Hawks in North America (19 Species + State Guides)
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Welcome to a journey of discovery, as we delve into the diverse world of North America’s hawks. Spread across the sprawling continent, from icy Alaskan terrains to the sun-kissed Southern coasts, you’ll find an impressive collection of 19 distinct species of these magnificent birds of prey.
Our comprehensive guide will not only introduce you to these awe-inspiring raptors, but also provide state-specific insights to enhance your bird-watching adventures. Let’s take flight and explore the world of these captivating creatures together.
The Red-tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey that is commonly found across North America. This species is part of the genus Buteo, which is often referred to as the “true hawks,” and includes more than two dozen species of raptors.
Red-tailed Hawks have a robust size, ranging from 18 to 26 inches in length and sporting a wingspan that can exceed 4 feet. They have a broad, rounded set of wings and a short, wide red tail. This species is most easily recognized by its rich, rust-colored tail, which gives it its common name. However, juvenile hawks might not yet have this distinctive feature.
Their feathers are generally dark brown on their dorsal side (back) with a lighter, often speckled, ventral side (front). The intensity and pattern of their plumage can vary significantly based on their age and geographic location, as there are about 14 recognized subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks.
As for their diet, Red-tailed Hawks are carnivores and have a broad diet that includes rodents, ground rabbits, reptiles, and other birds. They are skilled hunters that typically sit on high perches and use their keen eyesight to spot potential prey. Once they have identified a target, they swoop down to capture it with their powerful talons.
Red-tailed Hawks mate for life and build nests high off the ground, often in tall trees or on cliff edges. Their nests are made of sticks and can be quite large. They typically lay 1-3 eggs per year, which are incubated by both parents.
Red-tailed Hawk Sound
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
The red-shouldered hawk are medium sized birds of prey, part of the buteo hawks family. It can be distinguished from other hawks by its reddish iris and pale legs.
The adult has rusty red upperparts, white underparts, a black chin and throat, and a reddish brown stripe over each eye, reddish brown heads and a strongly banded tail. The tail is reddish brown with two paler bands across it and they have white checkered wings. Juveniles are brown with dark barring and have pale fringes on the feathers of their wings.
Red-shouldered hawks nest in trees, though they also inhabit manmade structures including barns, bridges, and buildings. They prefer wooded areas with an open canopy but will use other places as well for nesting such as shrubs and hedges if needed.
The red-shouldered hawk’s diet – they eat small mammals such as ground squirrels, rabbits, voles, mice and rats. They also eat birds such as quail, pigeons and doves; reptiles including snakes; amphibians; fish; crustaceans; insects; and carrion (dead animals).
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey native to North America. Known for its agility and speed, it is part of the Accipitridae hawk species, which also includes other hawks, eagles, and kites.
Cooper’s Hawks are typically about 14 to 20 inches in length, with a wingspan ranging from 27 to 36 inches. They are known for their distinctive long, rounded tails and short, rounded wings. They have a steely blue gray top, with rusty bars on their underparts and thick, dark bands on their tails.
The Cooper’s Hawk is a skilled predator, primarily hunting birds and small mammals. They are adept at hunting in both dense forests and open areas, often catching prey mid-air in high-speed pursuits. They have also been known to visit the backyard bird feeder, not for the seed, but to prey on the smaller birds that gather there.
Cooper’s Hawks often build nests in dense tree canopies where they are well concealed. The female usually lays 3 to 5 eggs, and both parents share incubation duties. The young hawks fledge after about a month but will stay close to the nest, relying on their parents for food as they learn to hunt.
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
The Northern Harrier is a medium-sized, slender hawk.
Adult birds are gray above, with pale bars on the wing feathers and white markings on the underwings and a white rump patch. The breast is barred with black and white, and the belly is streaked with brown.
They prefer open areas, such as grasslands and marshes, but can be found in almost any open habitat except dense woods.
Northern Harriers are opportunistic hunters that feed on small mammals such as mice, voles and rabbits as well as birds including quail, grouse and ducks. They hunt by flying low over open spaces such as fields or marshes.
