11 Species of Hawks in Florida (With Pictures)

Florida is home to a remarkable array of hawk species. In this article, we will explore eleven stunning species of hawks that grace the skies of the Sunshine State, accompanied by captivating pictures that showcase their majestic beauty.

From the iconic Red-shouldered Hawk to the stealthy Cooper’s Hawk, we will introduce you to these magnificent birds of prey that command our admiration and awe. Discover their unique characteristics, habitat preferences, and distinctive features that set them apart. Whether you’re a bird enthusiast, nature lover, or simply intrigued by the wonders of wildlife, this comprehensive guide will provide valuable insights into the fascinating world of hawks in Florida.

The 11 Species of Hawk in Florida:

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small hawk with a compact body, short rounded wings, and a long tail. It exhibits distinctive slate-grey to bluish-grey upper parts and pale underparts with fine horizontal barring. Its quick, hooked beak and sharp, curved talons are well-suited for capturing and gripping prey.

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  • Length: Sharp-shinned Hawks measure approximately 10-14 inches in length.
  • Weight: They weigh around 4-8 ounces, with females larger than males.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of 20-27 inches, Sharp-shinned Hawks possess excellent manoeuvrability.
  • Scientific Name: The Sharp-shinned Hawk is scientifically known as the Accipiter striatus.

Habitat & Range:

Sharp-shinned Hawks can be found in various habitats across Virginia, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. They prefer areas with dense vegetation for cover and nesting while also requiring open spaces for hunting. These agile hawks can be spotted throughout the state, especially during their breeding season.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

As skilled hunters, Sharp-shinned Hawks primarily feed on small birds and mammals. They employ a stealthy approach, swiftly maneuvering through trees and shrubs to surprise their prey. Their ability to navigate dense cover and exceptional speed make them efficient hunters of songbirds and other small animals.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Sharp-shinned Hawks form monogamous breeding pairs during the breeding season. They build nests made of sticks and lined with soft materials, typically placed high in trees for safety. The female lays a clutch of 3-7 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Sharp-shinned Hawks are migratory birds, with many individuals leaving Virginia during the winter months and migrating to warmer regions. Look for them during their breeding season in forested areas with suitable prey populations.

2. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is a distinctive hawk with a slender body, long tail, and broad wings. Its characteristic facial disk, which resembles an owl’s, aids in sound detection during hunting. Males have a greyish colouration with a white belly, while females exhibit brown plumage with streaks. These markings serve as excellent camouflage as they glide low over fields and marshes in search of prey.

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  • Length: On average, Northern Harriers measure around 18-24 inches.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 12-20 ounces, with females larger than males.
  • Wingspan: With an impressive wingspan of 40-48 inches, Northern Harriers display remarkable aerial prowess.
  • Scientific Name: The Northern Harrier is scientifically known as Circus Hudsonius.

Habitat & Range:

Northern Harriers can be found in various habitats across Florida, including marshes, grasslands, and open fields. They prefer areas with tall vegetation for hunting and nesting. These magnificent hawks can be spotted in the state’s coastal and inland regions.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

As opportunistic hunters, Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals, including mice, voles, and rabbits. They are skilled at flying low over their hunting grounds, using their keen eyesight and exceptional hearing to locate prey. Their distinct hunting behaviour includes hovering, quartering, and gliding gracefully above the ground as they search for their next meal.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Northern Harriers engage in impressive courtship displays, with males performing acrobatic flights to attract females. They build their nests on the ground, often in dense vegetation or elevated mounds, to protect their eggs and young. The female typically lays 4-6 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the chicks.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Northern Harriers are resident birds in Florida, meaning they stay year-round. However, they may undergo localized movements within the state based on food availability and breeding requirements. Look for them in wetlands, marshes, and grassy areas where they hunt and nest.

3. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk boasts a distinctive appearance with a reddish-brown tail, hence its name. Its plumage varies but generally features dark brown upper parts and pale underparts with a belly band. This Hawk exhibits a robust body, broad wings, and a sharp, hooked beak, which it uses to tear apart its prey.

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  • Length: Red-tailed Hawks measure approximately 18-26 inches, making them one of the largest hawks in Virginia.
  • Weight: They weigh around 2-4 pounds, with females being larger than males.
  • Wingspan: With an impressive wingspan of 43-56 inches, Red-tailed Hawks possess great aerial prowess.
  • Scientific Name: The Red-tailed Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo jamaicensis.

