Short-tailed Hawk Life History


Habitat ForestsShort-tailed Hawks nest in relatively large and remote tracts of forest. They forage amid landscape mosaics of tall and short vegetation. Most pairs nest in wetter forests, with bald-cypress, swamp bay, sweet bay magnolia, and similar wetland trees, but some pairs nest in more open and drier woodlands. In Florida they forage along forest edges, in savanna, pasture, prairies, and around towns and plantations. When wintering in southern Florida, Short-tailed Hawks hunt along the edges of sawgrass marshes, mangrove forests, and well-treed towns. From Mexico to Argentina, Short-tailed Hawks inhabit a great variety of habitats and elevations, from coastal lowlands and thorn forest to pine-oak forests at high elevations. Back to top


Food BirdsShort-tailed Hawks hunt mostly birds, but they also eat frogs, lizards, snakes, and small mammals. They are visual hunters, watching for prey from as high as 800 feet in the air, orienting into the wind and "kiting" or hanging nearly motionless. They make fast, steep dives to strike perched birds in trees, rarely taking birds in flight, and sometimes snatch birds from the ground. Woodland edges are typical places to hunt, and some individuals patrol the same edges repeatedly throughout the day. In Florida, Short-tailed Hawks take just about any bird they can get, ranging in size from tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Tufted Titmice, warblers, and sparrows to larger prey such as Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Flickers, and Belted Kingfishers. They frequently hunt doves, including Mourning Doves, Common Ground-Doves, Eurasian Collared-Doves, White-winged Doves, and White-crowned Pigeons, as well as Northern Bobwhite, and even American Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest TreeNests are set near the tops of tall trees, at least 30 feet and up to 60 feet high. In Florida, nests recorded in pine, mangrove, bald-cypress, sweetgum, cabbage palm, sweet bay magnolia, and other tall trees.

Nest Description

Nest are platforms of sticks and Spanish moss lined with leafy vegetation from many plants near the nest. Nests measure on average 2 feet across and have a central depression up to a foot deep but usually shallower.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.0 in (5 cm)
Egg Width:1.6 in (4.1 cm)
Incubation Period:34-39 days
Egg Description:Pale bluish white, sometimes with reddish brown spots.
Condition at Hatching:

Covered in short, white down and unable to sit up.

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Behavior Soaring (raptor)On arriving back in the nesting area, males stake out a territory by performing aerial displays and calling. They circle slowly over the territory and occasionally make bounding swoops or fly with exaggerated, slow “butterfly” strokes. An interested female may join the male in the air, occasionally touching or locking talons. Or she may perch below, in expectation that the male will bring her prey. Males present prey to females and also offer sticks, to signal that nest-building is next. Together, both adults construct several nests before the female selects the egg nest. Females do most of the actual nest construction. During this process, males continue to bring food to the female. Once the female has laid eggs, displays are less frequent, as adults take turns incubating eggs and hunting. During incubation, both adults bring leafy vegetation to line the nest, perhaps to cool the nestlings. Females are larger than males and have the job of defending the nestlings, while males harass passing raptors such as Red-shouldered Hawks and other Short-tailed Hawks. Both adults tend the nestlings and bring them food. Family groups remain connected for several weeks before migrating southward in fall. Back to top


Conservation Low Concern

Short-tailed Hawks have a huge range in Mexico through South America, but the disjunct population in Florida is small, estimated at 500 or fewer individuals. Partners in Flight ranks this species 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Threats include collisions with windows, vehicles, and other objects, as well as gunshot wounds. Development and habitat loss (especially intense in Florida), may have reduced this species' numbers. In Florida, this species depends on low-lying wintering habitats that are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

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

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

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