Hawks are some of my favorite birds to look for when out there birdwatching. There are an impressive 15 different types of hawks in the United States. In this article we’ll run through all of them, to teach you some of the most important facts about how they look and how they live.
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15 Types Of Hawks In The United States
Although most of the hawks in the United States fit into two main hawk types, the accipiters, and the buteos, many of the 15 types of hawks in this list don’t quite fit into either of those groups.
The greatest diversity of hawks in the United States occurs in the south, although you can find one or more species in any state.
All hawks are predators that feed on small animals and insects. These powerful birds use their amazing eyesight and sharp talons to catch and kill their food. Let’s go ahead and start learning more about the different types of hawks, and why not start this list of hawks with a magnificent hunter of the open waters.
Often known as the fish hawk, Ospreys are large birds that can weigh over 4lbs and have a wingspan of 6ft. These birds are found all over the United States where they dive into the surface waters of rivers, lakes, and coastal waters to catch fish.
These awesome hunters use their long sharp talons and the barb-like scales under their toes to hold on to their slippery prey. To protect them from the cold water, they have oily, water-repellant feathers and they can close their nostrils before swooping under the surface.
2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawks are a small, bird-hunting hawk species that hunt in forests and woodlands across America. These swift and agile birds are the ultimate ambush specialists, watching their prey from a position within the canopy of a tree before shooting out and speeding through the branches to catch smaller birds in flight.
Once caught, these natural-born killers use their long sharp talons to finish their catch. As with most hawks, the female is significantly larger than the male, and in these little hunters, she may be as much as 30% bigger than her partner.
3. Cooper’s Hawk
The Cooper’s Hawk is another small hawk that looks and hunts in a very similar way to the Sharp-shinned Hawk. It can be really difficult to tell these birds apart even though the Cooper’s Hawk is quite a bit larger than its look-alike. Cooper’s Hawks undertake a short migration from north to south each year, as it gets colder and their prey becomes scarce.
As with the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the female is much larger than the male, and therefore a male Cooper’s Hawk is about the same size as a female Sharp-shinned Hawk, which can make telling the two species apart pretty tough. Being high-speed bird hunters that can be found in suburban areas, these hawks can be quite a serious threat to the songbirds that visit your bird feeders.
4. Northern Goshawk
The Northern Goshawk is one of the most powerful kinds of hawks in the United States. Like the previous two species, these birds are accipiters, which are adapted to high-speed stealth attacks in well-wooded areas. As their name suggests, these birds are mostly found in the northern states, although they do occasionally wander south, especially in the west.
Northern Goshawks hunt for birds as large as grouse, but will also take mammals like squirrels and rabbits, easily killing them with their sharp talons and powerful grip. These birds can be pretty intimidating and will fearlessly chase humans away from their nest sites in the spring.
5. Common Black Hawk
Despite their name, the Common Black Hawk is not very common at all in the United States. That’s a pity because these are really cool and interesting birds. In the USA, these birds are only found in a small area of the extreme southwest.
Common Black Hawks can be easily identified by the bold white band across their tail, and their very broad wings. These birds are only found in a very specific habitat of streams lined with cottonwoods and willows. There they prey on many types of small animals including aquatic creatures like crabs, crayfish, fish, and frogs.
6. Harris’s Hawk
Although they are a little more widespread than the previous species, Harris’s Hawks are another hawk from the dry, open landscapes of the American southwest. These hawks are happy to stay where they are all year long and don’t undergo any real migrations.
What really sets these handsome, long-legged birds apart from other hawks is their habit of living together and hunting in ‘packs’. By working together, these hawks are much better able to capture their prey before it can escape their sharp talons and bills. Large prey like jackrabbits are often hunted down and then shared amongst all the birds.
7. Red-shouldered Hawk
These beautiful red-colored hawks have yellow legs with small feet, grey heads, and white banded tails. They are highly territorial birds that are well known for calling loudly and often, to keep intruders out of their area.
Red-shouldered Hawks feed on all sorts of different prey, including birds, mammals, and even frogs and crayfish. These birds live in two main areas, one on the west coast and another in a large part of the eastern United States. Interestingly, this species has even been known to visit backyard suet feeders in the cold winter months.
