Exploring the Diversity of Hawk Species in the United States

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Have you ever mused over the diverse myriad of hawk species decorating the American skies? After in-depth exploration, it’s abundantly clear that America is home to an enchanting selection of 16 different hawk species, all boasting their unique traits and habitats. Why not delve into this enlightening guide, unveiling captivating details about these predatory birds? From subtle differences in plumage to favourite hunting grounds, you’ll be surprised at what there is waiting to be discovered.

Hawk Species

Consider it your personal invitation on a raptor-riddled expedition across America’s avian landscape – getting up close with nature has never been more thrilling!

Types of Hawks Found in the United States

There are 17 types of hawks in the United States, each with its own range map and unique characteristics. Understanding the differences between similar species is important for properly identifying them.

17 Types of Hawks Listed

In the United States, there are 17 types of hawks, each unique and special. For example, there’s the Red-Tailed Hawk, which lives all over North America. Another kind is the Harris’s Hawk, which calls the southwest part of the U.S. home.

In each state, you will find a hawk unique to that area. These hawks all look and act differently from one another but have keen eyesight and sharp hooks on their feet. Despite these traits being common among them, they come in various shapes and sizes!

Range Maps and Unique Characteristics

Let’s look closer at the range maps and unique characteristics of hawks in the United States. Hawks can be found all across North America, from open deserts and prairies to the Arctic and even tropical regions. Each state has its own special species of hawks, which vary in size, colour, and habits.

One common hawk that you might spot is the Red-tailed Hawk. It is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America. Its broad wingspan and reddish-brown tail stand out among other hawk species. Another interesting hawk is the Harris’s Hawk, which is native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, and other regions. This unique species is known for its cooperative hunting behaviour.


Hawks have certain basic similarities, such as keen eyesight, hooked beaks, and taloned feet, but they also have a wide diversity of forms and sizes. Understanding their range maps and unique characteristics can help you identify different types of hawks while exploring nature or birdwatching.

Differences between Similar Species

Several hawks in the United States may look similar to each other, but they have distinct differences. For example, the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are often confused because of their size and markings.

However, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the Sharp-shinned Hawk has a more rounded tail while the Cooper’s Hawk has a square tail. Another difference is their habitat preference—sharp-shinned Hawks prefer wooded areas, while Cooper’s Hawks can be found in both urban and rural environments.

Similarly, the Northern Goshawk and Common Black-Hawk may appear similar with their dark plumage, but they inhabit different regions. The Northern Goshawk calls the northern forests home, while the Common Black-Hawk prefers habitats near rivers in southern states and Mexico.

Where to Spot Hawks in the United States

There are various popular locations across the United States where you can spot different types of hawks, including open deserts, prairies, and even Arctic regions.

Different types of hawks can be found in various locations across the United States. The Red-tailed Hawk, for example, is a common sight in open deserts and prairies throughout North America.

If you’re looking to spot a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk, head to wooded areas where they thrive. Northern Goshawks can often be found in the Arctic regions during nesting season.

In the tropics and southern states, you might encounter birds like the Common Black Hawk or Harris’s Hawk. Depending on which species you want to see, there are plenty of popular locations that cater to hawk enthusiasts all around the country.

Expanding on Habitat Specificity: Hawks Take Flight in Diverse Landscapes

This section dives into the fascinating world of hawk diversity in the United States, exploring how different species have adapted to thrive in specific habitats.

Forest Falcons: Accipiters Built for the Trees

  • Species: Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk
  • Physical Adaptations:
    • Short, rounded wings: These provide exceptional maneuverability when navigating through dense foliage and tight spaces within a forest.
    • Long tails: Act as rudders, allowing for quick changes in direction and precise control during high-speed chases through trees.
    • Sharp talons: Adapted for grabbing and holding onto fast-moving prey like songbirds and squirrels.
  • Hunting Strategies and Prey Preferences:
    • Surprise attacks: Accipiters rely on stealth and sudden bursts of speed to ambush unsuspecting prey hidden amongst the leaves.
    • Forest specialists: They primarily hunt birds and small mammals that inhabit dense forested areas.
    • Cooperative hunting: In some cases, pairs of Northern Goshawks might work together to flush out prey or take down larger animals.

Open-Air Specialists: Buteos Ruling the Skies

  • Species: Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk
  • Physical Adaptations:
    • Broad wings: Allow for efficient soaring and effortless gliding over long distances, minimising energy expenditure while searching for prey.
    • Excellent vision: Their sharp eyesight lets them spot potential prey from incredible heights, even small rodents scurrying on the ground.
    • Strong legs and talons: Equipped to capture a variety of prey, from rabbits and snakes to lizards and even larger birds.
  • Hunting Techniques and Prey Selection:
    • Soaring and scanning: Buteos use thermals (rising columns of warm air) to gain altitude and scan vast areas of open terrain for prey.
    • Opportunistic feeders: They target a wide range of prey based on availability, including small mammals, reptiles, and birds.
    • Foot stomping: Red-tailed hawks are known to use their powerful feet to stomp on tall grass, flushing out hidden prey like voles and mice.