Northern harrier nests on the ground in lowlands or hillsides near water bodies. It lays two to four eggs which hatch after 24 days of incubation by both parents. The chicks fledge after 30 days of hatching and remain dependent on their parents for another three weeks during which they learn how to fly.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
The adult bird is brown on top and white underneath, with a dark brown band across its chest. It has short, rounded wings and a long tail that makes it look larger than it actually is. Adult sharp shinned hawks have black eyes, which are surrounded by white feathers. The female Sharp-shinned Hawk is browner than the male, who has darker brown markings on his back.
Sharp-shinned Hawks prefer open country for their habitat, including fields and meadows where they can hunt for mice and other small animals. They can be found throughout the United States but are most common in the east.
Sharp-shinned Hawks eat mostly small birds, such as sparrows and warblers, as well as small mammals such as mice and gophers. They catch prey by surprise using their incredible speed and agility, diving out of the sky at speeds up to 200 mph.
Sharp-shinned Hawks have an unusual hunting style for hawks—they prefer to catch their prey from perches above trees or telephone wires, rather than swooping down from above like most other hawks do and can often be seen hunting near bird feeders.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
Broad-winged Hawk Sound
The Broad-winged Hawk holds a commanding presence as one of the largest hawks in the world, known for its broad wings. Its formidable size is a testament to its prowess as a bird of prey, effortlessly navigating the open skies in search of food.
Their distinctive appearance sets them apart. The adults exhibit a striking black and white pattern, complemented by a rusty breast and buff underparts and brown wings. In contrast, juveniles are adorned with a brown plumage, marked by pale edges on their feathers, adding to their distinctive youthful charm.
These hawks are most commonly found in open areas, such as farmlands or grasslands interspersed with scattered trees, which provide optimal conditions for when hawks hunt.
When it comes to their diet, Broad-winged Hawks feed on small rodents like mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and voles. Broad winged hawks breed during the spring and summer months then migrate to central and south America.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Listen: Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk is a medium-sized hawk that is found in North America and South America, Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni.
The bird has a blue-gray plumage with a dark brown back, wings, and tail. It also has a white chest and belly. The beak and feet are black, but the eyes are yellow. They are often confused with Cooper’s Hawk because of similar coloring, but Swainson’s Hawks have wider tails and longer wings than their cousin species.
These birds eat small rodents such as gophers and mice. They also eat insects like grasshoppers and crickets during the summer months when they’re plentiful. They sometimes steal prey from other birds of prey such as Northern Harriers who hunt the same prey.
Swainson’s Hawks build nests on rocky cliffs near water sources where they can find food easily. They lay three to five eggs that hatch after about two months into fluffy brown baby hawks who leave the nest after about three weeks (or when they’re big enough).
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
Rough-legged Hawk Sound
The Rough-legged Hawk is a large, raptor that is native to North America. It is also known as the American Rough-legged Hawk. Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
The Rough-legged Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a distinctive appearance, with dark brown feathers on its back and light brown feathers on its underside and broad thin wings. The hawk’s legs are also covered in dark feathers, which help to distinguish it from other species of hawk. The tail is barred with black and white. They have yellow eyes and dark feet.
Rough-legged Hawks hunt from above ground level, swooping down to catch its prey in its talons. When hunting for food, they prefer to eat small mammals such as squirrels and rabbits but will also eat birds if there aren’t any small mammals available. Although they eat a variety of small animals including birds, rodents, bats and reptiles, they rely heavily on fish for food during breeding season because it provides them with protein and calcium needed to produce eggs.
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)
Ferruginous Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Buteo regalis
Length: 20 to 27 in
Wingspan: 48 to 60 in
Weight: 32.0 to 80.0 oz
The Ferruginous Hawkis the largest hawk species native to North America. Known for its distinctive coloration and impressive size, this bird of prey predominantly inhabits the open landscapes of the western United States and parts of Canada.
Ferruginous Hawks are notable for their “ferruginous” or rust-colored back and shoulders, which contrasts sharply with the bird’s white underside. The hawk also has broad, rounded wings and a large, gape-mouthed beak. Ferruginous hawks exhibit dark morph and light morphs. Dark morphs have dark brown plumage, while light morphs display lighter, reddish-brown plumage. Morphs vary geographically.
