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Harris’s Hawks
Harris’s Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus harrisi) are among America’s largest hawks. They were named by John J.
Audubon after his friend and financier Colonel Edward Harris. They are also called the “wolves of the sky”. They are
one of two species of communal hawk in the world. The other being the Galapagos Hawk. Harris’ Hawks are scattered
from South America to the southwest United States. In the US they are found typically in semiarid habitats
(savannas, chaparrals, scrub prairies, and mesquite and saguaro deserts) but also in marshes.
They can nest on cactus and often stand on the backs of their talons to avoid being skewered by spines. Harris’s Hawks can
withstand temperatures in excess of 115 degrees Fahrenheit and do not need open water, as they get can enough moisture
from their prey. They enjoy drinking and bathing very much though! Harris’s Hawks are social birds: each
pack or “troop” is a family group governed by an “alpha pair”. Often the young stay in the family and help raise the new brood.
Harris’s Hawks are social hunters: each member of the troop takes on a specific role in pursuit of quarry. Individuals with
recognized behavioral hunting roles include “flushers”, “chasers”, “turners” and “killers”. Like other birds
of prey, Harris’s Hawks provide critical environmental services, including removal of dead animals and control
of rodent and pest populations. We don’t have any systematic survey of the original Southern California population,
but 50 years ago we had about 100 individuals. Today it is unclear if any breeding pairs survive
in California - last year biologists counted only two lone birds: one in the proposed 'Sunrise Power Link' development area,
the other in the town of Borrego Springs.
Harris's Hawks are declining in California. They are prone to electrocution on power poles due to their
behavioral patterns and communal nature – alpha pairs prefer to perch close to each other on neighboring poles, and
often touch wingtips when stretching or taking flight. This can (and often does) result in electrocution of the
alpha male and alpha female. Many other raptor species (and bird species in general) also suffer great losses from
electrocution on power lines and associated equipment.

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