8 Types of Hawks in Kentucky

Types of Hawks in Kentucky
Photo by Andreas Slotosch on Unsplash

Kentucky is home to many different types of hawks.

Some of Kentucky’s most popular types of hawks are Red-Tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp-Shinned, Broad Winged, Red-Shouldered, and American Kestrels.

These hawks vary in size and color patterning, but all can be found in habitats throughout Kentucky, including scrublands, wetlands, forests, and grasslands. 

Each type of hawk uses different types of prey to survive in these varying environments.

Each hawk type also has special markings or eye colors that distinguish it from other species.

By knowing a little about the available habitats and food sources in Kentucky, you can help understand which types of hawks in Kentucky thrive in the state.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Kentucky is home to an array of hawks, and the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the first on our list of types of hawks in Kentucky.

They are majestic birds known for their enormous wingspan and intelligence.

These hawks can be found throughout the entire state, from cities to rural areas, often soaring high in the sky in search of prey. 

The Red-tailed Hawk is a medium-sized hawk common across North America, with a wingspan of up to five feet and plumage representing many shades of brown.

Its distinctive reddish brown tail feathers give it its name, which becomes vibrant when they catch the light at certain angles.

This species is adaptable enough to survive in urbanized regions and wilder places like forests and grasslands. 

Red-tailed Hawks are incredibly powerful hunters, able to spot small mammals or reptiles on the ground, even from hundreds of feet up in the sky.

Once they spot their prey, they can quickly dive down at great speeds and catch it with lightning-fast reactions before taking off again. 

Like other birds of prey, these types of hawks in Kentucky also have excellent eyesight that helps them scan terrain from miles away for potential food sources.

They will also often scavenge carrion or raid bird’s nests for eggs when food sources are scarce.

Overall, Kentucky’s Red-tailed Hawks represent impressive creatures born from millions of years of evolution perfectly adapted for survival in their environment, a true testament to nature’s beauty alive in the Bluegrass State!

2. 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 also on our list of interesting types of hawks in Kentucky.

With their small size and agile flight, these hawks may be mistaken for a smaller bird of prey such as a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon.

This article will discuss the physical characteristics, habitat, and diet of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) has slate gray plumage above with rusty barring on their breast and underparts.

They have long legs, heads, and necks but can still fit into tight places due to their small size. 

The wingspan of these medium-sized types of hawks in Kentucky is about fifteen inches across, with females slightly larger than males.

Although most active at dusk or just before sunrise because of their crepuscular lifestyle, these hawks can also be seen hunting during the day in open forest settings with some direct sunlight peeking through. 

Sharp-shinned Hawks will commonly inhabit dense forests with abundant prey such as songbirds, mice, voles, and occasionally insects if they can catch them during migration periods.

These hawks often hunt in short bursts and rely on surprise attacks to catch their prey off guard by quickly flying at high speeds while maneuvering gracefully around trees and other obstacles.

The sharp blades of this species allow them to grab hold of their meal when they catch it with strength while slashing through any skin that gets in their way during the pursuit or capture process. 

Sharp-shinned Hawks primarily eat small mammals and birds working alone or hunting in pairs during mating season to get larger meals like grouse or ducklings, requiring more labor-intensive efforts for successful capture.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk
by esellingson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cooper’s Hawks, also known as the Chickenhawk, is a type of hawk that can be seen in Kentucky.

Approximately 16 inches long with a wingspan of about three feet, these predators primarily hunt small birds but consume rodents and even reptiles.

They take advantage of the resources in Kentucky’s woods and fields and provide a valuable role in the ecosystem. 

Cooper’s Hawks are fairly large hawks, primarily found across the United States, including Kentucky.

The telltale sign of a Cooper’s Hawk is its slate-gray back, bold white barring on its chest, and reddish-barred tail feathers.

Adult male types of hawks in Kentucky are usually smaller than females but have more distinct striping than females.

They breed locally during springtime and stick together during migration as they move South for winter. 

Cooper’s Hawks primarily hunt small birds like doves or robins that they can easily overpower using their sharp talons to snatch them up from trees or the ground below.

They often come out during mid-day looking for prey against bright skies, making them easier to spot from afar by those watching these majestic types of hawks in Kentucky gliding through the air overhead.

