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Hawks are elegant birds of the prey family Accipitridae. These birds are diurnal which means that they are most active in the early mornings and the evenings, when they spend their time hunting for prey. Hawks originate from deserts and fields and can be found in Central America, Jamaica, and the West Indies.
There is a lot to know about these fascinating birds, who are highly intelligent and have varying lifespans depending on their species and environmental conditions. Understanding the history and conditions that the hawk requires in both captivity and the wild can give you a good idea as to how long these birds live.
In this article, we will give you a detailed breakdown of the hawk’s average lifespan, interesting lifestyle facts, and a collection of information that will give you insight into just how long these birds can live for.
In the wild, a hawk’s average lifespan in the wild can span up to 20 years. It is more common for a hawk to live for 12 years, especially if their environmental conditions reduce their risk of survival. In captivity, it is common for hawks to live between 15 to 25 years, which exceeds their average wild lifespan.
Unlike most birds, the hawk’s lifespan heavily depends on biological conditions and external environmental factors, rather than genetic factors. This means that hawks are potentially going to live longer if they are kept in the right conditions where they follow their natural biological processes (active during the daytime, eating the right prey, and kept safe from poisons).
Since there are so many species of hawks in the wild and kept in captivity by wildlife rehabilitators, these are the most common lifespans of the following species:
|Red-tailed hawk:||10-15 years|
|Eurasian sparrowhawk:||20 years|
|Common buzzard:||8 years|
|Black kite:||15-20 years|
|Northern goshawk:||20-25 years|
|Cooper’s hawk:||15-20 years|
These diurnal prey birds primarily feed on smaller animals such as snakes, mice, rats, rabbits, smaller birds, and squirrels. Interestingly, most of their prey are nocturnal, so hawks must work extra hard to find their ideal prey when they are most active during the day.
Hawks are obligated carnivores and do not supplement their diet with plant matter, so if you do have a hawk in your care, you must provide these intelligent birds with live prey so that they can follow the proper biological process of stalking, hunting, and finally eating their prey. Their captive diet is identical to their wild diet, and you can purchase feeder mice or rats to keep them satiated. Mixing up their diet will ensure that your hawk is receiving a balanced amount of nutrition to keep them strong and healthy, and further improve their lifespan.
Sadly, hawks that live near humans are more likely to be purposefully or accidentally poisoned as the mice and rats that they eat are usually infected with oral poisons that result in a hawk’s early death. This is fairly common, and one of the main reasons wild hawks live for such a significantly less amount of time than they would in captivity under strict human care. Humans are destroying their natural habitat, which makes these birds move to urban areas in search of food and habitation where they have a lower chance of survival.
Hawks inhabit temperate climates that are highly diverse, where the winters are cold and the summers are hot, which is why the hawk can successfully live in the harsh conditions of deserts. Hawks can adapt and tolerate a wide range of conditions as they are hardy birds. Hawks that live in northern areas will migrate south for the wintertime, and those that live in milder climates will stay there.
The environment spans from deserts, forests, lakes, meadows, marshes, prairies, and rainforests, wherever the species of hawk finds the environment to be comfortable and populated with their ideal prey animals.
In captivity, hawks should be kept in very large enclosures where they can spread their wings and fly comfortably. The enclosure should be tall, long, and well ventilated. Ideally, the enclosure should contain elevated branches and perches where they will spend most of their time. At night, your hawk will appreciate nesting in a large hideout that is fully enclosed with a front opening. When it comes to the size of the enclosure you should aim for a minimum size of 8×8×10 feet. The enclosure should have both a shaded and sunny spot so that your hawk can move around to find a comfortable temperature area in their enclosure.
A full-grown hawk can range from 15 to 26 inches (40 to 65 cm) in size with a wingspan of 3 to 8 feet (110 to 140 cm). This is a huge bird, will long talons suitable for catching its sizeable prey. With this size, you should expect your hawk to weigh between 600 to 1,600 grams (1.3 to 3.5 lb). The size of the hawk does not play a role in their lifespan, as each species is adapted to survive according to its size and wingspan.
Both male and female hawks have an equal survival rate and the same average lifespan. The main differences between the two sexes are that females are almost always larger and heavier than males. Some species of hawks are monogamous and will mate and stay with the same partner for their entire lives, even seeming to refuse other partners if something does happen to their current mate.
