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Northern Goshawk ad M2.jpg
Adult Northern goshawk
Scientific classification
Sharp-shinned hawk, a small member of the Accipitrinae subfamily Accipiter striatusDO1908P02CA.JPG
Sharp-shinned hawk, a small member of the Accipitrinae subfamily

Hawks are a group of medium-sized diurnal birds of prey of the family Accipitridae. Hawks are widely distributed and vary greatly in size.


The terms accipitrine hawk and buteonine hawk are used to distinguish between the types in regions where hawk applies to both. The term "true hawk" is sometimes used for the accipitrine hawks in regions where buzzard is preferred for the buteonine hawks.

All these groups are members of the family Accipitridae, which includes the hawks and buzzards as well as kites, harriers and eagles. To confuse things further, some authors use "hawk" generally for any small to medium Accipitrid that is not an eagle. [2]

A Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), a member of the Buteo group Red-tailed Hawk.jpg
A Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), a member of the Buteo group

The common names of some birds include the term "hawk", reflecting traditional usage rather than taxonomy. For example, some people may call an osprey a "fish hawk" or a peregrine falcon a "duck hawk".


Falconry was once called "hawking" and any bird used for falconry could be referred to as a hawk. [3]

Aristotle listed eleven types of ἱέρακες (hierakes, hawks, singular ἱέραξhierax): aisalōn (merlin), asterias, hypotriorchēs, kirkos, leios, perkos, phassophonos, phrynologos, pternis, spizias, and triorchēs. Pliny numbered sixteen kinds of hawks, but named only aigithos, epileios, kenchrēïs (kestrel), kybindis, and triorchēs (buzzard). [4]


Accipiter group

The accipitrine hawks generally hunt birds as their primary prey. They are also called "hen-hawks", or "wood-hawks" because of their woodland habitat.

The subfamily Accipitrinae contains Accipiter; it also contains genera Micronisus (Gabar goshawk), Urotriorchis (long-tailed hawk), and Megatriorchis (Doria's goshawk). Melierax (chanting goshawks) may be included in the subfamily, or given a subfamily of its own.

Erythrotriorchis (the red and chestnut-shouldered goshawks) is traditionally included in Accipitrinae, but is possibly a convergent genus from an unrelated group (see red goshawk taxonomy).

Buteo group

The "Buteo group" includes genera Buteo , Parabuteo , Geranoetus , and most of Leucopternis . Members of this group have also been called "hawk-buzzards". [5]

Proposed new genera Morphnarchus, Rupornis, and Pseudastur are formed from members of Buteo and Leucopternis. [6]

The " Buteogallus group" are also called hawks, with the exception of the solitary eagles. Buteo is the type genus of the subfamily Buteoninae. Traditionally this subfamily also includes eagles and sea-eagles. Lerner and Mindell (2005) proposed placing those into separate subfamilies (Aquilinae, Haliaaetinae), leaving only the buteonine hawks/buzzards in Buteoninae.



In February 2005, Canadian ornithologist Louis Lefebvre announced a method of measuring avian "IQ" by measuring their innovation in feeding habits. [7] Based on this scale, hawks were named among the most intelligent birds.


Hawks, like most birds, are tetrachromats having four types of colour receptors in the eye. These give hawks the ability to perceive not only the visible range but also ultraviolet light. Other adaptations allow for the detection of polarised light or magnetic fields. This is due to the large number of photoreceptors in the retina (up to 1,000,000 per square mm in Buteo, compared to 200,000 in humans), a high number of nerves connecting these receptors to the brain, and an indented fovea, which magnifies the central portion of the visual field. [8] [9]


A hawk in flight Hawk in Kurdistan.jpg
A hawk in flight

Hawks are known to have sharp vision and to be able hunters. [10] The female is generally larger than the male.


