Category Archives: Birds Of Prey

Falconry And The Harris Hawk

 The wolf of the sky Raptors 

Sunday 14 August 2011

The Beautiful Harris Hawk used in falconry


“As site coordinator at pics4twitts I am pleased to enjoy Falconry. I will be using images that have not been altered in any way, The Images start as a Raw file which is then changed to a jpeg.Why Raw?, when you use the jpeg your camera produces, the computer inside the camera makes all the fine tune adjustments for you.I do not want that.When using Raw I have the creative edge and make any adjustments that suit my tastes, not the camera. These images from yesterday were shot using a Manual setting, Not Automatic so each image has it’s own histogram.Enjoy and I hope to see you back soon.

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Doug Worrall

The Harris Hawk  genus Parabuteo

The Falconer

Size: Length 48-56cm(19-22ins) Wingspan 135-165cm(53-65ins)
Status: Widespread.
Habitat: Dry,bush country.Lowland desert areas. (America).
Reproduction: 2-4eggs.March-June.28 day incubation.
Diet: Rabbits,rats and a variety of birds.

“Harris Hawks are one of the few broad-winged hawks that will readily hunt in a team (sometimes called a cast), when they are socialised with each other. When hunting as a team, they will take turns in flushing the quarry while the others wait & attack when flushed.”

Beautiful Raptor

The Harris Hawk is native to the central part of the Americas, southern North America down throughout much of South America. There is some evidence that they are spreading their range further into North America. Like many other raptors, the population of Harris Hawks is currently on the evidence that they are spreading their range further into North America. Like many other raptors, the population of Harris Hawks is currently on the decline. There are two subspecies of Harris Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus harrisi is found mainly in the North American down through to northern South America & generally referred to as Harris Hawk & Parabuteo unicinctus unicinctus found mainly in South America & is generally referred to as Bay-Winged Hawk.

Ready for action


The Latin name Parabuteo unicinctus means similar to a buzzard (Parabuteo) with single stripe (unicinctus) (referring to tail). The ornithologist, Audobon, gave the bird the name Harris Hawk, after his friend Colonel Harris.

In the wild, Harris Hawks prey on small rodents, such as rats & mice, lizards, small birds (often taken in flight) & small mammals, such as young rabbits. If prey is scarce, they have been known to feed on carrion.

In the wild Harris Hawks will live up to 12 years, in captivity they can live for twice that long.

Very often, a female Harris Hawk will mate with two males & the nest may be made in cooperation of several other birds. Nests are made in the tops of trees or on the top of a tall yucca or cactus. Up to 5 eggs are laid & incubation is done by the female (33-36 days). Feeding of the young is done by the female & both of the males she mated with. The young are fully fledged in 7-8 weeks from hatching, though the young may stay with the parents for up to 1 year. Sometimes two clutches of eggs are laid in a season, between early March to late June.

The Harris Hawk


At least one study has shown that the polyandry (mating with more than one male) exhibited by the female Harris Hawks is not due to an imbalance in the ration of males to females, the ratio is roughly 50:50. Whilst it is not certain why the polyandry exists, one theory suggests that the amount of available food available may be an issue. Some studies have shown that in areas of large amounts of food, the males (who usually provide most of the food during the early part of the breeding season) are more likely to mate with more than one female (polygamy) as they are able to provide food for both. In areas of low amounts of food, polyandry is more likely, as the chances of survival for the young is improved with two or more males providing the food. As Harris Hawks naturally hunt cooperatively & are usually more successful hunting in this manner, this has been suggested as a major reason for the female Harris Hawks taking two mates.

The Harris Hawk in all her glory

Harris Hawks are one of the few broad-winged hawks that will readily hunt in a team (sometimes called a cast), when they are socialised with each other. When hunting as a team, they will take turns in flushing the quarry while the others wait & attack when flushed. This enables the hunting to carry on for longer than usual, often with the prey tiring before the birds.If the prey hides in bushes, then some of the group will attempt to go in after the prey, while the rest wait on the other side for the prey to rush out. In the wild, this cooperative hunting is most often done during the winter months when prey is scarce, the prey will be equally shared at the end of the hunt, often with the juveniles being given the first share, while the adults wait.

The Harris Hawk handled with care and love

Since being introduced into falconry in this country around 35 years ago, Harris Hawks have become one of the most popular falconry birds here. Due to its size, intelligence & temperament an ideal beginner’s bird (some think it is not suitable as a beginners bird, because it is too easy to train, & so the beginner actually learns very little). Although generally amiable, can be temperamental, females being particularly prone to aggression in adulthood and young birds can have very anti-social manners. Early imprinting on humans, & occasionally when kept singly, partial imprinting on the owner, associating people with food, can produce birds that scream for food when the owner is in sight. Juveniles tend to grow out of this after the first moult, but it is not guaranteed.

The Falconer and his Raptor

In the wild, Harris Hawks have been seen to indulge in “stacking” – sitting on each others backs, often up to three high, either on the ground or on the top of a cactus. It is not certain why they do this, though it has been suggested as either due to lack of roosting space or as a method of still hunting, giving slightly more height & so further distance seen, in desert areas which do not have the benefit of trees or poles to sit on.

Raptor facts

Raptors are normally aggressive solitary hunters except for the
Gregarious Harris Hawk. Hunting in a well formed social group ensures the capture of more prey.
In years of an abundance of food, they rear more than one clutch, with the first youngsters helping to rear the second clutch.
They are nicknamed the wolf of the sky because of their pack hunting instincts.


Harris Hawks have an arch enemy in the wild. It is the fearsome Great Horned Owl. The owl loves to ambush them at night but if the hawks spot them in the day there’s big trouble. Gang warfare breaks out as the group will attack the owl. They will even attack a stuffed owl! Thought they were supposed to be clever?

The Harris Hawk is also known as the Bay Winged Hawk. This is due to the bay or brownish colour on their wings. Can you see them on the birds here?

The Harris Hawk is the most popular bird used in falconry. Because they are sociable you can fly more than one at the same time in most environments. But they are NOT good pets. Training is most important before you own any bird of prey.

One foot away with the lens
Sitting on her perch


Harris Hawks spend much of their time landing and sitting on cactus plants looking for food. They must have tough skin because much of their time is spent pulling out hundreds of cactus needles that get stuck in their feet. Ouch!

Harris Hawk in flight

The Harris Hawk is named after Mr. Edward Harris. Mr. Harris was a companion of one of Americas most famous artists and naturalists- John James Audubon. The paintings of Mr. Audubon are famous all over the world.

Harris Hawk in flight

Many Harris Hawks are now kept in captivity in Britain and unfortunately many are lost never to be seen again . However many do survive and there have even been reports that some have bred. This would not be good for our own environment as we have our own birds of prey that need to eat! Could we one day see the “wolf of the sky” patrolling our own countryside?

Breakfast Treat


By Doug Worrall

Doug Worrall Photographer