Hawks are some of the most extraordinary birds in the world, with their soaring flight and incredible vision.
If you live in a rural area or spend time outdoors, you will see hawks flying overhead.
But how can you tell which hawk you’re looking at? But the truth is that there are many different types of hawks living all over the world.
And not all of them look the same, and this guide will go over some common species you might see in your backyard, along with tips on how to identify them from similar species.
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Common Black Hawk
- Great Horned Owl
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Pale Chanting Goshawk
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Crane Hawk
- Gray Hawk
- Roadside Hawk
- Rufous Crab Hawk
- Black-faced Hawk
- Hawaiian Hawk
- Crested Goshawk
- Zone-Tailed Hawk
- White-tailed Hawk
- African Harrier Hawk
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Great Black Hawk
- Japanese SparrowHawk
- Chinese SparrowHawk
- Eurasian SparrowHawk
The red-tailed hawk is a typical backyard visitor since it can be found across North America. The red-tailed hawk’s feathers start brown with white streaks as they age.
Their heads turn primarily white, and their tails become red; red-tailed hawks have big eyes that give them good vision.
Thus, allowing them to see their prey from a long distance away. Of all the different types of hawks, Red-tailed hawks can spot prey from 200 feet above the ground, giving them plenty of time to plan an attack!
And their favorite foods are small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. And they’ll watch for these creatures until they emerge from caves or trees.
Then swoop down to catch them before flying off again.
With its sharp features and jet-black feathers, this beautiful bird is breathtaking.
Of all the different types of hawks, Swainson’s hawks are on top of many people’s Most Wanted lists. And this is due to their bold nature and hunting habits.
However, these predators feed off various mammals, from mice to small rabbits. Swainson’s hawks can be found all over North America if you spot one outside your house.
Just remember: They want what you have. Try not to become food for your new feathered friend!
The Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) is a large hawk living in North America. It is named for its rusty-colored feathers and is also called a red-tailed hawk.
It is a misnomer because it isn’t closely related to red-tailed hawks or most other types of hawks.
In addition, It resides year-round throughout much of western North America. Except for parts of California and Nevada and areas immediately east.
However, the Ferruginous favors dry arid grasslands and prairies of all the different types of hawks. It may migrate as far south as Mexico or Central America in winter.
The northern harrier is a North American hawk that looks very similar to other harriers.
What helps distinguish it from other different types of hawks is its white rump and chest. Its call is a rapid trill, which can be heard during all seasons.
Indeed, these hawks are most active during the early morning and late afternoon.
At the same time, they perch on high lookouts looking for prey, like voles and small mammals.
Suppose you live near open land or grasslands with lots of vole holes and mounds. Then, chances are you have northern harriers flying over your head.
These hawks migrate south winter to southern Canada and Mexico, sometimes even as far south as Central America.
Common Black Hawk
It is a medium-sized bird of prey native to North and South America. They have broad wings and long tails, hovering above their game while striking with their paws.
They are similar in appearance to other buteos (or predators), such as red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, or sharp-shinned hawks.
Also, the term black hawk is used as a colloquial name for specific populations within different species of black hawk.
In general, one might spot a common black hawk soaring over fields or forests from other types of hawks.
Great Horned Owl
Weighing up to 4 pounds, of all the different types of hawks, Great Horned Owls are one of America’s largest raptors.
Despite their massive size, they can quickly fly through densely forested areas and even build large deciduous trees.
They feed on small mammals but sometimes snag birds and other creatures that get too close to their territory.
In addition to excellent vision, Great Horned Owls have incredibly sharp hearing abilities that help them detect prey from afar.
If you ever hear a low-pitched hoo hoo hoo call reverberating across your neighborhood. It’s likely coming from a nearby Great Horned Owl!
With its tiny size and short, rounded wings, you might mistake a sharp-shinned hawk for a sparrow.