Like most birds, the hawk migrates in the autumn and the spring. Different types of hawks choose separate times in each season to migrate. The autumn migrating season begins in August and ends mid-December. It has been studied that there are longer migration distances than others. The long-distance travelers tend to begin in early autumn while the short distance travelers start much later. Thus, the longer the distance the earlier the bird begins its journey. There have been studies on the speed and efficiency of the bird's migration that show that it is better for a hawk to arrive at its destination as early as possible. [11] This is because the first bird that arrives has the first pick of mates, living area, food, and survival necessities. The more fat a bird has when it starts its migration, the better chance it has of making the trip safely. Kerlinger states that studies have shown that a bird has more body fat when it begins its migration, before it leaves, than when has arrived at its destination. [12]

One of the most important parts of the hawk's migration is the flight direction because the direction or path the bird chooses to take could greatly affect its migration. The force of wind is a variable because it could either throw the bird off course or push it in the right direction, depending on the direction of the wind. [12] To ensure a safer journey, a hawk tries to avoid any large bodies of water in the spring and fall by detouring around a lake or flying along a border. [13]

Hawkwatching is a citizen scientist activity that monitors hawk migration and provides data to the scientific community.

Habitat and distribution

The red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk in North America. Past observations have indicated that while hawks can easily adapt to any surrounding, hawks prefer a habitat that is open. Hawks usually like to live in places like deserts and fields, likely as it is easier to find prey. As they are able to live anywhere, they can be found in mountainous plains and tropical, moist areas. Hawks have been found in places such as Central America, the West Indies, and Jamaica.


Starting in the hawk's early life, it is fed by its parents until it leaves the nest. [10] The young hawk, while still in its fledgling phase, will leave its nest as early as six weeks old. Once the bird is older it begins to hunt. The hawk kills its prey with its talons as opposed to other predator birds, such as the falcon. The falcon uses its talons to catch the prey but kills the small animal with its beak instead of its talons. [14] The hawk's preferred time for hunting is usually just before nightfall when daylight lessens. [11] Although the hawk is known for being a violent predator, some are gentle and quiet. [14] When it flies, the hawk flaps its wings rapidly, and then uses that momentum to glide smoothly and gracefully through the air. [13]

The idea of flocking during migration has been closely analyzed, and it has been concluded that it is a commutative tool used by birds and other animals to increase survival. It has become clear to observers that a hawk traveling in a flock has a greater chance of survival than if it travelled alone. Another word used in the United States that has the same meaning as "flock", particularly in terms of groups of hawks, is "kettle". [12] :215–16


Hawks are known for their unique mating season. The method the hawk uses to reproduce is different from most. The male and female will fly together in a circular motion. Once they reach a certain height, the male will dive toward the female and then they will raise back to the height again. The two birds will repeat this until finally the male latches onto the female and they begin to free-fall down to earth. In one year, a female hawk will lay about five eggs. Both the male and the female will cater and take care of the eggs for about a month until they hatch. [10] The male and the female create their nest before the mating season and improve it together during the nesting season. The two birds usually make their nest prior to mating. Some species of hawks tend to be monogamous and stay with the same mating partner their whole lives. [13]


Red-tailed hawk removing fur from a rodent before eating it, Mission Peak Regional Preserve, California

A hawk's diet is predictable and includes a variety of smaller animals. Some of these small animals include snakes, lizards, fish, mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and any other type of small game that is found on the ground. [10] More specifically, a red-shouldered hawk likes to eat smaller birds like doves and bugs like grasshoppers and crickets. [13]

A war hawk , or simply hawk, is a term used in politics for somebody favouring war. The term reportedly originated during the 1810 debates in Congress over a possible war with Great Britain when Congressman John Randolph called the pro-war faction led by Henry Clay, the 'war-hawks'. [15]

Numerous sporting clubs, such as the Atlanta Hawks, the Hawthorn Hawks and the Malmö Redhawks, use the bird as an emblem. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio officially became known as the RedHawks in 1997 after formerly being known as the Redskins.

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb holding a hawk in his darbar Aurangzeb-portrait.jpg
Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb holding a hawk in his darbar

Related Research Articles

Common buzzard Species of bird of prey

The common buzzard is a medium-to-large bird of prey which has a large range. A member of the genus Buteo, it is a member of the family Accipitridae. The species lives in most of Europe and extends its breeding range across much of the Palearctic as far as the northwestern China, far western Siberia and northwestern Mongolia. Over much of its range, it is a year-round resident. However, buzzards from the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere as well as those that breed in the eastern part of their range typically migrate south for the northern winter, many journeying as far as South Africa. The common buzzard is an opportunistic predator that can take a wide variety of prey, but it feeds mostly on small mammals, especially rodents such as voles. It typically hunts from a perch. Like most accipitrid birds of prey, it builds a nest, typically in trees in this species, and is a devoted parent to a relatively small brood of young. The common buzzard appears to be the most common diurnal raptor in Europe, as estimates of its total global population run well into the millions.

