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Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Alabama as we embark on an exploration of the state’s feathered inhabitants – the hawks. Alabama’s diverse landscapes, from the Appalachian foothills to its stunning coastal plains, provide a perfect haven for these majestic birds of prey.
Join us as we delve into the world of Alabama’s hawks, unraveling their fascinating behaviors, unique characteristics, and the pivotal role they play in maintaining the delicate balance of our ecosystem. It’s time for an avian adventure unlike any other!
Red-Tailed Hawk: Look to the skies of Tuskegee National Forest where these red tailed hawks often soar.
Broad-Winged Hawk: Typically sighted in the serene woodland settings of Oak Mountain State Park during migration season.
Cooper’s Hawk: Get ready to spot these cooper’s hawks in the wooded neighborhoods of Birmingham and Huntsville.
Sharp-Shinned Hawk: While birdwatching in Conecuh National Forest, don’t miss out on these smallest of the American hawks, the sharp shinned hawks.
Red-Shouldered Hawk: Red shouldered hawks frequents the wetland regions of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, often heard before they are seen.
Northern Goshawk: These elusive birds prefer the remote, dense forests of Bankhead National Forest.
Northern Harrier: Scan the open fields and wetlands of Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge for this unique, ground-nesting hawk.
Swainson’s Hawk: Primarily a visitor during migration, keep an eye out for them in open areas and farmlands near Selma.
Rough-legged Hawk: During the colder months, these Arctic visitors the rough legged hawks can occasionally be spotted in the open country around Muscle Shoals.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Where to Spot Hawks in Alabama
The best place to find the widest range of hawks in Alabama is the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. This extensive habitat boasts a diverse bird population and offers incredible opportunities to see a plethora of hawks in their natural environment.
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge near Decatur is a hotspot for hawk enthusiasts, with numerous species frequenting its diverse habitats.
Bankhead National Forest: A dense forest area that is particularly inviting for Northern Goshawks and other forest-dwelling species.
Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge: These open fields and wetlands near Eufaula are frequented by Northern Harriers and a variety of other raptors.
Oak Mountain State Park: This park’s woodlands serve as a migration stopover for Broad-Winged Hawks, among others.
Hawks in Surrounding Areas
As we explore the rich avian landscapes of Alabama, it’s worth noting that our feathery friends do not limit themselves to state borders. Many of the same hawk species can be seen flitting across the skies of neighboring states. For example, you may continue your birdwatching journey into the stunning landscapes of West Virginia. Our guide on hawks in West Virginia provides comprehensive information on where to find these majestic creatures.
Similarly, the rolling hills and lush forests of Georgia and Tennessee offer equally promising vistas for hawk enthusiasts. Feel free to explore our articles on hawks in Georgia and hawks in Tennessee to broaden your raptor spotting journey. As we trace the flight paths of these magnificent birds, we discover that they weave a fascinating narrative across state lines, connecting us through our shared admiration for these captivating creatures.
FAQs About Hawks in Alabama
What is the most common hawk in Alabama?
The most common hawk in Alabama is the Red-Tailed Hawk. Known for its distinctive rust-colored tail, it can be found soaring over open fields, highways, and forests throughout the state, making it a familiar sight for residents and visitors alike.
What are the biggest & smallest hawks in Alabama?
In Alabama, the Northern Goshawk is considered the biggest hawk, recognized by its large size and fierce hunting prowess. Conversely, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk holds the title for the smallest hawk in the state, with its compact size and nimble agility making it a unique species to spot.
Do hawks breed in Alabama?
Yes, hawks breed in Alabama. Species like the Red-Tailed Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk are known to breed in the state. Their breeding season generally starts in spring and can continue into early summer, depending on the species.
What do hawks eat in Alabama?
Hawks in Alabama maintain a diet primarily of small mammals such as mice, cottontail rabbits, and ground squirrels. They’re also known to feed on birds (even medium sized birds), reptiles (including young turtles), and insects. Hawks, being skilled hunters, contribute to maintaining a balanced ecosystem by keeping these populations in check. If burrowing owls are present, some hawks will eat them.
Are ferruginous hawks in Alabama?
Ferruginous Hawks are primarily found in the Western United States, typically in open grasslands, prairies, and desert regions like short tailed hawks. They are not typically observed in Alabama. However, occasional vagrant sightings can occur, especially during migration seasons. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out and consult local bird watchers for the most up-to-date information.