Because they live near people, they are one of North America’s most common hawks. And can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
And they eat small birds, small mammals, and insects. A sharp-shinned hawk is primarily dark brown with white underparts that become heavily streaked in winter. It also has a very distinct black band across its chest.
However, this separates it from other types of hawks, especially Cooper’s Hawks. Which also have dark chests but lack any other distinguishing features.
With a wingspan of about 5ft, the rough-legged hawk is North America’s largest accipiter, a type of raptor.
It can be seen hunting over fields and marshes, skimming over treetops, and often perching on fence posts.
Rough-legged hawks are easily identified by their dark brown or black feathers, with light streaking or barring underneath.
Also, it has white patches on its underside, large talons on long legs, yellow eyes, and ear tufts like cats.
Rough-legged hawks can also be distinguished from other types of hawks by their loud calls, mostly uttered at dawn. And high-pitched screams when they’re agitated or hungry.
It’s a medium-sized hawk, growing up to 18 inches long with a wingspan of up to 42 inches.
It’s also referred to as a red tail, although it doesn’t have any red feathers on its tail.
They live in deciduous and mixed forests, woodland edges, and near water.
And they often nest in large, dead trees or telephone poles around farmlands and city suburbs.
The male has dark grey upper parts with a reddish-brown border that runs from above his eye down across his back toward his tail. He has dark brown underparts with light streaks.
However, females are similar but usually larger than males; they have paler underparts with distinct barring below their chest area.
And bold white spots on their breasts during the breeding season.
They are also known as fish hawks or butcherbirds, one of the most potent long-winged raptors among the different types of hawks.
The males (top right) are mainly grey and white. Females (bottom right) have brown and reddish coloration with a distinctive barred tail.
And they’re found on every continent except Antarctica and feed primarily on terrestrial animals like small birds, reptiles, and insects. They hunt from a perch to swoop down onto their prey from above.
Also, the best way to see them is by looking for one around water sources like lakes or rivers. During the winter months when they migrate into temperate regions for food.
Known for its brilliant plumage, it’s a widespread hawk compared to other types of hawks throughout North America.
They have slender bodies and long tails, making them very agile and able to hunt small animals like squirrels.
They are known to live anywhere from woodlands to deserts and can even be found in grasslands.
Furthermore, these hawks are commonly seen alone but can sometimes be seen hunting in pairs or family groups.
Females and young males generally build nests together with sticks or leaves woven together for protection from other predators.
However, the female does most of the incubation duties. While both parents bring food for her during hatching and after until they become independent at six weeks old.
Pale Chanting Goshawk
This raptor is closely related to falcons but is not a predator. Pale chanting goshawks are found in forested areas, and their diet consists mainly of mammals.
They’ll eat almost anything from rodents to smaller birds and reptiles.
However, check for its brown chest feathers to identify a pale chanting Goshawk among the other types of hawks.
Also, the gray face; white patches on its wings; long tail; and black-and-white banded legs.
And three subspecies live primarily around Australia: Goshawk subspecies: novaeseelandiae Bella (Australia).
Goshawk subspecies: novaeseelandiae Metallica (central Australia), and Goshawk subspecies: novaeseelandiae pallida (southwest Australia).
The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is among North America’s most common hawks. This bird has a relatively short wingspan, but its short tail allows it to maneuver through trees and shrubs easily.
It’s a smaller hawk, with males measuring between 15 and 19 inches long and weighing between 3 and 4 ounces.
And females are slightly larger, ranging from 17 to 20 inches long. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk lives throughout Canada, Alaska, New England, and northern portions of other states like Montana and California.
However, one distinguishing feature of adult birds is their white rump feathers and black tails. With bars made up of white tips that help distinguish them from other types of hawks like Cooper’s Hawks.
When most people see a hawk soaring over their backyards, they think of it as a red-tailed hawk. Yet, unless you live in southern California, there’s a good chance that you’re seeing an adult red-tail.
Instead of its smaller cousin, which is found primarily from Maine to northern Florida and west to Texas.
