Within the United States, the short-tailed hawk can only be found in the Florida peninsula. While short-tailed hawks have an extended geographic range to the south, through parts of Central and South America, the Florida population of this species is distinct and only migratory within the state. Short-tailed hawks have two color morphs (a light and a dark variety) that are not indicative of sex. In Florida, dark birds are more common. Despite this hawk’s common name, its tail is not particularly short. Short-tailed hawks are rare in Florida and have proven difficult to study. These birds nest in the early spring each year and rely on a diet of small birds, with less frequent supplements of mammals and reptiles.
Short-tailed hawks require dense mature woodlands for breeding. Wetlands, cypress swamps and bays are common habitat types for this species. Ecotones and transitional areas are common components of short-tailed hawk foraging habitat – this species requires open areas adjacent to wooded stands for hunting.
Although this species has the advantage of mobility, the Florida short-tailed hawk population is currently highly threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation throughout its range in the state. Short-tailed hawks face a loss of nesting sites and foraging habitat that is likely to become more extreme under shifting ecological community dynamics and land use patterns spurred by climate change. This species has extremely strong nest-fidelity so preserving historic nesting sites is critical. However, natural and human-induced changes related to climate change, such as changing hydrology may result in loss or degradation of historic nesting sites, creating a significant challenge for the short-tailed hawk in its struggle to adapt. As Florida short-tailed hawks are migratory within the state, their wintering habitat is likely to be impacted in ways distinct from their nesting habitat– sea level rise is likely to be a particular threat to wintering grounds.
More information about general climate impacts to species in Florida.
The overall vulnerability level was based on the following assessment(s):
The short-tailed hawks' wintering and nesting range differ in exposure to climate change, particularly sea level rise. Vulnerability was assessed for each, wintering habitat and nesting habitat. In the winter range , the primary factors contributing to vulnerability were sea level rise and the impact of potential changes in hydrology and disturbance regimes on migratory prey (birds) resources. In the breeding range, potentially incompatible human responses to climate change posed a threat. Additional factors include impact of potential changes in hydrology and disturbance regimes on swamp forest. This species could potentially expand its range in Florida, based on minimal impacts from barriers combined with good dispersal.
The primary factors contributing to vulnerability of the short-tailed hawk are sea level rise and erosion.