Habitat & Range:

Red-tailed Hawks are adaptable birds in various Virginia habitats. They can be spotted in open country areas, grasslands, forests, and urban environments. These hawks perch on tree branches or utility poles, using their keen eyesight to scan the surrounding landscape for prey.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Red-tailed Hawks are carnivorous hunters, feeding on a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even carrion. They soar high in the sky, scanning the ground for potential prey, then swoop quickly and accurately to capture their meal.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

During the breeding season, Red-tailed Hawks form monogamous pairs. They build large nests made of sticks lined with softer materials, in tall trees or on cliffs. The female lays a clutch of 1-4 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and caring for the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

While some Red-tailed Hawks are year-round residents in Virginia, others may migrate to southern regions during winter. Look for them perched on high vantage points, such as trees or poles, as they survey their hunting grounds.

4. Short-tailed Hawk

The Short-tailed Hawk is striking, featuring a dark overall plumage with a rufous-coloured tail. Its head is often lighter in color, displaying shades of gray or white. These hawks have broad wings and a short, rounded tail, distinguishing them from other hawk species.

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  • Length: Short-tailed Hawks measure around 16-18 inches in length, making them relatively small hawks.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 8-12 ounces, displaying a lightweight build.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of about 35-40 inches, Short-tailed Hawks possess moderate wingspan compared to other hawks.
  • Scientific Name: The Short-tailed Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo brachyurus.

Habitat & Range:

Short-tailed Hawks prefer subtropical and tropical habitats, including forests, woodlands, and wetlands. While they are not common in Virginia, they may occasionally be spotted in the southern parts of the state. These hawks are known to soar gracefully above the tree canopy, searching for prey.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Short-tailed Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as rodents and bats, birds, and reptiles. They employ a combination of soaring and perching techniques to locate their prey, and once detected, they swiftly dive down to capture it.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Short-tailed Hawks build nests using sticks and twigs, usually in the fork of a tall tree. They lay a clutch of 1-2 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and caring for the hatchlings. The breeding season varies depending on the geographic region.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Short-tailed Hawks are primarily residents of Central and South America. While they are uncommon in Virginia, they may occasionally be observed in the southern parts of the state during winter. Look for them in forested areas or wetlands, where they may hunt or perch on elevated branches.

5. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk, a stealthy and agile predator, is a notable hawk species in Virginia. They are characterized by a slate-grey to bluish-grey upper body and pale underparts with horizontal reddish bars. Their broad, rounded wings and long tail contribute to their exceptional agility during flight. Adult Cooper’s Hawks have red eyes and a distinctive black cap on their heads.

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  • Length: Cooper’s Hawks are around 14-20 inches long, exhibiting a medium-sized stature.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 9-26 ounces, showcasing various weights depending on age and sex.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of about 24-35 inches, Cooper’s Hawks possess moderate wingspan relative to their body size.
  • Scientific Name: The Cooper’s Hawk is scientifically known as Accipiter cooperii.

Habitat & Range:

Cooper’s Hawks inhabit various wooded environments, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. They are commonly found throughout Virginia, making it an excellent location for observing these hawks. They are adept at navigating through dense vegetation in pursuit of prey.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Cooper’s Hawks are skilled hunters, preying on small to medium-sized birds and occasionally small mammals. Their hunting strategy often involves surprise attacks, utilizing quick flight and agility to navigate obstacles and ambush their prey. They are known for their impressive ability to manoeuvre through dense foliage during pursuit.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Cooper’s Hawks build nests using sticks and twigs, typically high up in trees. These hawks are monogamous and form breeding pairs during the mating season. The female lays a clutch of 3-5 eggs, and both parents contribute to the incubation and raising of the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Cooper’s Hawks exhibit various migration patterns. While some individuals are year-round residents in Virginia, others migrate to the southern regions during winter. During migration, they can be observed in various habitats, including woodlands, open fields, and suburban areas.

6. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks, with their fierce presence and impressive hunting skills, are among the captivating hawk species found in Virginia. They have a striking appearance, featuring a dark grey to the black upper body and a lighter grey underbody with fine barring. They have a large head, piercing red eyes, and a distinctive white eyebrow stripe. Their broad, rounded wings and long tail contribute to their agility during flight.

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  • Length: Northern Goshawks measure approximately 20-26 inches long, showcasing a sizable stature.
  • Weight: They weigh around 1.5-3 pounds, exhibiting a robust build.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of about 40-46 inches, Northern Goshawks possess broad wings that enable them to soar and maneuver effectively.
  • Scientific Name: The Northern Goshawk is scientifically known as Accipiter gentilis.

