North America is home to a diverse array of wildlife. There are a wide variety of climates and climate zones making it habitable for many different types of animals. There are forested mountains, sweeping expanses of plains, arid deserts, and even some tropical rainforests. This makes the continent hospitable to a wide variety of animals. But in this article, we’ll be taking a look at all of the types of hawks in North America.
As you’ll soon find out, many species of hawks call the U.S. and the rest of North America home for at least part of the year. Some hawks live there year-round. Others use it only as nesting grounds, or a winter home. Regardless of when and where each species is found, they all make an appearance at some point during the year.
19 types of hawks in North America
The 19 types of hawks found in North America are the northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, northern goshawk, common black hawk, great black hawk, crane hawk, gray hawk, roadside hawk, red-shouldered hawk, short-tailed hawk, white-tailed hawk, harris’s hawk, swainson’s hawk, broad-winged hawk, zone-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, and the ferruginous hawk.
Now let’s take a closer look at the hawks found in the U.S. and all of North America.
1. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
Northern harriers are widespread throughout North America. Their breeding populations are in the Northernmost parts of North America, extending through Canada and into Alaska. During the winter they migrate south, with many of them establishing themselves in U.S. southern states, Mexico, and Central America.
Northern Harriers hunt while flying, sweeping across open fields to spot prey. The main portion of the Northern Harrier’s diet is made up of small mammals and birds. They have also been seen going after larger prey. After capturing a larger animal, the Harrier will often kill it by drowning.
2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
Most sharp-shinned hawks migrate to parts of northern United States and Canada to breed each year, then spend their winters in most of the lower 48 states, Mexico, and Central America. Though there are scattered populations of year-round sharp-shinned hawks in both the U.S. and Mexico.
The sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in the United States and Canada. Sharp-shinned hawks have nimble feet, which they use to grasp and pierce the flesh of prey. They are so good with their feet they have even been witnessed using their toes to maneuver prey out of traps.
3. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: Male -14.6-15.3 in, Female- 16.5-17.7 in
Weight: Male- 7.8-14.5 oz , Female- 11.6-24.0 oz
Wingspan: Male- 24.4-35.4 in, Female- 29.5-35.4 in
Many cooper’s hawks are non-migratory and live throughout much of the United States all year. Though some prefer to spend their winters in Mexico and breed in southern Canada. The trees and food available within the more populated areas often make suburbs and cities more appealing to these usually shy hawks.
The cooper’s hawk is very similar in color and appearance to the sharp-shinned hawk but is larger. The majority of their diet is made up of other birds, and they have a habit of setting up residence near areas with backyard bird feeders.
4. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: Male- 17.7-22.1 in, Female- 19.7-25.6 in
Weight: Male- 24.3-45.9 oz, Female- 31.8-51.5 oz
Wingspan: Male 44.9-52.4 in, Female- 44.9-52.4 in
Red-tailed hawks are very common in most U.S. states and much of Mexico, and in Canada during the breeding season. They are also regularly seen on telephone poles and are one of the most common types of hawks in North America. They make their homes in habitats of all types, from the desert and fields to parks. Provided it is open land, the red-tailed hawk is comfortable in most places.
The red-tailed hawk has a very distinctive scream. It is so recognizable it is used in movies as the standard sound of any bird of prey. They are one of the largest raptors in North America, and can often be seen riding thermal updrafts.
5. 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 have a range that extends from Tennessee to California to Alaska and everything in between, including most of Canada. They can be found in some areas of Mexico, though they aren’t as common. They build their nests in ponderosa pines and aspens. The nesting places can often be found by bones and feathers left under the trees where they perch to pluck their prey.
Northern goshawks are extremely territorial. In areas where northern goshawks are present, they have been known to attack anyone who they see as a danger to their nest. Since they are one of the largest species of hawks, an attack by one could be dangerous.