8. Broad-winged Hawk
At a little over a foot long, and around a pound in weight, the Broad-winged Hawk is the smallest of the buteo hawks in the United States. Broad-winged Hawks have dark brown upper parts, short, yellow legs, and a black and white banded tail. These small hawks catch and eat all sorts of small animals, including rodents, reptiles, baby birds, and insects.
These birds undertake an incredible migration every year, traveling from the eastern United States all the way south to Brazil and other South American countries. These journeys can be longer than 4000 miles, which is really impressive.
9. Gray Hawk
The Gray Hawk is another type of hawk that you would have to travel to the extreme southwest to have any chance of seeing in the wild. To be more specific, these birds can be found along rivers and streams with mesquite and cottonwood woodlands in Arizona and Texas.
These are really beautiful hawks with finely barred gray undersides, yellow legs, and a boldly banded tail. They eat reptiles like snakes and lizards, as well as small birds and mammals like mice.
10. Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Hawks have the most extensive migrations of any American hawk. These birds can travel an unbelievable 12 000 miles every year, from as far north as western Canada, way down into the south of South America and back. Amazingly, the journey south takes just 2-3 months or so.
In the North American summer, the Swainson’s Hawk can be found throughout the central and western United States. These birds occur in a range of color morphs, from dark brown to almost white with a dark chest. Small mammals like voles, gophers, and ground squirrels are usually on the menu, but they will also eat reptiles and small birds.
11. White-tailed Hawk
The White-tailed Hawk is a great-looking bird that is difficult to confuse with any of the other types of hawks. When seen from below, they have a white underside with a bold black band across their tail. Unfortunately, these cool birds are only found in a small part of southern Texas, so you might have to travel a long way to see one out in the wild.
These birds are found in a pretty hot, dry habitat, where they stay put all year long, not needing to migrate in the winter. White-tailed hawks hunt from the air by hovering and looking for prey below. They eat a wide variety of small animals from as big as rabbits, all the way down to little insects.
12. Red-tailed Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk is probably the best known of all the North American hawks. They can be found right across the United States, from north to south and coast to coast. Unsurprisingly, these powerful predators are named for their red tails, although they can be quite variable in color.
These birds eat a variety of prey like smaller birds, small mammals, and even rattlesnakes. Like all hawks, these birds have incredible vision, that they use to spot and capture their prey. You may be familiar with the characteristic call of these hawks because it’s quite often used in the soundtrack of television shows and commercials.
13. Ferruginous Hawk
The magnificent Ferruginous hawk is named after the rust color of its back and wings. These are the largest of the buteo hawks in America. Hawk females are usually larger than males, and Ferruginous Hawks are no exception.
These hawks are known to undergo a short migration within America, traveling as far south as Mexico in the winter to follow food resources. Ferruginous hawks hunt pretty large prey, and will sometimes grab animals like gophers and prairie dogs right out of the entrances to their burrows. Interestingly, these hawks often nest right down on the ground, but they will also build their nests on cliffs and structures like buildings.
14. Rough-legged Hawk
The Rough-legged hawk varies tremendously in color from nearly black to nearly white. These hawks breed way up north in the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska, before migrating south into the United States in winter.
Rough-legged Hawks fly low over the ground and hunt by hovering over open areas like marshes and grasslands to spot their small mammal prey below.
15. Zone-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed hawks are beautifully marked birds of prey. These hawks are dark grey to black in color with bold white stripes across their tails. To find one of these birds out in the wild, you’ll have to travel down to the far southwest of the United States, where they are known to breed in the spring.
These hawks occur in similar habitats to the Common Black Hawk so it’s possible to confuse these two birds, along with the more common Turkey Vulture. Zone-tailed Hawks are not picky eaters and will prey on mammals, birds, and reptiles.
With 15 different species of hawks in the United States, you have at least 15 good reasons to get out there and go birdwatching. Now that you know a little more about the different types of hawks you can find, I hope you get to have some great sightings this season. I know I’m going to be out looking too!