Like other raptors, Cooper’s Hawks use their unique sense of sight to locate their prey from great distances before swooping to catch it with precision and accuracy.

Being agile flyers helps them take advantage of narrow openings and quickly seize their quarry before vanishing into the sky above. 

Cooper’s Hawks are common throughout most parts of Kentucky and make excellent birders when outdoors.

Still, they can also become pests near riverbanks where anglers often fish unbothered until hawks suddenly appear and disrupt fishing lines hoping for an easy meal on unsuspecting prey within eyeshot nearby.

Their presence helps keep Kentucky’s ecosystems healthy by providing balance in nature while ensuring adequate populations by acting as both predator and scavenger when necessary, politely observed at a distance!

4. Northern Harrier

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

The Northern Harrier, or the Marsh Hawk, is a species of raptor found throughout North America.

This hawk is a delicate-looking bird that excels in flight, swooping close to the ground looking for small prey.

In Kentucky, the Northern Harrier can often be seen flying gracefully over meadows and marshes with its large wingspan and unique hunting style.

The Northern Harrier is a small hawk with a length of 18-20 inches and a weight of 21-30 ounces.

It has long legs, wings, and a tail suitable for powerful flight. The body is slender, with round wings and long talons, which help it catch prey among tall grasses or dense marsh vegetation.

The most distinct feature of this bird is its elongated white rump patch that stands out when it’s in flight.

The patch can be seen from far away due to its reflective quality.

Generally speaking, the Northern harrier has light gray upper parts while the underside is white with some faint brown bars on the underwings. 

This species has been spotted in central and eastern Kentucky almost year-round.

During winter, they’re considered resident breeders; during summer, they primarily act as breeding visitors from more northern locations such as Canada or Siberia.

When it comes to hunting strategy, these types of hawks in Kentucky prefer to fly low over open fields, searching for voles, mice, or other small mammals by relying on their superior eyesight; their vision has 6 times greater resolution than humans allowing them accurately spot prey from distances up to 2 miles away! 

There are a few ideal spots for those interested in observing this species closely, such as Bernheim Arboretum & Lake Nevin Wildlife Management Area, where chances to see them in action increase considerably.

Overall Northern Harriers are no different than other hawks since they also base all activities around finding food; however, thanks to their agility, they can get territorial very quickly while also displaying a full representation of what they’re capable of doing when safely cornered in an area where competitors will stay away from an amazing avian experience indeed!

5. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a species of hawk found in the northern parts of Canada, Alaska, and the United States.

It is a powerful bird of prey with dark black-gray markings on its wings and a white head and breast.

This strong predator often nests among evergreen forest trees, where it can swoop down on unsuspecting birds or small mammals as its prey. 

The Northern Goshawk’s presence in Kentucky is increasing, with sightings becoming more common in recent years.

The Northern Goshawk, also known as the “Goshawk in North America, ” is one of Kentucky’s largest types of hawks.

It has a relatively large body with broad wings that can reach lengths anywhere from 21 to 25 inches (53–64 cm). 

As for its coloration, it mostly has dark grayish-brown feathers around its chest, belly, back, and face.

Its crown is usually lighter than other areas but retains some brown patches, while its bright yellow eyes make it stand out from other hawks.  

The Northern Goshawk hunts by flying low over forests or fields, looking for squirrels or small birds that make up most of their diet.

The Hawk will typically take off from a perch and then quickly swoop down when it spots an animal below and catch it before taking off again.

It can occasionally be seen hovering like Kestrels above open areas looking for prey before abruptly folding and diving towards them to catch them off guard.

They also have been known to dive into the water after ducks if they happen to get too close!

6. Red-shouldered Hawk

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

The Red-shouldered Hawk is one of the most common types of hawks in Kentucky, often spotted soaring in the skies over wooded regions.

This species is also known for its distinctive red and black markings along the wings and back. 

The Red-shouldered hawks can reach 17 to 24 inches (43 to 61 centimeters), with their wingspan reaching up to 44 inches (112 centimeters).

Adult types of hawks in Kentucky usually have brownish-red shoulders and bands across their chest, while young birds typically have more brown or yellow upper parts with indistinct markings.

These raptors are usually found near rivers, streams, and wetlands. However, they can be seen hovering or perched in nearby trees hunting during the day. 

