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 South Carolina. In this article we’ll answer that very question and show you the 6 different hawks in South Carolina, as well as learn a little bit about each species!
6 species of hawks in South Carolina
The 6 species of hawks found in South Carolina are the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Red-shouldered Hawk.
1. 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
Cooper’s Hawks can sometimes appear to be just a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (see below video to tell the difference between Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks). They can be found in South Carolina year-round and their range covers most of North America.
They are also notorious for stalking feeders and feed almost exclusively on other birds. Their preferred habitat is forests and wooded areas but will also nest in suburban wooded areas and backyards too. Learn more about the Cooper’s hawk here.
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
Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks around with almost 2 million nesting hawks in North America. This number accounts for about 90% of the global Red-tailed Hawk population. These large hawks live in South Carolina and most of North America all year long.
Red-tailed Hawks are most active during the day or early morning and 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!
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
- Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
- Length: 15-24 inches
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Wingspan: 35-50 inches
The Red-shouldered hawk is a year-round resident to all of South Carolina, and most of the eastern half of the U.S. They eat mostly small mammals, other birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They are known for living and nesting in wooded areas and forests. Red-shouldered Hawks will commonly re-use the same nest year after year.
The population of Red-shouldered hawks has increased over the last 50 years in their range. The biggest threat to this species is the clearing of wooded areas where they nest and breed. Learn more about the Red-shouldered hawk here.
You may also be interested in: 7 Hawks in West Virginia
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. Its breeding grounds range as far north as Canada, but it winters in more southern climates, including South Carolina. They like living and hunting in fields and marshes.
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.
Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks in South Carolina and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
5. 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 of all hawks in South Carolina as well as Canada and the United States. These hawks are very widespread and can be found all over the place in North America. However they do have a non-breeding range in SC and will migrate north to warmer climates in the winter. 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.
6. 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 South Carolina. Or pretty much anywhere they can be found in the U.S. for that matter, aside for the southernmost tip of Florida and Louisiana where they do breed or live year-round.
So look for them in the Spring and Summer months in SC. 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 seperation from other birds of prey. Their diet is consistent with that of most other birds of prey.