However, a third smaller species called the peregrine falcon can sometimes be found throughout much of North America.
All three birds have roughly similar plumage patterns. However, juvenile red-tails are duller and browner than adults.
Because their feathers haven’t been bleached by sunlight yet. These features can be used to identify them from other types of hawks.
A medium-sized bird of prey found throughout North America, and gray hawks will hunt mice, snakes, and other birds.
As their name suggests, they have gray feathers with white dots. Gray hawks typically weigh 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and have a wingspan of 3 to 4 feet.
And when hunting for food, they prefer grasslands or dry brushy areas where they can quickly scan large areas for movement.
However, if hunting becomes difficult, these graceful predators also make meals from insects. And also amphibians as well as small mammals like squirrels and rabbits.
This species is found across North America and has many habitats, including grasslands, farms, deserts, and suburban areas.
It often builds its nests on road signs or poles and can be easily observed by passersby. They eat mainly small rodents like squirrels, rabbits, and cats, like the other types of hawks.
However, their reputation for taking pets gave them an intimidating air, but they remembered that their attacks are rarely fatal to humans.
You don’t want to find yourself between a hungry hawk and his prey! For the best viewing, head outside early in the morning to see if you spot any roadside hawks near your home.
Rufous Crab Hawk
This medium-sized hawk can often be hunting over water if it spots a small creature.
Such as a mouse or snake; below, it dives swiftly toward its prey to catch it with its paws. The target is then carried back to a perch where the Rufous Crab Hawk eats.
Furthermore, this large hawk has brownish feathers on its body and an orange face with a long hooked beak.
What sets it apart from other different types of hawks, the adults have grayish-white faces and dark eyes.
Juveniles have brown eyes and pale grayish facial feathers that they lose as they mature into adults.
While Rufous Crab Hawks are found throughout most of North America, their preferred habitat is open fields near ponds or lakes that provide access to water for diving after prey.
The black-faced hawk is a relatively small, short-tailed hawk commonly seen throughout much of North America. It gets its name from the black markings on its white head.
The coloration changes from juvenile to adult, giving them a morph-type look. Children do not have fully formed black faces and back but eventually reach maturity with their fully mature plumage.
And their diet consists mainly of small mammals like mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and ground-nesting birds like grouse. However, they will also eat snakes and lizards.
Hunting for prey in your backyard can often be seen swooping down from trees or soaring. But low altitudes over grassy fields or ponds, waiting for the game to pass by within striking distance.
The Hawaiian hawk, or ‘io, is a medium-sized hawk native to Hawaii. They feed primarily on birds but have also been known to prey on insects, lizards, and mice.
The hawks are endangered, with only a few hundred left; they are currently protected by law and cannot be harmed.
However, their numbers have slowly increased since 1972, when they were first put under protection due to heavy deforestation.
And persecution by non-native hunters who believed them to be killing their livestock.
Finally, the hawks’ mating season begins in late winter to early spring. And most chicks are born mid-May through June.
And females lay from 2-3 eggs each, which hatch at different times over four weeks.
The crested goshawk is one of several different types of hawks found throughout Asia and Australia.
These birds are easily recognized by their bright red face, black crest, and white tips on their tail feathers.
Crested goshawks typically weigh between, making them good-sized birds but not ones that you would describe as large.
Though generally non-aggressive to humans, they are known for harassing other raptors, such as eagles and kites, while they hunt.
The crested goshawk targets rabbits, frogs, birds, small reptiles (including snakes), and insects.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that hawks are birds of prey. The unmistakable black-and-white coloring gives them a striking appearance, but different types of hawks appear more elegant until they dive down from high and look more menacing.
But the zone-tailed hawk (which doesn’t have any tails) is one species that tend to stand out. Because of its unusually long wings and unique markings, once seen, it isn’t easy to forget.
This beautiful raptor is common throughout North America, though its range extends into South America.
They are a member of Accipitridae, including other well-known birds like eagles and ospreys. Like the different hawks, their preferred diet consists of smaller mammals.
