Zone-Tailed Hawk

Hawk flying
Very rare 20 years ago, the zone-tail is now a commonly seen bird in the Grand Canyon as its range has expanded northwards.

NPS Robb Hannawacker


Scientific Name

Buteo albonotatus



  • They are slate-black across head and body. The leading edge of the wing is black, and the trailing end is more silvery in color.
  • From a distance, zone-tails appear very similar to turkey vultures. Zone-tails can be distinguished by yellow legs and beak, and two or three light colored bands on the tail.


  • The zone-tailed hawk is primarily a South and Central American species. Historically they were rarely seen in the Grand Canyon. Possibly because of changing global climates, their range has expanded northwards, and zone-tails are now regularly seen in the Grand Canyon.
  • Zone-tails prefer arid, open country side. In the Grand Canyon, they are most commonly seen soaring below the rim.


  • Zone-tailed hawks have evolved to mimic the appearance of turkey vultures. Because turkey vultures are scavengers and not predators, small animals on the ground ignore them. By mimicking turkey vultures, zone-tails can sneak up and ambush prey animals that mistake them for a harmless turkey vulture. Zone-tails are often seen flying with groups of turkey vultures.
  • Zone-tails usually feed on large lizards and small mammals. They are one of the few hawk species that regularly hunt other birds.
  • They have elaborate courtship displays where the male and female fly together, performing loops, rolls, and dives. They will often dive up to 1,600 feet (500m) together before breaking away from each other.
  • They build a nest in a tall tree along a stream or cliff, at least 30 feet (9m) off the ground. Females lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs. Young are able to fly 6-7 weeks after hatching.
  • Zone-tails are a migratory species. They live in the Grand Canyon during the summer breeding season and winter in southern Mexico or Central America.

More Information

Arizona Raptors- Arizona Game and Fish Department PDF

Last updated: March 23, 2016

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



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