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Broad-winged Hawk


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the greatest spectacles of migration is a swirling flock of Broad-winged Hawks on their way to South America. Also known as “kettles,” flocks can contain thousands of circling birds that evoke a vast cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon. A small, stocky raptor with black-and-white bands on the tail, the Broad-winged Hawk is a bird of the forest interior and can be hard to see during the nesting season. Its call is a piercing, two-parted whistle.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Broad-winged Hawks are small, compact raptors with chunky bodies and large heads. In flight, their broad wings come to a distinct point. The tail is short and square.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult Broad-winged Hawks have reddish-brown heads, barred underparts, and broad black and white bands on the tail. The pale undersides of the wings are bordered in dark brown. Juveniles are lighter brown with coarse streaking on the underparts, particularly on the sides of the breast; the tail is narrowly banded. In the West, rare dark-morph adults are completely dark sooty brown with a banded tail.

  • Behavior

    Broad-winged Hawks hunt small animals from perches underneath the forest canopy. They sometimes soar above the canopy or across gaps such as roadcuts. Their call is a piercing whistle on a single pitch.

  • Habitat

    Broad-winged Hawks live in forests and spend much of their time underneath the canopy. On migration they soar along coastlines and mountain ridges, often in very large flocks.

Range Map Help

Broad-winged Hawk Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Broad-winged Hawk

    • Small, compact Buteo hawk
    • Reddish-brown barring on chest, heavier near throat
    • Short tail
    • © Cristian Sanchez, January 2015
  • Immature

    Broad-winged Hawk

    • Stocky, compact Buteo
    • Immatures streaking with dark, blotchy "teardrops" on breast
    • Pale face, usually with noticeable eyebrow
    • © Laura Erickson, Wisconsin, September 2010
  • Adult

    Broad-winged Hawk

    • Usually seen migrating in large flocks
    • Distinctive in flight with thin black outline around short, broad wings
    • Thick black and white bands on tail
    • Dense reddish-brown barring on upper breast of adults
    • © Gary Tyson, New York, April 2013

Similar Species

Red-shouldered Hawks are less compact than Broad-winged Hawks, with longer wings and longer tails. Red-shouldered Hawks have dark-barred underwings rather than the pale underwings of Broad-winged Hawks. They also have narrower bands on the tail than the Broad-winged Hawk, and in flight they usually show pale crescents or “windows” at the base of the outer flight feathers. Immature Red-shouldered Hawks are very similar in color pattern to immature Broad-winged Hawks, so use size & shape to distinguish them; the Red-shouldered has longer, blunter-tipped wings. The Short-tailed Hawk of southern Florida is usually clean white on the underparts with dark flight feathers. Immatures tend to have much less streaking than immature Broad-winged Hawks. Red-tailed Hawks are considerably larger than Broad-winged Hawks. They have pale chests, with a distinct, dark belly band. Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk are accipiters—their short wings and very long tails give them a shape that’s quite different from Broad-winged Hawks.

Regional Differences

The rare dark morph of the Broad-winged Hawk is much more likely to be seen breeding in the western portion of its range and migrating through the eastern Great Plains and Texas. It is entirely sooty brown except for white bands in the tail.

Find This Bird

Broad-winged Hawks are most easily seen during migration at hawkwatches such as Hawk Ridge, Minnesota, and Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania. They form sometimes enormous aerial flocks, especially in southern Texas, in Mexico along the Gulf coast in Veracruz, and along the shores of the Great Lakes. If you’re looking for Broad-winged Hawks during summer, go to an eastern or northern forest and listen for their piercing whistles, often given while circling above the forest canopy, when they are easier to see.

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