Although, they will eat just about anything ranging from giant insects to snakes and even fish if they get them! In some regions, White-Tailed Hawks are migratory, while others live year-round.
However, they breed between March and June. And tend to build their nests anywhere from 20 to 80 feet high in trees or rocky cliffs.
While females may lay up to 5 eggs at a time, only one chick is typically raised.
African Harrier Hawk
The African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus) is a large bird of prey in sub-Saharan Africa. A member of the family Accipitridae, it is classified as an Accipiter, which includes goshawks, sparrowhawks, and kites.
The African Harrier Hawk is a small to medium-sized hawk with a broad wingspan ranging from 34 to 38 inches.
And they weigh about 8oz on average and have long tails that range from 22 to 27 inches.
While male and female hawks look alike and are very similar in size. Sex can be determined by measuring wing length relative to body length.
While males tend to have longer wings than females, there can be quite a bit of overlap between genders.
Like the other types of hawks, African Harrier Hawks are omnivorous, feeding on small vertebrates and palm fruits.
This hawk is a member of the genus Buteo, which consists of raptors characterized by short tails and broad wings.
Their name originates from their wider wings compared to other types of hawks.
While its numbers are declining across North America, you can see them at your local Audubon Society’s sanctuary or park.
And their diet primarily consists of insects, but they have been known to attack small mammals if necessary.
If you spot one soaring over your backyard, give them plenty of space; it will defend itself if provoked!
Great Black Hawk
The great black hawk (Buteogallus urubitingai) is a bird of prey species. One that is typically found on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, as well as neighboring areas.
They have black bodies and wings with white streaks along their abdomen. And like the other hawks, their diet consists mainly of insects.
The birds have often seen nesting in colonies and prefer dry woodlands, deserts, and scrubland for living quarters. Since it’s such an easily observed species, its numbers are currently growing.
And that is within populations found along with coastal areas from Texas to Florida and down through Mexico to Central America.
Although they make nests together made from twigs, grasses, and leaves. These birds only lay two eggs at most per season.
Small, sleek birds with long tails and rounded heads set them apart from other types of hawks.
They’re gray-brown above and a paler brown below. Watch for them soaring high above you or perching on a fence post.
And they’ll swoop down to catch mice and voles in midair. Sparrowhawks live in eastern forests across North America, with many subspecies that are difficult to tell apart by sight alone.
However, scientists think they originated from hawks native to Asia and Eastern Europe. These migrants have spread into Europe, Africa, and even Australia!
The Chinese sparrowhawk is a small hawk, measuring between 11 and 13 inches long with a wingspan of 22 to 25 inches.
The adult bird’s head and upper parts are grayish-brown; its underparts are white with brown barring on its chest. The face is gray, while its lower jaw is flesh-colored.
Additionally, Sparrowhawks breed only in southern China, although they’re commonly seen as far north as Beijing during migration.
Like other types of hawks, these birds are incredibly skilled at hunting insects, rodents, and birds. It may also eat frogs and snakes.
However, these hawks build a bulky stick nesting up to 10 feet off the ground when nesting. Not particularly impressive until you remember.
Most other types of hawks require an open space from which to dive after prey.
Typically found from Africa to Asia, you’ll see them on any continent with large areas of open land. A small bird weighed as little as 5 ounces and was under 10 inches tall.
Among the different types of hawks, they’re considered one of the most aggressive predators.
And their prey ranges from giant insects to snakes and even birds, such as quails. Hawks have a keen eye that helps them spot food from over half a mile away.
If you live anywhere near open fields, Eurasian Sparrowhawks are likely making themselves comfortable in your backyard!
Suppose you’re lucky enough to spot a hawk flying over your neighborhood. It might be any of the different types of hawks.
Regardless, you can be sure that these birds are part of an ancient lineage.
And they’ve existed long before humans ever appeared on Earth. One way to familiarize them is by checking out their physical differences.