Primarily feeding on small to medium sized mammals like rabbits and prairie dogs, the Ferruginous Hawk is an agile hunter, often seen soaring high above the ground or perched prominently while scanning for prey. It occasionally feeds on birds, reptiles, and insects as well.
Nesting for Ferruginous Hawks typically occurs on cliffs, hillsides, or large trees. The female lays between 2 to 5 eggs, and both parents share in the incubation and rearing of the chicks. The Ferruginous Hawk is a relatively solitary bird outside of the breeding season, and its call is a loud, high-pitched scream, often heard during courtship or near the nest.
Harris’s Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus
Length: 18 to 23 in
Wingspan: 41 to 47 in
Weight: 1.2 to 3.6 lb
The Harris’s Hawk is a unique bird of prey, recognized by its distinct social behavior and richly colored plumage. This raptor prefers semi-arid habitats like desert scrub, woodlands, and savannas.
Harris’s Hawk sports a dark brown or chestnut-brown body, with striking reddish-brown shoulders and legs. A characteristic feature of this bird is its white-tipped tail, along with a white band on the underside of its tail feathers.
Harris’s Hawks diet mainly consists of small mammals, birds, and lizards. One of the unique behavioral traits of this species is that it often hunts cooperatively in groups, a rarity among raptors. This group hunting strategy often involves surrounding and flushing out prey, or taking turns chasing it, which increases the likelihood of a successful hunt. Harris’s Hawk also engage in “stacking,” where they perch on top of each other, which is a behavior rarely seen in birds of prey.
Nesting for Harris’s Hawks involves the building of a platform of sticks in a tree or cactus, where the female usually lays 2 to 4 eggs. Both parents share in the incubation and rearing of the chicks, with sometimes even older offspring assisting in the process.
Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)
Gray Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Buteo plagiatus
Length: 18–24 in
Wingspan: 82-98 cm
Weight: 16.8 oz
The Gray Hawk is a small bird of prey native to the Americas. Known for its distinct coloration and elegant flight, this raptor is found in both the southwestern United States and across Central and South America.
Gray Hawks plumage is characterized by a light gray body, contrasted with a darker gray back and wings. Its tail features broad white and gray bands, making it a distinctive feature.
Primarily hunting from a perch, the Gray Hawk feeds mainly on small mammals, birds, and reptiles, including lizards and snakes. It often patrols the edges of clearings, diving swiftly to catch prey off guard.
Nesting for the Gray Hawk typically occurs in trees. The female usually lays 1 to 3 eggs, and both parents share in incubation duties. The nestlings are generally dependent on the parents for food for a few weeks after hatching.
The Gray Hawk’s call is a high-pitched, plaintive scream, which is often repeated several times. The species is primarily a solitary bird, usually seen alone or in pairs.
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern Goshawk is a medium-sized hawk that is found in North America, Europe and Asia. It has brown eyes, a large sharp beak, and dark brown plumage on its upperparts and head, with white underparts that are spotted with brown barring. Its tail feathers are grayish-black with a dark band near the tip.
Northern goshawks eat squirrels, rabbits, grouse, woodchucks and other small mammals like voles or mice (which they often eat whole). They will also take larger prey such as deer fawns or even adult deer if they have no other choice. They have broad wings with long feathers that allow them to glide through the air when they catch their prey. They also have an excellent sense of smell which helps them locate their food source.
The Northern Goshawk builds its nest in a tree cavity or on a ledge, usually on the edge of an open area so it can easily see prey below. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs over two days and incubates them for 28 to 30 days while the male brings food to her every few hours until they hatch. The young fledge after about 6 weeks and leave the nest when they are about 10 weeks old.
White-tailed Hawk (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)
The white-tailed hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey found in North America. It is one of the most common hawks on the continent, and it is often seen soaring high above the ground on its long wings.
Scientific Name: Geranoaetus albicaudatus
Length: 44–60 cm (17–24 in)
Wingspan: 118–143 cm (46–56 in)
Weight: 880–1,240 g (1.94–2.73 lb)
White-tailed Hawk Description
The white-tailed hawk has a large body and broad wings, with a tail that is mostly white with black bars. The head is grayish-brown, and there are white streaks above the eyes. The breast is grayish, while the belly is brownish-gray. The feathers on the back are dark brown with pale edges. The underwing coverts are white with brown tips. The white-tailed hawk has a black bill and brown legs. The eyes are yellow or orange with red orbital rings.
