White-tailed HawkButeo albicaudatus

adult
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
adult
Jim Culbertson/VIREO
adult, dark morph
Doug Wechsler/VIREO
adults
Kevin Schafer/VIREO
adult with nestlings
Tom Vezo/VIREO

Description

A hawk of tropical grasslands and savannahs, the White-tail is fairly common in places on the coastal prairie of Texas. It is a rather bulky bird, with noticeably broad wings and short tail, and it soars with the wings held in a shallow "V." Although it seems particular in its choice of habitat, it is a generalized feeder, preying on a wide variety of small animals.

Habitat

Dry grassland, coastal prairies. In Texas, found mostly on open grassland with scattered shrubs or low trees, such as mesquite, hackberry, and oak. Mostly on coastal prairie, also inland in ranch country. Generally not found where land is farmed or heavily grazed.

Feeding Diet

Quite varied. Known to eat rats, mice, pocket gophers, rabbits, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, crayfish, crabs, insects. Sometimes feeds on carrion.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts by watching for prey either from a perch or while flying; dives steeply when prey is spotted. Sometimes catches flying insects in the air. Is attracted to grass fires, where it will catch creatures trying to escape the flames.

Nesting

Breeding behavior not thoroughly studied. In one courtship display, both birds land on ground, male goes through act of pulling at grass blades and weeds. Nest site in Texas is usually on top of low tree or shrub, averaging about 10' above ground; sometimes as low as 3', sometimes higher, rarely up to 40'. Nest (apparently built by both sexes) is a bulky platform of sticks, twigs, grasses, weeds. Nest may be used more than once. Eggs: 2, sometimes 3, rarely 1 or 4. White, sometimes lightly spotted with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, 29-32 days. Young: Apparently both parents bring food to young in nest, but roles of sexes in feeding young not well known. Young are able to fly at about 46-55 days after hatching; may remain with parents and be fed by them for up to 7 months or even longer.

Eggs

2, sometimes 3, rarely 1 or 4. White, sometimes lightly spotted with brown. Incubation is mostly by female, 29-32 days. Young: Apparently both parents bring food to young in nest, but roles of sexes in feeding young not well known. Young are able to fly at about 46-55 days after hatching; may remain with parents and be fed by them for up to 7 months or even longer.

Young

Apparently both parents bring food to young in nest, but roles of sexes in feeding young not well known. Young are able to fly at about 46-55 days after hatching; may remain with parents and be fed by them for up to 7 months or even longer.

Conservation

Declined in Texas from 1950s to 1970s, possibly as a result of pesticides. Numbers probably now stable in Texas. May be declining in Mexico, probably because of overgrazing of habitat.

Range

Not truly migratory, but may move to different areas for winter; for example, some winter on Padre Island, Texas, where they no longer nest.

Similar Species

adult, Eastern

Red-tailed Hawk

This is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America, bulky and broad-winged, designed for effortless soaring. An inhabitant of open country, it is commonly seen perched on roadside poles or sailing over fields and woods. Although adults usually can be recognized by the trademark reddish-brown tail, the rest of their plumage can be quite variable, especially west of the Mississippi: Western Red-tails can range from blackish to rufous-brown to nearly white.

adult, light morph

Swainson's Hawk

This slim and graceful hawk is a common sight over grasslands of the Great Plains and the west, but only in summer: every autumn, most individuals migrate to southern South America. Although Swainson's Hawk is big enough to prey on rodents, snakes, and birds (and does so, while it is raising young), at most seasons it feeds heavily on large insects instead. Flocks are often seen sitting on the ground in fields where there are many grasshoppers or caterpillars.

Vireo

iPad Promo