks affect the local populations of the animals they eat. They also provide food for their predators.
As far as we know, broad-winged hawks do not harm humans in any way.
Broad-winged hawks feed on insect and rodent species that may be considered pests by some humans. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
There are about 1,800,000 broad-winged hawks in the world. The number of broad-winged hawks in the world is probably getting smaller. However, in North America, broad-winged hawks are one of the most common hawks.
Broad-winged hawks are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. They are also protected under an international agreement called CITES Appendix II. The Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus brunnescens) is a subspecies of broad-winged hawks. This subspecies is protected as an endangered species in the United States.
Common causes of broad-winged hawk death are predation, trapping, shooting, and collisions with vehicles. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)
Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Alicia Ivory (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
2004. "The University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Information About Raptors" (On-line). Broad-winged hawk. Accessed June 07, 1999 at www.cvm.umn.edu/depts/raptorcenter/info/Broad-wingedhawk/.
Goodrich, L., S. Crocoll, S. Senner. 1996. Broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 218. Philadelphia, PA: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologist's Union.
Snyder, N., H. Snyder. 1991. Birds of Prey: Natural History and Conservation of North American Raptors. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.