On a cloudless December morning the sun makes its appearance and bathes everything in its warmth. In great swirling currents, rising warm air entices the Short-tailed Hawk from its roost for a day of hunting.
While hanging on outstretched wings, the hawk scans the forest's edge and eyes a small flock of songbirds. It lowers its tail, crooks its wings, and stoops toward the tree tops, talons extended. A blast of feathers fills the air. The hunter quickly regains composure, and with its meal clenched taught in its talons, soars off to a secret place in the Everglades.
A tropical species found from northern Argentina to Mexico, the Short-tailed Hawk is found nowhere in the U.S. but Florida. Only a few nest in Everglades National Park, but approximately 50-100 can be found in the area from October to late February, while they make a brief southward migration from central Florida.
The Short-tailed Hawk, about the size of a crow, has long, broad wings and a relatively short, broad tail. Often soaring at great heights, it hunts the edges of mature cypress domes, pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and coastal mangrove forests. Although not designed for speed, this unusual bird-of-prey feeds primarily on birds, ranging in size from warblers to meadowlarks.
Short-tailed Hawks occur in two distinct color-phases. The dark phase is more common in Florida. In flight, it resembles a small, stocky Turkey Vulture, with a black head and body and lighter wing linings. The light phase is white below with white wings and dark brown barring on the tail and primary and secondary feathers. A valuable field mark for this phase is the distinctive head pattern--the solid dark head contrasts with the white throat and underparts. The bird looks like it is wearing a dark hood.
Look for this tropical beauty throughout Everglades National Park. It may be seen soaring high over Eco Pond, the Flamingo Campground, and the Visitor Center; it is occasionally observed gliding with vultures.
Last updated: October 17, 2017