14 Types of Hawks in California

Types of Hawks in California
Photo by Beto_MdP on Pixabay

Have you ever seen a hawk soaring in the sky and wondered what type of bird it was?

Hawks are a common sight in California, but did you know that there are several different types of hawks in California that call this beautiful state home? 

Hawks are magical creatures to watch. With their powerful wingspan, they soar gracefully across the sky, which is why so many people enjoy spotting them in nature.

They inhabit almost all parts of the world, including California’s diverse landscapes. 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about these majestic birds, this article is for you.

Here, we list all the types of hawks in California and provide essential information about their characteristics, such as wingspan, coloration, and habitat range.

So if you want to learn more about these majestic creatures, read on!

1. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
by jimthompson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized hawk in the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

These birds often inhabit wooded areas, including deciduous forests, pastures, grasslands, and marshes.

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is most easily identified by its reddish-brown colored shoulders and barred back pattern.

These hawks are the first on this list of the types of hawks in California and usually have pale yellow or white heads with a dark brown eye stripe. 

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is an opportunistic feeder and mainly preys on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians such as voles, frogs, and snakes.

They also sometimes eat large insects or birds, such as doves, jays, and American Crows.

From March to June, these hawks nest in trees up to 50 feet above ground level.

An average clutch for these birds consists of three to four eggs incubated for around 30 days before hatching. 

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN due to its widespread range across North America and Mexico; however, like other bird species, local populations may still be adversely affected by urbanization or deforestation which can impact their nesting sites or food sources. 

Global climate change also poses a major threat since ongoing temperature changes could disrupt seasonal migrations or alter prey availability across different regions.

To ensure that these delightful birds remain numerous within their typical habitats, protecting their natural environment from further human interference or destruction wherever possible is important.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
by airboy123 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cooper’s Hawk is second on our list of the different types of hawks in California and is a medium-sized bird of prey found throughout North America.

It belongs to the family Accipitridae and is one of the most common hawks in the US.

Cooper’s Hawks are mottled gray-brown with reddish bars on the underparts and barred wings with a white rump patch near their tail

Generally, these types of hawks in California have a banded tail with rounded tips and rounded wings.

Their legs are long and yellow-orange with large feet, which help them catch prey such as small mammals, birds, and even reptiles!

The male Cooper’s Hawk typically reaches a size of 15 inches from wingtip to wingtip, while female Cooper’s Hawks are slightly larger at 17 inches. 

The nesting habits of Cooper’s Hawk depend very much on where they live in North America.

They build nests high up in trees in areas across the continent but prefer pine or oak forests in warmer climates, such as those along the Atlantic Coast or Texas Gulf Coast.

They usually lay between three and five eggs which take approximately 30 days to hatch! 

Once hatched, the young stay in their parents’ care for around eight weeks before migrating to their wintering grounds after the breeding season.

In some rare cases, older juvenile Coopers may return to breed alongside their parents later!

Besides its impressive hunting prowess, Cooper’s Hawk stands out for its remarkable adaptability.

These birds can be found in open forests, densely wooded areas, urban areas, and even suburban gardens making them one of the most widespread raptors in North America today.

3. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk
by Jon David Nelson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is a species of hawk in the family Accipitridae, found across North and South America.

These birds have a wingspan of up to four feet, with males typically smaller than females.

Swainson’s Hawks are identified by their distinctive cinnamon-colored upperpart feathers and white throats. 

During their breeding season, they will establish territories throughout open areas such as grasslands and deserts, stretching from northern Mexico to southern Canada.

Swainson’s Hawks are hawks in California and feed mostly on rodents, insects, small mammals, and other invertebrates.

They rely heavily on thermals during migration, soaring high above in search of food sources as they travel south for winter migration and north for breeding seasons. 

Migration can take these birds as far as northern Argentina in South America.

They also use their broad wingspan to catch prey mid-air without landing on the ground during hunting forays.

