Nearctic, Neotropical: The broad-winged hawk occurs in north eastern and north central North America, and in Central America and some regions of South America, where most individuals winter.
The broad-winged hawk is a small, stocky buteo. The total length of the body is 34-44 cm, and the wingspan ranges from 81-100 cm. Females are slightly larger than the males. Adults have a dark brown back, and a pale breast and belly. The tail of the adult is dark brownish gray to black with conspicuous broad white striping. Adults have reddish brown barring on the underparts that runs horizontally, while the juvenile has browner, vertical barring. The underparts of the juveniles generally have more white. Males and females of any age look alike. In flight, the wing-tips are pointed and when the hawk is perched, they don't reach the tip of its tail.
Broad-winged hawks hunt from a perch. Their diet consists of insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. During the nesting season, chipmunks, shrews and voles are common in their diet, as well as frogs, lizards and nesting birds. In the South American wintering grounds, most of their diet includes insects, lizards and frogs. A broad-winged hawk swoops down from a 'cat-like' pose to capture its prey on the forest floor. Mammals are eaten entirely, while frogs and snakes are skinned, and birds are plucked.
The broad-winged hawk is believed to be monogamous. Little is known about pair-bonding, though it is possible that the pair-bonds can last for more than a year, though some individuals have been observed to have different mates in between years. Both sexes perform several different courtship flights, which begin soon after arrival on the breeding grounds. Some courtship feeding may take place, though it is not known if it occurs during nest construction, incubation, or both. Nest building is done by both sexes, especially the female. They build in the crotch of deciduous trees, using dead sticks, and fresh sprigs, and almost always lining the nest with bark chips. Sometimes a pair may renovate and reuse nests of other species. The eggs are laid every one or two days, and there are usually 2 or 3. The eggs can be white, pale cream, or a little bluish. Incubation, carried out by the female, is 28-31 days. She is fed by the male during this time. Fledging occurs around 41 days, and by 7 weeks the young can capture their own prey. The chicks are completely feathered by 51 days.
The broad-winged hawk tends to be inconspicuous when nesting, but very obvious during migration. It is one of the few raptors of North America that migrates in flocks, and at the peak of migration, flocks (called kettles) can number tens of thousands of individuals. Sometimes the flocks contain other raptors. They are territorial, and in territorial defense their characteristic 'kee-eee' high-pitched whistle can often be heard. This vocalization is given in various situations. They also use a Transfer Call, which is mainly a series of whines given by the adults during food transfer. They are excellent at soaring, making good use of thermals and rarely flapping. Adults roost alone during most of the year, except in migration. Pairs are also solitary during the breeding season.
The broad-winged hawk is generally found in dense deciduous or in mixed deciduous/coniferous woodlands. They can often be found near openings created by roads, trails or wetlands.
Biomes: temperate forest & rainforest, tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous forest, tropical scrub forest
Feeds on species of rodents that are sometimes pests.
Status: no special status
The broad-winged hawk is protected by state and federal law, and is considered to be one of the most common hawks in North America, though in the West Indies, deforestation and unrestricted shooting may have affected populations. The fact that the broad-winged hawk consumes amphibians may have helped it to avoid the DDT impacts in raptors of the 1950s and 1960s. There is high mortality during migration.