 Habitat & Range:

Northern Goshawks inhabit various forested environments, including mature forests and woodlands. In Virginia, they can be found in suitable habitats across the state. They prefer large tracts of dense forests where they can find ample prey and suitable nesting sites.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Northern Goshawks are formidable hunters, primarily preying on medium-sized birds and small mammals. They employ stealth and surprise tactics during their hunting expeditions. With their powerful wings and sharp talons, they swiftly pursue and capture their prey, often utilizing dense vegetation for cover.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Northern Goshawks are monogamous and form breeding pairs during the breeding season. They construct large stick nests in the forks of trees, usually in secluded areas within the forest. The female lays a clutch of 2-4 eggs, and both parents contribute to the incubation and raising of the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Northern Goshawks are typically resident birds, with some individuals staying in their breeding territories year-round. However, some movement may be within their range during winter, with individuals expanding their foraging areas. Look for Northern Goshawks in forested areas, particularly in regions with dense, mature forests.

7. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks exhibit distinct plumage with variations between light and dark morphs. Light morph individuals showcase a pale head, a dark belly band, and feathered legs that extend down to their toes. Dark morph birds have dark brown bodies with lighter underwings. Both morphs display dark wrist patches visible during flight. They have powerful beaks and sharp, curved talons.

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  • Length: Rough-legged Hawks typically measure 18-22 inches, showcasing a moderately sized body.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 2-4 pounds, displaying a solid build.
  • Wingspan: With an impressive wingspan of about 49-52 inches, Rough-legged Hawks exhibit broad wings that aid in their graceful flight.
  • Scientific Name: The Rough-legged Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo lagopus.

Habitat & Range:

Rough-legged Hawks prefer open habitats, including grasslands, marshes, and tundra regions. In Virginia, they can be found in suitable areas with open fields, farmlands, and marshy habitats where they can find prey and nesting locations.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Rough-legged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, including rodents like mice and voles. They possess keen eyesight, allowing them to spot prey from high perches or while soaring. They hover above open areas, scanning the ground for movement, before swooping down to capture their target with their sharp talons.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

During the breeding season, Rough-legged Hawks form monogamous pairs. They construct nests on cliffs or trees, utilizing sticks lined with soft materials like grass and feathers. The female lays a clutch of 2-6 eggs, and both parents contribute to incubation and caring for the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Rough-legged Hawks are migratory birds, spending their breeding season in the Arctic regions and migrating south during winter. They can be observed in Virginia during winter migration, often seen in open habitats such as grasslands and agricultural fields.

8. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks showcase a variety of plumage colours. Their upperparts range from dark brown to light brown, while their underparts vary from white to reddish-brown. They possess a pale throat and a dark patch on their chest. Their broad wings and long tails enable them to soar gracefully through the sky.

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  • Length: Swainson’s Hawks typically measure 18-22 inches, showcasing a moderately sized body.
  • Weight: They weigh approximately 2-3 pounds, displaying a lightweight build.
  • Wingspan: With an impressive wingspan of about 45-50 inches, Swainson’s Hawks exhibit broad wings that aid their soaring flight.
  • Scientific Name: The Swainson’s Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo swainsoni.

Habitat & Range:

Swainson’s Hawks prefer open habitats such as grasslands, savannas, and agricultural fields. They can be found in suitable areas with abundant prey and nesting opportunities in Virginia, including farmlands, prairies, and open woodlands.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Swainson’s Hawks primarily feed on small mammals like rodents, including mice, voles, and ground squirrels. They also consume various insects and occasionally indulge in reptiles, birds, and amphibians. They hunt by soaring at great heights, scanning the ground for prey, and descending swiftly to capture their target.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

During the breeding season, Swainson’s Hawks form monogamous pairs. They build nests using sticks and line them with softer materials like leaves and grass. These nests are often located in trees, cliffs, or man-made structures. The female lays a clutch of 2-4 eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Swainson’s Hawks are long-distance migrants, spending their breeding season in North America and migrating to South America during winter. In Virginia, they can be observed during their migration, particularly during the spring and fall when they pass through the state. Look for them soaring high in the sky or perched on prominent tree branches as they journey.

9. Great Black Hawk

The Great Black Hawk is predominantly black, with a robust body and broad wings. It features a distinctive white band at the base of its tail, providing a striking contrast against its dark plumage. Its hooked beak and sharp talons exemplify its prowess as a formidable predator.

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  • Length: The Great Black Hawk boasts an impressive length of around 23-26 inches, exhibiting a substantial size.
  • Weight: With a weight ranging between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds, these hawks showcase moderate heaviness.
  • Wingspan: They possess a wingspan spanning approximately 47-53 inches, allowing for graceful flight and maneuverability.
  • Scientific Name: The Great Black Hawk is scientifically known as Buteogallus orbiting.

