17 Species of Hawks in the United States: Get to Know Them

Hawks are a type of bird of prey that belongs to the family Accipitridae. They are known for their sharp talons, hooked beaks, and keen eyesight, which make them formidable hunters. Hawks play an important role in the ecosystem as they help control populations of rodents, snakes, and other small animals. They are also apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain in their habitat.

Hawks are unique and special because of their hunting abilities and their place in the ecosystem. They have evolved to be able to catch and kill prey with great efficiency and are able to adapt to a variety of habitats and environments. Additionally, hawks are often seen as symbols of strength, courage, and freedom in many cultures. Their grace and beauty have also made them popular subjects for art and literature throughout history.

17 Species of Hawks in the United States

Hawks are a diverse group of birds of prey found throughout the United States, ranging in size from small and agile to large and powerful. They play an important role in the ecosystem, controlling populations of smaller animals and serving as indicators of environmental health. Understanding the different species of hawks is essential to appreciating their significance and promoting conservation efforts. In this article, we will explore the physical characteristics, habitat, distribution, behavior, and diet of 17 species of hawks found in the United States.

There are 17 different types of hawks found in the United States, each with its own unique characteristics and habitats. Some of the most common types of hawks found in the US include the red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, northern harrier, and bald eagle.

Differences between Hawks

Explanation of the differences between the different types of hawks Discussion of the physical characteristics of each type of hawk

Each type of hawk has its own unique physical characteristics, habitat preferences, and hunting strategies. For example, Cooper’s hawk is known for its agility and speed, which it uses to catch birds in flight.

Types of Hawks:

Broad-winged Hawks

what do Broad-winged Hawks look like?

Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 13-17 inches in length with a wingspan of 31-37 inches. They have short, broad wings and a relatively long tail. Their coloring is variable, but typically includes brownish-gray upperparts and pale underparts with brown barring.

where do Broad-winged hawks live in the United States?

Broad-winged Hawks breed in deciduous and mixed forests across eastern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. During migration, they can be found in large flocks soaring on thermals, particularly in the fall, when they migrate south to winter in Central and South America.

what do Broad-winged hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Broad-winged Hawks are known for their distinctive call, which is a high-pitched whistle. They are typically solitary birds but may form small groups during migration. Their diet consists of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. They hunt from perches or while in flight, swooping down to catch their prey with their talons.

Red-tailed Hawks

what do Red-tailed Hawks look like?

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are one of the largest hawk species found in North America, Hawks in the United States, measuring between 18-26 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 56 inches. They have broad, rounded wings and a relatively short tail that is reddish-brown in color, giving them their name. Their upper parts are typically dark brown while their underparts are lighter with a barred pattern.

where do Red-tailed Hawks live in the United States?

Red-tailed Hawks are found throughout North America and are a common sight in both rural and urban areas. They prefer open countries, such as deserts, grasslands, and agricultural fields, but can also be found in wooded areas.

what do Red-tailed Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Red-tailed Hawks are usually solitary birds, although they may form pairs during the breeding season. They are known for their impressive hunting abilities, preying on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They typically hunt from a perch or while soaring in the air, scanning the ground for potential prey. Their distinctive call is a high-pitched scream.

Cooper’s Hawks

what do Cooper’s Hawks look like?

Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) are a medium-sized hawk species Hawks in the United States, measuring between 14-20 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 36 inches. They have relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail that helps them maneuver through wooded habitats. Their upper parts are typically blue-gray while they’re under parts are lighter with a barred pattern.

where do Cooper’s Hawks live in the United States?

Cooper’s Hawks are found throughout North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They prefer wooded habitats, including forests, woodlands, and urban parks.

what do Cooper’s Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Cooper’s Hawks are agile and fast-flying birds that are able to maneuver through densely forested areas with ease. They are known for their ambush hunting technique, surprising their prey with quick attacks from a hidden perch. Their diet consists mainly of birds, but they may also prey on small mammals and reptiles. They have a distinctive call, a series of high-pitched cackles. Cooper’s Hawks are also known to frequently visit bird feeders in suburban and urban areas to prey on small birds.

Sharp-shinned Hawks

what do Sharp-shinned Hawks look like?

