9 Types of Hawks in Tennessee

Types of Hawks in Tennessee
Photo by Megan Clark

Have you ever noticed the majestic birds of prey soaring through the sky with incredible speed and agility?

These could be hawks, impressive birds found across all of Tennessee. But what types of hawks in Tennessee are native to the state?

Tennessee is blessed with exciting wildlife, from white-tailed deer roaming through forests to river otters catching snails in rivers and streams.

Hawks have also made their home here—a variety of species from both large and small families of raptors. 

Discovering the various types of hawks in Tennessee will heighten your appreciation for this remarkable and unique bird family.

Whether you’re out exploring or want to observe them on your next hike, read on to learn about each type of hawk living in our beloved state!

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a fierce and agile predator throughout North America and Central America. This small raptor can be seen in wooded areas or flycatching from trees, often lurking in the shadows of branches until prey comes into view. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is the starter of our list of the types of hawks in Tennessee and is about the size of a blue jay, with a wingspan of 20 to 25 inches. 

The upper parts are usually dark gray with rusty chest and belly feathers, while its eyes are yellow-orange compared to other hawks. Its scientific name is Accipiter striatus. It has a powerful hooked bill enables it to rip apart its small prey like birds, kinglets, and sparrows. It also feeds on insects, mice, lizards, frogs, snakes, and bats. 

To catch these creatures, they often dash from cover at high speed with rapid wing beats or hover briefly over potential prey before swooping down for the kill. Its breeding range covers most of the United States, with large concentrations found in California’s mountain regions and forests, where it nests in conifers or other tall trees. In addition to its hunting prowess the hawk is an adept migrator, traveling long distances during fall migration, searching for available food sources before returning in springtime to begin breeding again.

2. Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey found in open areas throughout western North America. It is one of three hawk species in the United States that are considered “Red List” endangered species, meaning there is a significant risk of extinction due to habitat loss, degradation, and persecution by humans. This hawk has long been prized for its hunting skills, intelligence, and diverse range of plumage colors and patterns. 

As a result, it is one of the types of hawks in Tennessee that has become an iconic symbol for the American West. The diet of the Ferruginous Hawk consists primarily of large rodents such as ground squirrels, kangaroo rats and sagebrush voles, supplemented by some insects and small birds. Most migratory raptors migrate south for winter before returning to breeding grounds in springtime. 

Nesting sites can be found in high cliffs or crags where they build large nests lined with materials such as grasses and sticks. They are believed to have one of the longest lifespans among North American birds of prey; some individuals have lived up to 16 years in captivity. Despite this longevity, their population has been steadily declining since the 1970s due to the conversion of prairies into cropland and other human disturbances in their habitats. Conservation efforts are currently being made to protect these magnificent birds of the types of hawks in Tennessee so they may continue existing in the wild.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

This list of the different types of hawks in Tennessee is incomplete without Cooper’s Hawk, a medium-sized hawk native to North America and the only hawk in the genus Accipiter. It is named after William Cooper, an American naturalist of the 19th century who originally described the species in 1828. The Cooper’s Hawk is typically found in wooded areas, where it preys on small animals such as birds, squirrels, and snakes. 

Also, its diet includes insects, small mammals such as mice and chipmunks, and occasionally reptiles like frogs or lizards. The Cooper’s Hawk is easily identified by its long wings, distinctive fan-shaped tail, and barred black and white feathers. In flight, these birds have an unmistakable silhouette due to their short round wings that are held close to the body in an arching shape. 

These types of hawks in Tennessee will hunt from a perch or fly low through dense vegetation to ambush prey. They also soar at high altitudes looking for prey below them which they then dive for rapidly with their legs extended like talons, ready to snatch their meal up in midair. During the breeding season, Cooper’s Hawk pairs often form nests near human dwellings such as suburban backyards allowing keen birders to observe them up close!

4. Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a large raptor native to much of the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is found in both open woodlands and dense forests and is a fierce predator, specializing in birds and small mammals like squirrels. Usually solitary, these powerful birds are solitary hunters that perch on high branches or in leafless trees to spot their prey below.  

Northern Goshawks, one of the many types of hawks in Tennessee, can range from 24–35 inches in length with a 48–60 inch wingspan. Both males and females have similar coloring; each has slate-gray upper parts, white underparts streaked with black markings, and piercing yellow eyes set off by black facial masks. The white tail of an adult male will feature narrow gray bars, whereas female tails tend to be more solid or checkered gray. 

In flight, this bird also shows dark flight feathers contrasted against lighter-colored breasts—allowing for easy identification when sighted through binoculars or telescopes. Northern Goshawks live up to 13 years in the wild, but several longer-lived individuals have reached 25 years in captivity.

5. Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized hawk commonly found in forests and woodlands of the eastern and southeastern United States. The red-shouldered hawk is also one of the types of hawks in Tennessee classified as a medium brown color with a long tail, fairly long wings, and yellow legs. It can be distinguished by its loud call, “KeeeYork,” which it utters from its perch, usually in warning to other hawks or predators. 

