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A photo of a Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

Buteo brachyurus

The Short-tailed Hawk, Buteo brachyurus, is a bird of prey belonging to the family Accipitridae, which encompasses eagles and Old World vultures. Despite its common name, it is not a true hawk but a buteo, or buzzard outside of North America. It is closely related to the White-throated Hawk, B. albigula, and was once considered the same species.

Identification Tips

Adult Short-tailed Hawks are characterized by their relatively diminutive tail. They exhibit two color morphs: a dark phase, where the plumage is uniformly dark brown, and a light phase, where the underparts are predominantly white with dark flight feathers. The wings are broad and the flight is agile, with rapid wingbeats.

Habitat

This raptor is found in a variety of woodland habitats, often near water. It prefers wooded savannahs, patchy woodlands, cypress and mangrove swamps, as well as high pine-oak woodlands. It is most commonly seen in lowland foothills and is generally found below 4,500 feet above sea level.

Distribution

The Short-tailed Hawk breeds from southeastern Brazil and northern Argentina, through Central America, to the mountains of the Mexico-Arizona border area. It is also present in southern Florida and on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. In Florida, most of the population migrates in winter to the southern tip of the state, including the Keys.

Behaviour

This hawk is elusive and often concealed when perched, making it difficult to detect. It is known for its soaring flight, particularly at the edges of wooded and open areas. The species is an adept aerial hunter, employing a "kiting" technique and a nearly vertical swoop to capture prey.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Short-tailed Hawk are not well-documented in the available source.

Breeding

Nesting occurs from January through June in Florida, with similar timing suspected in tropical regions. The nest is a large stick structure built high in trees, such as the bald cypress in Florida. Clutches typically consist of 1-3 white eggs, marked with dark spots and blotches.

Similar Species

The Short-tailed Hawk may be confused with other Buteo species, but its small tail and distinctive hunting behavior are key differentiators.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of smaller birds, such as ground doves in Florida. It also takes frogs, lizards, snakes, large insects, and occasionally small mammals like rodents and bats. In tropical regions, these alternate foods may constitute a larger portion of the diet.

Conservation Status

The Short-tailed Hawk is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, though it is uncommon and local in most of its range. The Florida population is considered Critically Imperiled, and the Arizona population is considered Imperiled. Comprehensive population surveys have not been conducted, partly because the species is often overlooked in the field.

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