Sharp-shinned Hawks (Accipiter striatus) are small Hawks in the United States, measuring between 9-14 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 22 inches. They have a relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail that helps them maneuver through wooded habitats. Their upperparts are typically blue-gray while their underparts are lighter with a barred pattern.

where do Sharp-skinned Hawks live in the United States?

Sharp-shinned Hawks are found throughout North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They prefer wooded habitats, including forests, woodlands, and urban parks.

what do Sharp-shinned Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Sharp-shinned Hawks are agile and fast-flying birds that are able to maneuver through dense forested areas with ease. They are known for their ambush hunting technique, surprising their prey with quick attacks from a hidden perch. Their diet consists mainly of small birds, but they may also prey on small mammals and reptiles. They have a distinctive call, a high-pitched, sharp “kee-kee-kee” sound. Sharp-shinned Hawks are known to frequently visit bird feeders in suburban and urban areas to prey on small birds.

Northern Goshawks

what do Northern Goshawks look like?

Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) are a large hawk species, measuring between 20-27 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 48 inches. They have a relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail that helps them maneuver through forested habitats. Their upperparts are typically dark gray while their underparts are lighter with a barred pattern.

where do Northern Goshawks live in the United States?

Northern Goshawks are found throughout the northern hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. In North America, they breed in boreal and montane forests, particularly in Alaska and Canada, and migrate south in the winter to more southern forests and woodlands.

what do Northern Goshawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Northern Goshawks are known for their fierce and aggressive hunting style, often taking prey much larger than themselves. They typically hunt from a perch or while flying at high speeds through the forest, using their agility and sharp talons to catch their prey. Their diet consists mainly of birds and small mammals, but they may also prey on reptiles, amphibians, and insects. They have a distinctive call, a series of sharp “kek” or “kak” notes. Northern Goshawks are considered a threatened species in some areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Swainson’s Hawks

what do Swainson’s Hawks look like?

Swainson’s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 18-22 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 52 inches. They have long, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. Their upperparts are typically dark brown while their underparts are lighter with a mottled pattern.

where do Swainson’s Hawks live in the United States?

Swainson’s Hawks are found throughout the western hemisphere, breeding in North America and migrating to South America for the winter. They prefer open country habitats, such as grasslands, agricultural fields, and deserts.

what do Swainson’s Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Swainson’s Hawks are known for their impressive migratory feats, traveling thousands of miles each year between their breeding and wintering grounds. They are also known for their group hunting technique, gathering in large flocks to hunt grasshoppers and other insects during their breeding season. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, birds, and insects. They have a distinctive call, a high-pitched whistle or scream. Swainson’s Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status.

Harris’s Hawks

what do Harris’s Hawks look like?

Harris’s Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 18-25 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 44 inches. They have a relatively short tail and broad, rounded wings. Their upperparts are typically dark brown while their underparts are lighter with a mottled pattern.

where do Harris’s Hawks live in the United States?

Harris’s Hawks are found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. They prefer arid and semi-arid habitats, such as deserts, grasslands, and savannas.

what do Harris’s Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Harris’s Hawks are known for their unique hunting style, which involves cooperative hunting in family groups or packs. They work together to flush out prey from cover and take turns attacking and feeding on the prey. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They have a distinctive call, a series of high-pitched whistles and screams. Harris’s Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status.

Zone-tailed Hawks

what do Zone-tailed Hawks look like?

Zone-tailed Hawks (Buteo albonotatus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 20-24 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 52 inches. They have a relatively short tail and broad, rounded wings. Their upperparts are typically dark brown while their underparts are lighter with a mottled pattern. They have a distinctive tail band that can resemble the tail of a Turkey Vulture, which they use to mimic the vulture’s appearance while hunting.

where do Zone-tailed Hawks live in the United States?

Zone-tailed Hawks are found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. They prefer arid and semi-arid habitats, such as deserts, canyons, and open woodlands.

what do Zone-tailed Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Zone-tailed Hawks are known for their mimicry of Turkey Vultures, which they use to hunt prey that is often overlooked by other hawks. They also employ stealth tactics to hunt prey, such as waiting in ambush or soaring high above the ground. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They have a distinctive call, a high-pitched whistle. Zone-tailed Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status.

Red-shouldered Hawks

red-shouldered hawks - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Red-shouldered Hawks look like?

Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 17-24 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 43 inches. They have broad, rounded wings and a relatively long tail. Their upperparts are typically dark brown with a reddish-brown barred pattern, while their underparts are lighter with a mottled pattern.

where do Red-shouldered Hawks live in the United States?

Red-shouldered Hawks are found in eastern and northern parts of the United States, as well as in parts of Canada and Mexico. They prefer forested habitats, such as deciduous and mixed forests, as well as wooded swamps and riparian areas.

what do Red-shouldered Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Red-shouldered Hawks are known for their territorial calls, a series of high-pitched whistles. They also use their sharp talons to catch and kill prey, which consists mainly of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Red-shouldered Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although some populations have declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Rough-legged Hawks

Rough-legged Hawks - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Rough-legged Hawks look like?

Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 18-24 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 55 inches. They have a relatively short tail and broad, rounded wings. Their upperparts are typically dark brown with a mottled pattern, while their underparts are lighter with a barred pattern. They also have distinctive feathered legs that extend down to their feet, which helps them stay warm in their cold arctic breeding grounds.

where do Rough-legged Hawks live in the United States?

Rough-legged Hawks breed in the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, and winter in parts of the northern United States, as well as in Eurasia. They prefer open habitats, such as grasslands, tundra, and wetlands.

what do Rough-legged Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Rough-legged Hawks are known for their soaring flight, which they use to scan the ground for prey. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, such as lemmings, voles, and mice, as well as birds and occasionally reptiles. Rough-legged Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status.

Ferruginous Hawks

Rough-legged Hawks - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Ferruginous Hawks look like?

Ferruginous Hawks (Buteo regalis) are a large hawk species, measuring between 22-27 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 60 inches. They have a relatively short tail and broad, rounded wings. Their upperparts are typically light brown with a reddish-brown mottled pattern, while their underparts are white or buff-colored. They also have distinctive feathered legs that extend down to their feet, which helps them stay warm in cold environments.

where do Ferruginous Hawks live in the United States?

Ferruginous Hawks are found in the western United States, Mexico, and parts of Canada. They prefer open habitats, such as grasslands, deserts, and prairies.

what do Ferruginous Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Ferruginous Hawks are known for their aggressive defense of their territories and nests. They also use their powerful talons to catch and kill prey, which consists mainly of small mammals, such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and rabbits. Ferruginous Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although some populations have declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Broad-winged Hawks

Broad-winged Hawks - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Broad-winged Hawks look like?

Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 13-17 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 39 inches. They have broad, rounded wings and a relatively short tail. Their upperparts are typically dark brown with a barred pattern, while their underparts are lighter with a streaked pattern.

where do Broad-winged Hawks live in the United States?

Broad-winged Hawks breed in eastern parts of the United States and Canada, and winter in parts of Central and South America. They prefer forested habitats, such as deciduous and mixed forests, as well as wooded swamps and riparian areas.

what do Broad-winged Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Broad-winged Hawks are known for their migration in large flocks, known as kettles. They also use their sharp talons to catch and kill prey, which consists mainly of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Broad-winged Hawks are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status.

Ospreys

Ospreys  - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Ospreys Hawks look like?

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are a unique hawk species, commonly known as “fish hawks” due to their specialized diet of fish. They measure between 21-24 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 71 inches. They have a distinctive black and white pattern, with dark brown upperparts and white underparts. They also have a hooked beak and long talons for catching and carrying fish.

where do Ospreys Hawks live in the United States?

Ospreys are found on every continent except for Antarctica, but are most commonly found near waterways, such as rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. They build large nests, known as eyries, typically in the tops of trees or on man-made structures such as poles or platforms.

what do Ospreys Hawks eat?

In terms of behavior, Ospreys are known for their spectacular dives into water to catch fish, which they carry with their talons to their nest or perch. They are also known for their unique ability to rotate their toes to better grip their slippery prey. Ospreys are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although their populations have been impacted by habitat loss, pollution, and human disturbance.

Northern Harriers

Northern Harriers  - 17 Species of Hawks in the United States

what do Northern Harriers look like?

Northern Harriers (Circus hudsonius) are a medium-sized hawk species, measuring between 16-19 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 48 inches. They have a distinctive owl-like facial disk, with a flat, heart-shaped face. They also have long, narrow wings and a long, rudder-like tail. Adult males have grayish-blue upperparts, while adult females and juveniles have brown upperparts with streaked underparts.

where do Northern Harriers live in the United States?

