Buteo albonotatuszone-tailed hawk

Geographic Range

The Zone-tailed Hawk is found from the southwestern United States to Central and South America (Johnson et al. 2000).


Riparian forest and woodland, desert uplands, and mixed conifer forests (Johnson et al. 2000).

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2200 m
    0.00 to 7217.85 ft

Physical Description

The Zone-tailed Hawk is a dark hawk (black with brown cast) lacking the light morphology commonly found in many Buteo species. The tail has 2 to 3 light bands that are white when viewed from below. The under-wing is two-toned with black wing tips. The legs and beak of the Zone-tailed Hawk are yellow. The female is slightly larger than the males of this species. The immature hawk is a little darker with white spots around head and on under parts. The immature hawk has many narrow blackish bands on tail. (Johnson et al. 2000)

  • Range mass
    610 to 940 g
    21.50 to 33.13 oz
  • Range length
    45 to 56 cm
    17.72 to 22.05 in
  • Range wingspan
    119 to 140 cm
    46.85 to 55.12 in


Believed to be monogamous.

The Zone-tailed Hawk engages in spectacular courtship displays. During these displays aerial loops, dives, and rolls are performed. Heights of up to 500 m are achieved during these ritualized interactions between male and females. Female Zone-tailed Hawks lay one or two eggs per clutch. While in the southwestern United States these hawks breed only once, not much is known about their breeding habits in South America except that year-round residents breed only once.(Johnson et al. 2000)

  • Breeding season
    March to May
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Range time to hatching
    28 to 34 days
  • Range fledging age
    28 to 35 days

Young are semi-altricial at hatching, with grey down. Female parent incubates, while male parent collects food for the female and young. (Baicich and Harrison 1997; Johnson et al. 2000)

Growth is gradual to slow during first 7 days; between days 7-21, growth is rapid. Cases of siblicide have been documented. (Johnson et al. 2000)


Displays over potential breeding habitat consisted of circling, screams, talon grappling, and tumbling toward the earth between two Zone-tailed Hawk (Hubbard 1974), called “whirling” by Brown and Amadon (1968). As mentioned in the Reproduction section, acrobatic courtship “dances” are performed between the two sexes. Male and female hawks are very aggressive when guarding the nest. They are aggressively territorial during nesting season, when nestlings are present. (Johnson et al. 2000)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of the Zone-tailed Hawk includes many small vertebrates (birds, especially passerines; mammals, especially ground squirrels and chipmunks; amphibians and reptiles, particularly the common collared lizard and crevice spiny lizard; rarely fish) (Sherrod 1978). Prey that is exposed and becomes conditioned to the harmless presence of Turkey Vultures is likely prey of the Zone-tailed Hawk (Willis 1963, Zimmerman 1976, Synder and Synder 1991). The hawk is believed to mimic the Turkey Vulture in flight to take advantage of prey that is desensitized to the presence of vultures. Alternatively, dihedral wing shape may simply help stabilize low flight over rough terrain (Mueller 1972, 1976).

The Zone-tailed Hawk circles 40-105m above ground with wings in dihedral position before stooping on prey (McLaran and MacInnis 1977). Also circles at altitude of 15-60m; after sighting prey, continues to circle, dropping behind cover, turning swiftly and, when possible, approaching behind cover to within 0.5-2m of prey before striking (Snyder in Palmer 1988).

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Believed by some to be a pest, viewed as a "chicken hawk". (Johnson et al 2000)

Conservation Status

Not federally or state Threatened or Endangered except Threatened in Texas (Johnson et al 2000).


Jackson Lynch (author), University of Arizona, Todd McWhorter (editor), University of Arizona.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


Baicich, P., C. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American birds. 2nd ed. New York: Academic Press.

Hubbard, J. 1974. Flight displays in two American species of Buteo. Condor, 76: 214-215.

Johnson, R., R. Glinski, S. Matteson. 2000. Zone-tailed Hawk. Pp. 1-19 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, No. 529. Washington, D.C.: Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA , and American Ornithologists Union.

McLaren, I., A. MacInnis. 1977. A Zone-tailed Hawk in Nova Scotia. Can. Field-Nat., 91: 310-311.

Mueller, H. 1976. Reaction of quail to flying vultures. Condor, 78: 120-121.

Mueller, H. 1972. Zone-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture: mimicry or aerodynamics?. Condor, 74: 221-222.

Palmer, R. 1988. Handbook of North American birds. Vol 5. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

Sherrod, S. 1978. Diets of North American Falconiformes. Raptor Res., 9: 49-121.

Snyder, N., H. Snyder. 1991. Birds of prey: natural history and conservation of North American raptors. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.

Willis, E. 1963. Is the Zone-tailed Hawk a mimic of the Turkey Vulture?. Condor, 65: 313-317.

Zimmerman, D. 1976. Comments on feeding habits and vulture-mimicry in the Zone-tailed Hawk. Condor, 78: 420-421.