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Their range is from northern South America and Guyana, to Central America, throughout Mexico, to the southwestern United States, including Arizona, southwest New Mexico, western Texas, and southern Utah. Arrives in the U.S. to breed (northernmost breeding populations) as early as March-April, leaving by mid-October. Individuals occasionally overwinter in Arizona and New Mexico. Northernmost populations of N Mexico and S United States leave breeding area for the winter, while other populations are not known to migrate, and are presumed to be sedentary.
This species is thought to be long-lived. A nestling banded in 1977 was recovered 13 years and 6 months later. The voice of this hawk is unlike that of any other North American raptor. During the nesting season, the call is a load and hoarse piercing whistle, lasting three to four seconds and composed of about seven or eight notes that increase abruptly in intensity, then progressively decrease. The most commonly heard call is a nasal, high-pitched, cry alarm. The flight pattern alternates between strong flapping flight and gliding.