Northern Harriers are found in open habitats, such as grasslands, marshes, and fields, across much of North America. They also breed in northern parts of Europe and Asia.

what do Northern Harriers eat?

In terms of behavior, Northern Harriers are known for their low, sweeping flights over open habitats, searching for prey. They primarily feed on small mammals, such as voles and mice, as well as birds and insects. Northern Harriers are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although their populations have been impacted by habitat loss and fragmentation.

Bald Eagles

what do Bald Eagles look like?

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are a large and iconic hawk species, measuring between 28-40 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 90 inches. They have a distinctive white head and tail, with a dark brown body. Adult birds also have yellow beaks and feet.

where do Bald Eagles live in the United States?

Bald Eagles are found across much of North America, from Alaska to Florida, and are often associated with large bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. They build large nests, known as eyries, typically on the tops of tall trees or on man-made structures such as telephone poles or towers.

what do Bald Eagles eat?

In terms of behavior, Bald Eagles are known for their powerful flight and ability to catch fish and other prey from the water’s surface. They also scavenge carrion, and are known to steal food from other birds and mammals. Bald Eagles are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although their populations were severely impacted by hunting and pesticide use in the mid-20th century, leading to their listing as an endangered species. However, due to successful conservation efforts, their populations have rebounded and they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

Golden Eagles

what do Golden Eagles look like?

Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are a large and powerful hawk species, measuring between 26-40 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 90 inches. They have a dark brown body with a golden-brown nape and a pale bill.

where do Golden Eagles live in the United States?

Golden Eagles are found in open habitats, such as grasslands, tundra, and mountains, across much of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia.

what do Golden Eagles eat?

In terms of behavior, Golden Eagles are known for their swift and powerful flight, and their ability to catch large prey, such as rabbits, hares, and even deer. They also scavenge carrion and will occasionally prey on smaller birds and reptiles. Golden Eagles are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although they have been impacted by habitat loss, persecution, and collisions with man-made structures such as wind turbines.

Mississippi Kite

what does Mississippi Kite look like?

Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) are a small and graceful hawk species, measuring between 12-15 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 36 inches. They have a dark gray body with a white head and underparts.

where does Mississippi Kite live in the United States?

Mississippi Kites are found in open woodlands, savannas, and grasslands in the southern United States, particularly in the Mississippi River Valley and the Gulf Coast region.

what do Mississippi Kites eat?

In terms of behavior, Mississippi Kites are known for their acrobatic flight, with quick and agile movements. They feed mainly on insects, particularly dragonflies, but will also eat small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are considered a species of least concern in terms of conservation status, although their populations have declined in some areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Faq: Species of Hawks in the United States

What is the most common species of hawk?

The most common species of hawk in North America is the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). It is a large bird of prey that can be found in a wide range of habitats throughout the continent.

What types of USA hawks are there?

There are many different types of hawks that can be found in the United States. Some of the most common species of hawks in the US include:
Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)
Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus)
Swainson’s hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis)
Rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus)
Northern harrier (Circus hudsonius)
American kestrel (Falco sparverius)

What is the most common hawk in the US?

The most common hawk in the US is the red-tailed hawk, which can be found in a wide range of habitats throughout the continent.

What are names of hawks?

Some common names of hawks include: red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, red-shouldered hawk, broad-winged hawk, Swainson’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, rough-legged hawk, northern harrier, American kestrel, and many more.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the United States is home to a diverse array of hawk species, each with their own unique physical characteristics, habitat preferences, and behaviors. Understanding and appreciating these species is not only fascinating from a natural history perspective but also critical for their conservation and protection.

Many hawk species face threats such as habitat loss, climate change, and human disturbances, which can impact their populations and survival. By learning about these species and taking steps to protect and preserve their habitats, we can help ensure their long-term survival and contribute to the health and diversity of our natural ecosystems.

Ultimately, getting to know these 17 species of hawks in the United States can deepen our appreciation for the incredible diversity of life on our planet and inspire us to take action to protect it.

References:

  1. National Audubon Society. (2022). Guide to North American Birds. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/bird-guide
  2. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2022). All About Birds. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/
  3. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2022). Migratory Bird Program. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/birds/
  4. The Peregrine Fund. (2022). Raptors of the World. Retrieved from https://www.peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors
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