17 Different Types of Hawks in North America

Types of Hawks in North America
Photo by Ravi Sangar on Unsplash

North America is home to a diverse array of hawks. There are different types of Hawks in North America found; from the northern harrier soaring over marshlands to the majestic red-tailed hawk riding thermal updrafts, these birds of prey captivate us with their hunting prowess and distinctive features. 

If, by any chance, you’re in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, you’re likely to encounter these fascinating hawks.

Each of them comes with its unique characteristics and adaptations. This article will relay the types of hawks in North America.

1. Northern Harrier Hawk

Northern Harrier Hawk
by donjd2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Northern Harrier, scientifically known as Circus hudsonius, is one of the most fascinating types of hawks in North America.

With its distinctive characteristics and hunting behavior, the Northern Harrier stands out among its hawk relatives.

This bird of prey has a length ranging from 18.1 to 19.7 inches, a weight between 10.6 and 26.5 ounces, and a wingspan of 40.2 to 46.5 inches. 

Its breeding populations extend through Canada, Alaska, and the northernmost parts of North America. 

The Northern Harrier is renowned for its low, swooping flight over open fields and marshes, gracefully gliding just above the vegetation in search of small mammals and birds. 

Its owl-like facial disk and keen hearing abilities aid in detecting prey, while its long, slender wings enable it to maneuver swiftly during hunting. 

Males are pale gray with white undersides, while females exhibit a distinctive brown coloration.

This unique hawk species, with its specialized hunting techniques and striking appearance, adds to the diversity and beauty of North America’s avian population.

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks
by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, scientifically known as Accipiter striatus, is a fascinating and agile bird of prey that is part of the types of hawks in North America.

This hawk species is relatively small, ranging from 9.4 to 13.4 inches, weighing 3.1 to 7.7 ounces, and has a wingspan of 16.9 to 22.1 inches. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an adept hunter, specializing in capturing small birds and mammals.

It has short, rounded wings and a long, narrow tail, which enables it to navigate through dense vegetation and pursue its agile prey.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is primarily a migratory bird, breeding in parts of the northern United States and Canada and spending its winters in the lower 48 states, Mexico, and Central America. 

However, there are scattered populations of year-round Sharp-shinned Hawks in the U.S. and Mexico.

With its swift flight and remarkable hunting skills, the Sharp-shinned Hawk exemplifies the adaptability and resourcefulness of North America’s hawk species.

3. Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper's Hawks
by Tobyotter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Cooper’s Hawk, scientifically known as Accipiter cooperii, is a magnificent raptor.

It is named after the American naturalist William Cooper; this hawk species is known for its agility, speed, and adaptability.

It is a medium-sized hawk, with males ranging from 14.6 to 15.3 inches long and females ranging from 16.5 to 17.7 inches. 

This is one of the types of hawks in North America in which the weight of males can vary from 7.8 to 14.5 ounces, while females can weigh between 11.6 and 24.0 ounces.

The Cooper’s Hawk has a wingspan that ranges from 24.4 to 35.4 inches in males and 29.5 to 35.4 inches in females.

Its exceptional maneuverability allows it to navigate through dense forests and vegetation easily.

Its long tail and rounded wings contribute to its swift and agile flight, which is crucial for capturing prey. 

These hawks are primarily known for their hunting prowess, preying on birds and small mammals such as squirrels and rabbits

Cooper’s Hawks are skilled ambush predators, often surprising their prey with sudden bursts of speed.

Cooper’s Hawks are distributed throughout North America, with a significant presence in wooded habitats.

While some individuals are non-migratory and remain in their breeding territories year-round, others undertake seasonal migrations. 

They are known to breed in southern Canada and spend their winters in Mexico.

However, many Cooper’s Hawks are found in suburban and urban areas, where they take advantage of prey abundance, such as birds attracted to backyard feeders.

4. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawks
by AcrylicArtist is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Red-tailed hawk, scientifically known as Buteo jamaicensis, is a prominent and widely recognized species among the diverse types of hawks in North America.

Named after its distinctive brick-red tail feathers, this majestic raptor is known for its impressive size, powerful flight, and iconic scream.

With a length ranging from 17.7 to 22.1 inches in males and 19.7 to 25.6 inches in females, the Red-tailed Hawk is one of North America’s largest and most common hawks.

Red-tailed Hawks are highly adaptable and can be found in many habitats, from open grasslands and deserts to forests and urban areas.

Their versatility and ability to thrive in various environments make them a familiar sight to many birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

During the breeding season, these hawks are often seen in Canada, the United States, and parts of Mexico.

