Broad-Winged Hawk Species Notes, Development Photos and Case Histories

The Broad-Winged Hawk is a common summer resident of the Eastern U.S., where it hunts primarily in wooded areas.  Because they winter in Central and South America, and also because of the need for an abundant supply of insects and reptiles for feeding young, Broad-wings are late nesters, and most juvenile Broad-wings are not seen until June in Alabama. These hawks depend very heavily on reptiles and large insects as well as small mammals for food.  Broad-wings prefer to nest in hardwood trees, usually in a crotch 10 to 80 feet above the ground. Incubation takes 28-31 days, and the young are brooded and fed by the female for about the first three weeks.  Subsequently, both adults hunt and bring food to the nest.  Nest departure occurs at about 5-6 week after hatching, but the fledglings continue to use the nest as a feeding and roost site for up to two weeks after first flight.  Young usually achieve successful capture of prey at 7 weeks post fledging, and remain on the nest territory up to 8 weeks after fledging.

When their main food sources become dormant in winter, these hawks migrate to Central and South America for the winter, traveling in large flocks renowned for their distinctive flight. Soaring south along ridge lines, the birds make use of updrafts along the ridges to carry them high aloft. A large flock will circle in the updraft until they reach great heights, a phenomenon known as “kettling”. When the birds reach the top of the air column, they can continue to glide southward with minimal expenditure of energy.

Broad-wings are somewhat smaller and chunkier than Red-shouldered Hawks, with the broad white band on the tail of the adult serving as a quick identifying mark. Like the Red-shouldered Hawk, the immature birds have a streaky, brown and cream vertical striping instead of the distinctive adult plumage, making it quite difficult to identify immature birds. Perhaps the easiest  way to distinguish the two species in immature plumage is by the vocalizations, as Red- shouldered Hawks have a very loud, shrill, descending call that they use very readily when handled. Broad-winged Hawks have a melodious, slightly plaintive whistle.

Sibling rivalry can be a source of mortality in young birds, just as in many of the other hawks. However, there are also cases where an additional juvenile has been successfully fostered without harm to any of the juveniles. (See Case 1)  Much depends on the abundance of the food supply, and wildlife rehabilitators should be alert for problems.


Broad-Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Development Photos

Young nestlings


Older nestlings


Young brancher




Case Histories

Case #1

Case #2

Case #3

Comments are closed.