Living Bird Magazine
White-tailed HawkGeranoaetus albicaudatus
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Accipitridae
A flash of white in the sky over the prairies of the Texas coast provides the first hint that a White-tailed Hawk is up and hunting. This clean-cut species has long and very broad wings ideal for “kiting”—hanging suspended over their treeless habitat—as they watch for prey. Close up, White-tailed Hawks are a beautiful slate gray with rufous shoulders and a neat black band on the white tail. Like many raptors of grasslands, White-tailed Hawks converge at brush fires, to hunt terrestrial animals fleeing the flames.More ID Info
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Fairly common in coastal and southeastern Texas, especially in native prairie and other grasslands, White-tailed Hawks hang in the wind on breezy days as they watch for prey, often from considerable heights. The bright white tail, with black band, is diagnostic—a bold pattern easy to pick out against a blue sky. When not hunting, White-tailed Hawks perch on utility poles, shrubs, and small trees. This species is very scarce in farm country and pastures; watch for it in native prairie (with yuccas and other succulents) and other grasslands.
- Busardo Coliblanco (Spanish)
- Buse à queue blanche (French)
- Cool Facts
- Many raptors incorporate unexpected objects into their nests. Most White-tailed Hawk nests have an especially long stick as an embellishment with no clear purpose. Adults keep adding to the nest during incubation—frequently fresh green twigs and leaves, grasses, or even cow dung.
- Songbirds sometimes nest near raptors, presumably for the protection the birds of prey might provide against other predators. Northern Mockingbirds sometimes nest in the same bush as White-tailed Hawks’ nests. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers often nest very close to White-tailed Hawks but also occasionally harass them.
- Many hawks have a dark-morph plumage, but in White-tailed Hawks in North America (subspecies hypospodius) this is only ever seen in juveniles and immatures.
- White-tailed Hawks have very long wings; in adults the wingtips extend noticeably beyond the tail when the bird is perched. Immatures have tails up to 15% longer than adults, and their wing feathers barely surpass the tip of the tail.
- The oldest White-tailed Hawk was a female, and at least 10 years, 7 months old, when she was found in Texas.