Marsh Masters: Circus and Harriers – Lords of the Wetlands

  • Species: Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk (subspecies of Northern Harrier)
  • Physical Adaptations:
    • Long wings: Create a large wingspan for low-level gliding and manoeuvring over wetland vegetation.
    • Excellent hearing: Allows them to locate prey hidden in tall grasses or reeds by sound alone.
    • Flexible facial ruff: Funnels sound towards their ears, enhancing their ability to pinpoint the location of prey.
  • Hunting Techniques and Prey Preferences:
    • Quartering flight: Harriers fly in a low, back-and-forth pattern, scanning the marsh for movement.
    • Diet specialists: They primarily feed on small mammals like voles, shrews, and rabbits that thrive in wetland habitats.
    • Silent descent: Harriers can descend silently upon unsuspecting prey, making them efficient hunters in dense vegetation.

Cliff Dwellers: Falcons – Speed Demons of the Skies

  • Species: Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, American Kestrel
  • Physical Adaptations:
    • Pointed wings: Designed for unmatched speed and agility during aerial pursuits.
    • Streamlined bodies: Minimise air resistance, allowing them to reach incredible diving speeds exceeding 200 mph (320 km/h).
    • Sharp beaks: Function as powerful hooks for catching prey mid-air.
  • Hunting Techniques and Prey Selection:
    • Stooping: Falcons dive at high speeds from great heights to strike unsuspecting prey in a surprise attack.
    • Aerial specialists: They primarily hunt birds, including pigeons, ducks, and other falcons, in open areas.
    • Cooperative hunting: Kestrels might sometimes work together to mob and harass larger birds, stealing their prey in mid-air.

By understanding these unique adaptations and hunting strategies, we gain a deeper appreciation for the remarkable diversity of hawks in the United States and how they have evolved to thrive in their specific ecological niches.

Tips for Spotting and Identifying Hawks

When you’re exploring the diverse landscapes of the United States, keep an eye out for these majestic birds of prey—hawks! Spotting and identifying hawks can be a thrilling experience, so here are a few tips to help you in your quest.

Firstly, look up! Hawks soar through the skies with grace and agility. They often circle high above open fields or wooded areas, scanning for their next meal. Watch for their distinctive flight patterns – some hawks glide effortlessly while others flap their wings rapidly.

Secondly, pay attention to size and shape. Hawks come in various sizes, from small hawk species like the Sharp-shinned Hawk to larger ones like the Red-tailed Hawk. Notice their long wings and short tails as they fly overhead.

Next, observe their colouration. Hawks’ plumage can vary greatly depending on the species and age. Look for distinct markings, such as dark bands on lighter feathers or mottled patterns that blend into their surroundings.

Another clue to identifying hawks is listening to their calls. Each hawk species has its own unique vocalisations, ranging from screeching screams to melodic whistles. Familiarise yourself with these calls before heading out on your hawk-spotting adventure.

Other Types of Birds of Prey in the US

Hawk species

There are several other types of birds of prey in the United States, apart from hawks. These include eagles, falcons, owls, and vultures. Eagles like the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle are majestic and can be found near bodies of water or in mountainous regions.

Falcons such as the Peregrine Falcon are known for their incredible speed during flight. Owls like the Great Horned Owl and Barn Owl are nocturnal creatures that hunt at night with their excellent hearing abilities.

Vultures like the Turkey Vulture play an important role in our ecosystem by feeding on carrion. So, while hawks may be a popular type of bird of prey to spot in the US, there is a wide variety of other fascinating raptors to discover as well!

Threats and Conservation: Ensuring a Future for Soaring Sentinels

Despite their impressive adaptations and ecological value, hawk populations in the United States face a number of challenges. Here, we explore the threats they encounter and the ongoing efforts to ensure their continued survival.

Threats to Hawks

  • Habitat Loss and Fragmentation: The conversion of natural areas for development, agriculture, and urbanisation is a major threat to hawks. As their habitats shrink and become fragmented, hunting grounds are lost, nesting sites become scarce, and populations become isolated, hindering breeding success.
  • Human Activities: Collisions with power lines and wind turbines can cause significant mortality for hawks, particularly hawk species like red-tailed hawks. Additionally, the use of pesticides can have a devastating indirect effect. Hawks that prey on rodents or other animals contaminated with pesticides can suffer from secondary poisoning, harming their health and reproductive capabilities.
  • Disturbance and Persecution: Human activity near nesting sites can disrupt breeding and raise stress levels in adult birds. In some cases, hawks are still illegally shot or trapped despite their protected status.