They are known for building large nests, typically high in trees or on cliffs, where they raise their young.

Features of the Red-tailed Hawk include its broad, rounded wings and a wingspan that ranges from 44.9 to 52.4 inches in both males and females.

These wings enable them to soar and glide effortlessly, utilizing thermals and updrafts to conserve energy during hunting expeditions.

Their flight patterns often involve circling high above their hunting grounds, scanning the landscape below for potential prey.

Red-tailed Hawks have a diverse diet consisting primarily of small mammals, including rodents like mice, rabbits, and squirrels.

They also prey on birds, reptiles, and occasionally even small snakes.

With their sharp talons and powerful beak, they can capture and immobilize their prey swiftly and effectively.

5. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks
by Dakiny is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Northern Goshawk, scientifically known as Accipiter gentilis, is also among the types of hawks in North America.

This large accipiter hawk commands attention and admiration with its powerful build, fierce gaze, and agile flight.

Spanning a length of 20.9 to 25.2 inches and weighing between 22.3 and 48.1 ounces, the Northern Goshawk is known for its size and strength, making it one of the largest true hawks in North America.

The range of the Northern Goshawk extends from various parts of the United States, including Tennessee and California, up to Alaska and across most of Canada.

These birds of prey inhabit a wide range of habitats, from dense coniferous forests to deciduous hardwood forests.

They are well adapted for hunting in woodland environments, using their sharp talons and powerful flight to pursue prey through the trees with remarkable agility.

Regarding diet, the Northern Goshawk is a skilled predator that primarily feeds on other birds and small mammals.

Its hunting strategy involves surprising and ambushing its prey from concealed perches or during high-speed chases through the forest.

Goshawks are known for their swift and precise strikes, using their sharp beaks and talons to capture and dispatch their prey swiftly.

6. Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
by ryanacandee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Common Black Hawk, scientifically known as Buteogallus anthracinus, is a captivating member of the hawk family found in North America.

As its name suggests, this hawk is predominantly black, with a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other hawks in the region.

With a length ranging from 18 to 23 inches and a wingspan of about 40 to 47 inches, the Common Black Hawk showcases a formidable size and presence.

The range of the Common Black Hawk extends primarily across Central and South America, with some individuals found in the southern regions of the United States, including Texas and Arizona.

They inhabit riversides, marshes, and woodland edges, often near water sources. This preference for riparian habitats reflects their reliance on aquatic prey, including fish, amphibians, and crustaceans.

The Common Black Hawk constructs its nest in tall trees, often near water bodies.

These nests are large and bulky, made of sticks, and lined with softer materials such as leaves or moss.

Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays involving aerial acrobatics and vocalizations.

Although the Common Black Hawk primarily feeds on aquatic prey, it is also known to consume small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Their hunting strategy often involves perching near water sources and patiently scanning for potential prey.

Once a target is detected, they swiftly swoop to capture it using their powerful talons.

7. Harris’s Hawk

Harris's Hawk
by wwarby is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Harris’s Hawk, scientifically known as Parabuteo unicinctus. They are among the types of hawks in North America that are unique and social.

Harris’s Hawks are known for their remarkable cooperative hunting behavior, unlike many other hawk species, making them a fascinating subject of study and admiration.

Harris’s Hawks are medium-sized, measuring 18 to 22 inches long and boasting a wingspan of approximately 3 to 4 feet.

They have distinctive plumage, dark brown feathers on their backs and wings, and reddish-brown coloring on their shoulders and legs.

Their tails are long and banded, making them easily recognizable. One of the most intriguing aspects of Harris’s Hawks is their social nature.

They often hunt in groups, forming cooperative hunting units called “packs” or “coalitions.”

These groups typically consist of family members, including parents and offspring from previous breeding seasons.

They increase their chances of capturing prey and efficiently controlling their territory by working together.

Harris’s Hawks have a diverse diet, feeding on various small to medium-sized animals.

Their prey includes mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rats, birds, lizards, and insects.

Their hunting strategy often involves aerial hunting and ground pursuit, with individuals taking on specific roles within the group.

These hawks in North America are known for their exceptional problem-solving skills and ability to coordinate their hunting strategies.

They communicate through various vocalizations, including barks, whistles, and screams, which help them coordinate their movements during hunts.

Harris’s Hawks are native to arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.

They prefer habitats such as desert scrublands, grasslands, and open woodlands.

These adaptable birds have also been successfully introduced to other regions, including parts of Europe and the Middle East.

8. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawks
by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Swainson’s Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo swainsoni, is a migratory hawk species.

