Wild Birds

Zone-tailed Hawk

The Zone-tailed Hawk, Buteo albonotatus, is a medium-sized hawk from warm, dry parts of the Americas.

Diet / Feeding:

It feeds on small vertebrates of all kinds (other than fish), including birds up to the size of quail.


Grown birds are 47–55 cm (18.5–21.5 inches) in length with a wingspan of about 1.2 m (4 feet); their average weight is 810 g (1.8 pounds).

Adult plumage is mostly blackish except that the flight feathers are barred with lighter gray (appearing solid gray from a distance) and the tail has three or four bands or “zones”, white from below and light gray from above, of which the one second from the tip is particularly broad and conspicuous.

The cere and legs are yellow. Immatures are similar except for small white spots on the breast and tails with narrow gray and black bands and a broad dark tip.

The bird’s plumage closely resembles that of the Turkey Vulture, and Zone-tailed Hawks soar with their wings held above the horizontal, rocking from side to side, like Turkey Vultures and often in company with them. As Turkey Vultures seldom prey on healthy animals, some ornithologists believe that this mimicry tricks potential prey animals into not being alarmed when a zone-tail flies overhead (Clark 2004). Bird guides caution against confusing it with the much more common Turkey Vulture, but at a reasonable distance, one can see the smaller size, the typical hawk shape of the wings and head, and the pale stripe on the tail.

Call / Vocalization:

The call is a scream dropping in pitch at the end. In at least some birds, there is an abrupt rise in pitch (like a break to a falsetto voice) in the middle and an equally abrupt drop back down.

Distribution / Range:

Zone-tailed Hawks range from parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas to southern Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. In winter they generally withdraw from the U.S. part of their range. They sometimes wander out of their normal range, and the bird was once recorded in Nova Scotia. Their habitat is canyons with open woods in arid or semi-arid regions, though birds may hunt outside of canyons.

Nesting / Breeding:

The nest is typical of hawks: a big assemblage of sticks built in the leafy top of a tree (usually tall) or on a cliff. The clutch comprises two or three white eggs, often marked with brown.


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also
Back to top button