BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

broad-winged hawk

Buteo platypterus

What do they look like?

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    265 to 560 g
    9.34 to 19.74 oz
  • Range length
    34 to 44 cm
    13.39 to 17.32 in
  • Range wingspan
    81 to 100 cm
    31.89 to 39.37 in

Where do they live?

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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

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)

  • Range elevation
    2000 (high) m
    6561.68 (high) ft

How do they reproduce?

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)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Broad-winged hawks breed once yearly. They raise one brood per breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Broad-winged hawks breed between April and August.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    28 to 31 days
  • Range fledging age
    5 to 6 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 (low) years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 (low) years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

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)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

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.

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    18.3 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    12 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    193 months
    Bird Banding Laboratory

How do they behave?

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)

Home Range

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)

How do they communicate with each other?

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)

What do they eat?

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)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Broad-winged hawks affect the local populations of the animals they eat. They also provide food for their predators.

Do they cause problems?

As far as we know, broad-winged hawks do not harm humans in any way.

How do they interact with us?

Broad-winged hawks feed on insect and rodent species that may be considered pests by some humans. (Goodrich, et al., 1996)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

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.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


2004. "The University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Information About Raptors" (On-line). Broad-winged hawk. Accessed June 07, 1999 at

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.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Ivory, A. 1999. "Buteo platypterus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 19, 2014 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2014, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan