“In driving over the treeless prairie of southern Texas day after day, one of your keenest pleasures is to sight, across a long level foreground, the shining breast of a stately White-tailed Hawk” (Florence M. Bailey 1914).
One of the most attractive of North American hawks, its gray plumage, swatches of rufous on each shoulder, and brilliant white breast stand out boldly among the dullish greens and browns of its typical surroundings. In flight, its graceful silhouette recalls that of the Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), while its tail, white with a distinctive black subterminal band, is unique. Relatively shy and unobtrusive, this hawk thrives in open to sparsely wooded, arid regions where other Buteos are uncommon. Occupying discontinuous breeding areas from southern Texas to Argentina, it claims the widest latitudinal distribution (29°N to 44°S) of any Buteo and has successfully colonized several Caribbean islands. An opportunistic raptor, it hunts while soaring, hovering, or from a perch, capturing small land vertebrates as well as assorted invertebrates.
The White-tailed Hawk remains, scientifically, one of the least-known North American raptors, save for a small number of detailed studies (Stevenson and Meitzen 1946, Farquhar 1986, Kopeny 1988b) in southeastern Texas, the northernmost limit of its tropical and subtropical range. Its body size decreases from temperate to tropical latitudes. Three subspecies are currently recognized, although not universally accepted.