Whether you’re a bird enthusiast, resident to the state, or just simply curious, you may be wondering what types of hawks live in the state of New Jersey. In this article we’ll answer that very question and show you the 8 different hawks in New Jersey, as well as learn a little bit about each species!
Let’s take a look!
Hawks in New Jersey
The 8 species of hawks found in New Jersey are the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Red-shouldered Hawk.
1. 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
Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks in North America and can be found in most parts of the country. These large hawks live throughout New Jersey all year long.
Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen soaring above looking for prey with their amazing vision or perched along the roadside on telephone poles. Learn more about the Red-tailed Hawk here.
Red-tailed Hawks have that classic, raspy cry that people associate with raptors. In fact, it’s usually the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk that’s used in movies to portray the fierce birds of prey. I bet you can even hear it in your head now as you read this!
2. Northern Goshawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 20.9-25.2 in
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
- Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are found throughout the state, but are year-round residents mainly in Northern New Jersey. In the rest of the state these large hawks have a non-breeding range, meaning they migrate in and out of the area every year.
Like Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks are also accipiters, and have rounded wings and long tails. However, Northern Goshawks are much bigger than these other accipiters, and are in fact the largest accipiters in North America.
Northern Goshawks are secretive birds. Though they are the most widespread accipiter in the world, they live in large, dense forests and tend to remain out of sight, so finding them is not easy.
Northern Goshawks have mostly gray plumage, with bright red eyes and bold white stripes that give them the appearance of having eyebrows. They are often considered to be symbols of strength, and even Attila the Hun had the image of one adorned on his helmet.
Northern Goshawks have been popular to use in hunting by falconers for over 2000 years. They were once known as “cooks hawks” because of their excellent ability to bring in meat to cook.
3. Rough-legged Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
Rough-legged Hawks have a non-breeding range throughout the state of New Jersey. For most of the year they’re found in the open Arctic tundra, where they also breed. However, during the fall they migrate south to spend the winter in the much of the United States and southern Canada.
It’s during the winter they’re found in New Jersey, though they tend to be harder to spot than other species. Their populations are pretty variable from year to year and often depend on how abundant lemmings, a major food source, are in the Arctic.
Rough-legged Hawks get their name from their feathered legs that help them stay warm in the frigid north. Along with Golden Eagles, these hawks are the only raptors in America that feature feathers along their legs and all the way down to their talons.
Rough-legged Hawks are large buteo hawks, with stocky bodies and long, broad wings. Their tails are longer than most buteos, though, and their feet and beaks are small.
When in flight they hold their wings in a “V” shape, and their tails fan out. In North America there are many color variations in plumage, including light and dark morphs. Adult light-morph males feature white underparts and gray-brown uppers, while dark-morphs are typically dark brown all over with the exception of their underwings.
4. 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 is the only harrier variety of hawks indigenous to North America. Their breeding grounds range as far north as Canada, but some populations winter in more southern climates. Though some areas of the U.S. have year-round populations of these hawks. Northern Harriers are found in the state of the New Jersey year-round.
Like owls, Northern Harriers rely on their hearing as well as their vision to hunt, and they sometimes subdue their larger prey by drowning them. Males can have up to five female partners at once, although it’s more common for them to have just one or two. These hawks like living and hunting in fields and marshes, so if you’re trying to spot one look in places like this!
Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks in New Jersey and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
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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
Very similar to the Sharpies in looks with a steely blue back and wings and reddish barring on the belly, but Cooper’s are larger overall. It’s not uncommon for there to be discrepancies between large female sharpies and small male Cooper’s, since female hawks are larger than males. Cooper’s Hawks have a flatter head and rounded tail, which can help distinguish the two.
Cooper’s hawks are some of the most able and skilled fliers in the bird world. Their power, paired with agility and stealth, make them formidable predators and they can shoot through the treetops, chasing prey at super speeds.
Don’t be surprised if a Cooper’s hawk swoops down onto your backyard feeders. Little birds out in the open, focused on stuffing their bills? The hawks are practically being fed on a silver platter! Although they aren’t opposed to eating smaller birds, their favorites are larger species, such as doves, starlings, robins, jays, grouse, quail, and chickens.
Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout all of New Jersey all year long.
These hawks can be ruthless. As with most hawks, they kill their prey by squeezing it, but Cooper’s have been seen taking it a step farther and even drowning their prey.
6. Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9.4-13.4 in
- Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
- Wingspan: 16.9-22.1
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Canada and the United States. They can be found all over the place in North America, including New Jersey. However they are only present year-round in some parts of the state. You can see their range map here.
They have copper barring on their white underparts and blue grey feathering on their backs, nape, and crown, giving it a hooded look. Their eyes are distinctly red.
Sharpies are known for stalking backyard feeders. If you see one consider taking down your feeders for a week or two and allowing the hawk to move on.
Songbirds make up roughly 90% of the Sharpie’s diet. This allows them to serve the important function of keeping wild bird populations healthy and manageable.
7. Red-shouldered Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
- Length: 15-24 inches
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Wingspan: 35-50 inches
With a range very similar to that of the Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawks can be found year-round only in all of New Jersey.
These hawks have deep, reddish chestnut colored feathers that appear marbled on the wings with bars on the breast. They have stark bars on the tail and pitch black eyes.
Red-shouldered hawks live in wet deciduous woodlands. If you’re out and about and catch sight of this bird, you can expect to find water of some sort nearby such as swamps, rivers, or marshes.
Unlike other species that feed on birds, Red-shoulders prefer non-feathered prey if they can. They eat small mammals, snakes, lizards, and amphibians.
Red-shouldered hawk nestlings often fall victim to Great Horned Owls. Occasionally these hawks and crows (also victims of the owl) will work together to mob and chase off Great Horned Owls.
8. 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 has a breeding range only in the state of New Jersey and the rest of New England, so look for them in the Spring and Summer months. Broad-winged Hawks migrate each year by the thousands, these large flocks are called “kettles”. Broad-winged Hawks have one brood each year with 1-5 eggs.
The female is in charge of constructing the nest, with help from the male. They will fiercely protect their nesting site and build their nests with at least a half-mile of separation from other birds of prey. Their diet is consistent with that of most other birds of prey.
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