The population of Swainson’s Hawk has been declining due mainly to habitat loss caused by human activities such as urban sprawl and agricultural intensification, resulting from the increased chemical application of fertilizers that reduce available food sources in nesting territories. 

Nonetheless, conservation efforts have enabled populations to recover in some areas due to programs like habitat protection, land stewardship practices, and public education initiatives.

These are aimed at creating awareness about these majestic birds, which are types of hawks in California, among local communities and neighboring regions where they reside or migrate through.

4. Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by Jon David Nelson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Rough-Legged Hawk is a large species of raptor found across North America and parts of Europe, Asia, and Greenland.

It has a wingspan of up to five feet and a body length that ranges from 21 to 24 inches.

It is easily identified by its distinctive markings, including its light brown head, darker breast feathers, and long yellow legs with dark banding. 

Of the types of hawks in California, the rough-legged hawks’ most common prey include voles, ptarmigans, jackrabbits, and small waterfowl.

Rough-Legged Hawks generally nest on cliffs or in shallow caves at high elevations with open hunting areas.

These birds migrate south for the winter, primarily along the eastern side of North America. 

During winter, they can be spotted perched atop utility poles scanning their surroundings for food while waiting for colder temperatures.

They also form communal roosts during the day to conserve energy until nighttime, when hunting is more successful.

The IUCN Red List lists the Rough-Legged Hawk as the least concerning due to its large population size and habitat preferences, which keep it fairly safe from predator threats or habitat loss. 

In addition, conservation efforts such as artificial nesting sites have been established in some areas to help increase their numbers further and provide safer nesting grounds.

Overall, the Rough-Legged Hawk is an impressive species on this list of the types of hawks in California that deserves recognition.

This is because of its strikingly beautiful appearance and ability to survive effectively during harsh conditions.

5. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Unlike other types of hawks in California, the Ferruginous Hawk is a large, unique raptor found only in North America.

Its size and coloration distinguish it, its wide wingspan between 46-59 inches and its richly colored body.

These hawks have striped wings and reddish-brown golden feathers on their chest and back. 

Furthermore, it appears solid brown from below when soaring high above the ground, but the stripes become apparent head-on.

Ferruginous Hawks can inhabit open grasslands, deserts, and shrublands throughout the western United States and parts of Mexico.

Unlike other hawks or falcons, the Ferruginous hawk hunts on the ground instead of in the air. 

This behavior sets it apart from other birds of prey because they prefer to capture small mammals like ground squirrels and voles by sight.

It prefers this rather than searching for these prey from the sky, as most other hawk species do.

The Ferruginous Hawk has excellent vision allowing it to quickly spot potential meals from great distances.

Its talons are ill-equipped for gripping onto prey, making it unable to snatch them directly out of the air as other raptors do. 

In addition to hunting on land, the Ferruginous Hawk has amazing nest-building capabilities reminiscent of an eagle’s nest construction abilities.

This is seen in their preference for constructing large stick nests built at mesquite trees, tall utility poles, or wind turbines. 

Since they typically make these nests far away from human population centers, observing this behavior is rarely experienced outside of an educational environment.

Yet, these particular types of hawks in California are talented builders when given opportunities to demonstrate their skills!

6. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by RS2Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) is not excluded from this list of several different types of hawks in California.

It is a species of raptor found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere.

These birds are distinguished by their long wings and distinct facial ruff, making them easily recognizable in flight. 

They have a large range and favor open countryside, wetlands, and farmlands with hedgerows, pastures, and grassland short of trees.

These types of hawks in California can be found in North America and Eurasia.

The diet of the northern Harrier consists mainly of small rodents such as voles, mice, and other small mammals that they hunt using their remarkable vision and hearing. 

They inhabit fields that they sweep low over the ground listening for prey underneath while also keeping an eye out for any deceptive movements.

The combination of these two senses makes them very efficient hunters! In addition, they will supplement their diet with frogs, lizards, insects, birds, and snakes, depending on their region. 

