Philosophy of breeding and rearing Harris's hawks

Contact: Toby Bradshaw <>

I don't breed Harris's hawks for money, but rather to provide myself and my friends with the best birds I can produce by selective breeding and careful rearing of the young.

I set high standards for my Harris's hawks.  The breeding pairs are chosen carefully for their proven ability in falconry and for their kinship to other birds which have demonstrated superior characteristics.  A well-bred and properly-reared Harris's hawk should be naturally tame and trusting.  It must be aggressive on game, including large and difficult quarry such as jackrabbits.  I expect the bird to learn quickly the escape tactics of rabbits and hares, and to use its natural gifts of speed and footing to best advantage.  A good Harris's hawk is a master of position in the field, taking a commanding height when necessary to control large fields.  The bird is expected to work well with other Harris's hawks, without crabbing or territorial behavior.  Nearly all of my rabbit hunting is done over Jack Russells and other small dogs.  The bird must be absolutely trustworthy around dogs that are no bigger than many of the quarry!  I don't claim that all the birds I produce are perfect, but they are the result of a lot of thought, effort, and observation of hundreds of Harris's hawks over the past 20+ years.

To achieve all of these desirable traits in a captive-bred Harris's hawk requires attention to both genetics and environment - nature and nurture.  As a university professor of genetics, I know that there are no shortcuts in a selective breeding program.  I have chosen to concentrate my breeding efforts on two lines of Harris's hawks which have exceptional qualities for falconry -- the Malcolm/White Wing line originating with Tom and Jennifer Coulson, and the Harry/Harriet line originating with Larry and Karen Cottrell.

Breeding chamberDuring the breeding season, my hawks are kept in an open chain link enclosure with view of busy streets and backyards.  Even with this lack of privacy, the hawks are tame enough to copulate several times a day, disregarding lawnmowers, low-flying aircraft, and noisy children in the yard.  Of course, as the pairs rear their young, the eyasses are exposed to all the sights and sounds of suburbia, making them exceedingly tolerant of people and disturbances when they are trained.  The parents and young are fed primarily on Coturnix quail sprinkled with Vitahawk.  Whole rabbits from the previous hunting season and live mice are added for variety once the young are out of the nest.  All the young hawks are familiar with the appearance of rabbits and have killed live mice before they are shipped, and I have had no problems entering the hawks when they are trained.

My young (7 weeks old) Harris's hawks are very tameI generally allow the breeding pairs to incubate their eggs and rear the young entirely on their own.  Occasionally I will extend a clutch by pulling eggs, artificially incubating them, and rearing the young for 5-7 days before returning them to the nest.  It is very important that eyas Harris's hawks not be malimprinted to people.  Imprinted Harris' hawks cannot be flown with other Harris's hawks, and nearly all imprints become dangerously aggressive towards people (other than their 'mate') when they become sexually mature.   Harris's hawks, perhaps because of their long dependency period, seem unusually prone to malimprinting.  To avoid malimprinting, and to permit the young birds to learn the nuances of Harris's hawk social behavior that are necessary for successful group hawking, I generally do not separate the young from the parents before 16 weeks of age.  Parental discipline during the adolescent phase of Harris's hawk development reduces crabbing and screaming when the bird is trained.  The young birds work out their social hierarchy, and recognize that none of them is the dominant  bird since the parents have that status.  It costs me more to feed the young for a month or two longer than most breeders do, but you are rewarded with a better-behaved bird and lifetime hunting partner.  My dogs are always sniffing around the bottom of the breeding enclosure looking for scraps of food, so the young Harris's hawks treat them as part of the family.  This familiarity with dogs greatly reduces any worry that the hawk will be aggressive towards dogs, although it is always advisable to take proper precautions when first flying a young Harris's hawk with dogs.

For more information about the hawks I breed, see: Pedigreed Harris's hawks For Sale page.

Toby Bradshaw's Hawking and Falconry Website.
For more information on the Baywing Database, contact Toby Bradshaw.
Last revised: 15-Jul-2004