- Photo: Ned Harris
Zone-tailed Hawks are solitary raptors and usually are seen individually.
Zone-tailed Hawks are large (20 inches long with a wingspan of 51 inches) raptors with long wings and a banded tail. They are quite similar to Turkey Vultures in flight and are best distinguished by the feathered head, barred wings and banded tail. They are distinguished from Common Black Hawk by wing shape (very broad on a Common Black Hawk) and tail pattern.
Zone-tailed Hawks are solitary raptors and usually are seen individually. In contrast, Turkey Vultures are frequently encountered in large groups. Zone-tails are a highly aerial species and rarely perch except at nest sites and night roosts. They hunt while soaring and stoop on their prey, mainly small mammals, lizards and birds up to the size of Quail.
Zone-tailed Hawks breed in central and southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, west Texas and south through Mexico to central Argentina. The estimated U.S. population is 200 – 300 pairs. The bulk of the U.S. population resides in Arizona. They typically nest in tall isolated trees along canyon streams. The author has seen several pairs nesting in Aravaipa canyon. There are usually two eggs and incubation, by the female only, takes just over a month. For the first two weeks after hatching, the male brings food to the nest for the female to feed to the young. Flight occurs in 6-7 weeks.
Most Zone-tailed Hawks migrate south in the fall but there are a few individuals that overwinter in the U.S. Most of the U.S. population winters in Mexico. At least one individual is reported most winters in the Tucson area. Zone-tails are seen on a regular basis in Sabino Canyon from early April until mid-September. They are frequently seen from the overlooks on Mt. Lemmon during the summer months.