Conservation Efforts

Fortunately, dedicated organisations and individuals are working to protect hawks and their habitats. Here are some key initiatives:

  • Habitat Protection and Restoration: Conservation organisations work to preserve existing natural areas that provide crucial habitats for hawks. Additionally, efforts are underway to restore degraded habitats and create wildlife corridors that connect fragmented ecosystems.
  • Power Line Safety: Efforts are being made to retrofit power lines with bird-friendly designs that minimise the risk of electrocution. This includes installing line markers to improve visibility for hawks and insulating power lines to prevent accidental contact.
  • Public Education and Awareness: Raising public awareness about the importance of hawks and the threats they face is crucial. Educational programs can help people understand how their actions might impact these birds and encourage them to adopt responsible practices.
  • Citizen Science: Engaging citizen scientists in hawk monitoring programs provides valuable data about population trends and helps identify areas of concern.

The Importance of Public Education and Awareness

Each of us can play a role in the conservation of hawks. By learning about these magnificent birds and understanding their threats, we can become advocates for their protection. Here are some ways to get involved:

  • Support organisations working on hawk conservation.
  • Choose bird-friendly window treatments to prevent collisions with migrating birds.
  • Advocate for responsible land management practices that protect natural habitats.
  • Spread awareness about the importance of hawks and the threats they face.

The future of hawks in the United States depends on our collective efforts. By working together, we can ensure that these majestic birds continue to soar freely through our skies, enriching our natural world and maintaining a healthy ecosystem for future generations.

Cultural Significance of Hawks in the US

Across the vast and diverse landscape of the United States, hawks have captured the imagination and respect of various cultures for centuries. Let’s explore the symbolic meaning these birds hold in different regions:

  • Native American Cultures: In many indigenous traditions, the hawk embodies strength, courage, leadership, and vision. For instance, the Lakota people revered the red-tailed hawk as “Can-ka Wakinyan,” the “Thunder Being,” associated with the sky and powerful storms. Warriors often wore feathers of various hawk species as symbols of bravery and prowess in battle. The Maya viewed them as messengers between the earthly and spiritual realms, facilitating communication with ancestors.
  • Southwest and Mesoamerican Influences: In the southwestern United States and regions with strong Mesoamerican influences, the hawk is often linked to the sun god. The Aztecs associated the red-tailed hawk with Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and sacrifice. Rock art and other cultural artefacts depict these birds as powerful deities.
  • European Influences: European settlers brought their own cultural interpretations of hawks. In some cases, they were seen as messengers of the gods, carrying prayers and offerings to the heavens. Norse mythology might have drawn inspiration from the hawk for the figure of Odin, the Allfather, who had two ravens as scouts.

Citizen Science: Soaring with Hawks for Conservation

Citizen science initiatives are vital in hawk monitoring and conservation across the US. These programs engage the public in collecting valuable data that helps researchers understand hawk populations and their habitats. Here are some examples:

  • Hawk Watch Programs: Volunteers participate in hawk watches, which involve observing migrating hawks at specific locations. They record data on hawk species, numbers, and flight patterns, providing crucial information about migration routes and population trends. Organisations like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania and Hawk Ridge in Ohio coordinate such programs.
  • Nest Monitoring Programs: Citizen scientists can assist wildlife biologists in monitoring hawk nests. This might involve observing nesting activity, recording hatching success, and identifying potential threats. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch program is a nationwide initiative that allows anyone to contribute data on nesting birds, including hawks.
  • Online Data Collection Platforms: Online platforms like eBird, a citizen science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon Society, allow birdwatchers to submit their sightings, including hawk observations. This data helps researchers track hawk distribution, abundance, and habitat use over time.

Citizen science initiatives offer a unique opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to contribute to hawk conservation efforts. These programs offer a unique opportunity to learn about the American hawks, connect with nature, and make a tangible difference in their future.


This comprehensive guide provides a detailed exploration of the diverse types of hawks found in the United States. With information on 17 different hawk species, readers will gain a deeper understanding of these magnificent birds, including their unique characteristics and habitats.

Whether you’re a nature lover or simply curious about the world around you, this guide is your go-to resource for discovering the incredible diversity of hawks in America. So grab your binoculars and get ready to spot these impressive raptors soaring through our skies!


1. What are North American hawks?

North American hawks are a diverse group of bird hawks, such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Common BlackHawk, that live in backyards from the Arctic to the tropics.

2. Are all Accipitridae subfamilies considered as hawks?

Not all Accipitridae subfamilies are considered hawks. Goshawks, sparrowhawks, and accipiters are the main ones in this category.

3. How can I understand different hawk species found in America?

Exploring an in-depth guide about hawk types will help you learn about various hawk species present in the United States.

4. Why is there so much diversity in American Hawk species?

America’s diverse habitats, ranging from Arctic regions to tropical areas, contribute to the high diversity of hawk varieties living here.

5. Is there a complete guide for studying American Hawk species?

Yes! “Exploring The Diversity of Hawk Species in The United States” is an excellent resource for learning about many types of Hawks found in North America.

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