Eagle Large carnivore bird

Eagle is the common name for many large birds of prey of the family Accipitridae. Eagles belong to several groups of genera, some of which are closely related. Most of the 60 species of eagle are from Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just 14 species can be found—2 in North America, 9 in Central and South America, and 3 in Australia.

Bird of prey Any species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on relatively large vertebrates

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, include species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large relative to the hunter. Additionally, they have keen eyesight for detecting food at a distance or during flight, strong feet equipped with talons for grasping or killing prey, and powerful, curved beaks for tearing flesh. The term raptor is derived from the Latin word rapio, meaning to seize or take by force. In addition to hunting live prey, many birds, such as fish eagles, vultures and condors, eat carrion.

Accipitridae Family of birds of prey

The Accipitridae, one of the three families within the order Accipitriformes, are a family of small to large birds with strongly hooked bills and variable morphology based on diet. They feed on a range of prey items from insects to medium-sized mammals, with a number feeding on carrion and a few feeding on fruit. The Accipitridae have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found on all the world's continents and a number of oceanic island groups. Some species are migratory.

Falconry Hunting with a trained bird of prey

Falconry is the hunting of wild animals in their natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. Small animals are hunted; squirrels and rabbits often fall prey to these birds. Two traditional terms are used to describe a person involved in falconry: a "falconer" flies a falcon; an "austringer" flies a hawk or an eagle. In modern falconry, the red-tailed hawk, Harris's hawk, and the peregrine falcon are some of the more commonly used birds of prey. The practice of hunting with a conditioned falconry bird is also called "hawking" or "gamehawking", although the words hawking and hawker have become used so much to refer to petty traveling traders, that the terms "falconer" and "falconry" now apply to most use of trained birds of prey to catch game. Many contemporary practitioners still use these words in their original meaning, however.

Kite (bird) Bird of prey

Kite is the common name for certain birds of prey in the family Accipitridae, particularly in subfamilies Milvinae, Elaninae, and Perninae.

European honey buzzard Species of bird

The European honey buzzard, also known as the pern or common pern, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae.

Rough-legged buzzard Species of bird

The rough-legged buzzard or rough-legged hawk is a medium-large bird of prey. It is found in Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America, Europe, and Russia during the breeding season and migrates south for the winter. It was traditionally also known as the rough-legged falcon in such works as John James Audubon's The Birds of America.

Red-tailed hawk Species of bird

The red-tailed hawk is a bird of prey that breeds throughout most of North America, from the interior of Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies. It is one of the most common members within the genus of Buteo in North America or worldwide. The red-tailed hawk is one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk", though it rarely preys on standard-sized chickens. The bird is sometimes also referred to as the red-tail for short, when the meaning is clear in context. Red-tailed hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within their range, occurring on the edges of non-ideal habitats such as dense forests and sandy deserts. The red-tailed hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, agricultural fields and urban areas. Its latitudinal limits fall around the tree line in the Arctic and the species is absent from the high Arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico, and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Ferruginous hawk Species of bird

The ferruginous hawk, Buteo regalis, is a large bird of prey and belongs to the broad-winged buteo hawks. An old colloquial name is ferrugineous rough-leg, due to its similarity to the closely related rough-legged hawk.

Buteoninae Subfamily of birds

The Buteoninae are a subfamily of birds of prey which consists of medium to large, broad-winged species.

Crested honey buzzard Species of bird

The crested honey buzzard is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, eagles, and harriers. This species is also known as the Oriental honey buzzard.

Lizard buzzard Species of bird

The lizard buzzard or lizard hawk, is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its name, it may be more closely related to the Accipiter hawks than the Buteo buzzards.

Harriss hawk Species of bird

Harris's hawk, formerly known as the bay-winged hawk or dusky hawk, and known in Latin America as peuco, is a medium-large bird of prey that breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile, central Argentina, and Brazil. Birds are sometimes reported at large in Western Europe, especially Britain, but it is a popular species in falconry and these records almost certainly all refer to escapes from captivity.

