Eyes on the Skies for Broad-winged Hawks

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By Karen Menard

The Broad-winged hawks are back!  Fresh from the warm, tropical forests of Central and South America, these small raptors migrate north to their breeding grounds in April, sometimes moving 5,000 miles in a season toward Canada. They are only one of five North American raptor species that are considered complete, long distance migrants.

Our small, northwest Ohio population resides only in the Oak Openings region, returning year after year to select nesting sites in deciduous or mixed forests, often near water.  Most of the Ohio population is found far from us in the unglaciated areas of the state.

After a lengthy migration, in late April and early May, they will quickly mate and construct nests of loose sticks and greenery usually in the lower third portion of the forest canopy. Often referred to as “secretive” and “elusive,” these birds are tough to locate during the nesting season and often require a keen ear to pick out their piercing, high pitched whistle from somewhere above.

Broad-winged hawks are fairly easy to recognize, having all of the typical “buteo” traits, like a chunky build, shorter tail and broad wings. Key adult field marks are wide, white bands on a dark tail, brown barring on a cream-colored breast, and pale wing undersides edged in brown.

On your next trip to Oak Openings Preserve or Secor Metropark, look and listen for these small, chunky hawks. It’s amazing to imagine how many flight miles each bird has possibly logged, season after season, in order to return to the Oak Openings region- rich with summer food sources and the right nesting habitat.

Did you know?

A recent Hawk Mountain research study noted a Broad-winged hawk logging 562 miles in a ONE day flight from Mississippi to Ohio! It’s not uncommon to spot one perching in a banana plantation or shade grown coffee site in a place like Costa Rica during the winter months. They typically hunt small mammals, insects and reptiles from a perch.