6. Common Black Hawk
Scientific name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Weight: 1.8 lbs
The common black hawk is a summer resident of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas for breeding season only. Common black hawks spend their winters in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.They stay near water sources and build their nests in trees near the water’s edge.
The common black hawk typically enjoys meals of crab and other small aquatic animals while in it’s permanent range, which includes large portions of coastal area. During their breeding season in New Mexico, they include amphibians, fish, and frogs since their territory is inland.
7. Harris’s Hawk
Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus
Length: 18.1-23.2 in
Weight: 18.2-31.0 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 in
Harris’s hawks have populations in small pockets of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. They’re much more common in Mexico and Baja. Their preferred habitat is desert lowland and mesquite brushland. They have also begun to become more common in urban and suburban areas because of easier access to food and water.
Instead of being solitary hunters, harris’s hawk hunts in groups. They usually hunt in groups of at least two, ranging up to seven. Groups with more than two hawks have a better chance of survival than individuals. Harris’s hawks have even been known to bring food to injured individuals who were part of their group.
8. Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 49 in
Swainson’s Hawk spends its summers in North America. In the winter though, the entire population makes its way south to Argentina. The large number of hawks migrating is an excellent opportunity to watch hawks along their migratory path. The flight of swainson’s hawk down to Argentina is one of the longest migrations of the North American birds of prey.
As chick swainson’s hawks are treated to a diet of rodents and reptiles. Outside of the breeding season, adult Swainson’s hawks eat a diet made almost exclusively of insects. Dragonflies and Grasshoppers make up the majority of their insect-based meal plan.
9. 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 is found throughout the eastern half of the United States and much of Canada in the breeding season. They migrate south each year to South and Central America. Their migratory path may take broad-winged hawks across the very northeastern corner of the state.
Migrating broad-winged hawks eventually concentrate into large groups made up of multiple flocks, or kettles. This mass of hawks is a huge attraction for hawk watchers, who gather to watch what they call “the river of raptors.” During migration, the hawks will travel nearly 70 miles per day.
10. Zone-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
Length: Male- 17.7-22.1 in
Weight: Male- 21.4-4.9 oz, Female- 29.8-33.0 oz
Wingspan: Male- 29.9-30.9 in, Female- 32.2-34.5 in
Zone-tailed hawks have a breeding population in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and a much of Central Mexico. They migrate south into Central America for the winter. They can be seen around mesas, waterways, and foothills, though they can be mistaken for turkey vultures due to their coloring and way of flying. Zone-tailed Hawks may have developed these characteristics to disguise themselves from potential prey.
Zone-tailed hawks have started appearing very far north of their typical range. The number of hawks being spotted suggests that these sightings are the result of zone-tailed Hawks expanding their range. This is a positive sign since the Zone-tailed hawk population is threatened. The breeding population in the United States is down to 2,000 hawks.
11. 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 breed in the arctic but make their way south to the majority of the United States for the winter. They don’t make it down into a handful of the southern states. Their preferred habitat is open land, such as desert and shrubland.
The Rough-legged Hawk hunts from a perch, swooping down to catch its prey. A non-breeding adult needs to eat about a quarter pound of food a day. A brood of two nestlings requires about 26 pounds of food in their first 40 days of life.
12. Ferruginous Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
In the western half of the U.S. is where you’ll find the ferruginous hawk where it spends its time in open plains or desert areas, hunting prairie dogs and other small mammals. Ferruginous hawks can often be seen soaring, waiting to catch a ground squirrel or prairie dog unaware. They often gather in large groups of 5-10, and make a display of threatening each other.
These large hawks are one of only two species of hawks in the United States to have feathers all the way down there legs. The other is the rough-legged Hawk. There are several color morphs of Ferruginous Hawks. The most common is the light morph, which has a white belly, and rest colored markings. The dark morph leans toward a chocolate brown, which also has signs of the rusty red marks that give the ferruginous hawk its name.
