Bird of the Week #11: Harris’s Hawk

Have you ever heard a hawk scream and beg for food like a puppy? I have! That’s how I met Hannah Montana. No, not Miley Cyrus, I mean Hannah Montana who is a Harris’s Hawk. I never bothered to ask why her name was Hannah Montana, but here we are. All pictures in this article are of Hannah, who was an absolute delight to meet at the Eagle Valley Raptor Center.

Like all birds featured as “bird of the week” during Raptor Week, Hannah is a permanent resident at the EVRC and would not be able to survive in the wild. Fortunately, she has a happy home where she is well-fed and looked after.

Before meeting Hannah, I had actually never heard of the Harris’s Hawk before meeting Hannah. Harris’s Hawks are not found in Kansas and are only found in the southern-most parts of the southwestern United States. Their range is mostly Central America and certain parts of South America, generally preferring open, arid, and desert environments. I generally prefer to focus my bird content on the Great Plains, but since Hannah lives in Kansas, I figure I can make a small exception!

Hannah Montana wants more mice!

Harris’s Hawks are known chiefly for being the “social raptors” and the only raptors to hunt in packs, almost like wolves. This may be why Hannah was so much more vocal than the other birds at EVRC. She was absolutely not afraid to speak her mind, knowing full well that the humans approaching her enclosure come bearing the gift of mice.

Their wolf-like hunting behavior has been observed to involve up to six birds, with each hawk serving a different purpose. Like all hawks, Harris’s Hawks have excellent vision and, working together, finding prey isn’t difficult. They’ll generally choose one to be the scout and take turns flying off to spot dinner while the others wait. Once they’ve spotted prey, one will be tasked with keeping it out of hiding by chasing it, usually from down low or on the ground. Finally, some of the other hawks will descend on the prey, going in for the kill.

This form of tactical predation shows advanced social thinking and cooperation. The Harris’s Hawks seem to have worked out that everyone survives in the food-scarce desert environment by working as a team and it also shows intelligence that they each have a different role in the operation.

Another note to Harris’s Hawk hunting is that they’re also adept runners, with specially adapted long legs. This makes it more difficult for animals like rabbits or squirrels to hide underneath things and evade.

Hannah Montana poses for me

You can differentiate the Harris’s Hawk from other hawks by their plumage. They are mostly dark brown and darker in general than, say, the more lightly colored Red-tailed Hawk.

Harris’s Hawks are known to be intelligent and easily trained, making them popular choices for falconers, even rivaling the most famous Peregrine Falcon. According to Wikipedia, they are the most popular in the West. I’ve said before that being social is a good indicator of intelligence and the Harris’s Hawk does not seem like an exception to this rule. I also postulate than since the Harris’s Hawk is naturally inclined to cooperate and work with other Harris’s Hawks, they more easily slide into the role of working together with humans.

As I said before, you won’t see a Harris’s Hawk in the wild in Kansas, but you can meet Hannah Montana at the Eagle Valley Raptor Center. She was one of my favorite parts! I even got to have Hannah land on my hand and eat a mouse from my glove! How cool is that?

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at one of the most famous raptors of all: the Bald Eagle!

Let me know in the comments what you think of our favorite flying pack hunter!

Thanks for dropping by!

Hannah eats from my friend’s hand. She has her wings out like this to cover her food so no one tries to steal it!

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