HARRIS HAWK or BAY-WINGED HAWK
‘The Duffer’s hawk (?!)’ *
IDENTIFICATION. Divided into three sub species, Parabuteo unicinctus unicinctus (the smallest), Parabuteo unicinctus harrisi and the largest Parabuteo unicinctus superior, the Harris Hawk could be said to be the link between true Hawks (Accipiter) and Buzzards (Buteo). Its Latin name Parabuteo means 'similar to Buteo' or Buzzard like, whereas its long legs and tail suggest a more hawk like raptor.
The Harris Hawks' plumage is quite distinctive. The adults body, head and tail are dark brown in colour, appearing almost black. This dark feathering is punctuated with chestnut 'shoulders' and a white tip to the long dark brown tail. The legs are long and yellow/orange in colour with chestnut feathering. The beak is large and yellow. The eyes are brown.
Juveniles have whitish streaking on the chest, a barring effect on the legs as well as on the underside of the tail and wing feathers.
IN FLIGHT. When flying the Harris hawk is not dissimilar in appearance to a harrier. The tail is long and the rump is white. The broad wings are not so 'angled' as the harrier, in fact they are almost rectangular, but the males have a definite bouncy style of flight, especially in wind. High soaring and dives are quite common in search of prey, as well as fast tail chases of both ground and air quarry. In dense foliage the Harris can be seen running after its prey.
DISTRIBUTION. American in origin the Harris hawk's range stretches from Brazil in the south to California in the west, including Kansas in Mid America. The Harris is a bird of semi-dessert and savannah and is quite at home perched on a cactus.
FOOD. Birds of varying sizes, including teal and corncrake. Reptiles and mammals up to the size of Jack Rabbits.
Harris hawks are the only raptor to 'pack' hunt. Uniquely family groups of seven hawks or more work together as a team to catch large prey. The faster males seizing the prey before the larger, more powerful females, come in and make the kill. Surprisingly the hunting group share the feast with little squabbling. Other raptors such as Lanner and Peregrine Falcons occasionally hunt in pairs, a cast, but the Harris is the only raptor to employ this tactic as the norm.
BREEDING. March to April may have multiple broods. 1 to 5 eggs laid in a stick nest on a large cacti or in a tree. Young hatch after 5 weeks, flying about 40 days later. The young may stay to help rear further broods.
SIZE. 51-65cm (20-25ins)
WEIGHT. 575g-1.1kg (1lb 4oz -2lb 7oz)
CALL. A grating Rah-Rah. Or an extremely annoying high pitch scream, usually in the first year.
* Being easier to train than a Goshawk or Peregrine Falcon, the Harris hawk has been labelled the 'Duffer's hawk' by a few 'Purist' Falconers. This I feel is unfair. In my opinion the Harris hawk could be the saviour of British Falconry. Small groups, such as Falconers', come under great pressure from the areas of society who wish to see field sports banned. The Harris hawk offers many people the chance to fly a bird of prey who in the past may have missed out. My argument is that if more people practise falconry then there are more people to argue our case. If we do not pull together we ALL may lose our sport.
Many find the Harris hawk to be the perfect falconry partner. Their first quality is their amiable nature, the males being slightly more manageable than the females. Training can take as little as two weeks, with 'following on' seeming to be a natural ability. A Harris hawk will look at the falconer as being part of the hunting team allowing a good working relationship to build. However if the Harris hawk thinks you are not doing your job properly he will tell you!
The females are capable of taking quarry to the size of hare, with rabbit being the most popular. The males speed and agility make them good for feather as well as fur.
Harris hawks, like all raptors, have their problems. Being a dessert bird frost and extreme cold can cause frost bite. Allowing the bird to be free in an aviary with tall perches helps. On very cold nights a small heater may be a good idea.
In their first year the males can be prone to breaking their legs on rabbits or if tied down to a bow perch (beware of elasticated leashes' they can increase the strain on a young hawks legs).
Harris' hate dogs. Their natural predator is the American Coyote, and this can be a real problem. If you intend to use a dog to hunt with make sure it is around in the early stages of training. My hawk Duffer has a good hunting relationship with my Labrador, but if he sees another dog - that's it, he sits up a tree shouting his head off until the offending canine has left.
And finally that scream. If your bird is an imprint, or is exposed to other noisy hawks, or has its weight poorly managed it may well scream, DAY and NIGHT !
As with all raptors read as much as you can on the subject, buy a video, join a good club, go on a course, talk to experienced Falconers, buy your falconry furniture/food in advance, make sure your aviary is right, find a reputable breeder and THEN buy your bird.