Raptor Identification

Buteo platypterus

Broad-winged Hawk

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: 82% of sites stable
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation, Poaching
Group: Buteo or near Buteo (Hawk)
Size: L ~15″ / WS ~35″


Broad-winged Hawks are small buteos that breed in deciduous woodlands throughout North America but are generally secretive. They are uncommon west of Minnesota and nearly absent throughout the Great Plains. Dark-morph birds are only known to breed in western North America and are presumed rare. Broad-winged Hawks hunt mainly reptiles and amphibians from a low perch below the forest canopy. They also eat mice, other small mammals, birds, and insects when available.

During migration, Broad-winged Hawks group together by the thousands, forming a tornado-like vortex known to hawk watchers as a ‘kettle’ or ‘boil’. Sometimes there are so many in one group it’s impossible to count, and estimating is the only option! Witnessing this phenomenon is one of the most thrilling events in hawk watching. Even experienced hawk watchers wonder how some Broad-winged Hawks don’t run into each other as they tightly circle together by the thousands. Broad-winged Hawks are vocal mainly on the breeding grounds; their call is a high, thin, drawn-out two-part whistled “ps-eeeeee.” Male and female Broad-winged Hawks are essentially equal in size.


  • Chunky and compact with a large head and bulky chest
  • Stocky wings but pointed at the tips in all postures
  • In a glide, the wings are angular, with the tips barely past the back edge
  • The tail is narrow, appearing somewhat long (accipiter-like) when closed
  • Perched, appears small and stocky with short wings and large heads


  • Steady fliers, except in extreme winds
  • Soar in tight circles compared to larger raptors
  • Soar with wings flat or in a slight dihedral; wings slightly drooped when gliding
  • Flaps are ‘snappy’ similar to Red-shouldered Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk, but stiffer or ‘choppy’ in comparison


  • Two age classes, adult and juvenile; two morphs, light and dark
  • Juveniles have pale yellow-brown eyes, which turn dark brown as adults
  • The Adult light-morph is dark brown above and pale underneath with a rufous-barred chest (and sometimes belly). The barring is faint on some and nearly solid on others. The flight feathers have a dark trailing edge to the wings. The tail is distinctly banded black & white (white bands thinner).
  • The Juvenile light-morph is whitish below and almost unmarked below to heavily streaked. Some show streaking only on the sides of the breast. The tail has faint, narrow bands with a broad dark sub-terminal. The primaries show a faint, rectangular translucence from below. The back edge of the wings lacks a blackish border.
  • Dark-morph adults have blackish bodies and underwing coverts. They are similar to light-morphs on the upperside. Juveniles can be solidly dark or show some pale streaking on the underside. The flight feathers are identical to those of light birds.

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