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Broad-winged Hawk Life History


ForestsBroad-winged Hawks breed in large deciduous or mixed forests throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. They usually nest near forest openings and bodies of water, and far from areas of human disturbance. Migrants roost on edges of tropical forests, cloud forests, and in arid tropical scrub. Some immature birds winter in south Florida and the Florida Keys, using mango and avocado groves, as well as undisturbed West Indian hardwood stands on the larger keys. Most Broad-winged Hawks, however, winter in forests and along forest edges from southern Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia, usually preferring upland sites. Some subspecies live year-round on Caribbean islands.Back to top


Small AnimalsBroad-winged Hawks eat mostly small mammals, amphibians, and insects. They watch for food from perches on tree limbs (often below the canopy and in the forest interior) as well as places such as utility poles near forest edges. When they spot prey, they swoop down to snatch it from the forest floor. They only occasionally hunt on the wing. Their most frequent prey items are frogs, toads, and small rodents, but they have a broad diet that includes invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds (mostly nestlings and juveniles). Their invertebrate prey includes mantises, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, junebugs, click beetles, ground beetles, flies, spiders, earthworms, and crabs.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeBroad-winged Hawks nest in many species of deciduous and coniferous trees, including yellow birch, European larch, white pine, red pine, trembling aspen, white birch, and white oak. The nest is in the lower third of the canopy, usually in the first main crotch of a deciduous tree or on a platform of horizontal branches against the trunk of a conifer. Pairs sometimes reuse their nests from previous years or renovate old nests of other species.

Nest Description

The female does most of the nest construction, assisted by the male. They collect dead sticks from the ground and carry them in their talons into the nest tree to build the main structure of the nest. The female brings bark chips and fresh plant sprigs in her beak to build the nest cup. They spend 2-4 weeks building the nest, which occasionally contains materials such as corn husks, moss, grapevine, lichen, feathers, and pine needles. The nest measures 12–21 inches across and 5–12 inches high on the outside, with an inner cup 6–7 inches across and 1–3 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.8-2.2 in (4.6-5.5 cm)
Egg Width:1.5-1.6 in (3.7-4.2 cm)
Incubation Period:28-31 days
Nestling Period:35-42 days
Egg Description:White, creamy, or bluish, with a granulated surface; either unmarked or with variable brown markings.
Condition at Hatching:Semi-active and covered with thick white-and-gray down, with open eyes.
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Aerial Dive (ground/talons)Within the forest Broad-winged Hawks take short flights from branch to branch; they also soar in circles above the canopy during breeding season, probably in territorial defense. Courting birds perform sky-dancing displays in which they circle high in the air and then plummet toward the ground. Some breeding pairs stay together multiple years in a row, while others take new mates each year. They build nests at least half a mile from the next nearest Broad-winged Hawk pair. They defend nesting areas from other Broad-wings, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Northern Harriers. Eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to predators such as raccoons, porcupines, American Crows, Great Horned Owls, and black bears. Although Broad-winged Hawks interact only with their mates in the breeding season, during fall and spring migration they form enormous flocks that often include other raptor species, sometimes totaling tens of thousands of individuals.Back to top


Low Concern

Broad-winged Hawks are numerous, and their populations slightly increased (particularly in Canada) between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 1.9 million and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. However, the Puerto Rican subspecies of Broad-winged Hawk is on the Watch List and is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The northeastern U.S. gained suitable breeding habitat as it became reforested in the past century, but this benefit could be offset by increasing human development, since Broad-winged Hawks usually nest in large forests away from human activity. Migration numbers dropped in the east in the 1990s, possibly due to population decline or perhaps simply because of a change in migration patterns. The largest threat to this species is habitat destruction, particularly within its wintering range. Hunting was a common practice in the early twentieth century during breeding and migration, and it continues today on the wintering grounds. Individuals that winter in the Florida Keys and hunt along roadsides are vulnerable to vehicle strikes.

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Crossley, R., J. Liguori, and B. Sullivan. (2013). The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Princeton University Press, New Jersery, USA.

Goodrich, L. J., Scott T. Crocoll and Stanley E. Senner. (2014). Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Haines, A. M., M. J. McGrady, M. S. Martell, B. J. Dayton, M. B. Henke and W. S. Seegar. (2003). Migration routes and wintering locations of Broad-winged Hawks tracked by satellite telemetry. Wilson Bulletin 115 (2):166-169.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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