Nesting pairs typically build their nests near water sources such as lake beds, rivers, and streams. Although highly territorial when nesting season comes around, the Red-Shouldered Hawk will often hunt cooperatively with other raptors like the Broad-winged Hawk and the Northern Harrier when it is not nesting to survive during food shortages. 

Furthermore, this hawk species has diversified its diet through environmental changes to include rodents and small mammals due to the deforestation of its traditional habitat. This adaptation allows the Red-Shouldered Hawk to persist amidst human development by shifting its diet preferences to easier prey sources. Further studies are needed to understand how this will affect native species that depend on similar prey items over extended periods.

6. Rough-Legged Hawk

The Rough-Legged Hawk (Buteo Lagopus) is a large soaring hawk breed in North America, primarily in the Arctic tundra of the United States and Canada. These hawks are most easily recognized by their distinctive “mantled” feathers, which give them a rugged look and help camouflage them among rocky areas. These hawks have broad wings with dark feathering, white primary flight feathers on the edge, and broad tails with light barring on the undersides. 

Adults have uniform chocolate brown coloring on the back and chest, with white breasts and bellies. Juveniles have lighter colors than adults, but their coloration will darken as they mature to match an adult’s. Rough-Legged Hawks, on our list of the types of hawks in Tennessee, are formidable predators and feed mainly on small rodents and other small mammals. 

They prefer to hunt from high perches or slowly gliding near the ground just above habitat features like rock walls or power lines. This makes them ideal inhabitants of man-made structures like utility poles or rocky ledges found in urban areas along highways, where they can spot passing prey below. 

During harsh northern winters, these birds will migrate south in search of better hunting grounds where more prey is available year-round. As climate change continues to alter habitats across America, it is important to monitor changes in Rough-Legged Hawk populations so they can be accurately accounted for during conservation initiatives.

7. Broad-Winged Hawk

The Broad-Winged Hawk has not left off this list of the different types of hawks in Tennessee and is a medium-sized hawk found throughout North and Central America. This species of hawk has a distinctive black, white and rust-colored plumage with striking chestnut belly patches, yellow legs and a distinctive dark brown cap. The broad wingspan can range from more than three to almost four feet in length, and these hawks typically fly at low altitudes to capitalize on their ability to rapidly swoop down on their prey. 

They are both migratory and resident birds, moving about widely during migration but usually tending to stay near woodlots or open fields throughout the year. The Broad-Winged Hawk feeds on small rodents, reptiles and insects, and larger animals such as rabbits. They hunt by swift, sudden dives from elevated perches or soaring high above the ground, looking for potential prey below. 

These hawks rarely plunge deep into vegetation after their prey – instead, they use their long talons to snatch up creatures from above any foliage that may obstruct their path or view. As Apex predators, these types of hawks in Tennessee play an important role in regulating the populations of other animals and helping maintain a balanced ecosystem.

8. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey found in North America’s open plains, grasslands, and deserts. Swainson’s Hawk has a wide range of predators, from skunks to owls and foxes, but its primary predators are larger raptors such as red-tailed hawks, eagles, and great-horned owls. These raptors feed primarily on rodents, making up most of Swainson’s Hawkeye diet. They will also eat large insects such as grasshoppers and reptiles when possible. 

Swainson’s Hawks are types of hawks in Tennessee that have relatively short wingspans compared to other birds of prey. This allows for more maneuverable flight at low altitudes and makes them well-suited for hunting in areas with few trees or structures. As a result of their short wings, they are often mistaken for American Kestrels due to their smaller size. While they do not migrate yearly like some species of hawk, they still make long-distance migrations that span over 6300 miles during winter. 

This biennial migration spans most states in the United States, with hawks departing from Canada and filling out farther parts of Central America with sightings eastward into South America. Due to these extremely long migratory distances, suitable habitats must be maintained. This is so that Swainson’s Hawks can find food sources along the way and return each summer to breed in large numbers across North America.

9. Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a medium-sized bird of prey in the United States and Canada. The Red-tailed Hawk is a large hawk with brown upperparts, pale underparts, short ear tufts, and a long broad, distally barred reddish tail. These birds, which are types of hawks in Tennessee soar over open country, making circling flights in search of their prey. 

They capture small mammals such as mice and voles, reptiles, and occasionally other birds. They also hunt from perches such as trees or utility poles, scanning for food below them before diving to the ground swiftly when they locate something to eat.

Nesting typically occurs between March and June in an exposed tree branch or cliff ledge lined with grass, sticks and twigs within 3 km2 of where the pair has taken residence. However, larger nesting territories have been reported occasionally. This wraps up our list of the types of hawks in Tennessee.


In conclusion, many different types of hawks in Tennessee can be found. Hawks play an important role in the ecosystem as apex predators, controlling populations of smaller birds and mammals. Tennessee has three main groups of hawks: buteos, forest-dwelling hawks, and kites. 

Each type has unique characteristics and habitat preferences that help them thrive. Understanding the differences between each type of hawk can provide valuable insight into how to protect these majestic creatures best and ensure they remain an integral part of the environment for years to come. All the best!

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