- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular summer resident and migrant in Minnesota. The Broad-winged Hawk was uncommon during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Widely distributed in the contiguous forested regions of eastern and northeastern North America as far west as Texas, Missouri, and Minnesota, and northwest, but sparsely, to British Columbia. This species is rare in open country and not abundant anywhere within its breeding range (Figure 1). An endemic subspecies occurs year-round on several Caribbean islands.
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
Primarily a long-distance migrant to Central and South America, but overwintering populations can be found sparingly along the Gulf coast and in southern Florida.
A sit-and-wait predator that feeds on small mammals, amphibians, snakes, large insects, and birds, including nestlings.
Usually placed in the first main crotch of a deciduous tree or on a platform close to the bole of a coniferous tree.
The Broad-winged Hawk is the most common raptor of the forests in Minnesota. In the late 1800s, Hatch (1892) described it as “fairly common from the borders of Iowa to Lake Superior. Rare in the northwestern sections of the state.” Roberts (1932) more specifically described it as “a common bird throughout the deciduous woodlands of the state and is equally well represented in the coniferous forests farther north.” Even though it is found frequently in the contiguous forests of Minnesota, it can be secretive during the breeding season. Bent (1961) called them “gentle, retiring, quiet birds of the deep forest.” They are very conspicuous during fall migration and are well known for their magnificent fall migrations at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota, when tens of thousands can be observed in a single day.
Roberts (1932) documented nesting activity in Meeker County (nests with eggs), in Minneapolis (Hennepin County) (multiple nests with eggs or young), and in Isanti (nest with 1 egg) and Stearns (nest) Counties in central Minnesota, and northwest in Becker, Kittson, Marshall, and Polk Counties and Itasca State Park. The latter records were all of nests with eggs or with young.
More than 40 years later, Green and Janssen (1975) noted that there were “no summer records for the prairie in the west central, southwestern, and south-central regions, and the species is scarce in the southeastern region.” Although they did not include nesting records, they stated it was the most numerous hawk in the northern forested regions. Several years later, Janssen (1987) reinforced that its breeding distribution is in the “heavier forested portions of the state where there are upland openings and/or wetlands.” He confirmed nesting since 1970 in 23 Minnesota counties, including 1 nest in Brown County in southern Minnesota, and in the Twin Cities metropolitan area northwest to Kittson County and northeast to Cook County. In 1998, Hertzel and Janssen extended confirmed nesting since 1970 to 5 additional counties, including Scott and Winona Counties in the southeast, Kandiyohi in the west-central region, and Kittson and Lake of the Woods Counties in the northwest.
During intensive fieldwork, the Minnesota Biological Survey documented 233 breeding season locations. These locations spanned almost the entire state, from the southern tier of counties, such as Jackson (3 locations), Martin (1), and Mower (1), to Roseau County (1) in the northwest to Cook County (>20) in the northeast (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016). Most records were in the northern portion of the state; locations were sparse throughout most of the agricultural regions of southern and western Minnesota.
The MNBBA participants documented 959 records, which exemplified the wide distribution of the Broad-winged Hawk, ranging from southeastern to northwestern Minnesota and to all the forested areas to the east (Figure 2). Breeding evidence was recorded in 15.9% (756/4,761) of all surveyed blocks and 18.0% (421/2,337) of priority blocks (Figure 3; Table 1). Confirmed nesting was recorded from 89 blocks, and probable breeding evidence from 115 blocks. Records were relatively dense in the Twin Cities and Brainerd areas, where coverage was extensive, but also in the northern and northeastern portions of the state, where populations are most common. Additional notable records included (1) confirmed nesting in Fillmore and Rice Counties and several possible nesting records in southeastern Minnesota, (2) probable nesting in southern Minnesota in Blue Earth County near the Minnesota River floodplain, and (3) probable nesting in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota with records in Clay and Norman Counties. Johnson (1982), in his review of raptors nesting in Minnesota, noted historical confirmed nesting records in Fillmore and Blue Earth Counties before 1960.
The MNBBA probability map predicted that land cover suitability for the species was highest in the northeastern and north-central regions of Minnesota (Figure 4). Lower suitability was predicted on the fringes of these regions, including in the northwest, the Twin Cities’ area, and southeastern Minnesota.
Roberts noted the species was common throughout the state and provided nesting evidence from some of the western counties. However, nearly 50% of the forests of Minnesota have been lost since the mid-1800s, and the forest-dwelling Broad-winged Hawk has certainly declined in population with the loss of forests in the southern and western portions of the state. Whether the breeding range has contracted is less clear because observations have been made in the southern regions where some forests still exist, especially in riparian habitats. In western Minnesota, there were no observations in the Red River valley area, which was noted by Janssen (1987). A hint of the past in this area was described by Bent (1961), who cited J. W. Preston’s observations from 1888: “In hidden retreats, where the tangled wilderness of lakes and forests guards in lonely silence the streams which feed the Red River of the North in Minnesota, I found the Broad-winged Hawk . . . breeding abundantly.” The Red River valley on the border with North Dakota has been heavily converted to agricultural land.
In their review of the Broad-winged Hawk in North America, Goodrich et al. (2014) did not mention historical changes in habitat loss due to forest conversion to agricultural land but noted the recent increase of this species in the northeastern United States with reforestation. They do suggest the species may be expanding westward into many forested areas in western states, including Texas in the 1970s and Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming in the 1980s.
Cutright et al. (2006) described few changes in the distribution of the Broad-winged Hawk in Wisconsin but simply noted it was more abundant in the northern portions of the state. In Michigan, Chartier et al. (2013) found little change in this species between the state’s first and second atlas, except in the northern Lower Peninsula, where breeding evidence had declined. They stated the cause was unknown. They speculated that habitat loss was unlikely and the possible, better explanation was a complex response to climate changes that may have affected such factors as prey availability. Cadman et al. (2007) also found no differences between the first atlas (1981–1985) and second atlas (2001–2005) in Ontario. They concluded that “the species’ relative abundance has probably not changed much since the 1800s, except in the Carolinian region where forest cover has declined greatly.”
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.