Hawks are majestic birds and fearsome hunters, awe-inspiring to watch. Nevada lies in the path of many species’ migratory routes as hawks come down from their breeding grounds in Canada for the winter. So in this article we’re going to have a look at the types of hawks in Nevada. Some of these species even prefer a suburban backyard as their hunting ground.
Let’s look at each of these birds of prey a bit closer, shall we?
9 species of hawks in Nevada
The 9 species of hawks you may encounter in Nevada are the Northern Goshawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Broad-winged hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk (Sharpie).
1. Northern Goshawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)
- Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)
Northern Goshawks prefer forest areas for nesting and hunting, so they only reside in those parts of Nevada that have the tree coverage to host them. However, in these areas they can sometimes be found year-round.
These birds have been used by humans for falconry hunting for over 2,000 years – even Attila the Hun was so taken with them that he had the image of a Goshawk on his helmet. Northern Goshawks often mate for life, and a breeding pair may build as many as eight nests to choose from.
2. Swainson’s Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
- Length: 18.9-22.1 in
- Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
- Wingspan: 48 in
The range of the Swainson’s Hawk during breeding season includes much of Nevada. However, as winter approaches, these birds migrate as far south as South America. They prefer open grasslands for their hunting, nesting in any nearby trees they can find.
Swainson’s Hawks routinely migrate with other birds, including Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks, and Mississippi Kites, in giant “kettles” of birds that can number in the thousands (named that because they can look like a giant kettle of birds being stirred).
3. Northern Harrier
- Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
- Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
- Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
- Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
Northern Harriers live year-round in the northern half of Nevada, and come winter, some make the southern part of the state their home as well. They prefer open fields and grassland, and make their nests on the ground.
You can tell the difference between juvenile males and females by the color of their eyes. Male Northern Harriers have pale greenish-yellow eyes, and females have chocolate brown eyes. As they reach adulthood, the eyes of both sexes turn to a lemony yellow color.
4. Cooper’s Hawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
- Length: 14.6-17.7 in (37-39 cm)
- Weight: 7.8-24 oz (220-410 g)
- Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
Cooper’s Hawks live throughout Nevada year-round. Birds that breed in more northerly climates (some go as far as Canada) migrate south for the winter, and might be seen headed to their winter grounds during daylight. They like to hunt and nest in woodlands with some open space.
These birds are becoming increasingly likely to be found in suburban and urban areas, feeding on the visitors to backyard bird feeders. In some areas, Cooper’s Hawks are more common in areas with high human populations than they are in their natural habitats.
5. Ferruginous Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo regalis
- Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
- Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz (977-2074 g)
- Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in (133-142 cm)
The Ferruginous Hawk loves desert scrubland and open prairies, and is a resident of Nevada particularly during the breeding season. They can often be found near prairie dog burrows, waiting to pounce as soon as one of the residents emerges.
Ferruginous Hawks are the largest of the Buteo variety of hawks. They don’t seem to mind being around humans, so it’s possible to get a rather close look at them occasionally. When bison were more plentiful in their habitat, they often made nests from bison bones, held together with bison dung and hair.
6. 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 commonly seen hawk in North America, not only because it lives throughout the continent, but because it also hangs out near open fields and roadsides, often perching on telephone poles in search of prey.
Red-tailed Hawks have been seen hunting in pairs with their mates, with one bird covering one side of a tree and their mate covering another. Their call is the most-used raptor call in films and television, no matter which species is being portrayed on screen.
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7. Broad-winged Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
- Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
- Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
- Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
Broad-winged Hawks migrate thousands of miles every fall, moving from mostly the east half of North America down to South America for the winter. However, part of the area that they travel through while migrating is in a tiny pocket in the northeastern corner of Nevada along ridges.
These hawks have been around for a long time – paleontologists have found fossils of Broad-winged Hawks that are around 400,000 years old. During their migration south, they may travel as far as 69 miles in a single day.
8. Rough-legged Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
Rough-legged Hawks spend their breeding seasons way up in the Arctic in northern Canada, but a few spend their winters as far south as Nevada. While wintering in our more temperate climates, they like to live in open grasslands and fields.
Their name alludes to the feathers covering these birds’ legs down to their toes, crucial for staying warm in a cold climate. They sometimes use caribou bones as part of their nests out on the tundra.
9. Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
- Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
The Sharp-shinned Hawk, like so many others, are migratory. Breeding mostly to the north up in Canada, they migrate as far south as Panama every year for the winter. Some of them stay as residents of Nevada year-round, however, and like wooded areas with plenty of trees to hide in and ambush smaller birds.
Perhaps because of their penchant for dining on small birds, you can occasionally find a Sharp-shinned Hawk at your backyard bird feeder. They impale their prey with their sharp talons. These birds are the smallest variety of the bird-eating Accipiter hawks.
Where to See Hawks in Nevada
There are many parks, nature reserves, and other areas to observe different species of hawks around the state. In northern Nevada, the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a good place to see Rough-legged Hawks in winter, if you can maneuver through the snow. Great Basin National Park is home to a wide range of hawk species, particularly on its Alpine Loop.
If you’re more of a city dweller, Floyd Lamb Park in Las Vegas has some good hawk-spotting opportunities. To the west, Stillwater Wildlife Refuge is another great location to see hawks. And to delve into more exciting birding opportunities, The Audubon Society has an extensive list of locations and organizations in Nevada to help you out.