Buteo platypterus

      The broad-wing's common name is a bit misleading. True, this is a buteo, one of the soaring hawks, but its wings are no broader than those of our other buteos, such as the red-tailed hawk or the red-shouldered hawk. The broad-wing is in fact North America's smallest buteo, about the size of an overweight crow, with a wingspan of 32 to 36 inches. Females average between 14 and 15 ounces in weight, while the smaller males average between 12 and 13 ounces. Although the compact little broad-wing in general outline looks something like a scaled-down version of the red-tail, its tail is totally unlike that of its larger, red-tailed relative. The broad-wing's tail is conspicuously marked with wide black and white bands. Adult birds typically have two white and three black bands of equal width. The chest is barred with reddish brown. Immatures have more and narrower bands on the tail, and the overall effect is dark, with the white pushed out by the black. The chest of the immatures is not barred, but rather streaked vertically with dark brown.

      The broad-winged hawk leads a double life. From April to September it is a resident of the eastern part of the United States and Canada. It builds a rather flimsy nest in forested areas that include lakes, streams or swamps. The two or three eggs are laid in mid-April or early June, and the bird remains in seclusion in its woodland hideaway until fall. Then the broad-wing comes out of hiding in a dramatic way. This bird is a New England resident for only half of the year. At summer's end the entire population migrates, and this group migration is spectacular. By late August the first-year birds, the first to leave, are on their way. Then the adults gather into bands that may number anywhere from twenty to hundreds of individuals. The hawks follow established flyways out of the East to their southern wintering grounds. First-year birds may go no farther than Florida or south coastal Texas. The adults winter from Guatemala down to Peru. The flyways in general follow mountain ridges that provide the migrating birds with updrafts for lift; they skirt large bodies of water. Eastern flyways follow the Appalachians or the western and northern shorelines of the Great Lakes. During the peak migration period in mid-September, incredible numbers of broad-winged hawks funnel through concentration points such as Quaker Ridge in Greenwich, Connecticut. In 1986, observers stationed there recorded 30,535 broad-wings in one day in September.

      These group flights are made up of kettles or bands of birds. When hawks fly together, especially when they circle in thermals or updrafts, they are said to be kettling. The name may be descriptive - the hawks do sometimes seem to be boiling like the bubbles in a kettle as they ride the air currents.

      Broad-winged hawks hunt small prey such as mice and voles, chipmunks, snakes, salamanders and frogs. Insects become an important food source on migration. Hunting is usually done from a perch, with the broad-wing choosing a tree at the edge of a forest opening. The characteristic call is high-pitched and of two notes: Pee Peeee.

      The broad-wing is one of our commonest hawks, and its numbers seem to be stable. While many individual broad-wings are killed by cars as they swoop low to snatch up prey, this does not affect the species as a whole. What might become a problem over time is loss of habitat in the broad-wing's wintering areas in Central and South America.

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