The Top 10 Hawks in Alabama (You Won’t Believe the Size of #4!)




Hawks in Alabama

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Alabama, blessed with diverse ecosystems ranging from the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf Coast, is a paradise for hawks and bird watchers alike. A variety of hawks including the Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk can be frequently spotted here. Bird lovers can visit spots like the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Dauphin Island, or Oak Mountain State Park to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Key Takeaways:

  • Alabama’s diverse ecosystems provide the perfect habitat for a variety of hawk species.
  • Popular hawk species in Alabama include the Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk.
  • Prime bird-watching locations in Alabama include the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Dauphin Island, and Oak Mountain State Park.
  • Birdwatching for hawks in Alabama is a year-round activity, with some seasons offering unique viewing opportunities based on migration patterns.

Here are some of the hawks that can be found in the state:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis): The most common hawk in North America, easily recognized by its reddish-brown tail.
  2. Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus): A smaller hawk, known for its migratory behavior. They are most visible in Alabama during their spring and fall migrations.
  3. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii): A medium-sized hawk that primarily preys on smaller birds. They are more elusive than some other species.
  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus): The smallest hawk in North America, often found hunting in woodland areas.
  5. Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus): Recognized by the distinctive reddish patch on its wings, this hawk is often found near water bodies.
  6. Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis): A large hawk that prefers dense forest habitats. Sightings of this hawk in Alabama are rare.
  7. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius): Known for their distinctive flight pattern, flying low over open fields and marshes. Males and females have different coloration, with males being gray and females being brown.
  8. Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni): This hawk is a long-distance migrant and sightings in Alabama are more common during migration periods.
  9. Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus): A winter visitor to Alabama, this hawk breeds in the Arctic and migrates south for the winter.
  10. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): Though not technically a hawk, Ospreys are often included in discussions of raptors due to their similar characteristics and behaviors. They are almost exclusively fish-eaters and are found near water bodies.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo jamaicensis
Length 45–65 cm (18–26 in)
Wingspan110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in)
Weight690 to 1,600 g (1.5 to 3.5 lb)

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey that is commonly found across North America. This adaptable raptor is known for its brick-red tail, which is most noticeable in adults from above or underneath. The diet of the Red-Tailed Hawk is very diverse, including small mammals like mice and squirrels, as well as birds and reptiles.

This hawk is often seen perched on poles or soaring in wide circles high above fields, forests, and highways. Its habitat is extremely varied, ranging from desert and scrublands to forests and tropical rainforests. Its call, a raspy, screaming kee-eeeee-arr, is often used in movies to represent any bird of prey.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Broad Winged Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo platypterus
Length13 to 17 in
Wingspan29 to 39 in
Weight9.3 to 19.8 oz

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus. It’s primarily found throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada, migrating long distances to Central and South America for the winter. The bird is named for its relatively broad wings, and it displays a characteristic white band on the tail, which is bordered by two darker bands.

Broad-winged Hawks inhabit deciduous forests and woodlands, where they primarily feed on small mammals, amphibians, insects, and occasionally birds. They are known for their distinctive soaring flight during migration, often traveling in large groups known as “kettles.” These hawks are monogamous and build nests high in trees where the female usually lays 1 to 3 eggs. Their call is a piercing, two-parted whistle, heard most frequently during the breeding season.

Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers Hawk
Coopers Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter cooperii
Length35 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in) /Female: 42 to 50 cm (17 to 20 in)
Wingspan 62 to 99 cm (24 to 39 in)
WeightMale: 280 g (9.9 oz) in 48/ Female: 473 g (1.043 lb)

Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey in the Accipiter genus, native to the North American continent. It’s named after the American naturalist William Cooper, and distinguished by its slate-gray back, red-barred chest, and rounded tail with broad white terminal band. It is similar in appearance to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk, but can be differentiated by its larger size and rounded tail.

Inhabiting various types of woodland and forests, Cooper’s Hawks are agile predators known for their skill at chasing birds through trees, their primary prey being small to medium-sized birds. They also feed on small mammals and, less commonly, reptiles. They’re noted for their explosive flight pattern, consisting of a few rapid wingbeats followed by a short glide. Cooper’s Hawks nest in trees, and both parents share duties of incubating the eggs and raising the young. Their call is a distinctive, repetitive ‘cak-cak-cak’, often heard during courtship or when disturbed.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Sharp Shinned Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter striatus
Length23 – 30 cm
Wingspan17 to 23 in
Weight82 – 120 g

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest member of the Accipiter genus found in North America. Noted for its slender body and short, rounded wings, this hawk is characterized by its blue-gray back and barred orange or reddish underparts. The name “sharp-shinned” refers to the bird’s thin, pencil-like lower leg.

Sharp-shinned Hawks inhabit forests and woodlands, where they exhibit agility and stealth in hunting small birds, their primary food source, although they occasionally consume rodents and insects. They’re known for their impressive flight pattern involving quick, successive wingbeats followed by short glides. When it comes to nesting, they favor coniferous trees and both parents participate in raising their young. Their call, often heard during courtship or territory disputes, is a high-pitched, repetitive ‘kik-kik-kik’.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo lineatus
Length15 to 23 in
Wingspan35 to 50 in
Weight1.21 lb- 1.5 lb

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus, prevalent in North America. It is characterized by its reddish-brown shoulder patches, from which it derives its name. Other distinctive features include its banded tail and translucent crescents near the wingtips that are visible during flight.