It is named after the renowned ornithologist William Swainson; this is one of the types of hawks in North America known for their impressive migratory journeys and unique feeding habits.

Swainson’s Hawks are medium-sized raptors, measuring 18 to 22 inches long, with a wingspan of approximately 4 to 5 feet.

They have slender bodies and long, broad wings that allow them to soar effortlessly through the sky during their long-distance migrations.

Swainson’s Hawks can be found in North America’s grasslands, prairies, and open habitats. 

These hawks in North America build their nests in trees, shrubs, or even on the ground, constructing them from sticks, grass, and other plant materials.

These hawks are known for their monogamous breeding behavior, with pairs often returning to the same nesting sites year after year.

They undertake one of the longest migratory journeys of any North American raptor, traveling thousands of miles from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering grounds in South America.

They gather in large flocks known as “kettles” during migration, creating a spectacular sight as they navigate the skies in a coordinated manner.

Swainson’s Hawks have a varied diet, primarily feeding on small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits.

However, during the non-breeding season, their diet shifts to include a significant proportion of insects, particularly grasshoppers and dragonflies.

This dietary flexibility allows them to exploit available food resources during different times of the year.

9. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
by Wildreturn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Broad-winged Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo platypterus, is a migratory hawk species that breeds in North America’s eastern half.

These hawks are known for their distinctive migration behavior, forming large groups or “kettles” during their southward migration, creating a remarkable spectacle in the skies.

Broad-winged Hawks are medium-sized raptors, typically measuring between 13.4 and 17.3 inches long, with a wingspan ranging from 31.9 to 39.4 inches.

They have broad wings and a compact body, allowing them to navigate through the dense forest canopies they often inhabit during the breeding season.

During the breeding season, Broad-winged Hawks can be found in deciduous and mixed forests, constructing nests on tree branches.

They are known for their secretive nesting behavior, often building their nests high in the forest canopy, making them challenging to observe.

Their nests are made of sticks, twigs, and other plant materials.

Each year, these types of hawks in North America undertake a long-distance journey from their breeding grounds in North America to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

They congregate in large groups during migration, soaring on thermal updrafts and spiraling together in the sky.

This behavior allows them to conserve energy and navigate more efficiently during their long journey.

The diet of Broad-winged Hawks primarily consists of small mammals, such as mice, voles, and chipmunks.

They also feed on various insects, reptiles, and amphibians, including snakes and frogs.

Their hunting technique often involves soaring above the forest canopy, scanning the ground for potential prey, and then swooping down to capture their target.

10. Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawks
by Feroze Omardeen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Zone-tailed Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo albonotatus, is a fascinating and elusive hawk species found in parts of North America, particularly in the southwestern United States and Mexico.

What makes the Zone-tailed Hawk intriguing is its remarkable resemblance to the Turkey Vulture, a scavenging bird, which serves as a clever strategy for hunting.

Zone-tailed Hawks are medium-sized raptors, measuring 18-20 inches long, with a wingspan of approximately 48-55 inches.

They have dark brown plumage with mottled patterns, resembling the appearance of Turkey Vultures.

This camouflage helps them blend into flocks of vultures, allowing them to approach prey more stealthily.

These types of hawks in North America primarily inhabit arid and semi-arid habitats such as deserts, canyons, and open woodlands.

They are often found soaring high in the sky, utilizing thermal updrafts to conserve energy as they search for prey.

Despite their vulture-like appearance, Zone-tailed Hawks are active hunters and feed on various small mammals, birds, reptiles, and occasionally, large insects.

Zone-tailed Hawk has a unique hunting strategy known as mimicry.

By imitating the flight patterns and appearance of Turkey Vultures, they can deceive potential prey animals into a false sense of security.

When unsuspecting prey animals believe they are in the presence of harmless vultures, the Zone-tailed Hawk suddenly surprises and captures them.

The Zone-tailed Hawk is also known for its breeding habits. They construct nests on tall trees, cliffs, or ledges near water sources.

Their nests are made of sticks and lined with leaves, grass, and other soft materials.

During the breeding season, they engage in elaborate aerial displays, showcasing their acrobatic flight skills to attract mates.

11. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
by USFWS Mountain Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Rough-legged Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo lagopus, is a magnificent raptor that can be found in the northern regions of North America, particularly during the winter months.

This hawk is well-adapted to cold climates and is known for its unique hunting behavior and distinct appearance.

The Rough-legged Hawk is a medium-sized bird, measuring around 18.5-20.5 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 52-54 inches.

