Hawks in Pennsylvania (9 Species with Pictures)

Hawks are majestic birds of prey known for their keen eyesight, powerful flight, and predatory skills. They belong to the family Accipitridae and are characterized by their sharp talons, hooked beaks, and broad wingspan. Pennsylvania, with its diverse landscapes and abundant prey, is home to various hawk species.

In this guide, we will explore the fascinating world of hawks in Pennsylvania, providing you with a comprehensive overview of the nine species found in the state. Each species has unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats, making them a captivating sight for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Whether you’re an avid birder or simply interested in learning more about the hawks that grace the skies of Pennsylvania, this guide will provide valuable insights. We’ll delve into the distinguishing features of each species, their preferred habitats, and their hunting techniques, and even showcase pictures to help you identify these magnificent birds in the field.

Physical Characteristics of Hawks

Sharp Beak: Hawks have a hooked beak specifically designed for tearing and ripping apart their prey.

Strong Talons: These birds possess powerful talons that allow them to grasp and immobilize their prey precisely.

Broad Wings: Hawks have broad wings that enable them to soar through the air effortlessly and cover long distances during migration or hunting.

Sharp Eyesight: Hawks are renowned for their exceptional vision. Their eyesight is incredibly sharp, allowing them to spot prey from great distances.

Feather Patterns: Hawks exhibit various feather patterns, including distinctive markings and colorations. These patterns often serve as camouflage and aid in their ability to blend into their surroundings.

Adaptive Plumage: Some hawk species, such as the Rough-legged Hawk, have specialized feathers on their legs and feet that provide insulation against cold temperatures.

Varied Sizes: Hawks come in different sizes, ranging from small species like the Sharp-shinned Hawk to larger ones like the Red-tailed Hawk. The size variation often corresponds to differences in their hunting preferences and prey.

Graceful Flight: Hawks possess a graceful and agile flight style characterized by soaring, gliding, and swift maneuvers.

9 Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania

1. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is easily recognized by its reddish-brown tail feathers, which give it its name. Its dark brown body has a pale breast and a distinctive dark band across its belly. Adults often have a light-colored patch on the throat.

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  • Length: Red-tailed Hawks typically measure around 18 to 26 inches in length.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 2 to 4 pounds.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan extends between 3.5 to 4.8 feet, allowing for graceful flight and maneuverability.
  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis.

Habitat & Range:

Red-tailed Hawks are adaptable birds and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, open grasslands, and even urban areas. They are widespread throughout North America, including Virginia, and can be spotted nationwide.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, rabbits, and squirrels. They are skilled hunters and often perch on elevated structures, scanning the surroundings for potential prey. They dive swiftly to catch their prey with their sharp talons when hunting.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Red-tailed Hawks form monogamous pairs, and their breeding season usually begins in early spring. They build large nests made of sticks and line them with softer materials. These nests are often found high in trees or on cliff ledges. The female lays 1 to 4 eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them: While some Red-tailed Hawks are year-round residents, others migrate to warmer regions during winter. In Virginia, you can observe them yearly, soaring in open areas, perched on telephone poles, or circling high above.


2. Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a small to medium-sized raptor with a compact body. It has a brownish-black back and wings and a pale underbelly featuring dark streaks. Their tail feathers display black and white bands visible during flight.

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  • Length: Broad-winged Hawks typically measure around 13 to 17 inches in length.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight of 9 to 20 ounces.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan extends between 31 and 39 inches, allowing for agile flight and maneuverability.
  • Scientific name: Buteo platypterus.

Habitat & Range:

Broad-winged Hawks are primarily found in deciduous and mixed forests, where they prefer dense canopy cover. They can be spotted across Virginia during their breeding season.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and squirrels. They are also known to consume amphibians, reptiles, and large insects. Broad-winged Hawks hunt by perching in the treetops and swooping to capture their prey.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Broad-winged Hawks are monogamous birds, and their breeding season begins in late spring. They build nests made of sticks and line them with softer materials, often located in the upper branches of trees. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs, and both parents take turns incubating them.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Broad-winged Hawks are renowned for their unusual migratory behavior. They undertake long-distance migrations, often in large groups called “kettles.” During fall migration, they can be seen soaring in large numbers as they travel south to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. You can spot them in Virginia during their breeding season and migration; they create breathtaking spectacles as they gather in large flocks.


3. Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a large raptor with a broad, rounded tail and short, powerful wings. Adults have a slate-gray to dark gray back and wings, with a pale underbelly and distinct white eyebrow markings. Juveniles have brownish plumage with streaks and a barred tail.

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  • Length: Northern Goshawks measure around 20 to 26 inches, making them one of the larger hawk species.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 1.5 to 3 pounds, showcasing their robust build.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan spans 40 to 46 inches, allowing for powerful flight and agile hunting.
  • Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis.

