With the massive Mississippi River and vast plains, Mississippi is a wonderful home for birds of all types. In this article though, we’ll be discuss the species of hawks in Mississippi. We’ll learn about the 6 species you can find in the state, and look at some pictures to help you identify them.
Be sure and read to the end to see 2 bonus birds of prey found in Mississippi, the Mississippi Kite and the Osprey.
Let’s get to it!
6 species of hawks in Mississippi
The 6 species of hawks in Mississippi are the broad-winged hawk, red-tailed hawk, cooper’s hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, northern harrier, and the red-shouldered hawk.
1. Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
The Broad-winged Hawk can be found state-wide in Mississippi, having a far-reaching breeding population during the spring and summer. It migrates further west, and then eventually down to Central America for wintering grounds. This migration is one of the largest of all raptors, with them migrating an average of 4,350 miles and traveling nearly 69 miles a day.
It hasn’t adapted well to human presence, mostly being driven out of built-up areas such as the suburbs. Still, their piercing whistle can often be heard when they circle the forest canopy when on the hunt. Their most frequent prey items are frogs, toads, and small rodents, but they do have a more opportunistic diet should those not be available that consists of smaller scorpions and insects.
2. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
The Red-Tailed Hawk is probably the most common hawk in North America, and has a solid year-round population in Mississippi. They’re extremely common around fenceposts and along the highway, and can often be seen flying alongside cars on the highway.
They’ve adapted well to humans clearing forests, as they perform better when hunting small mammals, such as rabbits and voles, in large open areas. Their scream is instantly identifiable, and if you’ve heard an eagle or a hawk scream in the movies, that sound was most likely taken from a Red-tailed Hawk.
This hawk is very well known for its dangerous and elaborate courtship ritual during the mating season. They’ll soar in wide circles at an extreme height before the male dives steeply, and then shoots up again at an angle nearly as steep. Once this has been done a couple of times, he’ll approach the female from above, extend his legs, and briefly touch her.
The most extreme portion comes when the pair lock talons and plummet in spirals toward the ground before pulling away at the last moment. It’s believed this helps build trust in one another, as couples have often been seen hunting as a pair and guarding opposite sides of the same tree to catch tree squirrels.
3. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
The Northern Harrier has a relatively large non-breeding population in Mississippi, meaning it’s been known to spend winters in the state. It’s a migratory bird, and is something called a “leapfrog migrant”, which means that those populations further north end up “leaping” over their cousins further south, and then winter even further south. They tend to migrate alone, rather than in a large flock, and prefer to travel during the day and hunt as they go.
This harrier doesn’t build its nest in trees like most birds, instead choosing to create concealed nests in grasses or wetland vegetation. They primarily hunt smaller mammals and birds, but are more than capable of taking down larger prey such as rabbits and ducks – they’ve been observed on multiple occasions drowning their prey when an instantaneous kill isn’t possible. They’re considered the most “owl-like” of the hawks, as they rely primarily on their hearing rather than their vision while hunting.
4. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
The Sharp-shinned Hawk has a medium-sized non-breeding population that ranges throughout all of Mississippi, as this bird is prevalent throughout North America. They are not only the smallest of all hawks in Mississippi, but also North America.
It breeds throughout North and South America in forest and woodland habitats, preferring mostly to nest in coniferous forests. It hunts by flying through the wooded areas in search of prey, but will also occasionally choose to sit on a perch and wait for something to walk by.
Their nests are usually reused from other hawks, birds, and even squirrels, and are located anywhere from ten to sixty feet off the ground. Their diet mostly consists of other birds, but as opportunistic eaters, they’ll also eat small mammals, lizards, and other insects as well. They paid bond and mate for life, with the male bringing food to the female in the nest while she’s incubating eggs – their young will stay with them until they’re seven weeks old.
5. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized hawk prevalent throughout Mississippi. Most of the birds there are year-round residents, although there is a small non-breeding population along the coastal region. It prefers to live in woodland areas and riparian zones, which are the official term for the area that the land meets a river or a stream.
Their numbers have been on the decline for years, but thanks to conservation efforts their numbers are stabilizing. They primarily eat other birds, such as quail and starlings, but they’ll also consume smaller mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
During the breeding season, it’s up to the male to build the nest for their partner. This is usually accomplished anywhere from 18-60 feet above the ground, and once the eggs are laid, the male is in charge of bringing their partner food for her and the chicks. Their breeding season is in the spring, and their young will be dependent on them for another two months after they hatch.
6. Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 17-24 inches
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Wingspan: 35-50 inches
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a common sight in Mississippi, as it has a consistent year-round population in the state in tall woods and around water. It’s one of the most distinctly marked common hawks, as it has barred reddish-peach underparts and a strongly banded tail. To identify from a distance, translucent crescents near the wingtips are a good indicator it is indeed a Red-shouldered Hawk.
This particular hawk is very particular about where it lives, and will stay in the same area their whole lives. There are certain populations that have become migratory, going between the Northeastern United States to Mexico and back again to deal with the changing seasons. They will always return to the same nesting territory year after year, with one such individual maintaining the same territory in southern California for 16 consecutive years!
Other birds of prey in Mississippi
Scientific name: Ictinia mississippiensis
Length: 13.4-14.6 in
Weight: 7.6-9.5 oz
Wingspan: 35 inches
Even though this medium-sized bird of prey is named after the state of Mississippi, they are more commonly found in other surrounding states such as Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. They spend much of their time soaring high above the trees, making them less common to spot than other birds of prey.
Mississippi Kites are mostly gray and black in color with grayish white heads. They have narrow, pointy wings with long tails. They have small beaks that are sharply hooked and perfect for catching small prey which consists primarily of insects such as beetles and dragonflies, however they also feed on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 21.3-22.8 in
Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz
Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in
Osprey are found throughout all of Mississippi during the breeding season, especially around waterways and other aquatic environments. Their primary source of food is fish, and are incredibly accurate predators. After studying these birds, it was found that at least 1 in 4 dive attempts were successful, and older birds can end up being 70% accurate most of the time! This accuracy comes from the way they dive with their feet outstretched and line up their bright yellow eyes with their talons.
The Osprey has adapted well to human presence and doesn’t usually show aversion, and thankfully their population is back on the rebound after the American government banned the use of the pesticide DDT. They can be found anywhere that there’s an abundant supply of fish, which their bodies are specifically adapted for. They have barbed pads on the soles of their feet that help them grip the slippery prey, as well as possessing a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind.