Harris Hawk - Most Versatile Bird of Prey


Harris Hawk - Most Versatile Bird of Prey

The Harris Hawk. On this page we will discover in depth information on the harris. Also I will discuss the peruvian harris and other hawks for sale in falconry :)

  • Harris' Hawk - parabuteo unicunctus
  • Wingspan - 92-121 cm
  • Tail length - 19-27 cm
  • Overall length - 45-59 cm
  • Male size in relation to female - 87%

Harris Hawks General Information

The Harris, also known as the bay-winged-hawk is a medium sized long legged raptor, indiginous to the southern states of Northern America and South America. The Harris varies considerably in size and appearance throughout its range, it's subspecies include the Peruvian Harris Hawk, which I will discuss in more depth later.

General adult plumage is dark with rufous shoulders and thighs. They have a white tail-tip which they use to communicate with one another during hunts. They have a yellow cere and legs and dark brown eyes. Juveniles are streaked with buff and are generally lighter in color.

The latin name parabuteo unicunctus means literally "like-buzzard one-line". This is referring to the fact that it is the only species in the genus parabuteo. The Harris falls directly between the Hawk (accipiter) family and the buzzard (buteo) family and has characteristics of both. This means the Harris has broad (soaring) wings like the buzzards, but also a long tail to aid manouverability, typical of the true Hawks.

The bay winged hawk is more of an active flyer than most buzzards and doesn't often "still hunt". They learn to adapt very quickly to different situations and apply different tactics to each prey species. Often they will soar at high altitude scanning for prey not unlike eagle behaviour.

One of the most fascinating facts about the Harris is that they are social hunters. They are the only known Bird of Prey that will regularly hunt together in 'packs'...

This collabaritive hunting makes the Harris one of the most successful predators in the world, resulting in an extremely high kill rate; much higher than even wolves and lions. Studies have shown that the optimum number of hawks for a hunt is five birds.

The secret to the Harris' success as hunters lies in their incredible ability to cooperate with one another. It is an extremely intelligent raptor, capable of devising and co-ordinating complicated and pre-meditated attacks on a regular basis. On top of this, the females and males have different qualities, both sexes have specific roles to play in any cooperative hunt.

The males are of a slighter build and have longer legs. Thus making them ideal for agile flight, hunting in confined spaces and chasing prey on the ground. When necessary the males job is to "flush" the prey towards the waiting females. This is where their smaller size is useful as they can squeeze into smaller holes and cover, flushing out the prey.

As I have already stated, the males are more agile in flight than the females. They are quicker on the turn and are capable of even flipping upside down to catch their prey. The males also have a very strong grip for their size (as I know from personal experience :) ), much stronger than that of a correspondingly sized tiercel goshawk.

The females on the other hand play a different role during a hunt. They normally take the higher perches (being the dominant sex) meaning they are ideally placed for intercepting the prey that the males flush out.

The females have much bigger and stronger feet, making them much more powerful than the males. This means they are well equipped for holding and pinning the prey before it is subdued. This picture clearly shows the talon.

Hawk Feeding Habits

Because of their versatility and technique of hunting, in their wild state, Harrises take a wide variety of prey including reptiles, small mammals and rodents, birds and jackrabbits. Harrises are normally found in sparse, desert like arid environments and are often seen perching on cactus plants.

Use in Falconry

The Harris is one of the most important of all the birds of prey as far as the world of Falconry is concerned. This amazingly versatile hawk only came on to the scene relatively recently and since then has changed the sport completely. It is now by far the most commonly flown bird of prey...

This is mainly down to the fact that in it's wild state it is such a sociable raptor. This can also be mirrored in a captive state and means that the Harris will very quickly learn that the falconer is a useful ally when hunting. Also because of its relatively amenable nature, the Harris is one of the easier birds of prey to handle and tame (manning process.)

I am by no means saying that the Harris is an easy option because as many people know, they can be very demanding and females especially can have quite a temper. Because of their very high intelligence level Harris' hawks can easily become bored and will often amuse themselves by untying the falconers knot whilst bowed out (on their perch) and fly off into the nearest tree...not so amusing for the falconer!

Unfortunately. Nowadays Harrises are far too easy to come by. Harris hawks for sale are everywhere and they are very cheap. It is possible to pick up a male harris for £250 and a female for £400. You don’t even need any kind of licence which to be honest sickens me.

As in the wild, a trained Harris can take a variety of prey, they are normally flown at rabbits, squirrels, pheasants and ducks although one hears many stories of Harris Hawks taking all kinds of prey including pidgeons, partridges, magpies, and even geese, (although I have not seen proof of this!)

Flying in a Cast

One of the main reasons why the Harris is such a popular option for falconers all around the world is the fact that they can be flown in a “cast”. This means that they can be flown together in a pair or more. The fact that you can do this with the harris hawk means that falconry can be now much more of a sociable past-time.

Falconers meet up and fly their harrises together on a day out. This also maximises the chance of success for the hawks which in turn builds their confidence.

It is incredible to watch a harris hunting. It baffles me every time to see just how intelligent they are. Harris Hawks will often “talk” to the falconer to tell him that there is prey that maybe the bird has spotted and not the falconer.

They have been known to sit over cover where (unbeknown to the falconer) the quarry is hiding. They will then make noises to the falconer to tell him to flush the quarry. They really are very crafty birds.

There is rarely too much violence between harris hawks as it in their natural instinct to hunt together. Here is a harris hawk picture showing two Harris Hawks hunting cooperatively. Thank you very much to Jason Foley for providing the pictures for this page.

As you can see, harrises will not normally squabble with each other unless they want to play with a ball ;)

The Peruvian Harris

The Peruvian Harris Hawk is a subspecies of the Harris. They are not unlike their cousin however they are considerably smaller and lighter. The hunt much more like an accipiter and are slightly faster on the wing.

The Peruvian Harris also has a reputation for being more aggressive and moody and harder to man (again like the accipiter family). The Peruvian Harris hawk is not so much used in falconry yet but more and more people are becoming interested in these great little birds.

For anyone interested (seriously) in falconry. A Harris is the perfect companion. They can become almost dog tame and, if trained well will come back to the glove even without a reward. There is a reason why this hawk is the most popular in falconry today.

Thankyou for reading my harris page. If you want to know more about harris hawks for sale. I will hopefully be putting up links on the site soon for breeders.

Please remember that just because the harris hawks for sale are readily available, doesn’t mean that you should rush out and buy one. Even though they are amenable birds, they still take a huge amount of looking after and you need expert advice. Get a mentor!

Once again thankyou very much to Jason Foley for the great Pictures!!! and please feel free to comment or post your stories below :)