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Harris’ hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Harris’ hawk
Harris’ hawk

Personal Information
Seneca Park Zoo is home to one female Harris’ hawk, Lady, born in 1999. A falconer donated her to the Zoo in 2004 and since that time has been delighting Zoo visitors with her free-flight demonstration in our summer Stage Show. Lady is trained using positive reinforcement. She has a strong relationship with her trainers based in mutual trust and respect, which is what enables us to allow her to fly-free outside and know that she will come back to us.

Status in the Wild
Harris’s hawks are not listed as threatened or endangered. They are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) appendix II and they are protected from harassment and illegal shooting by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Habitat loss is the major cause of decline of this species as well as excessive human disturbance. Shooting can result in nest failure, abandonment and mortality. Electrocution is responsible for the loss of half of the population of breeding hawks.

Habitat
The Harris hawk is a resident of Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Its range also extends into Mexico, Central, and South America as far south as Argentina. These hawks are found in semiarid habitats like savannas, chaparrals, scrub prairies, and mesquite and saguaro deserts. Its preference is for scrub with mesquite, cacti, and yucca plants.

Diet
The Harris’ hawk feeds mainly on small to medium-sized rodents. It is also known to take birds — often in flight — lizards, insects, and mammals up to the size of a full-grown rabbit. There is some evidence that it also eats carrion when prey is in short supply.

  • Unusual for a raptor, the Harris’ hawk is an extremely social bird. It can be found in groups for hunting as well as for breeding. The Harris’ hawk is the only North American raptor known to hunt in groups, and boasts the most advanced form of cooperative hunting known among birds.
  • One interesting and unusual behavior observed in Harris’ hawks is stacking, a behavior where several birds will stand on top of another while the bottom bird is perched on a cactus. By doing this, the vantage point of the highest hawk allows it to see prey over a greater range and to spot other potential predators.
  • When not hunting, its flight may appear sluggish, but it is known for rapid acceleration, agility, and ability to hug landscape and maneuver around obstacles. It is also known to soar at high altitudes and display dramatic dives.
  • The Harris’ hawk is a popular bird used in the sport of falconry because of their group hunting style.
  • John James Audubon named the Harris’ hawk after his friend Edward Harris.
  • The Harris’ hawk is a polyandrous bird; one female will sometimes have more than one mate. Often, they will form a trio, with two males breeding with the female.