One of its most distinctive features is its feathered legs that extend down to its feet, which provide insulation against the harsh winter conditions in its range.

During the summer breeding season, the Rough-legged Hawk inhabits the Arctic tundra, where it constructs nests on cliffs or elevated areas.

These nests are made of sticks and grasses and lined with softer materials such as feathers and moss.

However, during the winter, these hawks in North America migrate to more southern regions, including parts of the United States, where they can be seen in open areas such as grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields.

The Rough-legged Hawk is an exceptional hunter, specializing in capturing small mammals such as voles, mice, and lemmings.

They have excellent eyesight and rely on their keen vision to spot prey from high perches or while hovering mid-air.

Once they locate their target, they swoop down with great precision, using their sharp talons to grasp and capture their prey.

Another fascinating aspect of these types of hawks in North America is their ability to hover in the air, similar to the behavior of a Kestrel.

This hovering behavior allows them to maintain a steady position in the air while scanning the ground for potential prey.

It is a unique characteristic among hawks and sets them apart from other raptor species.

Rough-legged Hawk exhibits two distinct color morphs: light and dark.

The light morph individuals have a pale belly with a dark-brown back, while the dark morph individuals have a darker overall plumage.

This color variation adapts to their surroundings and helps them blend in with their environment.

12. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawks
by Kaaren Perry is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Ferruginous Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo regalis, is a majestic raptor that is one of the largest types of hawks in North America.

Named for its reddish-brown coloration, this magnificent bird is known for its impressive size, striking appearance, and unique habitat preferences.

The Ferruginous Hawk is a robust bird with a body length ranging from 20 to 27 inches and an impressive wingspan of 48 to 60 inches.

Adult males typically weigh around 2.4 pounds, while females are slightly larger, weighing between 2 and 4.5 pounds.

These hawks have a broad wingspan and a sturdy build, giving them a commanding presence when in flight.

They generally have a pale, rusty-brown color on their shoulders and back, with a lighter underside.

Their wings are a mix of grayish-brown on top and lighter shades on the bottom. This coloration provides effective camouflage in their preferred habitats.

Ferruginous Hawks are primarily found in open grasslands, prairies, and arid regions of western North America, including parts of the United States and Canada.

They are well-adapted to these habitats and often build their nests on the ground or in low shrubs, using sticks and grasses to create a platform.

Their choice of nesting location is unique among North American hawks.

These types of hawks in North America are predators, feeding on various prey.

Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, including ground squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits, and rodents.

They also target smaller birds and reptiles when the opportunity arises.

Ferruginous Hawks employ a hunting strategy that involves soaring above their territory, scanning the ground for movement before diving down to capture their prey with their sharp talons.

13. Great Black Hawk

Great Black Hawk
by berniedup is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Great Black Hawk, scientifically known as Buteogallus urubitinga, is a striking bird of prey that is primarily found in the tropical regions of the Americas.

The Great Black Hawk is an impressive and powerful hunter known for its large size and dark plumage.

With a length of around 22 to 25 inches and a wingspan of 47 to 54 inches, the Great Black Hawk is considered a relatively large hawk species.

Its overall appearance is characterized by its black plumage, which gives it a commanding and intimidating presence.

Its robust build, powerful legs, and sharp talons make it a formidable predator in its habitat.

The Great Black Hawk has a wide distribution across Central and South America, extending from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.

It occupies various habitats within its range, including mangroves, swamps, forested areas, and open savannahs.

It prefers coastal regions but can also be found inland near bodies of water.

These types of hawks in North America primarily feed on small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, but it also preys on birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even large insects.

It is known to perch patiently and stealthily hunt from elevated positions, waiting for the opportune moment to strike its prey precisely.

14. Crane Hawk

Crane Hawk
by ryanacandee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Crane Hawk, scientifically known as Geranospiza caerulescens, is an intriguing species of hawk found primarily in Central and South America.

With its unique appearance and specialized hunting techniques, the Crane Hawk stands out among its avian counterparts.

Measuring about 20 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 40 inches, the Crane Hawk is considered a medium-sized hawk.

It possesses a distinct plumage characterized by an overall gray or black coloration, often accompanied by white stripes on its tail feathers and wings.

These markings give the hawk an elegant and recognizable appearance.

These types of hawks in North America are mainly found in the tropical forests and woodlands of its range, which includes countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and parts of Mexico.

It is known for its ability to maneuver skillfully through dense vegetation, utilizing its long legs and agile flight to navigate the forest canopy in search of prey.

Crane Hawk employs a hunting strategy reminiscent of a crane. It perches on a tree branch or other elevated positions, patiently waiting for its target to pass by.

