Birds – Broad Winged Hawk

(Buteo latissimus)

Length—Male 14 inches; female 16 inches.

Male and Female—Upper parts dusky grayish brown more or less bordered with rusty and buff; blackish tail with two bars and the tip grayish white; three outer primaries of wings notched; under parts heavily barred with white or buff and dull chestnut brown, the dark in excess on the front parts, the white predominant underneath; most of the feathers black shafted, giving the effect of pencilling, particularly on white throat; wing linings white with some reddish or blackish spotting.

Range—Eastern North America from New Brunswick and the Saskatchewan to the Gulf of Mexico, northern South America and the West Indies; nests throughout its United States range.

Season—Summer resident. May to October.

This is the hawk of the Adirondacks among other favorite resorts, and since it comes north chiefly to nest, no place is too inaccessible for it to seek out, no retreat too lonely for these devoted mates, that ever delight most of all in each other’s company. While its range is wide, it is locally common in a few places and rare in others, a lover of wild, unvisited regions while it has serious concerns to attend to, and only during the spring and autumn migrations, therefore is it much in evidence; but no-where and at no time so common about farms and the habitations of men as the red-tailed and the red-shouldered “chicken hawks ” that, on the contrary, have nothing to do with mountain fastnesses.

Yet the broad-winged species is perhaps the least suspicious and approachable hawk we have; gentle and never offering to strike at an intruder no matter in what distress of mind concerning its nest; inoffensive to its smallest feathered neighbor; lacking in the spirit and dash of a Cooper’s hawk, and also in that murderer’s bloodthirstiness; and quiet except just near its home. There one sometimes hears the chee-e-e-e of one mate sitting on some distended dead limb, answered by the other lover for hours at a time during the nesting season. Like most of its tribe, both mates construct a bulky nest of twigs high in some tree close to the trunk, and, if necessary, will repair an old nest from year to year rather than leave a beloved home. From two to four dull or buff white eggs spotted, blotched, or washed with yellow or cinnamon brown, keep both parents closely confined by turns during the four weeks of early summer that must elapse before the downy helpless fledglings begin to clamor for grass-hoppers, beetles, crickets, mice, gophers, squirrels, shrews, small snakes and frogs (very rarely small birds), that must be consumed in large quantities judging from the quantity of pellets of hair and other indigestible material found below the cradle. The farmer has every reason to protect so valuable an ally.

Although it appears sluggish, and even stupid, when perching after a gorge, the broad-winged hawk naturally would be a graceful, easy flyer. Gliding through the air in spirals so high that one sometimes loses sight of its heavy, broad ,body, it has been seen swooping suddenly to earth, like a meteor; then catching itself before dashing its body to pieces on the mountain side, it will fly off, with short, rapid strokes, at high speed.

The Rough-legged Hawk (Archibuteo lagopus sancti-johannis)—the hare-footed hawk of St. John, New Brunswick—is almost too variable in plumage to be briefly described, but whether in its dark, almost blackish, phase, when it is known as the black hawk; or in the light phase, when its dusky upper parts are mixed with much white and buff, and its whitish under parts are streaked and spotted with black to form a band across the lower chest, it may always be known by its fully feathered legs. In the United States it is chiefly a spring and autumn migrant, or a winter visitor, for it goes to the fur countries to nest. The material for a cradle, usually placed on a cliff, would fill a wheelbarrow. Its range is over the whole United States, Alaska, and the British possessions. One occasionally meets this large, heavy prowler at the dusk of evening, when mice and the other small rodents, crickets and such humble quarry creep timidly forth, flying with noiseless, measured, owl-like pace, quite low along the ground, like the harrier, and ready to pounce upon a victim. Or again, it may be sitting on a low branch, sluggishly waiting for its prey to come within striking distance. Its choice of food is calculated to win for the hawk the friendship of the intelligent farmer.