 Aesthetically, Northern Harriers are striking creatures with large yellow eyes adorned with long black eyelashes that make them look adorable and intimidating at once!

Their feathers are slate gray on their upper body and pale gray underneath, with white patches near their sides. 

Male harriers tend to be grayer than females, who resemble brown more closely because female harriers molt during late autumn, causing them to take on more buff-colored plumage with light barring in areas like their tails and wings.

This species is impressive on our list of the types of hawks in California due to its ability to hunt efficiently and stunning overall appearance!

7. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
by qmnonic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a medium-sized bird of prey found mainly in northern temperate and boreal forests.

It is one of the largest Accipitridae family members, including other raptors such as eagles, hawks, and kites.

The adult Northern Goshawk has long pointed wings and a long tail with two light bands across it that make it easily distinguishable from other raptors. 

Additionally, its head is white or slate gray, while its back and chest are typically brownish to dark gray.

Other identifying features of these types of hawks in California include a wide bill, yellow eyes, powerful legs, and feet with curved claws.

Northern Goshawks are known for their strong hunting prowess; they feed mainly on small mammals such as rabbits and rodents but will take birds up to the size of ducks or grouse if available. 

Furthermore, they often hunt by hovering over an area before diving down onto their prey and grasping it with their talons.

During migration season, they are occasionally seen further south in parts of northern Europe, Asia, and North America due to changes in climate forcing them to expand their range, seeking better habitat conditions or food sources.  

Northern Goshawks, as types of hawks in California, exist primarily in mature forests where plenty of concealment exists for nesting and feeding purposes.

However, due to deforestation practices, these favored habitats increasingly become limited areas for them to inhabit successfully, leading to a decrease in population size yearly. 

To alleviate this situation, conservationists suggest replanting large amounts of deciduous trees, specifically oak species.

The Northern Goshawk utilizes their acorns as an important food source during winter when other foods may not be plentiful.

Other than habitat loss, the largest threat currently facing this species is human expansion projects that encompass large areas, placing them constantly at risk due to indiscriminate killing or disruption resulting from construction activities

8. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by wanderinggrrl is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a bird of prey and a member of the Accipitridae family, which includes eagles, hawks, and Old World vultures.

It is most commonly found in deciduous woodlands, mountains, and other dense forests throughout the United States, Central America, and South America.

This small raptor measures up to 14 inches long with a wingspan between 18 – 22 inches, depending on age. 

Meanwhile, males are usually slightly smaller than females, with gray-blue feathers throughout their head and back, while their underbelly typically ranges from creamy yellow to rusty red.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk feeds mostly on small birds such as finches, sparrows, and doves but can also be seen preying on field mice or voles when the opportunity arises.

It hunts by stealthily flying through branches or vegetation while keeping its eye on potential targets below. 

Once it has spotted an animal, it swoops at great speed – often diving 30 feet or more – deploying its long talons several feet from its body to catch unsuspecting prey midair with incredible accuracy.

This species of hawk in California has long held a special place in human history, being one of the oldest types of birds still alive today.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk was first described over 400 years ago by German naturalist Conrad Gesner in his book “Historia Animalium,” written during the mid-16th century. 

Centuries later, these birds are offered protection under various national laws across many countries due to their dwindling numbers caused by habitat destruction and degradation over time.

As conservation efforts for this species continue to strengthen worldwide, researchers have recently documented a resurgence in population numbers, encouraging news for scientists and wildlife enthusiasts alike!

9. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
by Moschell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Broad-Winged Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey with one of the most recognizable silhouettes in North America.

This species of hawk is easily identified by its broad wings, which span up to four feet!

When the wingspan is fully extended, this bird appears almost triangular when viewed from below.

The Broad-Winged Hawk, one of California‘s various types of hawks, has a dark brown back and tail that fade into reddish brown on their breast. 

Furthermore, males of these particular types of hawks in California are lighter than females.