This hawk prefers open woodlands primarily consisting of deciduous trees such as oaks, maples, and hickories.

They hunt small mammals such as rodents for food but occasionally eat reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

During courtship, the male will bring prey to his intended mate before performing elaborate aerial displays to win her favor.

The female typically builds the nest from sticks lined with moss, which she places high in a tree cavity or crevice, normally 14 meters higher than surrounding ground-level vegetation.

Once hatched, both parents take turns incubating their young until fledging two or three weeks later. 

Overall this beautiful bird rarely causes problems and is generally welcomed by most people living near woodlands where they are found, providing meaningful environmental benefits through natural pest control services for free!

7. Broad-winged Hawk

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

The Broad-winged Hawk is a small but powerful hawk native to Kentucky.

They are best known for their beautiful patterned wings, which span up to 25 inches long.

With this broad wingspan, they can soar through the skies with unmatched speed and agility.

It’s no wonder they are listed as one of Kentucky’s most common types of hawks. 

Broad-winged Hawks have grayish-brown heads and chests, with white bellies and stripes across their back.

Black markings build to a full band within their wings, along with bands of white near their tails and tips.

Their legs are usually yellow, complemented by eye stripes of white around each eye. 

These types of hawks in Kentucky reside in open forests, making it easy for them to hunt while also benefiting from heightened visibility levels among the trees so they can spot potential threats quickly and effectively.

They tend to gather in higher concentrations during migration season when they flock together in larger numbers heading south for warmer climates. 

During the breeding season, Broad-winged Hawks will become increasingly territorial visually (through aerial displays involving loud shrieks) or even actively rob nesting material from other birds of prey housing nearby.

A nest created by these impressive predators must display superb craftsmanship since it supports egg-laying activities and provides habitat throughout various stages of development inside the nest, including hatchling care activities once younglings break out from eggs!  

Overall, these amazing avian types of hawks in Kentucky exhibit elite intelligence levels combined with stunning feather patterns limited only by darker hues across their rooftops, serving as camouflage protection when moving through forest foliage set against the treetops high above ground level.

This enables them to be one step ahead on the evolutionary ladder, allowing them to utilize their wingspan advantage resourcefully so they can fly safely away whenever necessary!

8. Osprey

by Andy Morffew is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ospreys are last on our list of types of hawks in Kentucky and aquatic raptors that inhabit nearly every part of the world.

In Kentucky, they’re found alongside rivers, reservoirs, and lakes in the eastern regions of the state.

While their yellow eyes spot prey from centers high above, they also have a fierce hunting prowess that is unrivaled by most other hawk species. 

Ospreys have dark brown feathers on top and white feathers underbelly; their wingspan can reach up to five feet in width, making them easy to identify in the sky.

These hawks mainly feed on fish, though they have also been known to hunt down small mammals.

They dive head-first into the water like an arrow and then clasp onto their prey with sharp talons; before taking it back into the air with powerful flaps from their wings. 

Ospreys are solitary birds, having a single mate for nesting and raising young ones; notable traits between pairs include synchronized dance aerial acrobatics, including swinging two sticks around each other during the courtship process.

Males protect females during incubation and fly out to sea when food is in demand.

Females tend to be more heavily fed while sitting on eggs until hatching, typically between late April – early May. 

During this time, ospreys usually find refuge by nesting atop utility poles or trees near bodies of water; protection against predators is provided by defensive displays such as shaking wings when disturbed by intruders.


In conclusion, there are different types of hawks in Kentucky.

These include the Red-Tailed Hawk, Broad-Winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Swainson’s Hawk. 

All of these types of hawks in Kentucky predominantly feed on small mammals and insects.

Understanding their habitat and behaviors is necessary for anyone wishing to observe them in their natural environments.

Hawks are powerful raptors used as symbols of honor and power throughout history.

The Rough-legged Hawk is mainly active during daylight hours when hunting small prey like mice and voles in open tundra areas or fields near Kentucky.

It can also be found creating “kettles” or large circles high up in the air to locate potential food sources from the wind using its eyesight due to its sharp vision capabilities, allowing it to spot small animals from great distances quickly.

Aside from small rodents and grasshoppers, this raptor eats mostly freshwater fish like trout and catfish gathered from riverbanks near Kentucky’s waterways.

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