Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Life History & Michigan History

Anyone who has viewed a "kettle" of hawks has probably seen a number of broad-winged hawks. During migration they form into kettles which may include a thousand or more birds. The birds circle together to the tops of warm air thermals and then glide to another with minimal effort. In using the thermals the birds expend less energy during their long flight to and from South America where they spend their winters. These kettles provide spectacular wildlife viewing at higher points along the Great Lakes coastline.

Broad-winged hawks can be identified in flight by the broad black and white bands on their tails. The underside of the wing is white with a strong black band along the edge. When perching, they have a dark brown back and reddish brown mottling on the chest.

During the summer, broad-winged hawks remain quite solitary in Michigan's forest habitats, as opposed to their social behavior during migration. They prefer larger blocks of forest - the small farm woodlots found in southern Michigan are not preferred. Just as important is the existence of small openings within the forest. Broad-wings perch along these openings swooping down on prey. Rabbits, mice, snakes, and amphibians are regulars on this bird's menu.

Both parents tend the young. After fledging, the family unit will remain in the nest vicinity until migration begins in mid-September. Their winter migrations carry them to Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, and southern Brazil.

Broad-winged hawk populations are stable in Michigan with the highest threat to their survival coming from pesticides and deforestation of southern wintering habitat. This raptor is just one example of a number of migratory birds where we need to pay attention to their winter homes just as much as we do their summer home.

Non-DNR Links

Buteo platypterus (University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology)

Identification Tips & More (USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

International Broad-winged Hawk Survey (BirdSource)