They have yellow eyes, white cheeks, and a chin above their distinctive black bill. Broad-Winged Hawks normally inhabit woodland areas, swamps, and meadows near rivers or coastlines across North America. 

While they migrate seasonally further south during the cooler months, they can usually be found perched atop tall trees or hovering low over open fields in pursuit of prey such as mice and voles.

While they will also hunt other small mammals, birds, and reptiles, their primary diet consists mostly of insects like dragonflies or grasshoppers.

Regarding courtship rituals, male Broad-winged Hawks engage in spectacular aerial displays.

At the same time, females remain perched on high branches watching patiently before selecting a mate based on who is the best flier. 

After mating, female Broad-winged Hawks create nests, including several sticks held together with mud, before laying 2–4 eggs.

These eggs, when hatched, become little fluffy goslings for around 30 days before fledging (leaving) the nest for good!

10. Red-Tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a large broad-winged North American bird of prey from the family Accipitridae.

It is one of the most widespread raptors in North America, found throughout the continent, hibernating as far south as Panama.

The red-tailed hawk is also distinguished by its reddish coloration and long, distinctive tail feathers.

The red-tailed hawk has various habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, and urban environments.

These habitats provide the food source for survival, such as small mammals such as squirrels and rabbits.

The diet of these types of hawks in California also consists of various reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, insects, and carrion. 

The strong wingspan of this bird helps it soar up high while hunting or looking for possible prey sources from far away.

In addition to its size, strength, and ability to identify potential prey from far distances, the red-tailed hawk is known for its acrobatics.

These include steep dives to capture unsuspecting prey in midair or rapidly beating its wings against thermals to stay aloft during long flights over open territory in search of food sources. 

Breeding pairs will mate for life, although nests are often reused year after year.

Adults and their fledglings add new layers each season, sometimes lasting generations within families!

This majestic bird, on our list of types of hawks in California, has been captivating observers since ancient times.

This is largely due to its unique coloration, mating rituals, mastery of flight, and propensity for acrobatics!

11. Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk
by barloventomagico is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus) is a medium-sized raptor native to the western United States, Mexico, and Central America.

It has an incredibly distinctive appearance, with a long tail featuring narrow bands of alternating light and dark coloration.

This hawk typically nests in trees or rocky outcroppings and hunts by flying low over open grasslands or deserts, often in flocks with other species of hawks. 

These types of hawks in California primarily feed on small animals such as lizards and rodents, but they also sometimes take larger prey such as cranes and crows.

The Zone-Tailed Hawk plays an important role in its habitat by helping to keep populations of smaller animals in check, decreasing competition for resources among different species.

In addition to preying on their small animal food sources, this species has also been observed feeding on carrion from time to time, making them invaluable in helping to clean up decomposing remains from the land. 

This species is also valued as a symbol of freedom due to its graceful flight ability, allowing it to soar great heights above ground level and quickly cover large stretches of territory.

Despite its important ecological role, the Zone-Tailed Hawk population faces distinct threats.

These include the destruction of their natural habitats through human activities, such as urbanization or agricultural development; poaching; lead poisoning from consuming carcasses shot with lead ammunition; and collisions with power lines or other structures while they hunt or migrate. 

To help protect these beautiful creatures, we must safeguard their remaining habitats while educating people about how they fit into our ecosystems.

This is so that humans learn to live alongside these majestic birds on this list of types of hawks in California with appreciation rather than exploitation.

12. Harris’s Hawk

Harris’s Hawk
by Jon David Nelson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Harris’s Hawk, also called Harris Hawk, is among the numerous types of hawks in California and a raptor native to North and South America.

It has reddish-brown feathers on its upper body with white underneath, a bright yellow cere, and yellow legs.

The birds typically inhabit woodlands and shrubs but can also be found in desert regions. 

Unlike other birds of prey, this species is known for its cooperative hunting technique: they can hunt in groups and have demonstrated remarkable planning abilities while searching for prey.

They also have flexible social behavior and family structures that enable them to thrive in different habitats throughout the Americas.

