Hawks are outstanding birds of prey [raptors] and provide a fascinating study for bird lovers. The Gundlach hawk is from the Accipitridae family, known for their hooked bills. They have a wingspan of 74-84 cm (29-33 inches) and are approximately 40-46 cm (15-18 inches) long.
They are native to Cuba but are very rare. Seeing one is a privilege, and many Cuban bird spotters spend their lives never having seen one in the flesh.
So, let’s look at this fascinating Hawk more closely then if you are ever lucky enough to see one, we know what to look for.
The Gundlach hawk has two variants; one is called Sparrow-hawk and the other Goshawks. They are both generally smaller than most hawks, and the females are bigger than males.
Females, on average, weigh more than males, sometimes double the weight. Wings are round and short, and they boast a smooth long tail.
Goshawks are the largest and usually have a large tarsi and digits. The Sparrow Hawk possesses long, thin legs with a long middle digit. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two, as they share features from both.
Male Vs Female
As mentioned, the biggest distinguishing feature between male and female Gundlach Hawks is size. Their plumage is identical, and even scientists struggle to tell them apart. Typically, they identify the female by examining feathers with DNA markers.
The best way to identify a female in the wild is to watch specific behaviors that are integral to their gender, such as during courtship and breeding.
Are They Aggressive?
Gundlac hawks are extremely aggressive and kill their prey swiftly and with their vice-like grip. A Gundlach will attack anyone that ventures near its nest, even humans.
But generally a Hawk won’t attack a human, they are afraid of people and will only attack if threatened.
Hawks have their preferred prey, but it is possible that if the opportunity arose they could attack and kill a small pet such as a cat. They are predators, and if food is scarce they’re unlikely to be fussy.
What Adaptions Do They Have?
Over the years hawks have gradually developed a wide wingspan, enabling them to catch prey better when in deserts and open areas.
They also have hollow bones which enable them to fly. They have evolved with sharp hooked beaks, so they can pull apart flesh such as other birds, fish and vermin.
Furthermore, they also possess sharp hooked claws [or talons] to grip prey during an attack. The talons also help them attach to tree branches or high places such as mountains or roofs.
The Hawks use their Talons by pointing them downwards when swooping down for prey, enabling them to pierce and crush.
Breeding / Reproduction Behavior
Breeding season for the Gunlach Hawk is February-May, with Fledglings hatched in June. The female produces 2-4 eggs, which are a blue/white color. Most hawks mate for life, and the female will lay between 1-5 eggs every year.
Copulation happens in a tree, either on a branch or nest. Both the males and females perform cloaca touch, where sperm is transferred between the pair. This is called the cloacal kiss. The act lasts a mere 15 seconds, and the egg is fertilized.
Their Calls / Sounds
The Gunlach’s callus is highly recognizable and sounds like a wailing squeal. It’s loud, cackling and quite harsh. Why do these birds make such dramatic sounds?
Primarily, hawks wail to guard territory. [usually from other birds] They wail to communicate as a warning, and females will wail to request food for their young.
Most hawks give off their screeching extravaganza in flight, they do this to warn off invaders and also during mating season to defend their territory.
Interestingly, because the Gunlach Hawk male is smaller than the female, he will let off a much higher pitched screech than the female. Young Hawks are much quieter, a natural state to avoid attracting attention of other birds, such as owls that prey on Hawks.
What Do They Eat (Diet)
As birds of prey, Hawks are classed as carnivores, so they only eat meat and don’t dine on anything plant based.
The Gunlach Hawk will feed on poultry and other birds but, as mentioned earlier., if food is scarce they will eat what they can find. They mostly hunt small prey such as rabbits, snakes, squirrels, and fish.
Where Do They Live (Habitat)
The Gundlach Hawks reside and breed in evergreen forests, usually below 800 meters (2624 feet). They nest high up in trees around 20-25 meters (65-82 feet). A clever process allowing them to prey on smaller birds lower in the tree.
The Hawks aren’t just confined to forests, they have also been found in swamps, wooded coasts and mangroves.
In Cuba, the hawks reside in the West and Center. Most of the population is in Weleyi in the East of the island.
What are their nesting habits
The Gundlach will create a nest using sticks, grass and lined with bark high up in the tree but close to the trunk. The high altitude protects eggs from predators. Nests are usually an oval shape, around 18-24 inches (45-61 cm) across and 9 inches (ca. 23 cm) deep.
Nest sites are fiercely defended by both male and female hawks. They will display aggression by stretching their heads forward and up, as well as opening their wings whilst verbalizing their deafening call.
The female incubates the eggs alone and it’s thought that the primary role of the male is to return with food; however, it is thought that he incubates for short periods to allow her to find food for herself.
How Long To They Live (Lifespan)
It’s difficult to say how long the Gundlach Hawk lives as there are so few left in circulation however, many hawks in the wild will reach the age of 12 naturally, although many die within their first year.
Young Hawks remain only 50 days in the nest, after which they are left to fend for themselves. Youngsters are exposed to risks such as those posed by cars and electrical lines.
If raised in captivity, a hawk can live up to 20 years as there are fewer dangers to them. Some hawks have reached the ripe old age of 30!
What Predators Do They Have?
Hawks are confident and strong creatures with few predators, but there are still some animals hawks are afraid of.
Hawks are not too keen on birds that are bigger [or wiser] than they are. So Hawks will try to steer clear of eagles and owls. Eagles are known to be the kings of the sky.
They are larger than hawks with a keen eye and are highly skilled at hunting. Hawks cower away from eagles and will hide whenever possible.
Owls are nocturnal animals, so pose a massive threat to hawks. Owls can be larger than hawks and have been known to rudely awaken hawks in the night with a swift swipe from the nest. Hawks will avoid owls as best they can to avoid confrontation.
What Are Their Feathers Like?
An adult Gundlach’s feathers will be gray/blue underneath with a black cap. The tail is rounded during flight. Younger birds are brown on top with lighter colors underneath and will have dark streaks throughout.
What Does Their Poop Look Like?
Like most birds, a Hawk’s poop is white. The reason for this is that birds don’t produce urine. Their waste products are a mixture of gasses that produce uric acid. The consistency of bird poop is thick and clumpy.
Do They Migrate?
Because Gundlach Hawks are so rare, it’s unknown if they migrate; however, some evidence suggests that they do, as they have been spotted in every province in Cuba.
This may largely be due to loss of habitat and an increased need to search for food and find appropriate areas to nest.
The Gundlach hawk is high on the endangered list. The population is quickly decreasing due to deforestation and destruction of habitat. They are also in danger from hunting, fire, and mining.
A sad fact of the modern world. Sadly, these birds are considered pests by farmers and are routinely killed in order to save livestock such as chickens; a favorite for the hawk’s palate.
As mentioned earlier, most gundlach hawks are found in Eastern Cuba that has only around 44% of suitable habitat, followed by 32% and 24% respectively in Central and Western Cuba.
Most Hawks have bare legs! [no feathers] — Let’s hope they’re not chilly in the winter.
Heard the expression ‘eyes like a hawk’? You got it, Hawks have excellent eyesight! They can see 8 times more clearly than humans. No hiding from their beady sight.
Hawks can reach speeds of 150 miles per hour (ca. 241 km/h) when diving. Wow …
They are able to kill prey midair by catching them with their talons.
A flock of hawks is called a ‘kettle of hawks’.
They perform a ‘mating dance’ midair before they head off to the nest for some bird love making. They fly through the air in a circular motion, the male swooping towards the female, and they will repeat the dance until they latch together.
So, there you have it. All you need to know about the Gundlach hawk. Nature truly is amazing!