Habitat & Range:

Northern Goshawks prefer mature and dense coniferous or mixed forests for their habitats. They can be found in the northern regions of Virginia, particularly in the mountainous areas with extensive forest cover.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks are skilled hunters and primarily prey on medium-sized birds and mammals. Their diet includes species such as grouse, squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally, larger prey like ducks. They rely on surprise attacks and quick flights to capture their targets.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Northern Goshawks are monogamous and establish breeding territories within their forest habitat. They construct large nests made of sticks, usually located in the higher branches of trees. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, and both parents participate in incubating the eggs and raising the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Northern Goshawks are typically non-migratory, with most individuals residing in their preferred territories throughout the year. In Virginia, they can be found in the forested areas of the mountains, where they maintain their territories and engage in breeding activities.


4. Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk is easily recognizable by its feathered legs, which extend down to its feet and give the appearance of wearing “rough-legged” trousers. They have a mottled brown plumage, dark belly bands, pale heads, and underparts. The light morph individuals have a white tail base, while the dark morph individuals have a dark tail.

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  • Length: Rough-legged Hawks measure around 18 to 20 inches, making them medium-sized hawks.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 2.2 to 3.5 pounds, showcasing their sturdy build.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan spans 52 to 56 inches, allowing for graceful flight and efficient hunting.
  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus.

Habitat & Range:

Rough-legged Hawks are typically found in open habitats, such as grasslands, fields, and marshes. During winter, they migrate to more southern regions, including parts of Virginia. Look for them in areas with expansive open spaces and perching opportunities, such as fence posts or trees.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals, particularly voles and lemmings. They employ soaring and hovering techniques to spot their prey from above and then dive down to make a swift capture. They are also known to consume birds, reptiles, and occasionally carrion.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Rough-legged Hawks construct nests on cliffs or trees, using sticks and lining them with grasses and feathers. They typically breed in the Arctic regions of North America and migrate to their wintering grounds, including parts of Virginia, for the colder months. Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Rough-legged Hawks are migratory birds, spending their breeding season in the Arctic and winter in more southern regions. In Virginia, they can be spotted during the winter months in open habitats, such as farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands. Keep an eye out for their hovering flight and keen hunting behaviors.


5. Swainson’s Hawk

The Swainson’s Hawk displays a variety of color variations. Adults in their light morph phase have a light chestnut upper body, a white throat, and a pale belly with a cinnamon wash. In contrast, individuals in their dark morph phase showcase a dark brown to blackish-brown plumage.

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  • Length: Swainson’s Hawks are approximately 18 to 22 inches long, making them medium-sized hawks.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 1.5 to 2.6 pounds, showcasing their lightweight build.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan spans 45 to 56 inches, enabling them to soar effortlessly through the sky.
  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni.

Habitat & Range:

Swainson’s Hawks are known to frequent a range of habitats, including grasslands, open woodlands, and agricultural fields. They can be found in different parts of Virginia during the breeding season, making it an exciting opportunity to spot these majestic birds in action.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and ground squirrels. They also consume insects, reptiles, birds, and occasionally carrion. Their feeding habits often involve perching on elevated spots and scanning the surroundings for potential prey.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Swainson’s Hawks build their nests using sticks and line them with soft materials like grasses and feathers. They typically breed in open woodlands or isolated trees, creating large and sturdy nests. Breeding pairs engage in aerial courtship displays, including soaring together and exchanging food mid-flight.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Swainson’s Hawks are migratory birds, spending their breeding season in North America and migrating to South America for the winter. During their migration, they pass through Virginia, offering bird enthusiasts a chance to observe their impressive long-distance journeys. Look for them in open habitats and fields as they travel south.


6. Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk displays a distinctive appearance with its reddish-brown chest and shoulders, contrasting with its barred black-and-white wings and tail. Its head is adorned with a prominent dark cap, and its eyes are bright yellow, adding to its striking features.

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  • Length: Red-shouldered Hawks are approximately 16 to 24 inches long, making them a medium-sized hawk species.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 17 to 27 ounces, showcasing their moderate weight compared to other hawk species.
  • Wingspan: Their wingspan spans 37 to 43 inches, providing excellent aerial maneuverability.
  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus.

Habitat & Range:

Red-shouldered Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, wooded swamps, and riparian areas. They are year-round residents of Virginia, making it an excellent location to observe these hawks throughout the year.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks have a diverse diet primarily consisting of small mammals such as mice, voles, and squirrels. They also feed on reptiles, amphibians, birds, and occasionally insects. Their feeding habits often involve perching on tree branches and actively scanning the ground for potential prey.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Red-shouldered Hawks build nests using sticks lined with soft materials like moss and leaves. They often construct their nests in the forks of large trees, particularly near water sources. Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics and calling.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Red-shouldered Hawks are generally non-migratory birds, with most individuals residing in their breeding territories year-round. They can be spotted throughout Virginia, particularly in forested areas and near bodies of water where their preferred habitats are found.


7. Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is characterized by its compact body, short rounded wings, and long tail. It has a blue-grey back, a reddish-brown barred chest, and a distinctive reddish eye. These features contribute to its stealthy appearance, allowing it to navigate through dense vegetation easily.

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  • Length: Sharp-shinned Hawks measure approximately 10 to 14 inches, making them one of the smallest hawk species in North America.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 3.5 to 7.7 ounces, showcasing their lightweight build.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of 20 to 27 inches, the Sharp-shinned Hawk possesses relatively short wings that aid in agility and swift flight.
  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus.

Habitat & Range:

Sharp-shinned Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and even suburban areas. They are widespread throughout Virginia, making it an excellent location to observe these agile hunters.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small birds, such as sparrows, finches, and other songbirds. Their exceptional speed and manoeuvrability make them skilled at capturing their prey in flight. They often ambush birds at bird feeders or pursue them through dense foliage.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Sharp-shinned Hawks build nests in trees using sticks lined with finer materials such as bark and feathers. They typically nest in dense forests, providing ample cover for their secretive breeding habits. Breeding pairs engage in courtship displays, including aerial chases and calling.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Sharp-shinned Hawks exhibit both migratory and resident populations in Virginia. During the breeding season, they can be found throughout the state. Some individuals migrate to southern regions in winter, while others remain in Virginia if good food sources are available.


8. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier has a unique appearance, with a slim body, long tail, and broad wings. Adult males are characterized by their grey upper and white underparts, while adult females and juveniles display brown colouration. Another striking feature is their facial disk, similar to that of an owl, which helps capture sound during hunting.

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  • Length: Northern Harriers measure 18 to 20 inches, making them medium-sized hawk species.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 10 to 26 ounces, varying between males and females.
  • Wingspan: With an impressive wingspan of 40 to 48 inches, the Northern Harrier possesses long, slender wings that aid in its typical flight behavior.
  • Scientific name: Circus Hudsonius.

Habitat & Range:

Northern Harriers can be found in a variety of open habitats, including marshes, grasslands, meadows, and agricultural fields. They are distributed throughout Virginia, providing ample opportunities to observe their aerial prowess.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals, including voles, mice, and rabbits. They have a unique hunting behavior known as “quartering,” where they fly low over the ground in a back-and-forth pattern, searching for prey. They rely on their excellent hearing and vision to detect and capture their quarry.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Northern Harriers build nests on the ground, hidden among tall vegetation or in marshy areas. Breeding pairs engage in elaborate courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics and vocalizations. Females lay a clutch of eggs, and both parents contribute to the incubation and rearing of the young.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

Some Northern Harriers in Virginia are resident year-round, while others migrate to more southern regions during winter. During migration, they can be observed in various habitats, including coastal areas and open fields.


9. Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawk displays a compact and streamlined body, perfect for navigating wooded areas. Adult birds have bluish-gray upperparts and reddish-brown barred underparts. Their long tails feature distinct dark bands. Juveniles have a more brownish coloration and vertical streaks on their underparts. This hawk’s sharp, yellow eyes are adapted for precise vision during hunting.

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  • Length: Cooper’s Hawks measure around 14 to 20 inches, making them a medium-sized hawk species.
  • Weight: These hawks have an average weight ranging from 8 to 24 ounces, varying between males and females.
  • Wingspan: With a wingspan of 24 to 35 inches, the Cooper’s Hawk possesses relatively short wings that enable swift maneuvering through dense vegetation.
  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii.

Habitat & Range:

Cooper’s Hawks inhabit various forested habitats, including woodlands, forests, and suburban areas. In Virginia, they can be found throughout the state, from urban parks to wooded landscapes, making them a common sight for observant birdwatchers.

Diet & Feeding Habits:

These hawks are skilled predators that primarily feed on small to medium-sized birds, such as doves, starlings, and jays. With remarkable speed and agility, Cooper’s Hawks pursue their prey through dense vegetation or launch surprise attacks from perches. They are known for their remarkable ability to maneuver through obstacles during the chase.

Breeding Habits & Nesting Sites:

Cooper’s Hawks build nests in tall trees, usually concealed among branches. During courtship, males perform aerial displays, including acrobatic flights and calls. Females lay a clutch of eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and caring for the young. Their nests are carefully constructed with sticks and lined with softer materials.

Migration Patterns & Where To Find Them:

While some Cooper’s Hawks are residents year-round in Virginia, others may migrate to more southern regions during winter. During migration, they can be spotted in various habitats, including woodlands, suburban areas, and backyard bird feeders.

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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