This small, stocky Buteo hawk, with its conspicuous, broad white-and-black tail bands, is a common breeder in large deciduous and mixed-deciduous forests of northeastern and north-central North America. It is a secretive species while nesting but conspicuous in migration. One of the few North American raptors that flocks during migration, Broad-winged Hawks are commonly seen in the tens of thousands at the peak of their fall and spring migrations in southern Texas, Mexico, and Central America.
Nesting pairs spend most of their time beneath the forest canopy, perch-hunting for insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Territorial adults can be located by their plaintive peee-uurr whistle, given during occasional soaring flights above the canopy. Wintering birds inhabit forest and forest edges from southern Mexico south through Brazil and Bolivia. Small numbers of mostly immature birds winter in south Florida and the Florida Keys. Endemic subspecies occur on several Caribbean islands.
Although some aspects of the Broad-winged Hawk's migration behavior and breeding ecology have been well-documented, little is known about the species' wintering ecology and other facets of its life history. Many observations of its life history come from one early study (Burns 1911), and much remains poorly documented.
Few studies have examined color-marked birds or radio-tagged birds (Hengstenberg and Vilella 2005), or have followed individuals for more than two years.