Hawks are birds of prey found worldwide. They are active during the day and hunt small animals by chasing them down at high speeds. These birds are easily recognizable from their sharp talons and beaks.
One of their most striking features in which they surpass most species in the animal world is their strong hearing sense and sharp eyes. No wonder the idiomatic expression hawk-eyed refers to someone who is vigilant, observant, and watchful.
The term hawk is sometimes used in a broader sense to describe birds that are actually not hawks. For instance, fish hawk is the other name for an osprey, while a peregrine falcon is alternately called a duck hawk.
List of the Common Types of Hawk Species
Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family that have around 200 bird species including eagles, vultures, and kites. The list given below includes the common hawks mostly found in the United States.
Common Black Hawk
Rufous Crab Hawk
African Harrier Hawk
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Physical Description and Appearance
Size: These birds can be as small as 11-15 in (29-37 cm) like the sharp-shinned hawk or measure about 18-26 in (45-65 cm) as the red-tailed hawk.
Weight: The average hawk is around 3 pounds (1.4 kg), with the largest known species – Ferruginous hawk- weighing 4 pounds (1.8 kg).
Wingspan: The sharp-shinned hawk has a small wingspan between 23 and 28 in (58 and 68 cm), while the red-tailed has a large one, about 39-59 in (100-150 cm).
Hawks are mainly found in both North and Central America, the West Indies, and Jamaica. For example, Harris’s hawk inhabits parts of Latin America, while the red-tailed hawk and Cooper’s hawk can be seen throughout North America.
While capable of adapting to different environments, hawks prefer open habitats that make it easier to scout prey. These include deserts, fields, mountainous and tropical areas.
How long do they live
The average hawk lives for 12 -15 years in the wild and about 20 years in captivity.
What do they eat
They are carnivores and predatory by nature. Their diet includes small animals like mice, rabbits, snakes, squirrels, alongside birds, fish, and lizards. Some species like the red-shouldered hawk prefer smaller birds such as doves alongside crickets and grasshoppers.
These species are diurnal but some prefer hunting at the onset of dusk.
Unlike other predatory birds, they kill their prey with their talons and not their beak.
They curiously and intently look for their prey by perching on top of trees or even on telephone poles. This helps them give a clear view of the ground below.
While hunting and foraging, they will try to outmaneuver their prey by swiftly outspeeding them and preventing them from escaping.
Most hawks migrate during autumn or spring. They do so with the help of proper planning as those who travel longer distances begin their flights earlier than birds traveling to a shorter distance.
When migrating, they travel in groups to increase the chances of survival. This behavior is known as “flocking”, and a group of hawks doing so is referred to as a “kettle”.
The sharp talons and curved hooked beak allow them to grab and tear flesh efficiently.
Hawks accumulate fat before migration as a means of nourishment. By the time they end up at their destination, the excess fat is lost.
Their large, broad, sturdy wings help them in a swift and easy flight. The birds initially flap their wings rapidly before letting their momentum carry them forward. This also allows them to dive at speeds of 150 mph.
They have excellent senses – including acute hearing and vision that allows them to see eight times better than humans. These birds of prey even have the ability to perceive different colors more accurately due to the four color receptors present in their eyes.
How do they reproduce
Hawks have a unique reproductive process. The male and female fly in a circular motion until they reach a certain height, after which the male dives towards the female. This procedure goes on until he can latch onto her, at which point they begin free falling towards the ground.
Hawks generally form monogamous pairings, but if one dies, they will find a new partner. They make a nest before laying eggs and return to the same nest year after year.
Every year a female will lay around five eggs. Both parents take care of the fledgling for a month till hatching. Afterward, they will feed their young until they are ready to leave the nest.
Juveniles begin to leave their nest from six weeks and start hunting when they are older.
Several hawk species are considered threatened or endangered mostly due to a loss of habitat and are protected by conservation efforts by certain groups and agencies. For instance, the ferruginous hawk was categorized as Near Threatened by the IUCN but eventually attained the Least Concern status in 2008.
Hawk – FAQs
1. What does a hawk symbolize?
These magnificent birds are often used as symbols of adaptability, clairvoyance, independence, intelligence, and spiritual awareness.
2. What eats hawks?
They are generally top-of-the-food-chain predators once fully grown, but sometimes they are attacked by birds like owls, eagles, and other hawks and predators like raccoons and red foxes.
3. What does a hawk sound like?
Hawks can often be heard making a “screech” like sound while flying.
4. What is a young hawk called?
A young hawk is called an eyas or eyass
5. How much weight can a hawk carry?
Despite misconceptions and fears about these birds of prey taking away pets, hawks can only carry up to their body weight, meaning they cannot bear more than 3 pounds (1.4 kg).
Hawks are generally smaller in size and wingspan, and less powerful than eagles.
7. What is the difference between a hawk and a falcon?
Of the several differences, the most striking one is their wing pattern. The hawks have fingers close to their wing tip, seen prominently when flying. Falcons, on the other hand, have slender and pointed wings.
The bird is the emblem for various organizations and sports teams, including the Atlanta Hawks and the Toronto Ice Hawks.
Among most avian species, hawks are considered to be very intelligent.
War hawk or just hawk is a term in politics used for metaphorically referring to someone favoring war.