White-tailed Hawk Sound
White-tailed Hawk Habitat & Range
White-tailed hawks live in open country, including fields, deserts, grasslands, and even mountains. They like flat areas to hunt from so they can see their prey from far away. It can be found as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico.
White-tailed Hawk Diet
White-tailed hawks eat small animals like mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, birds (including chickens), reptiles (like snakes), amphibians (like frogs or toads), insects like grasshoppers and beetles as well as carrion (dead animals) such as road-killed deer or raccoons.
White-tailed Hawk Nesting
The White-tailed Hawk nests in tree cavities or on the ground, depending on the location. The female lays two eggs at a time and incubates them while the male hunts for food. After about two months, the eggs hatch and both parents take turns feeding their young until they are old enough to leave the nest on their own.
Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus)
Zone-tailed Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Buteo albonotatus
Length: 18 to 22 in
Wingspan: 46 to 55 in
Weight: 1.2 to 2 lb
The Zone-tailed Hawk, or Buteo albonotatus, is a medium-sized bird of prey known for its unique appearance and behavior that mimics turkey vultures, a strategy used to deceive prey. This raptor is primarily found in the warmer regions of the Americas, including the southwestern United States, Mexico, and down to Argentina.
The Zone-tailed Hawks body are predominantly black, with white bands, or “zones,” on the tail, which give the bird its name. From a distance, the Zone-tailed Hawk can easily be mistaken for a turkey vulture due to its similar coloration and flight pattern.
Zone-tailed Hawk feeds on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Its hunting strategy is particularly clever. By mimicking the less-threatening turkey vulture in flight, it can often approach prey unnoticed before launching a surprise attack.
Nesting typically takes place in trees, cliffs, or even on man-made structures. The female lays 1 to 3 eggs, and both parents share incubation and feeding duties.
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Short-tailed Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Buteo brachyurus
Length: 15.3-17.3 in
Wingspan: 32.7-40.5 in
Weight: 13.6-16.9 oz
The Short-tailed Hawk is a small to medium-sized bird of prey native to the Americas.
Short-tailed Hawks are distinctive for their size and color variations. Adult individuals usually measure between 33-41 centimeters in length, with relatively short tails, giving them their common name. This species exhibits two color morphs, a dark morph and a light morph, with the darker morph being more prevalent in some areas. Both morphs possess a white rump and a broad, rounded wing shape.
The diet of the Short-tailed Hawk primarily consists of other birds, which they catch with a unique hunting strategy. They are often seen soaring high in the sky and will plummet in a fast stoop to capture prey unaware. This bird of prey is a master at utilizing thermals to soar high in the sky and can often be found circling in the air on warm days.
Short-tailed Hawks typically lay 1-3 eggs. The female incubates the eggs while the male brings her food. After hatching, the young birds stay in the nest for several weeks, with both parents providing food until they are ready to fledge.
Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)
Common Black Hawk Sound
Scientific Name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Length: 21 in
Wingspan: 50 in
The black hawk has dark brown feathers on its back and chest, with white feathers on its belly and under its tail. The back feathers have white spots and bars that give it an overall speckled appearance. Its eyes are yellowish-brown, and its legs are long and pinkish-white in color with black talons at the end.
Common Black Hawks tend to live in open spaces near water sources like lakes or rivers because they need water for bathing and drinking as well as hunting prey animals that may be found near such areas.
Common Black Hawks prefer to hunt for small mammals like rabbits, squirrels, and rats. They also eat reptiles like snakes and lizards if they can find them.
Great Black Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga)
The Great Black Hawk is known for its distinctive black plumage and long tail. They are also known for their shrill calls, which they use to communicate with other hawks as well as their mates.
