Photo: Hawksbill sea turtle

A hawksbill turtle swims just above the seafloor with flippers spread like wings. Hawksbills get their name from their tapered heads, which end in a sharp point resembling a bird's beak.

Photograph by Nick Caloyianis

Map

Map: Hawksbill sea turtle range

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Reptile
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
30 to 50 years (est.)
Size:
24 to 45 in (62.5 to 114 cm)
Weight:
100 to 150 lbs (45 to 68 kg)
Protection status:
Endangered
Did you know?
Young hawksbill turtles are unable to dive deep and spend their early years floating amongst sea plants near the water’s surface.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Hawksbill sea turtle compared with adult man

Hawksbill turtles are found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They avoid deep waters, preferring coastlines where sponges are abundant and sandy nesting sites are within reach.

Not particularly large compared with other sea turtles, hawksbills grow up to about 45 inches (114 centimeters) in shell length and 150 pounds (68 kilograms) in weight. While young, their carapace, or upper shell, is heart-shaped, and as they mature it elongates. Their strikingly colored carapace is serrated and has overlapping scutes, or thick bony plates. Their tapered heads end in a sharp point resembling a bird’s beak, hence their name. A further distinctive feature is a pair of claws adorning each flipper. Male hawksbills have longer claws, thicker tails, and somewhat brighter coloring than females.

They are normally found near reefs rich in the sponges they like to feed on. Hawksbills are omnivorous and will also eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish. Their hard shells protect them from many predators, but they still fall prey to large fish, sharks, crocodiles, octopuses, and humans.

Like other sea turtles, hawksbills make incredible migrations in order to move from feeding sites to nesting grounds, normally on tropical beaches. Mating occurs every two to three years and normally takes place in shallow waters close to the shore. The nesting procedure begins when the turtles leave the sea to choose an area to lay their eggs. A pit is dug in the sand, filled with eggs, and then covered. At this stage the turtles retreat to the sea, leaving the eggs, which will hatch in about 60 days. The most dangerous time of their lives comes when hatchlings make the journey from their nests to the sea. Crabs and flocks of gulls voraciously prey on the young turtles during this short scamper.

Like many sea turtles, hawksbills are a critically endangered species due mostly to human impact. Hawksbill eggs are still eaten around the world despite the turtle’s international protected status, and they are often killed for their flesh and their stunning shells. These graceful sea turtles are also threatened by accidental capture in fishing nets.

Reptile Features

  • Photo: Close-up of a king cobra head

    Snake Pictures

    Slither in to meet some of the largest, deadliest, and fastest snakes in the world.

  • 100507-DL2-swamp-men.jpg

    Swamp Men

    Welcome to Billie Swamp Safari, where things get wild.

  • Photo: A king cobra with head raised

    King Cobra

    Come eye-to-eye with the king cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world. Learn why it is the reptile of choice for exotic snake charmers.

  • Photo: An American crocodile emerging from its eggshell

    Alligator and Crocodile Pictures

    Take a dip with more of these prehistoric giants. But watch yourself; they do bite.

Please select a test to run

Animals

Photos

  •  Picture of a Malayan tiger

    Pictures: Tiger Subspecies

    Scientists estimate only about 3,000 wild tigers are left in the entire world. Meet the subspecies and see what threats each is facing.

See more animal photos »

From the Magazine

  1. Photo of the lions of the Vumbi pride.

    The Surprising Lives of Lions

    In case you missed it: See these breathtaking videos and photos from inside a wild Serengeti pride.

  2. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.