hawk, name generally applied to the smaller members of the Accipitridae, a heterogeneous family of diurnal birds of prey, such as the eagle, the kite, the Old World vulture, and the secretary bird. Hawks belong to the same order as the falcon, the New World vulture, and the osprey. Hawks have keen sight, sharply hooked bills, and powerful feet with curved talons. Strong and graceful in flight, they are distinguished from falcons by their broader, rounded wings. Typical of the hunting hawks, or accipiters, is the goshawk found in northern temperate regions, which feeds on small mammals and on other birds, riding its prey to the ground. Other destructive American accipiters are the chicken, or Cooper's, hawk, Accipiter cooperi, and the small (robin-sized) sharp-shinned hawk, A. fuscus, which is known to feed on at least 50 species of harmless or beneficial birds. The males of this group are usually smaller than the females. Buteos (called buzzards by the English) are a diverse and cosmopolitan group of medium to large hawks and eagles with shorter legs and tails and larger wings than the accipiters. They include beneficial hawks such as the American red-tailed, red-shouldered, broad-winged, rough-legged, and Swainson's hawks, which feed on harmful rodents and reptiles. Except for the harriers, or marsh hawks (owl-faced birds of open land and marshes), which are ground nesters, hawks build their nests of sticks and twigs in trees. All hawks regurgitate the indigestible portions of their prey as pellets. Included in this group is the serpent eagle of Africa, which somersaults in its flight. The name hawk is applied also to many falcons and the totally unrelated nighthawk (a goatsucker), certain members of the gull and jaeger families, and the hawk swallow, a European swift. True hawks are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.