Roadside Hawk: The Ultimate Guide

The roadside hawk (scientifically known as Rupornis magnirostris) is a small bird of prey native to Central and South America.

These birds are aptly named for their favorite places to perch – on phone poles, wires, and posts in fields on the side of roads.

Despite how close they reside near to human settlements, the roadside hawk is said to be one of the more aggressive species of their kind. 

If you’re wanting to know more about this common bird of prey, here is the ultimate guide to the roadside hawk!


The roadside hawk is considered a small bird of prey, sizing at a mere 12-16” long and weighing only 0.5-0.6 lbs. The colors of the feathers are predominantly gray and light brown, with their heads and wings making up for the darkest parts.

Their chests, however, are lighter – with a mixture of white and ocher colored feathers. The white and ocher colors are placed in a striped form. 

When in flight, the tail feathers spread open to show the unique horizontal stripes of four or five dark bars. It’s fairly common to see a light reddish-brown color (known as rufous) on the wings when the bird is flying. 

The roadside hawk is fitted with the key attributes of a standard hawk – the black and lethal talons, a dark sharp beak, and piercing amber eyes. To match their eyes, both the legs and their mouths (minus the beak) are a bright yellow color. 

Male vs Female

It’s rare for birds of prey species to have distinguishable physical differences to indicate the sex of the bird, and the same goes for the roadside hawk.

The roadside hawk is a sexual monomorphic bird, which means that it can often be hard to distinguish the male from the female. However, in most cases, the female roadside hawk is about 20% larger than the male. 

Are They Aggressive?

Despite their small size, these roadside hawks are notoriously fierce birds. It’s a bit ironic, considering how often these hawks are close to human civilization that you’d think they’d be fine with humans.

However, there have been records of these birds attacking humans who come too close to their nests. If they are nesting in general, and perhaps on the hunt for prey, it’s best to keep your distance from them!

As for their prey, roadside hawks are certainly an aggressive species. All birds of prey are notoriously successful hunters, so prey has a slim chance of escaping the clutches of those deadly talons. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

The biggest adaptation of the roadside hawk is its ability to adapt to a variety of ecosystems – from phone poles on the side of roads to the edges of forest areas to plantations.

This is unique for non-migratory birds of prey, who usually are adapted to a singular ecosystem. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

The roadside hawk is only ever seen by itself or in pairs, which suggests these are monogamous birds that mate for life. The courting and mating ritual involves a lot of aerial displays and noise, as the roadside hawk is a notoriously vocal bird.

Both the female and male will perform aerial displays and calls, and will become very aggressive to prey, predators, and humans who wander too close. The male will also feed the female with the prey they catch as part of the courting ritual.

The breeding season ranges depending on the region and ecosystem, but generally speaking, the breeding season occurs from the end of the dry season to halfway through the wet season.

Once successful, the female will lay a clutch of 1-2 whitish eggs with brown markings. The female will commit to the incubation period of 35-37 days while the male feeds her, and then subsequently feeds the chick(s) too alongside the female.

Their Calls / Sounds

Despite its size, the roadside hawk is a particularly noisy bird of prey. Their most common call is a high-pitched repetitive squeak. If anything, it comes out like a scream.

The calls they make during the courting rituals are more like a barking sound, with a rapid nasal repetition of “heh-heh-heh”. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

The roadside hawk’s diet consists mostly of insects, reptiles (known as squamates), small mammals, and often small birds. More specifically, roadside hawks will feast on lizards, snakes, the occasional amphibian, rodents, and small monkeys like marmosets. 

This varied diet is mostly due to the bird’s ability to adapt to different environments that are home to varying prey.

The way they hunt is mostly watching the ground from their perch (whether it’s a tree or pole) before swooping down to the unsuspecting prey. 

A lot of their prey that comes from the edge of forest and woodland areas is mostly down to wildfires, which sadly drives out the local mammals who then become prey to the roadside hawk.

In some cases, some roadside hawks have had their plumage scorched by the fires. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

The roadside hawk is common across Central America (mostly Mexico) and throughout South America east of the Andes.

It’s normal to find a roadside hawk virtually anywhere in these regions – from resting on phone poles to perching on trees on the edge of forests and plantations. This species has also been seen to fly into large cities with trees in Brazil!

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

Roadside Hawk

Although roadside hawks perch in a variety of habitats, they will build their nests on the tops of trees.

These nests are built by both parents (though some argue that the female does most of the work while the male hunts for food), and is made of twigs, sticks, and lined with leaves. The nests are fairly bulky, sizing at 35 cm deep and 20-45 cm wide. 

The roadside hawk prefers to build their nests amongst trees that are hidden by foliage and vegetation because of how protective they are of their young. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

The lifespan of the roadside hawk in the wild is said to be around 12-15 years, with hawks in captivity having a lifespan of 15-20 years. These figures are estimates, however, due to lack of research. 

What Predators Do They Have?

It’s fairly rare for a roadside hawk to have predators due to their aggressive nature, ability to fly, sharp talons, and adaptations to different environments.

The only animal predators worth worrying about are snakes and lizards who can climb up the trees to eat the chicks and eggs while in their nests.

However, as the roadside hawk parents are so protective of their young, this is rare. 

The main predator for the roadside hawk is, unfortunately, humanity.

Pollution from cars can affect the breathing of the roadside birds who like to sit on poles by roads, not to mention the destruction of their habitats due to deforestation or climate change.

If their homes aren’t destroyed for agricultural purposes, the forest can easily catch fire in the heat of dry season, rendering a multitude of species homeless. Fortunately, the roadside hawk can adapt to other environments easily. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The feathers of a roadside hawk are predominantly gray all over their outer body. As for their breast area, the feathers are a pale white with ocher stripes.

These stripes and markings are inconsistent throughout the body of the roadside hawk, making each hawk look different to another. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

The poop of a roadside hawk is mostly brown, sometimes black, often yellow or white, and has a fairly runny consistency. 

Do They Migrate?

The roadside hawk is not a migratory bird, in fact, it’s sedentary. However, this is often mistaken for partial migration, as these birds are so easily adaptable to different environments.

However, these environments are mostly in their immediate area. For example, if a hawk has a nest in a plantation, they might fly to the roadside to look for unsuspecting rodents in a nearby open field. 

Conservation Status

The roadside hawk, according to the IUCN Red List, has a conservation status of Least Concern. These birds are, thankfully, very common in Central and South America.

The only real problem these birds face is climate change and habitat loss. Deforestation to make farmland has contributed hugely to the loss of forest and woodland areas, which has led to less prey for the hawks to hunt.

Wildfires, likewise, have caused catastrophic change to these ecosystems. 

Fun Facts

The only ecosystem the roadside hawk hasn’t adapted to is dense forests. 

A group of hawks has several names, including “stream”, “boil”, “knot”, “tower”, and “spiraling”. 

Roadside hawks aren’t the strongest of fliers. They will mostly hunt for their prey when perched on a tall structure to preserve their energy. When they do fly, they prefer to glide and only fly short distances. 

There are currently 12 subspecies throughout the wide range of the roadside hawk. 

When flying in late winter and spring, the roadside hawk is strangely noisy.