Ridgway’s Hawk: The Ultimate Guide

The Ridgway’s hawk (scientifically known as Buteo ridgwayi) is a Caribbean bird of prey endemic to Hispaniola. The species’ unique name was given to commemorate the ornithologist Robert Rigdway, who was the first curator of birds at the United States National Museum. 

Sadly, this species has a conservation status of Critically Endangered due to constant habitat destruction and persecution. As a result of this, there is little scientific research about this special species. 

Nevertheless, here is the ultimate guide to the Ridgway’s hawk!


The Ridgway’s hawk is considered a medium-sized bird of prey, sizing at 36-41 cm (12-18”) in length. The adults of this species are predominantly gray all over, with an ocher-colored barred chest and abdomen. Their thighs are reddish-brown (known as rufous), and their tails possess a black and white barred pattern.

These birds exhibit the characteristics of a standard hawk with their distinctive yellow legs bearing black, lethally sharp talons and a hooked beak. 

Young Ridgway’s hawks are covered in a white down until their plumage begins to grow in, which bears gray and brown feathered streaks. It’s not until they reach maturity when the black and white stripes appear on their tails. 

There are currently no measurements on the wingspan of the Ridgway’s hawk due to its compact physique and elusive nature – most likely because of the limited numbers left in the wild. In flight, however, these birds exhibit white crescent shapes on the upper side of the wing.

Their shoulders will also show copper-colored feathers when in flight. 

Male vs Female

The Ridgway’s hawk is said to be a sexually monomorphic animal, which means that it’s often hard to distinguish the male from the female due to the similar physical characteristics. In general, however, the male Ridgway’s hawk is grayer than the female, whereas the female’s plumage is browner.

It has been suggested that the females are slightly larger than the males, which is usually the case for sexually monomorphic birds of prey, but this hasn’t been proven. 

Are They Aggressive?

The Ridgway’s hawk is typically an approachable bird of prey, but due to the declining figures in the wild, it’s quite uncommon for a human to get close enough to this species to know if they are aggressive.

Despite the fact their main predator is humanity, this species is surprisingly not shy, and they will nest in small areas of land near human settlements. 

However, if a human was to get too close to their nest, the Ridgway’s hawk will become increasingly territorial and protective of their young. Their form of aggression is to make loud and repetitive calls and attempt to scare off the predator by flying maniacally around them, until the predator has been deterred. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

There is currently limited information about the adaptations of the Ridgway’s hawk. However, this species has been forced to adapt to new habitats due to deforestation.

While they are endemic to Hispaniola and other islands such as Alto Veto Island and Beata Island, they have since been forced to adapt to other islands such as Les Cayemites. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

Unfortunately, little is known about the details of the breeding and reproduction behavior of the Ridgway’s hawk. All that is known is that the breeding season lasts between January and June, wherein the female will then lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs. In most cases, only two out of a potential three eggs will survive childhood. 

The courting and mating rituals consist of an aerial display performed from January onwards. It’s common for these displays to occur in late morning to midday. Once the female has been successfully courted, the male will then build a nest.

Some studies have shown that, while most bird of prey species will share the responsibility of incubation, the female Ridgway’s hawk will do almost all the incubation while the male will hunt for prey. Both parents, however, will protect the nest before, during, and after hatching. 

Their Calls / Sounds

The Ridgway’s hawk is a moderately vocal bird, with its most distinctive call being a shrill, high-pitched “wee-uh” sound that they repeat again and again.

These calls are probably used during the courting rituals and to communicate with other birds of their species, most notably their partner when they are searching for food. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The Ridgway’s hawk isn’t a large bird of prey, so they only eat the foods suitable to their size. This includes rodents, small birds, insects, bats, frogs, snakes, lizards, and skinks. Studies have shown that reptiles (particularly lizards) are their favorite food, most likely due to the abundance of them in their habitat. 

Interestingly, while some of these birds nest near human settlements like homes and agricultural farmland, they do not attempt to eat poultry. This could be because a chicken is of a similar size to the Ridgway’s hawk, which would be hard to take down.

It might also have something to do with how humans will shoot those who do try to take their poultry.  

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

The original breeding range of the Ridgway’s hawk was the island of Hispaniola and other neighboring islands in the Caribbean, but it has since been extirpated in the Dominican Republic and most of Haiti due to habitat destruction. 

In the areas where the few Ridgway’s hawks live, their main habitat was once lowland, undisturbed forests. Due to habitat loss, however, they have been forced to adapt to other habitats, including rainforests, pine forests, subtropical wet and dry forests, secondary forests, and even agricultural areas such as farmland. While their habitats can range greatly, it’s important to remember that there are so few Ridgway’s hawks left in the wild that it’s a rarity to see them in such habitats. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The nesting period for the Ridgway’s hawk generally starts in February, just one month after the breeding season has begun. The male typically builds the nest for the female, which he builds out of sticks and twigs and a layer of leaves.

The male will build their nest usually in a tall tree or area of dense vegetation to protect the nest from predators. Then, the female will take over the residence in the nest. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

Unfortunately, the estimated lifespan of the Ridgway’s hawk is largely unknown. This is mostly due to the inconsistencies in the population figures and habitat destruction, making it somewhat impossible to know how long they are meant to live for.

Some scientists have suggested that Ridgway’s hawks only live for 3-5 years in the wild on average. 

What Predators Do They Have?

It’s unlikely that the Ridgway’s hawk has any animal predators. These birds are fast fliers and are a compact, medium-sized bird of prey that is generally at the top of their small food chain.

As there aren’t many large birds of prey species that would prey on the Ridgway’s hawk, we can assume that adult this species doesn’t have any predators. 

As eggs and chicks, however, young Ridgway’s hawks are under threat of being eaten by predators such as snakes, lizards, and other birds of prey. This is why the female Ridgway’s hawk will spend most of her time with her chicks when they are first born (talk about protective moms!). 

The main predator for the Ridgway’s hawk, sadly, is humanity. Deforestation has led to detrimental habitat loss, therefore a lack of prey and destruction of the species’ homes. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

There is little information available about the poop of a Ridgway’s hawk. Of course, as there are so few remaining left in the wild, researchers haven’t had the chance to examine their fecal matter. We can assume, however, that their poop is most likely brown, and potentially black or white. 

Do They Migrate?

The Ridgway’s hawk does not migrate, however the species has been forced to “migrate” to different habitats due to deforestation and thus the destruction of their habitats. 

Conservation Status

Sadly, the conservation status of the Ridgway’s hawk is Critically Endangered. It is estimated that some 500 Ridgway’s hawks are left in the wild, though thanks to conservation efforts, it is believed that this figure is beginning to increase slowly. 

The reason for this conservation status is that deforestation for the sake of human settlements (most commonly agricultural farmlands) has destroyed the habitats for these birds. While this species has adapted to survive on either islands in the Caribbean and can live in different habitats, this is only a result of brute force. 

As the Ridgway’s hawk often lives nearby human settlements and agricultural farmlands, it’s unfortunately common for these rare birds to be persecuted by farmers who wish to protect their poultry and livestock – despite the fact that the birds don’t prey on chickens. 

Fun Facts

  • The population figure began to decline back in the 19th century. 
  • Some Ridgway’s hawks have had to nest in palm trees, which can collapse under the weight of a nest and eggs, resulting in more deaths of chicks. 
  • These birds are patient hunters who perch on low-hanging tree branches to preserve their energy.