Black-chested buzzard-eagle Species of bird

The black-chested buzzard-eagle is a bird of prey of the hawk and eagle family (Accipitridae). It lives in open regions of South America. This species is also known as the black buzzard-eagle, grey buzzard-eagle or analogously with "eagle" or "eagle-buzzard" replacing "buzzard-eagle", or as the Chilean blue eagle. It is sometimes placed in the genus Buteo.

<i>Buteogallus</i> Genus of birds

Buteogallus is a genus of bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. All members of this genus are essentially neotropical, but the distribution of a single species extends slightly into the extreme southwestern United States. Many of the species are fond of large crustaceans and even patrol long stretches of shore or riverbank on foot where such prey abounds, but some have a rather different lifestyle. Unlike many other genera of raptor, some members are referred to as "hawks", and others as "eagles".

Barred hawk Species of bird

The barred hawk is a species of bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It has also been known as the black-chested hawk.

Aquilinae Subfamily of birds

The Aquilinae are a subfamily of eagles of the family Accipitridae. The general common name used for members of this subfamily is "booted eagle", although this is also the common name of a member of the subfamily. At one point, this subfamily was considered inclusive with the Buteoninae based probably on some shared morphological characteristics. However, research on the DNA of the booted eagles has shown that they are a monophyletic group that probably have had millions of years of separation from other extant forms of accipitrid.

Northern goshawk Species of bird

The northern goshawk is a medium-large raptor in the family Accipitridae, which also includes other extant diurnal raptors, such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. As a species in the genus Accipiter, the goshawk is often considered a "true hawk". The scientific name is Latin; Accipiter is "hawk", from accipere, "to grasp", and gentilis is "noble" or "gentle" because in the Middle Ages only the nobility were permitted to fly goshawks for falconry.

Gray hawk species of raptor

The gray hawk or Mexican goshawk is a smallish raptor found in open country and forest edges. It is sometimes placed in the genus Asturina as Asturina plagiata. The species was split by the American Ornithological Society (AOU) from the gray-lined hawk. The gray hawk is found from Costa Rica north into the southwestern United States.


  1. Campbell, B., Lack.E (2013) A Dictionary of Birds. p.273
  2. Debus, Stephen J. S. (1990). The birds of prey of Australia: a field guide. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp. 12, 16, 62. ISBN   0-19-550624-3. Debus writes that the osprey is "a large aquatic hawk, with adaptations for catching fish by plunge-diving into water"; the elanid kites are "small, gull-like, grey-and-white hawks with black forewing patches"; and, of the harriers, that the "hawks in this cosmopolitan genus ('circling hawk') are so-called because of their low harrying flight". But he refers to the "typical or milvine kites" as "large kites", not hawks.
  3. Little, William; Fowler, H. W.; Coulson, Jessie; Onions, C. T.; Friedrichsen, G. W. S. (1973) [1944]. "Hawk". The shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles (3 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-861-294-X. Any diurnal bird of prey used in Falconry ... In Nat. Hist., restricted to a bird of the subfamily Accipitrinæ ... To chase or hunt game with a trained hawk; to practise falconry. ... Thei hauke, thei hunt, thei card, thei dice. Latimer [Hugh 1485? 1555]
  4. Arnott, W. Geoffrey (2007). "Hierax". Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. ISBN   9781134556267.
  5. "Hawk". The Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
  6. Remsen, Van (August 2010). "Revise generic boundaries in the Buteo group. Proposal (460) to the South American Classification Committee" . Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  7. EurekAlert! Public News List:Bird IQ test takes flight - Dr. Lefebvre's AAAS presentation - Feeding innovations and forebrain size in birds (Monday, February 21, 2005)Part of the symposium: Mind, Brain and Behavior
  8. "Hawks". beautyofbirds.com. Retrieved 2010-01-30.
  9. Kirschbaum, Kari. "Family Accipitridae". AnimalDiversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 2010-01-30.
  10. 1 2 3 4 "Red-Tailed Hawk". National Geographic. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  11. 1 2 Heintzelman, Donald S. (1986). The Migration of Hawks. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 40.
  12. 1 2 3 Kerlinger, Paul (1989). Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 57–58, 153.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Heintzelman, Donald S. (2004). Hawks & Owls in Eastern North America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. pp. 96–98. ISBN   9780813533506.
  14. 1 2 "Hawks-Characteristics and Behaviour". Net Industries. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  15. p 156, "Fighting Words, From War, Rebellions, and Other Combative Capers by Christine Ammer.: