The woods and fields of Vermont are filled with wildlife. Much of this wildlife is small mammals, which make a perfect meal for the birds of prey that also call these wild areas home. Along with owls and kites, there are several species of hawks in Vermont that either reside permanently in the state or use it as nesting and breeding grounds.
Hawks in Vermont – 7 species
The 7 species of hawks in Vermont are the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Broad Winged Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk, and the Rough-Legged Hawk.
Let’s take a look at these hawks of Vermont and learn about some identifying features and interesting behaviors.
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Length: 9.4-13.4 inches
- Weight: 3.1 oz-7.7 oz
- Wingspan- 16.9-22.1 inches
Sharp-shinned Hawks are permanent residents in much of Vermont, and breed in the northernmost part of the state. They eat small mammals and songbirds and often fly through densely wooded areas to catch their prey.
Sharp-Shinned hawks continue to feed their young for a few weeks after they have fledged. They start by dropping prey into the nest, but as they gain flying skills, the parent will call out and the fledgling will rise up to get it’s food while in flight.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk has long legs and nimble toes. They have been observed reaching into wire bird traps to remove prey. They have been known to use bird feeders as a buffet. Bird feeders don’t necessarily increase the risk of becoming prey for the birds that eat there, but if the hawk is aware of a feeder, it may swoop in for a bite and carry off a songbird.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
- Length: Male- 14.6-15.3 inches, Female- 16.5-17.7 inches
- Weight: Male- 7.8-14.5 oz, Female- 11.6-24.0 oz
- Wingspan: Male- 24.4-35.4 inches, Female- 29.5-35.4 inches
Cooper’s Hawks have a beautiful slate blue color to their backs, with a reddish striping down their fronts. These hawks can be found in secluded wooded areas and highly occupied places. They occupy Vermont and the majority of the continental United States year-round.
Cooper’s Hawks make good use of their nimble feet. They use them to squeeze their prey to death, rather than biting it. Some have even been witnessed drowning their prey. Many Cooper’s Hawks suffer from injuries due to their hunting behaviors that have been identified post-mortem. These are generally fractured chest bones, particularly the wishbone. These injuries seem to be quite common since the majority of the identified fractures were old and had healed.
These hawks seem to be making the best of urban sprawl. Their populations in urban and suburban areas outnumber those in their natural habitat. This is likely because pigeons and doves
3. Northern Goshawk
- Length: 20.9-25.2 inches
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
- Wingspan: 40.5- 46.1 inches
Goshawks prefer to roost in coniferous forests but will make their homes in deciduous forests as well. The Northern Goshawk frequently feeds upon other birds and was popular in falconry for bringing down birds for the handler.
Females are 25% larger than males, and males are responsible for bringing food while the females sit on the eggs. Northern Goshawk pairs keep around 8 nests in a forest at any one tie. They may change locations, or they may continue to use the same nest every year. Goshawks will attack anyone who comes to close their nest.
Northern Goshawks are rarely seen and tend to stay away from populated areas. The Northern Goshawk is an accipiter, with shorter wings that make it well suited for hunting in wooded areas.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Length: 16.9-24.0 inches
- Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
- Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 inches
This is a very colorful hawk with red barring on the breast and checkered wings. They enjoy a high perch, and will often swoop down on their prey of amphibians, small animals and reptiles from their perch. Red-shouldered hawks build their nests of sticks in the crotch of trees and enjoy woods particularly those close to a river or wetland. They can be found in Vermont during their breeding season.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk has an interesting relationship with crows. Though crows will often mob the hawks, the hawks have also been seen chasing crows and stealing their food. They have also been witnessed banding together in groups to chase Great Horned Owls away.
Red-Shouldered Hawk nestlings have an interesting method of keeping their nests clean. By the time they are 5 days old, they are experts at shooting their feces over the nest, and onto the ground. Once they find a nesting territory, the will continue to return to it. Red-Shouldered hawks have been witnessed returning to the same nesting territory for almost 2 decades.
5. Broad Winged Hawk
- Length: 13.3-17.3 inches
- Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
- Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 inches
This hwk has a distinctive whistling vocalization. Its preferred hunting method is to sweep down on prey from a perch under the tree canopy. They are present in Vermont during their nesting season but prefer to spend their winter in South America. When migrating they form large flocks which are referred to as “kettles”.
These hawks migrate a long distance to get to their winter home. They travel over 4,000 miles. Scientists tracking them found that once they have made it to their “vacation” spot, they move around in an area of about a square mile.
These hawks a very easy to see during their migration season. Since the flocks, or kettles, they form are so large, they attract many birders to watch their trip.
6. Red-Tailed Hawk
- Length: Males-17.7-22.1 inches, Females- 19.7-25.6 inches
- Weight: Males- 24.3-45.9 oz, Females- 31.8-51.5 oz
- Wingspan: Males- 44.9-52.4 inches, Females- 19.7-25.6 inches
The Red-Tailed Hawk so named because of its distinctive red tail prefers open areas. It can often be seen circling, or perched on posts and trees. There are distinctive regional differences in coloration, but they all possess the signature red tail.
The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common, and arguably most recognizable of hawks in Vermont and in North America. It has a distinctive scream that has become associated with all raptors, despite the wide variations in sounds that different species of Hawks possess.
Red-Tailed Hawks will work together when hunting, with two of them watching separate sides of a tree while hunting squirrels. Though they are a large bird that hunts mammals, they will very rarely try to take a dog or a cat.
7. Rough-Legged Hawk
- Length: 18.5-20.5 inches
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
- Wingspan: 52.0 54.3 inches
Rough-Legged Hawks have a prominent presence in the majority of the United States, including Vermont, but migrate further north for their breeding season. Their name comes from their distinctive feathered legs, they are one of only 3 species of American raptors that have feathers all the way down their legs.
Nesting Rough Legged Hawks build construct their nests from sticks and occasionally caribou bones. These nests are perched on the sides of cliffs, usually at least a quarter-mile from other breeding pairs.
These hawks can be spotted hovering over open spaces on the lookout for prey, or perched on telephone poles. They will also perch on vary slim treetops that other large hawks would avoid.