13. Great black hawk
Scientific name: Buteogallus urubitinga
Length: 22-25 in
Weight: 38.8 oz
Wingspan: 47-54 in
The great black hawk, aka Brazilian eagle, is most common in South America or Central America, though their range does extend north into Mexico. There have been a few sightings in far southern Texas, but not much other than that in the United States. Well, except for the time one ended all the way up in Maine!
The hawks are quite large in size, even larger than red-tailed hawks in most cases. Great black hawks, like most raptors, are opportunistic eaters and feed on a variety of rodents, bats, birds, fish, crabs, reptiles, and amphibians.
14. Crane hawk
Scientific name: Geranospiza caerulescens
Length: 20 in
Weight: 8 – 15 oz
Wingspan: 40 in
Like great black hawks, crane hawks are mainly found in Central and South America. Their range does extend north into parts of Mexico making them North American residents. They use their long legs to attack prey from the tree canopy, which is I’m assuming how they got the name crane hawk.
There was a sighting of a crane hawk in South Texas in 1988, but none since that I can find making this hawk pretty much non-existent in the U.S. They’re medium in size, somewhere between the size of a cooper’s hawk and a red-tailed hawk. Crane hawks are usually all gray, dark gray, or black with white stripes on their tail-feathers and wings.
15. Gray hawk
Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
Length: 18–24 in
Weight: 16.8 oz
Wingspan: 35 in
This tropical hawk is also known as the Mexican goshawk because of its similar appearance to the northern goshawk that is more common in the United States. Gray hawks are mainly found in Mexico and Central America, but their range does extend into southern parts of Arizona and Texas. So while they are uncommon in the states, this is where you want to be if you’re trying to spot one.
These hawks are medium in size and mainly hunt lizards, rodents, and other animals that can be found in the neotropics of the Americas. Adult gray hawks are mostly gray with barred underparts. Juvenile are more of a brownish color, with spotted brown underparts.
16. Roadside hawk
Scientific name: Rupornis magnirostris
Length: 12-16 in
Weight: 8.8-10.6 oz
Wingspan: 30 in
Roadside hawks are not only one of the most common types of hawks in its range, but also one of the smallest. That being said, roadside hawks are mostly found in South America and Central America with their northern range limits extending in parts of Mexico.
This small hawks is often seen on the edge of forests perched on telephone wires on roadsides, hence the name. They feed on a typical hawk diet of small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and pretty much anything they can get their talons on.
17. Short-tailed hawk
Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
Length: 15 – 17 in
Weight: 0.86 – 1.1 lbs
Wingspan: 32-40 in
The Short-tailed Hawk is only found in Florida in North America, and is rarely seen even there. Some live year round in the southern tip and the Keys, with a breeding distribution in central Florida. This species is one of the least studied birds in the U.S. so there isn’t a ton of information out there about this hawk, and few pictures on the internet.
Learn more about the Short-tailed Hawk here.
18. White-tailed hawk
Scientific name: Geranoaetus albicaudatus
Length: 18.1-22.8 in
Weight: 31.0-43.6 oz
Wingspan: 50.4-51.6 in
The white-tailed hawk is fairly common in southern Texas, in places like the Rio Grande Valley. Aside from that, white-tailed hawks aren’t found in the U.S. and the rest of their range is in coastal regions of Mexico and Central America.
Identify these hawks by their light underparts, white tails, and chestnut patches on their shoulders. There are light and dark morphs of this species, making their upper parts vary in shades of gray and lightness, though only the light morphs are seen in Texas. .
19. Red-shouldered hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in
The red-shouldered hawk is common in eastern and southeastern United States. They are also found in western California, but no where else in the U.S. Identify these hawks by their 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.
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, along with crows (also victims of the owl), will work together to mob and chase off great horned owls. I actually saw this very scenario play out in my backyard a couple of weeks ago. A great horned owl was chased off by 3 crows and a red-shouldered hawk, very interesting to watch!