Red-Shouldered Hawks typically inhabit mixed woodlands, often near rivers and swamps, where they hunt for a variety of prey, including small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally other birds. Unlike some other hawk species, they are quite vocal, emitting a distinctive, repetitive whistle that often gives away their presence. These hawks build nests high in deciduous trees where they usually lay 2 to 4 eggs. The pairs are monogamous, often maintaining their bond for many years and defending their territories fiercely.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter gentilis
LengthMale: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in) / Female: 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 in)
Wingspan89 to 105 cm (35 to 41 in)/ Female: 108 to 127 cm (43 to 50 in)

The Northern Goshawk is a large bird of prey and the largest member of the Accipiter genus. Native to the Northern Hemisphere, it’s characterized by its slate-gray upperparts, finely barred underparts, and prominent white eyebrow stripe. The name “goshawk” originates from the Old English term for “goose hawk,” denoting the bird’s prowess at hunting large prey.

Northern Goshawks inhabit large, uninterrupted forests, where they are skilled hunters of a wide range of prey, including small mammals and medium to large birds. They are particularly agile fliers, often chasing prey through densely forested environments. These hawks are monogamous, with pairs often returning to the same nesting territory year after year. Their nests are built high in trees, and their breeding season is heralded by spectacular aerial displays and a loud, repetitive ‘kak-kak-kak’ call.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier 2
Scientific NameCircus hudsonius
Length41–52 cm (16–20 in)
Wingspan 97–122 cm (38–48 in)
WeightMale 10 to 26 ounces (280 to 730 g)
Female: 11 to 30 ounces (310 to 850 g)

The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that belongs to the Circinae subfamily and stands out due to its distinctively owl-like facial disk, slender body, and long tail. This species exhibits a low and slow flying pattern when hunting, often skimming just above the ground of open fields and marshes. The males are predominantly gray, while the females and young are brown with streaks of white.

Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals and birds. Unique among hawks, these birds possess an owl-like trait of using auditory cues as well as visual ones to locate and catch prey. They’re also known for their polygynous breeding system, where a male may have up to five mates at once, each nesting in different locations within his territory.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainsons Hawk
Swainsons Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo swainsoni
Length17–22 in
Wingspan46–54 in
Weight1.8 lb – 2.5 lb

Swainson’s Hawk, a raptor in the Buteo genus, is recognized by its long wings and somewhat small bill. Named after British ornithologist William Swainson, this hawk is notable for its long-distance migration, travelling from its breeding grounds in North America to wintering areas in Argentina, one of the longest migratory journeys of any American raptor.

The diet of Swainson’s Hawks changes with the seasons. During the breeding season, they primarily feed on rodents and birds (burrowing owls if they are in abundance), while they shift to a diet of insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles, during migration and in their wintering grounds. They are also known for their soaring flight pattern and their distinctive two-part call that sounds like a plaintive whistle.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough legged Hawk
Rough legged Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo lagopus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan47 to 60 in
Weight1.32 to 3.66 lb

The Rough-legged Hawk, also a member of the Buteo genus, is named for its feathered legs that are adapted to cold environments in its Arctic breeding grounds. Characterized by a wide variety of plumage, all individuals display a characteristic dark “wrist” patch on the underwing, and a white base to the tail. The light morphs are predominantly white and brown, while the dark morphs are more uniformly dark brown.

Rough-legged Hawks are known for their unique hovering flight behavior when hunting for small mammals, which make up a significant portion of their diet. During the breeding season, these hawks are found in the tundra of the Arctic, where they nest on cliffs or bluffs. In winter, they migrate to southern Canada and the northern United States, becoming one of the few raptors that can adjust well to the cold weather conditions.

Where are the best places to go birdwatching for hawks in Alabama?

Alabama’s diverse habitats are a haven for various hawk species. Let’s look at some of the best places to find these raptors:

  1. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur: This refuge is a wintering area for migratory birds, making it an excellent place for hawk spotting, especially during the migration seasons.
  2. Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham: The state’s largest park is home to diverse ecosystems, making it a hot spot for various species of hawks, notably the Red-tailed Hawk.
  3. Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary: A renowned birding hotspot, the sanctuary is perfect for seeing migrating hawks in spring and fall.
  4. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Gulf Shores: This coastal refuge is home to many bird species and provides a prime location for spotting hawks during the migration season.
  5. Bankhead National Forest: This forest’s diverse habitats make it an ideal place to spot woodland hawks like the Red-shouldered Hawk.
  6. Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge: Hawks are frequently spotted near this riverine habitat, particularly during the breeding season.
  7. Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge: With a mix of wetlands, woodlands, and open water, this refuge is an excellent place to spot hunting hawks.
  8. Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville: The park’s high vantage points make it a great place to observe soaring hawks.
  9. Lake Guntersville State Park: This park’s lakeside location attracts a variety of hawk species, including the Broad-winged Hawk during migration seasons.
  10. Talladega National Forest: With its vast forests and open areas, Talladega offers ideal hunting grounds for hawks.

