10 Types of Hawks in Minnesota

types of hawks in minnesota
Photo by Frank Cone

Are you a nature enthusiast looking to spot some hawks in Minnesota? Hawks are a fascinating species of raptor, many of which can be found throughout the state.

But did you know that there are several different types of hawks in Minnesota? 

 About 21 hawk species have been recorded in Minnesota, ranging from the bald eagle to the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Each species is unique, ranging from different sizes and shapes to distinctive behaviors and habitats. 

For anyone interested in learning more about these majestic birds, here is an informative guide about the various types of hawks in Minnesota and where they can be seen.

This article will provide interesting facts about these incredible predatory birds, from their natural habitats to migratory habits.

1. Rough-Legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a large, medium-sized hawk native to Northern regions of the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. It is a member of the Buteo genus, and its scientific name means “hairy foot.” The Rough-legged Hawk is one of the largest types of hawks in Minnesota around and can have wingspans as long as 60 inches, with males ranging in length from 15 to 20 inches. 

A distinction among other hawks is that the Rough-legged Hawk has feathers down to its feet, earning it its unique scientific name. Rough-legged Hawks possess a relatively unique adaptation—it has a feather acclimatiser which helps them survive extremely cold temperatures. Their dark coloring helps them absorb solar radiation and keeps their body temperature stable during winter.

They hunt mainly small mammals on open tundra and fields near water bodies but eat small birds during the migration or when smaller prey is scarce. Often they migrate south in search of food when winter is on its way, though they may stay around if they find an artificial source such as floating fish farms or refuse dumps. 

During courtship rituals, male and female Rough-sighted Hawks can perform dramatic aerial shows by soaring high before diving partway into a steep plunge. This is followed by a series of circles, again climbing higher in the air before finally coming back for a landing near their prospective mate.

2. Broad-Winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized hawk found throughout much of the United States and Central America. It has slate gray wings with black tips and white patches near the wing’s base. The upper body is brown, while the underbelly is light cream-colored. These types of hawks in Minnesota have long, thin tail feathers that help them maneuver when in flight. 

During the breeding season, you may see male broad-winged hawks performing acrobatic displays for potential mates high up in the sky above open fields or forests. They are also often seen perched atop trees or utility poles as they watch for their prey below. Broad-winged Hawks typically hunt around forest edges, grasslands, inland wetlands, or other areas with lots of prey – like small rodents or frogs. 

To catch its prey, this hawk will swoop down from a high perch and snatch it with its sharp talons mid-flight – making it an efficient hunter. During the migration season during fall months, they can be seen flying together in large groups called “kettles” that can span hundreds of birds wide – a spectacular sight to witness! After mating season, broad-winged hawks usually migrate to Central America for the winter months, taking advantage of more available food sources and milder climates until returning to North America in late springtime.

3. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is third on this list of the types of hawks in Minnesota, a species of raptor found in most parts of the Americas. While its migration pattern spans an incredible range, this hawk prefers to inhabit open terrains such as grasslands, steppes and agricultural fields. Swainson’s Hawk has a full body equipped with long wings and legs that give it the power and speed needed to hunt small animals like rodents and other ground birds. 

Moving on, its plumage varies based on its location within the Americas. However, they are usually colored shades of brown and gray with lighter underside feathers that often feature bands or stripes.

The Swainson’s Hawk is monogamous, and pairs form in early spring for breeding throughout the summer months before dispersing in late autumn or early winter. The hawks build nests in low trees or atop tall poles, laying anywhere from one to five eggs at once, which hatch after an incubation period of up to 35 days. 

The young hawks become independent at about three months old but require parental care for up to six months after leaving the nest. During their inward migrations, thousands of flocks can be seen along river valleys where abundant food is available on their journey back home.

The Swainson’s Hawks, one of the different types of hawks in Minnesota, became a species of concern due to decreasing habitat quality resulting from human activity. Thus, efforts have been made over recent years to protect existing nesting sites through education and conservation programs to preserve their existence as essential members of North American ecosystems.

4. Osprey

Different types of hawks in Minnesota? The Osprey is one and is a large fish-eating bird of prey, often mistaken for its close cousin, the bald eagle. These majestic birds can be found throughout the United States and Canada, primarily near large bodies of water where they hunt. 

Ospreys have several unique adaptations that make them perfectly suited to their environment. They have keen vision that allows them to spot fish at great distances and long wings with reversible joints to enable powerful dives into the water from mid-air. And also, specialized feet with reversible talons allow them to hold onto slippery fish under the water’s surface. 

Among the various types of hawks in Minnesota, Ospreys are incredibly skillful hunters. Despite having weak talons due to their lack of claw strength compared to other raptors, they can precisely adjust their approach angle to maximize accuracy when diving into the water after prey. Additionally, they have an impressive array of feathers to provide lift while flying in pursuit of fish over long distances, owing credit to their aerodynamic build. 

In addition to being skilled hunters and navigators, Ospreys are also remarkable because they have an almost unparalleled ability in most bird species: They can recognize human faces. This acute awareness makes them uniquely intelligent animals and impressive members of the avian community.

5. Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a beautiful bird of prey native to North America. With its reddish shoulders and barred plumage, this hawk is a captivating sight to behold while soaring above or perched in its favorite hunting spots. It prefers open woodlands near the coast and further inland, making it a regular visitor in much of the southern United States. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk’s diet consists mainly of small rodents and birds but can also include lizards, frogs, and even snakes if needed. The Red-shouldered Hawk builds large stick nests high up in trees with an excellent view of the area below. They are types of hawks in Minnesota that usually breed from March to June, depending on geographical location, laying between two and five eggs at a time. 

