The Zone-tailed Hawk is distributed throughout Central America and in much of northern South America. Within this large region it has a poorly understood and disjunct distribution, with various small populations and large areas, especially in Amazonia, where it appears to be very scarce or absent. The Zone-tailed Hawk is a habitat generalist and can be found in tropical or subtropical lowlands, dry scrub, ranchlands, riparian woodland, or even coniferous forests. The Zone-tailed Hawk has the most distinctive foraging technique in its genus. In flight, it very closely resembles the plumage, flight profile and flight style of the larger Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). This resemblance is almost certainly a form of aggressive mimicry: the Zone-tailed Hawk mimics the appearance of a non-threatening species, the Turkey Vulture, so as to closely approach unsuspecting prey, which in this case include small mammals, birds and reptiles.