Michigan is located between two of the great lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, and is home to a wide variety of wildlife. This includes a number of different species of birds. It’s a great state for bird watching and wildlife spotting. In this article we’ll cover some of the birds of prey found in Michigan, namely hawks in Michigan. We’ll talk about where you might be able to spot them in the state, look at some pictures, and look at some fun facts for each species.
8 species of hawks in Michigan
There are 8 species of hawks in Michigan. These hawks are the Sharp-shinned hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, and the Northern Goshawk.
Below is a list of these species of hawks found in the state of Michigan with pictures to help you identify each one.
1. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
Sharp-shinned Hawks are year-round residents to Michigan, other than the northern tip that is primarily for breeding. Whether they are just passing through for migration or are stationary residents, these hawks can be found almost everywhere throughout North America.
Within Michigan, you can most easily identify this bird by its distinctive “flap and glide” method. During migration, they can be found in open habitats and prefer to migrate along ridgelines.
Their main food source is songbirds, so it isn’t uncommon for them to hunt at backyard bird feeders. If they do this in your own backyard, you’ll definitely hear the alarm calls among the gathered songbirds. This is one of the reasons this species is classified as “destructive” among ornithologists.
2. Red-tailed Hawk
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
Red-tailed Hawks reside in the southern half of Michigan year-round and travel to the northern half for breeding. This is similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawks, but their breeding distribution is larger and there are fewer stationary hawks that choose to stay within the state. This species is also very widespread in North America and can be found in some capacity almost everywhere.
They’ve received the fond nickname “roadside hawks” for their tendency to hunt alongside Interstate Highways and are the most commonly seen from the car – no bird watching required! This is a rare example of an animal that adapted very well to human presence and intervention. Forest thinning and the construction of highways have created prime open hunting areas, plus powerlines provide additional perches for hunting.
3. Rough-legged Hawk
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
The Rough-legged hawk is named for the feathering pattern on its legs and has a non-breeding distribution throughout the entirety of the state of Michigan. The entire population migrates far north to arctic breeding grounds in northern Canada and parts of Alaska each year in the Spring. The winter is when they can be seen in the U.S. and southern Canada in open fields, prairies, deserts, and airports.
The feathered legs they’re named for help conserve heat when in the arctic tundra and when wintering back in Michigan. Expansive agricultural lands and airports are most often used for nesting. Roughlegs often concentrate in large numbers in areas where food is plentiful and can be found in larger groups than other species of hawk.
4. Broad-winged Hawk
Length: 13.4- 17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
The Broad-winged Hawk’s breeding distribution includes most of the eastern United States, including Michigan. They can commonly be seen around the Great Lakes during both spring and fall migration times. Broad-winged Hawks migrate in large flocks called “kettles” and can be seen by the thousands. They can be found year-round in the southern tips of both Florida and Louisiana as well as parts of Central America, Mexico, and Cuba.
Its preferred habitat is quiet, expansive deciduous or mixed woodlands near bodies of water, which makes the Great Lakes ideal for them. This amazing bird migrates for the winter to Central and South America where it prefers to live at the edge of tropical forests.
5. Cooper’s Hawk
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
The Cooper’s Hawk distribution is pretty much identical to that of the Red-tailed Hawk in Michigan – year-round in the southern half of the state and breeding only in the northern half, although some will migrate to the southern parts of the country or all the way into Northern Mexico.
This hawk is especially agile and has the ability to hunt large and especially evasive prey. They primarily hunt small to medium sized birds, but has been known to take small mammals and sometimes reptiles as well. They’re generally more shy and secretive than other hawks and prefer to perch within the canopy,
Like the Red-Tailed Hawk, the Coopers Hawk has benefitted from human destruction of their habitat. By fragmenting previously continuous woodland areas, there’s less cover for their prey animals and more maneuvering room for the hawk.
6. Red-shouldered Hawk
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in
Here we have the Red-shouldered Hawk, which can be found in coastal areas of California and in most parts of eastern U.S. When it comes to Michigan, again we have the same distribution as the majority of those on this list – year-round in the southern half of the state and breeding only in the northern region.
The hawks in the Californian, central, and southern parts of the country do not tend to migrate at all, but those in the northern regions of the country will migrate as far south as Mexico.
Within Michigan, the Red-Shouldered Hawk has been steadily replacing the Red-Tail within many forests. As mentioned earlier, the Red-Tail generally hunts along the newly built highways, but the Red-Shouldered Hawk is primarily a deep forest hunter. With the Red-Tail moving out and towards those wide-open spaces, they leave behind a niche the Red-Shouldered Hawk is happy to occupy.
Of course, also mentioned earlier, deforestation and forest fragmentation don’t work in favor of this species. Habitat loss is the greatest threat facing them, but thankfully right now they’re still classified as species of least concern for how widespread they are across North America.
7. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
The Northern Goshawk has a very large distribution in North America but, as the name suggests, it is much denser the farther north you go. They have a relatively large population concentrated in Central Michigan and generally breed from Roscommon County northward.
Globally, the Northern Goshawk is considered secure, but within the state of Michigan, it’s considered to be of special concern. This means that it’s more vulnerable within this habitat, but there are currently no legal protections for them.
Their nests most occur in deciduous trees such as aspen, birch, beech, and maple. Like the Red-Shouldered Hawk, the Northern Goshawk also prefers to hunt in deeper forests and is threatened by forest fragmentation and deforestation, especially of these larger trees. Because of this, they’ve been gradually moving into more coniferous and riverine forests as well.
8. Northern Harrier
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
The Northern Harrier is easy to spot with their owlish faces, a white patch on their tail, and their signature gliding style, with their wings in the shape of a V. Majestic is an excellent word to describe these birds.
You can find the Northern Harrier in Southern Michigan year-round and during the breeding season only in Northern Michigan. You’re likely to see them over marshes, fields, and other wide-open areas.
The Northern Harrier eats small mammals. Unlike other species of hawks, Harriers rely a great deal on their sense of hearing to capture their prey.
All distribution and population information regarding the hawks on this page was taken from allaboutbirds.org