Scientific Name: Buteogallus urubitinga
Length: 56 to 64 centimetres (22 to 25 in)
Wingspan: 127 centimeters (50 inches)
Weight: 1.1 kilograms (2 lb 7 oz)
Great Black Hawk Description
The Great Black Hawk has a large, dark body and a long tail that measures about two-thirds of its length. The upper parts of the wings are black, while the lower part is barred with white feathers. The head is black with a white patch on each side of the face. The eyes are yellowish-brown in color and surrounded by a white ring.
Great Black Hawk Sound
Great Black Hawk Habitat & Range
It lives in Mexico and Central America. It can be found in open country and forested areas, including semi-open fields, tall grasses, and agricultural land.
Great Black Hawk Diet
The Great Black Hawk eats mostly small animals like mice and voles but they will also eat birds, lizards, snakes and insects. They hunt from a perch or an aerial attack where they strike prey by diving or striking from above, striking them with its feet or claws before swallowing them whole.
Great Black Hawk Nesting
They mate for life and often return to the same nesting site each year when breeding season begins in April or May. After mating, both parents incubate the eggs until they hatch about 30 days later; then both parents care for their young until they fledge at about two months old (meaning they leave home).
Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris)
The Roadside Hawk is a medium-sized raptor and it is one of the most common hawks in North America.
Scientific Name: Rupornis magnirostris
Length: 31–41 cm (12–16 in)
Wingspan: 78 cm (31 in)
Weight: 250–300 g (8.8–10.6 oz)
Roadside Hawk Description
The Roadside Hawk looks like a small hawk. It has a brownish-red body with black markings on its wings and tail. It has a white chest, white belly, and a pale yellow beak. The Roadside Hawk has brown eyes and black legs.
Roadside Hawk Sound
Roadside Hawk Habitat & Range
The Roadside Hawk can be found in open areas such as grasslands, fields and meadows where there are plenty of insects for them to eat. They can also be found near forests or other areas with trees where they can build their nests. They are very common throughout the west coast of the United States and parts of Canada.
Roadside Hawk Diet
They have been known to eat insects, lizards, snakes, mice and other small animals. These birds tend to be more active during the day than at night but they do hunt at night as well. It has a very strong sense of smell, which it uses to hunt for prey. It also has huge feet that help it to walk on the ground easily and catch its prey.
Roadside Hawk Nesting
Roadside Hawks are monogamous birds that form lifelong pairs during breeding season. Their nests are made up of sticks that are built high in trees or bushes. They lay two to four eggs per year and incubation lasts for about two weeks before hatching occurs over another two weeks after that time period has passed by. Once hatched though their young stay with their parents until they reach maturity around age one year old.
Crane Hawk (Geranospiza caerulescens)
The crane hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey that lives in North America. It is a member of the Accipitridae family, which includes other raptors such as eagles, kites, and harriers.
Scientific Name: Geranospiza caerulescens
Length: 38–54 cm (15-21 in)
Wingspan: 76–111 cm (30-43.7 in)
Weight: 225–519 g (8-18 oz)
Crane Hawk Description
The crane hawk is named for its long legs and long wings, which resemble those of a crane. It has a short tail and long wings with pointed tips. Its body is brownish-gray above with black markings on the head, back and tail. The underparts are white with black streaks on the belly and breast feathers. The eyes are yellowish-orange in color. The legs are feathered up to mid-thigh level except for females during breeding season when they become bare from thigh down to toes.
Crane Hawks are often seen perched on trees or power poles looking for prey. They have excellent vision and hearing but have weak sense of smell.
Crane Hawk Sound
Crane Hawk Habitat & Range
Crane Hawks can be found in open areas with tall vegetation such as marshes, swamp forests, or other wetland areas. They are found throughout North America, with the exception of Florida and parts of the southeast.
Crane Hawk Diet
Their diet consists mainly of small mammals such as mice and voles, reptiles like snakes or lizards and birds including ducklings or young quail as well as insects such as grasshoppers and crickets. Crane Hawks also eat carrion when they find it in their habitat.
Crane Hawk Nesting
Crane Hawks nest in trees but can also be found on cliffs or other elevated areas such as buildings or utility lines. They build stick nests above ground level. Their nests are made of twigs, mosses and other plant materials, lined with fine roots or grasses. They lay 4-5 eggs which hatch after about 28 days of incubation by both parents, who also feed their young regurgitated food.