Zone-Tailed Hawk Spotted in Joshua Tree for First Time Ever

An uncommon species of hawk has been confirmed as living in a California national park for the first time.

On Wednesday, Joshua Tree National Park said the zone-tailed hawk had been photographed on a wildlife camera.

"It's not every day that a new species is confirmed in Joshua Tree National Park, but the zone-tailed hawk is now on our bird species list after a park wildlife camera captured a photo of one," a post on the park's Facebook page read. "This is the first confirmed sighting in Joshua Tree."

Zone-tailed hawk
A zone-tailed hawk spotted by an NPS wildlife camera, shared by Joshua Tree National Park. NPS/Joshua Tree National Park

The zone-tailed hawk is a sleek, medium-sized raptor that can be found year-round in various regions of South America and in the U.S. during the spring and summer. In breeding season, it can also be found in the arid canyons of the southwestern U.S., according to Cornell University's All About Birds group. This includes southern Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas.

The flying predator is similar in appearance to the turkey vulture, even flying in the same way as it soars and circles in the sky. Since vultures don't actively hunt live prey and feast on carcasses instead, the zone-tailed hawk may be ignored by smaller animals below.

However, unlike the turkey vulture the zone-tailed hawk is an active hunter. Once it has spotted its prey and finds the right moment to attack, the hawk turns into a steep dive and goes for the kill.

It has been suggested that zone-tailed hawks may be mimicking turkey vultures in order to fool their prey.

The hawk's diet varies depending on location, but mostly consists of lizards, mammals and smaller birds.

While zone-tailed hawks tend to be found in southern parts of the U.S., they have gradually been extending their range northward since the 1990s, All About Birds states. They have even been seen as far north as Virginia and Nova Scotia.

During breeding season these hawks will typically build nests in tall trees, sometimes as high as 100 feet up. The female will lay between one and three eggs, which hatch in just over a month. One bird, probably the female, will stay with the young, while the other hunts. Eventually both birds will leave to hunt, and within about six to seven weeks the young birds will be able to fly, according to bird conservation group Audubon.

The term "hawk" refers to a wide group of birds within the family Accipitridae and may also refer to some kites, buzzards and harriers, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Hawks are known as swift hunters, grasping their prey in their talons before tearing at it with their sharp beaks. They are found on all continents, except for Africa.

Zone-tailed hawk
A file photo of a zone-tailed hawk. The species has been sighted in Joshua Tree National Park in California for the first time. hugocorzo/Getty