Short-tailed Hawk discussion

Rick Brigham brighamr at
Tue Nov 22 19:10:09 EST 2005


I have been observing the growing interest in the WPBO Short-tailed Hawk on other lists in the area. On Ohio Birds Kenn Kaufman posted the following rationale on the origins of our bird.

Good birding,
Rick Brigham
Subject: Re: Short-tailed hawk
From: "Kenn Kaufman" <kenn.kaufman AT>
Date: Tue, 22 Nov 2005 00:33:31 -0500

On Monday, November 21, 2005 11:10 AM, Jim McCormac wrote: 

>An apparent short-tailed hawk was seen Saturday and 
>again yesterday morning at Whitefish Point in Michigan, 
>for the first state record. Photographs were obtained, and 
>the bird is a light morph (pretty distinctive). Although 
>Whitefish Point is a long ways from Ohio, who knows, 
>maybe it flew through here to get there. Keep your eyes 
>open. This is a pretty bizarre record - normally the nearest 
>birds would be in South Florida, where they are rare. If 
>this record is right, one might suspect it is from the 
>Mexican populations. Apparently there is no record 
>in the east north of Florida. For what it's worth.

Wow. I looked at one photo online and the bird does appear to be a Short-tailed 
Hawk. Not something I would have predicted to show up on the Upper Peninsula in 
late November! 

We birders in the U.S. have a tendency to think of Short-tailed Hawk as a 
Florida bird, but it would be more accurate to think of it as a widespread 
neotropical species with a small, isolated population in Florida. (Sort of on 
the lines of Limpkin, Snail Kite, and Crested Caracara.) The Short-tailed Hawk 
population in Florida is somewhat migratory, but just within the peninsula, 
moving a very short distance between the northernmost summer and southernmost 
winter areas. 

A Short-tailed Hawk that makes it to Michigan on its own power seems far more 
likely to have come from the population in Mexico, where the species is common 
and where it appears to be increasing and spreading northward. There is some 
uncertainty about the past status of the species in northern Mexico. As 
recently as the 1950s, there were almost no records for the northern part of 
the country, especially the northwest, but that may have reflected the 
difficulty of documenting this species in the era when only specimen records 
were considered worth publishing. (Short-tailed Hawk tends to fly very high, 
and even where it is common I've seldom seen it perched.) When records for 
northern Mexico accumulated in the 1960s and 1970s, there was no way to be sure 
whether these represented range extensions or simply birds that had been 
overlooked in the past. But there's no doubt that the recent records in the 
southwestern U.S. represent something new. Short-tailed Hawks are now present 
every summer in the mountains of southeastern Arizona, and apparently have 
nested there; and records for Texas have steadily increased. This fall there 
were three sightings at the migration hawkwatch at Corpus Christi, halfway up 
the coast of Texas. Clearly the Mexican population of Short-tailed Hawk is 
spilling over the border into the southwestern United States, and that seems by 
far the most likely source for the Michigan bird. 

Kenn Kaufman
Rocky Ridge, Ohio

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