Raptor Identification

Buteo brachyurus

Short-tailed Hawk

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Raptor Population Index Assessment: Unknown
Conservation Concerns: Unknown
Group: Buteo or Near Buteo (Hawk)
Size: L ~15-17″ / WS ~33-41″


Within the US, the Short-tailed Hawk occurs mainly in Flordia, with a few nesting pairs in southern Arizona. It is a vagrant in south Texas in winter but is widespread throughout Central and South America and found in a variety of habitats there. In Florida, Short-tailed Hawks favor swamps and forests near open spaces. In Arizona, they are found in higher elevations, typically pine forests in “sky islands” in the southeastern corner of the state. Short-tailed Hawks are shy and elusive, rarely seen perched along roadsides, but can be heard during nesting and courtship with their drawn-out “keeeer” call. They are highly aerial and most visible when kiting above, searching for their main prey: birds, rodents, and reptiles that are captured from spectacular ariel swoops.

The Short-tailed Hawk is most often confused with the Broad-winged Hawk, which shares a similar shape and size. When seen well, the difference becomes clearer; notably, the Short-tailed Hawk’s grayish flight feathers on both light and dark-morph birds and more bulging secondaries. Behavioral differences are also key: Broad-winged Hawks often perch along the forest edge or on roadside wires, while Short-tailed Hawks are rarely seen perched. Broad-winged Hawks never kite motionless in the air, whereas Short-tailed Hawks do this habitually,


  • Small buteo, most similar in size and shape to Broad-winged Hawk.
  • Wings are broad, especially the secondaries, but are somewhat pinched in at the base and tapered at the tips. Despite the name, it does not often appear obviously short-tailed.
  • When perched, wing tips nearly reach the tail.


  • Aerial hunter, kiting in the wings but hovering only for brief moments. When prey is spotted, it turns abruptly and falls into a stoop.
  • Soars on flat wings with distinctly upturned wing tips. even when kiting.
  • Flaps with smooth, quick wing beats, less ‘choppy’ than the Broad-winged Hawk.


  • Occurs in light and dark morphs, no intermediate plumages are known. Dark-morph slightly outnumbers light-morph in Florida, but all Arizona breeders have been light-morph. Ages differ, but sexes are similar. All share dusky grayish flight feathers with notably paler outer primaries. Tail pattern rages from lightly to heavily banded, but always with a wider dark sub-terminal band.
  • Adult light-morph is whitish below and nearly unmarked. The tail has a broad dark sub-terminal band and several inner bands. Secondaries and inner primaries are grayish with distinct, dark trailing edge. The topside is solidly dark brown, similar to adult Swainson’s Hawk.
  • Adult dark-morph is dark brown above with blackish underparts. Flight feathers are similar to light-morph adults
  • 1st-year light-morph is brown above and buffy below with limited dark streaking (sometimes absent) on the sides of the upper breast, a more diffuse dark trailing edge to flight feathers than adults, and translucent primaries. The tail pattern is similar to adults, but the sub-terminal band is narrower and less defined.
  • 1st-year dark-morph is dark below but typically shows a blackish breast and tawny streaking on the body and underwing coverts. Rare examples are completely dark. Most show light speckling on the belly and underwings. Flight feathers are similar to 1st-year light-morph.

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