Habitat & Range:

While the Great Black Hawk is primarily found in the tropical regions of Central and South America, there have been rare sightings of this species in southern parts of Texas and occasionally in the southernmost regions of Florida. In Virginia, they are considered extremely rare visitors.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Great Black Hawks have a diverse diet that primarily includes small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They are skilled hunters, often perching on elevated branches or soaring above open areas to spot prey. With swift and precise movements, they swoop down to capture their target.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

These hawks construct large stick nests in tall trees or platforms, usually near water sources. They lay 1-2 eggs, and both parents actively participate in incubating and rearing the young. The nesting season varies depending on the region they inhabit.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

The Great Black Hawk is primarily a resident species in its native range, with limited migration patterns. However, occasional sightings in certain parts of the United States, including Virginia, have been reported. Birdwatchers and enthusiasts should watch during migration seasons for rare opportunities to spot this magnificent Hawk in Virginia’s skies.

10. Zone-tailed Hawk

The Zone-tailed Hawk is predominantly black, resembling the appearance of vultures. This mimicry serves as a clever hunting strategy. They have a distinctive banded tail, which aids in distinguishing them from other hawk species. With broad wings and a sharp beak, they possess the necessary tools for effective predation.

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  • Length: The Zone-tailed Hawk exhibits a length of around 18-22 inches, showcasing a moderate size.
  • Weight: With a weight ranging between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds, these hawks possess a moderate weight.
  • Wingspan: They possess a wingspan spanning approximately 48-56 inches, enabling them to soar through the skies gracefully.
  • Scientific Name: The Zone-tailed Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo albonotatus.

Habitat & Range:

The Zone-tailed Hawk is primarily found in southwestern regions of the United States and Mexico. While sightings in Virginia are extremely rare, they may occasionally be observed during migration or in remote parts of the state.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Zone-tailed Hawks are opportunistic predators, preying on a wide range of small mammals, reptiles, and birds. They often employ a unique hunting technique where they soar inconspicuously among flocks of vultures, using their appearance to their advantage and surprising their prey with swift attacks.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

These hawks build nests in tall trees or cliffs, usually in wooded or rocky areas. Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays with aerial acrobatics and vocalizations. They typically lay 1-3 eggs, and both parents share the incubation responsibilities and raise the offspring.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Zone-tailed Hawks are known for their seasonal migrations, primarily between breeding and wintering grounds. While sightings in Virginia are rare, during migration seasons, keen observers may have the opportunity to spot these hawks in remote areas or soaring above the landscape.

11. Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk displays a stunning appearance with its striking plumage. Its body is primarily characterized by a rich, rusty-brown colouration, particularly on its back and shoulders. The underside features a lighter shade with distinct patterns and markings. Its broad wings and sharp beak are well-suited for its predatory lifestyle.

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  • Length: The Ferruginous Hawk boasts an impressive length ranging from 22 to 27 inches, making it one of the larger hawk species.
  • Weight: With a weight ranging between 2.5 and 4 pounds, these hawks possess a substantial size.
  • Wingspan: They showcase an impressive wingspan of approximately 52-56 inches, enabling them to soar and glide with grace and precision.
  • Scientific Name: The Ferruginous Hawk is scientifically known as Buteo regalis.

Habitat & Range:

The Ferruginous Hawk is commonly found in open grasslands, prairies, and desert habitats. While sightings in Virginia are rare, they may occasionally occur in the western parts of the state, where suitable open habitats are available.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

Ferruginous Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as rabbits, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. They are skilled hunters, employing a combination of soaring, hovering, and perching techniques to locate and capture their prey. Their powerful talons and beaks allow them to secure and efficiently consume their meals.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

These hawks build their nests on cliffs, trees, or ground. They construct large stick nests lined with softer materials. Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics and vocalizations. They typically lay 2-4 eggs, and both parents contribute to the incubation and raising of the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Ferruginous Hawks exhibit variable migration patterns, with some populations being migratory and others resident. In Virginia, they are primarily observed during migration seasons or in the state’s western regions. Open habitats, such as grasslands and agricultural areas, provide suitable foraging grounds for these hawks.

About the author

James Avian : Birds captivate us with their magnificent presence and hold a significant place in cultures worldwide. These enchanting creatures play a vital role in maintaining the balance of land-based ecosystems. They serve as a constant source of inspiration and represent a precious living treasure on our planet. Read more about us here.

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