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What is a Broad-Winged Hawk?

By R. Britton
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A broad-winged hawk, scientific name Buteo platypterus, is a small to medium sized raptor. It is a migratory bird that lives in forests. Native to the U.S., there are also a number of subspecies native to the Caribbean islands. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does not consider this species to be in immediate danger. This predatory bird usually raises only one brood each year.

Measuring up to 18 inches (45 centimeters) long, the broad-winged hawk has a wingspan of 40 inches (1 meter) and rarely weighs much more than 1 pound (500 grams). It is a raptor or bird of prey, i.e. it is primarily carnivorous. The main diet of this species includes rodents and small mammals, birds, and small reptiles. When other prey is scarce, they will also eat very large insects.

In the spring and summer, these birds live in North America. As the breeding season comes to an end, the broad-winged hawk migrates to South America. This species migrates in huge flocks known as kettles and complete a journey of over 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), moving as far as the southern parts of Brazil. Whether these birds are in their summer or wintering grounds, they live in mature forests and woodlands that have a temperate, tropical, or subtropical climate.

There are several subspecies of broad-winged hawk which are native to the islands of the Caribbean. These species live in tropical and subtropical climates. They do not migrate because the temperatures remain reasonably warm all year round.

The IUCN classes the broad-winged hawk as a species of least concern; there are thought to be over one million birds, and the species has a very large geographic range. One of the subspecies found only in Puerto Rico is listed as endangered because of the tiny geographic range and that the population is estimated at only 50 breeding pairs.

During the breeding season, the pairs build large, deep nests high up in trees. Once construction is complete, the female lays up to five white to pastel blue eggs which are mottled with dark spots. The eggs take about one month to hatch with the female being solely responsible for incubation. Until the eggs hatch, the male stands guard over the nest and brings food back to the female.

After hatching, the feeding and rearing becomes a shared task. The juveniles begin to fledge after roughly six weeks but remain with the parents for about six months. This species only raises a single brood each season.

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Discussion Comments
By mobilian33 — On Aug 28, 2014

@Feryll - Birds are going to mostly hunt animals they are familiar with, so unless the hawks you are seeing grew up hunting cats then you don't have much to be concerned about there. However, there is a risk just like with anything else. I have known owls to take small kittens.

Still, I would be more concerned about coyotes or even dogs eating my cats than about a bird swooping down and carrying them off. I think we have seen too many movies where bald eagles fly down and carry off somebody's little pet dog. Sure this can happen, but it doesn't happen every day.

By Drentel — On Aug 27, 2014

When a hawk gets hungry enough he will go after about anything. There is a greater chance of hawks attacking larger prey when they have young and are desperate for food. When the prey is plentiful, they are going to go after the smaller and easier to kill animals.

When a hawk goes after a animal of any significance size, then the hawk is taking a risk. A cat could easily damage a hawk's wing and that would spell the end for the hawk. A bird that can no longer fly isn't long for this world. You should be more concerned about an eagle or maybe a red tailed hawk going after your cats than a broad winged hawk attacking them.

By Feryll — On Aug 27, 2014

I have recently noticed two hawks in our yard. One of on the frame we built for our grapevine and the other was on a light pole. I saw both of them fly into a grove of trees in the yard. I think they may be broad winged hawks.

They are beautiful animals, but my concern is that they will attack our cats. I don't think the cats would be their first choice for prey, but do hawks attack cats? If so, I definitely don't want the hawks in my yard. Otherwise, they are great to watch.

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