There is very little hawk breeding in captivity, since these are not common ‘pets’, but rather captured and rehabilitated by facilities due to injury or conditions that would otherwise affect the hawk’s ability to thrive and survive in the wild.
Overall, hawks are genetically healthy birds and with little to no selective breeding from humans, the hawks’ genes are stable and biologically ideal. There are some reports of inbreeding in Cooper’s hawk, which has revealed a reduction of their fitness, but since this is so uncommon, it does not play a role in their lifespan and survivability.
In terms of selective breeding amongst this species by human intervention, the main aim is to improve this bird’s evolution process and genetics. However, most falconries will breed two of their captive hawks to provide each individual with companionship if the specific species is monogamous.
Most hawk rehabilitators will also selectively breed their hawks to preserve the species if the populations are diminishing in the area, as this is becoming a problem due to habitat destruction and fewer hawks can breed and repopulate in their ideal environment.
Hawks are very healthy birds and prone to few health conditions. The most common health problems you may encounter when owning or inspecting a wild hawk are infectious diseases, such as frounce, asper, sour crop, and coccidia. Major health problems that occur in hawks can be transmitted to humans in some cases, such as gingivitis, enteritis, and aspergillosis ass of which are bacterial and occur when conditions are not kept hygienic. Protozoal parasites can also cause disease in hawks, which is trichomoniasis.
Sick hawks will have dull eyes, abnormal feces, weight loss, and may even refuse prey. They will act lethargic and seem uninterested in their usual activities. As soon as you notice that your hawk is acting sickly, you should contact a professional avian veterinarian that specializes in raptor birds. Avoid contact with the hawk and wash your hands after handling or enclosure maintenance to reduce the spread of the diseases to other birds and in some cases, to yourself.
Always keep the environment clean, the water fresh, and ensure that the prey is healthy. This will reduce the risk of infecting your hawk with diseases that may be fatal.
Hawks will lay eggs after a successful mating. The eggs will incubate for 25 to 40 days depending on the species. The eggs are a greenish-white color and laid after days. The mother hawk will sit on the eggs to keep them warm during this stage. Hawks will typically lay between 2 to 7 eggs at a time.
Hawks are typically helpless after they hatch and are covered in fluff for the first few weeks. They rely on their parents for feeding and warmth as their fluff does not allow them to properly regulate their body temperature by themselves. Hatchlings slowly become less vulnerable after 4 weeks, when they will start to develop their juvenile feathers.
Fledglings will begin to leave the nest about 6 to 7 weeks after hatching. However, they will be flightless for another 2 weeks which puts them at risk of being injured or caught by predators. Most fledglings will remain with their parents until they are between 8 to 10 weeks old.
The hawks’ juvenile feathers are dull and lack colors that you would see in adults. There will still be small patches of fluff visible within their maturing feathers. Hawk siblings will stay together during this time, and their parents will begin teaching them to fly and how to hunt and catch prey.
Hawks will become adults at 11 weeks old and most of their adult feathers will be fully developed. They will be able to fly and hunt on their own and completely separate from their parents and siblings.
It will take a hawk 2 to 3 years before they finally reach sexual maturity and can begin to mate and produce their offspring. At this stage a hawk will be a matured adult and have adapted to hunting and living in the environment they have chosen.
It is easy to tell the age of a hawk during the juvenile and fledgling stage, but it becomes difficult as they get older. Young hawks that have just hatched will have very fine, fluffy white or brownish down covering their entire bodies. Their eyes will be partially open, and they look undeveloped.
Fledglings will have grown a few dull feathers on their body, whereas juvenile hawks will have more feathers than fluff covering the entirety of their body. If you see young hawks on the ground but unable to fly, this is a good indication that they are around 2 months of age. Hawks that are nesting and choosing mating partners are over 2 to 3 years of age, but it is not possible to positively identify their exact age after this period.
The main factors that determine the lifespan of a hawk depend on their species, environment, and health status. A hawk that is living a biologically suitable life (access to suitable prey, ideal climate, little to no predators, and a healthy immune system) will be able to reach its maximum lifespan of 15 to 25 years.
Featured Image Credit: Piqsels
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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