Once it spots its prey, typically small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or large insects, the hawk swoops down with great precision and captures its quarry using its sharp talons.

15. Gray Hawk

Gray Hawks
by bill85704 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Gray Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo plagiatus, is among the fascinating types of hawks in North America, primarily found in Mexico and Central America.

Its striking appearance, distinct vocalizations, and habitat preferences make it a notable member of the hawk family.

Measuring between 18 and 24 inches in length, the Gray Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a wingspan of approximately 35 inches.

It displays a predominantly gray plumage, with barred underparts that add to its unique aesthetic.

Juvenile Gray Hawks, on the other hand, exhibit a more brownish coloration with spotted underparts.

The preferred habitat of the Gray Hawk consists of tropical forests and woodlands, where it can be found perched on tall trees or soaring gracefully through the treetops.

It has a relatively restricted range, primarily residing in the neotropical regions of the Americas, including southern parts of Arizona and Texas in the United States.

Known for its distinct vocalizations, the Gray Hawk has a repertoire of calls that includes a variety of screeches, whistles, and high-pitched screams.

These vocalizations are essential in communication, territorial defense, and courtship displays.

The diet of the Gray Hawk primarily consists of lizards, rodents, snakes, frogs, and other small animals found within its habitat.

It hunts by scanning the forest canopy from elevated perches and then swooping swiftly to capture its prey with its sharp talons.

Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics and vocal duets.

Both parents take part in caring for the eggs and raising the chicks, demonstrating cooperative breeding behavior.

16. Roadside Hawk

Roadside Hawk
by ryanacandee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Roadside Hawk, scientifically known as Rupornis magnirostris, is a small to medium-sized hawk commonly found in various habitats throughout Central and South America.

Despite its name, this hawk is not restricted to roadsides but can be observed in various environments, including forests, open woodlands, savannas, and agricultural areas.

Measuring around 14 to 18 inches, the Roadside Hawk has a distinct appearance with a reddish-brown back, barred underparts, and a pale throat.

Its broad and rounded wings enable agile flight maneuvers and quick takeoffs from perches.

As a highly adaptable species, the Roadside Hawk has successfully adapted to human-altered landscapes and is often observed near human settlements, including urban areas and agricultural fields.

It is known for its ability to perch on telephone wires or fence posts, using these vantage points to scan the surroundings for potential prey.

Roadside Hawks primarily feed on a diverse diet that includes small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and occasionally small birds.

These hawks in North America are skilled hunters and will engage in short aerial pursuits or perform surprise attacks from perches to capture their prey.

Their hunting behavior is opportunistic, taking advantage of available food sources within their habitat.

Breeding season for Roadside Hawks typically occurs during the dry season, and they construct simple nests made of sticks in tall trees.

Both male and female partners build and maintain the nest, incubate the eggs, and raise the young chicks.

They are known to be territorial and will defend their nesting sites from intruders.

17. White-tailed Hawk

White-tailed Hawks
by Wildreturn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The White-tailed Hawk, scientifically known as Geranoaetus albicaudatus, is a striking raptor species found primarily in parts of North and Central America.

With its distinctive appearance and behavior, the White-tailed Hawk stands out among other types of hawks in North America

The White-tailed Hawk is known for its prominent white tail feathers, contrasting with its dark-colored body.

The adult birds have gray or light gray plumage with a white head and underparts.

They have long, broad wings and a wingspan of around 4 to 4.5 feet, making them impressive in flight.

The White-tailed Hawk prefers open habitats such as grasslands, savannas, deserts, and scrublands.

It is commonly found in areas with low vegetation and scattered trees or cacti, which provide suitable perching and nesting sites.

This species has a relatively restricted range, mainly inhabiting parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico.

This hawk primarily feeds on small mammals, including rodents such as mice, rats, and ground squirrels.

It hunts soaring high above its habitat, scanning the ground for prey.

Once it spots a target, it swiftly descends to capture it with its sharp talons. Occasionally, it may also consume reptiles and insects.

During the breeding season, the White-tailed Hawk forms monogamous pairs and builds nests in trees or on the ground, depending on the availability of suitable nest sites.

The female typically lays two to three eggs, and both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the young. The nestlings fledge after about six to seven weeks.


There are types of hawks in North America. They showcase the adaptability and resilience of these magnificent birds. Each species has carved out its niche in the continent’s varied landscapes.

As we appreciate the beauty and power of these birds of prey, it is important to remember the importance of conservation efforts to protect their habitats and ensure their continued presence in our ecosystems. 

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