This species of hawk ranges from 20 to 24 inches long with a wingspan of around 50 to 59 inches; the females are larger than males. 

Juveniles are distinctively brown all over their bodies with patches of white on their wings until about 18 months old, when they start developing their adult coloration.

Its diet consists mostly of small mammals such as mice, voles, rabbits, lizards, snakes, amphibians, and insects.

However, it will occasionally take fledglings among other young birds as prey. 

In captivity, Harris’s Hawks have demonstrated intelligence and problem-solving skills while engaging in cooperative activities in group settings during training sessions with experienced handlers.

The birds, one of the types of hawks in California, need regular exercise and outdoor activities to stay healthy and happy. 

Fencing helps protect them against predators such as cats or dogs that could injure the bird if not kept separate from them.

This species is popularly used in modern falconry practices today due to its strong hunting abilities and adaptability during team hunts over difficult terrain.

13. Gray Hawks

Gray Hawks
by Hiyashi Haka is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Gray Hawks are also included in this list of the types of hawks in California and are mid-sized hawks native to North and Central America.

They are blue-gray with streaks of gray and white, tan and black, typically on their backs and necks.

Their tails are barred with light gray stripes. Gray Hawks have white eyes, sharp yellow bills, and long legs. 

These birds prefer open woodland areas such as deciduous forests and river edges as they hunt for large insects like grasshoppers and small animals like lizards and snakes.

Their broad wings help them soar over open terrain in search of prey. They also enjoy perching in high places like treetops so they can spot small mammals or birds from a distance. 

Unlike other raptors that migrate south for the winter months, Gray Hawks tend to stay in mild climates during cold seasons and seek food sources closer to their home territories than their migratory counterparts.

In addition to large insects, they will add small critters like mice into their diet when natural food sources become limited due to extreme temperatures or drought conditions during summer. 

These types of hawks in California also cooperate with other species, such as vultures, by relying on them to clean up prey leftovers for an easier meal.

Overall, Gray Hawks are an important part of the food chain in diverse ecosystems because they help regulate the populations of insect pests.

And they do this while providing resources for many other bird species that rely on their remainders after predation takes place.

14. Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
by barloventomagico is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Common Black Hawk is a large bird of prey native to the American continents, India and Southeast Asia.

This majestic raptor has an impressive wingspan that can reach up to six feet and is one of the largest birds of its genus.

White streaks on the back, underside, and wings highlight its black plumage. 

The Black Hawk, the last on this list of the types of hawks in California, feeds primarily on small mammals and fish, but it will sometimes take larger prey such as deer or sheep.

The Common Black Hawk generally lives in open grasslands and woodland areas but is also found near water sources like lakes and rivers.

They tend to make their nests in tall trees like elms or oaks and are known for their acrobatic flight displays with dives that reach incredible speeds as they hunt for food. 

These birds mate for life and usually return to the same nesting area yearly, where they are incredibly territorial in defense of their young while waiting to fledge.

The Common Blackhawk population has drastically declined throughout much of Texas due to some factors.

These include habitat destruction from human activity and urban development, changes in climate, firearms hunting, predation from domestic cats, the introduction of non-native species, and, more recently, West Nile Virus, which has been especially devastating for younger birds since they are more susceptible than mature ones.

In response, conservationists have used legislative policies like bans on hunting them during the breeding season and public education campaigns about the importance of preserving these species.

This winds up our list of the amazing types of hawks in California!


California is home to a wide variety of hawks that occupy different habitats, prey upon different food sources, and reflect the diversity of wildlife in the Golden State.

From the small sharp-shinned hawk to the large red-tailed hawk, these majestic birds of prey provide vital ecosystem services such as hunting rodents and pests and controlling animal populations in urban and rural areas. 

Awareness of these birds’ presence can help people appreciate their importance in maintaining a balanced and healthy environment.

We hope our comprehensive list of types of hawks in California is helpful. Till later!

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