Broad-winged Hawks nest in the forest around my house. This time of year I hear young birds calling in a high, whistle-like scream as they soar with their parents.

Broad-wings (photo by Francesco Veronesi) are a medium-sized hawk, and the smallest of the Buteos. Buteo is the name for soaring hawks, like the much more common Red-tailed Hawk. The Broad-winged Hawk migrates in huge numbers, sometimes in the thousands. They are built for soaring and, when they migrate, they seek columns of rising warm air called thermals. These up-lifting currents allow the Broad-winged Hawk to ride up to the top like an elevator and then peel off gliding north in the spring and south toward Mexico and South and Central America in the fall. This is an efficient method of migration. It also concentrates these birds in huge numbers circling upward within a thermal. Further south in Texas, the numbers of Broad-wings have been reported in the tens of thousands. In our, area they are spread out in our forest, which are their favored nesting grounds and not seen in these large numbers. In fact, in our area they are often considered a shy and secretive hawk. They hunt by soaring or perching along field edges and forest openings.

Compared to other Buteos, they are small and stocky. Their wings are short and broad but come to a point at the tips. In flight, mature birds show white on the underside of their flight feathers with a distinct black outline to their wings. Their tails have broad black bands separated by white. At this time of the year, I hear them calling over the field at my house. They can be so high that it can take a few seconds to locate the soaring birds. Often the screams seem to be coming from a juvenile following an adult. It happens day after day, and I wonder if it is the adult helping their young practice riding a thermal. Honing what is probably an instinctive skill would be critical for these young birds, which will soon be moving south in kettles that can contain hundreds, even thousands of birds.

If you are hiking on an open mountain top in our area like Rumford White Cap or the Bald Pates, watch for migrating hawks circling in thermals or listen for the high-pitched call of the Broad-winged Hawk as they skip from thermal to thermal headed south.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

Broad-Winged Hawk. Francesco Veronesi


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