The young hawks take about six weeks to fledge, which is when they become capable of flight. While nesting pairs often remain together from season to season, single adult hawks tend to migrate further north during the winter months. This provides them with ample food sources and opportunity for rest before returning south come springtime.

6. Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a beautiful bird of prey found in North America, Europe and Asia. It is a medium to large-sized species of hawk, with females typically larger and more robust than males. The Northern Goshawk, on this list of several types of hawks in Minnesota, has a grey back, blackish tail and curved beak. 

Meanwhile, its most distinct feature is the broad white stripes running from its cheeks along either side of its head, below each eye. The wings are long and pointed, with dark barring on the underside.

Regarding habitat, the Northern Goshawk prefers coniferous forests or riparian woodlands where prey such as rabbits or small birds can be easily hunted. They are highly skilled predators that use surprise attacks from above to surprise their prey, often waiting until the prey can no longer move before catching it in mid-flight.

Despite being an agile hunter, the Northern Goshawk avoids chasing after large insects like bees since they can inflict damage on their eyes. While mostly monogamous, these birds do not establish permanent pair bonds with one another. Instead, they switch mates every nesting season to keep the population diverse and healthy.

7. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium-sized bird of prey that belongs to the Accipitridae family, which includes hawks, eagles, kites, and harriers. It is found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and northern Canada in the west to eastern Mexico and Florida in the south. Cooper’s Hawks have greyish brown upperparts with a faint streaked pattern on their breasts, red eyes, and blunt black beaks. 

The male Cooper’s Hawk has a wingspan of 36–41 inches, while females are typically larger at 44–52 inches. The primary food source for Cooper’s Hawks is small mammals such as chipmunks and squirrels, but they will also occasionally feed on other birds such as finches or doves. They are types of hawks in Minnesota that hunt with swift flight and sudden dives upon their unsuspecting prey. 

During migration season, they can often be seen flying along coasts, scouting for food. Cooper’s Hawks usually nest in tree cavities near open fields or forests with plenty of small game to sustain them. They lay two to six eggs that hatch within four weeks before fledging within another two weeks after hatching.

8. Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey found throughout Canada and the United States. This hawk species ranges in size from 17 to 25 inches, with a wingspan of 3.5 to 4 feet wide and weighing up to four pounds. The most distinct feature of this hawk is its deep red tail feathers from which it gets its name. 

In flight, the Red-tailed Hawk can be identified by its slow wing beats and soaring circles as they search for food. Red-tailed Hawks are primarily carnivorous but feed on small mammals, reptiles, and insects. They hunt using various techniques, such as perching and waiting for prey or pouncing on them once sighted. 

These types of hawks in Minnesota nest in tall trees or cliffsides, often high above their prey’s territory, making them relatively safe from predators while they hunt. During nesting season, it is easier to distinguish male and female red-tails, with males appearing darker in color due to their thicker plumage. 

The Red-tailed Hawk plays an important role in the ecosystem, controlling rodent populations that can damage crops and spread disease if left unchecked. Many also value these hawks’ association with spiritual symbolism, often seen as messengers between the physical world and divine awareness.

9. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small, agile bird of prey found throughout much of North and Central America. It is most easily identified by its long tail and rounded wings, which contrast sharply with its sleek body and muscular legs. The Sharp-shinned Hawk grows to an average length of 10-14 inches, making it one of the smallest birds of prey, yet it still has the power to capture and carry animals much bigger than itself. 

This species can generally be found in various wooded habitats and is often seen perched atop tree branches or flying quickly through thickly forested areas in search of food. The diet of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, which happens to be one of the types of hawks in Minnesota, mainly consists of small birds, mammals, insects, frogs and reptiles. During nesting season in late winter or early spring, they may also scavenge for carrion when their regular prey is not easy to find. 

Their sharp eyesight gives them an advantage in spotting potential food sources from quite a distance away. This is especially useful since they are relatively small compared to other raptors and thus rely on their agility to capture prey. When the opportunity presents itself, the Sharp-shinned Hawk will readily engage even larger birds, such as pigeons or starlings, in fierce aerial chases where their speed and quick reflexes are tested – more often than not, resulting in victory for this powerful little predator!

10. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is also on this list of the types of hawks in Minnesota and is a type of predatory species native to North America. It is also known as the Marsh Hawk because it often lives near wetland areas and hunts in meadows, marshes, and fields close to creeks, rivers, and bodies of water. They are medium-sized raptors with long wings; males have gray upper parts and a white underside with black streaks, while females have brown upper parts with white underparts. 

The Northern Harrier has highly developed eyesight allowing them to spot small prey from far away and an acute sense of hearing which can detect prey concealed in brush or undergrowth. During the breeding season, the male will perform spectacular aerial displays over his territory as he circles above creeks and wetlands to attract a mate. The female constructs a shallow nest of sticks lining it with grasses before laying 3-6 eggs, which take about 30 days to hatch. 

Once the eggs hatch, both parents hunt for food for their young, which will remain in their care until they fledge at around 40 days old. As well as hunting small rodents like voles, mice and shrews, these birds have also been seen catching insects midair or taking frogs, snakes, and even crayfish from water sources. 

Northern Harriers are wonderful birds to observe, but sadly they are declining due to habitat loss, such as draining wetlands resulting from industrial farming practices. Luckily, they can thrive again if we try to conserve suitable habitats. We’ll draw the curtains on this list of the various types of hawks in Minnesota!


In conclusion, there are many different types of hawks in Minnesota. The five most common species include the Red-Shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawk, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, and Rough-Legged Hawk. Each bird has unique features that make it distinguishable from the others. 

These hawks play an important role in the state’s ecosystem and can be seen in various habitats throughout Minnesota. Other less common species can also be seen here during certain times of the year. It is important to familiarize oneself with these birds to enjoy and appreciate their presence while they soar through our skies.

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