Hawks in Alabama can be found year-round, but spring and fall are especially active due to migration. Broad-winged Hawks are most noticeable during their spring and fall migrations, while Red-tailed Hawks can be seen throughout the year, often perched high on poles or in trees near open fields or roadways. Cooper’s Hawks are also a common sight, especially near bird feeders where they hunt smaller birds.

The best time for hawk spotting is usually in the early morning when these raptors are most active. Patience and observation are key; often, the movement of smaller birds can indicate the presence of a hunting hawk.

Remember to bring a good pair of binoculars and a bird guide to help identify the different species you might see! Birdwatching is an exercise in patience, so take your time and enjoy the natural beauty Alabama has to offer.

Interesting Facts about Hawks in Alabama

  1. Migration: Broad-winged Hawks pass through Alabama in large numbers during spring and fall migrations.
  2. Diet: Hawks play a crucial role in controlling the population of small mammals, including rodents and squirrels.
  3. Adaptation: Hawks have adapted to both rural and urban environments in Alabama.
  4. Nesting: Many hawks prefer to nest in tall trees or cliff ledges.
  5. Longevity: Some hawk species can live over 20 years in the wild.
  6. Cooper’s Hawks: This hawk species is known to frequently visit bird feeders to prey on smaller birds.
  7. Threats: Habitat loss and climate change pose significant threats to Alabama’s hawks.
  8. Size: The size of hawks in Alabama varies, with Red-tailed Hawks being among the largest.
  9. Breeding: Hawks typically breed once a year, usually in the spring.
  10. Observation: Birdwatching events in Alabama often focus on raptors, including hawks, offering an educational and engaging experience.

Final Thoughts on Hawks In Alabama

Once you’ve explored the realm of hawks in Alabama, it’s worth noting that these majestic creatures don’t recognize state lines. Discover the splendor of these avian wonders soaring high above the iconic Appalachian Mountains in our engaging guide on Georgia’s hawk population.

The journey doesn’t stop there, take a virtual trip down to the beautiful white sandy beaches and marshlands of Florida, with our fascinating exploration of hawks in the Sunshine State. Continuing westward, let’s uncover the hawks that grace the skies above the diverse landscapes in our comprehensive look at Mississippi’s raptors.

And finally, delve into the beautiful landscapes of Tennessee in our captivating insight into Tennessee’s hawk species. Each state provides a unique backdrop and ecosystem, ideal for various species of hawks, making every exploration a new adventure. Other hawks in US include sharp shined hawks, accipiter hawks, short tailed hawks and buteo hawks.

FAQs on Hawks in Alabama

What is the most common hawk in Alabama?

The Red-tailed Hawk, or Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk in Alabama. It’s easily identified by its reddish brown plumage and strongly banded tail. These large birds, often seen perched in tall trees or soaring high with their long broad wings, rely heavily on their keen eyesight to hunt for small mammals such as cottontail rabbits and ground squirrels.

What type of hawks live in Alabama?

Alabama is home to several hawk species, including Red-tailed Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Harriers, and on rare occasions, Ferruginous Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks. These species can be found in mixed forests and other habitats throughout the state. Bird watchers can often spot these hawks hunting for prey, including small birds and small rodents, during different times of the year. The Ferruginous Hawk is not usually seen in Alabama.

What is the difference between a hawk and a falcon?

Hawks and falcons are both birds of prey, but there are key differences. Hawks, such as the Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk, tend to be larger with rounded wings and long tails, ideal for maneuvering through dense cover like forests. They often have dark bands on their lighter flight feathers. Falcons, on the other hand, have pointed wingtips and a more streamlined shape for fast, open-air hunting. Hawks usually hunt by swooping down on their prey, while falcons capture prey in mid-air.

How do Broad-winged Hawks breed, and what are their characteristics?

Broad-winged Hawks, commonly found in Alabama, have unique breeding habits as they fly to South America for winter. They usually breed in dense mixed forests, often selecting tall trees for nesting sites, and can have up to eight nests in their territory. These birds are identified by their compact size and broad wings, which are dark brown on top and white underneath with broad black bands.

Broad-winged Hawks have strongly banded tails and reddish-brown heads, complementing their stocky bird appearance. An interesting fact is that the broad-winged hawk image showcases their distinctive white checkered wings pattern during flight.

What are the differences between Broad-winged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Rough-legged Hawks?

Broad-winged Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Rough-legged Hawks are different hawk species each possessing unique traits. Broad-winged Hawks are known for their broad wings and compact size, preferring mixed forests for breeding. Northern Harriers, characterized by a white rump patch and long tail, are ground nesters and often seen hunting low over marshes and grasslands.

They are unique among hawks as they rely on hearing as well as vision to capture prey. Rough-legged Hawks, named for their feathered legs, spend summers in the Arctic tundra but migrate south, including to Alabama, during winter. They are known for hovering in the air while hunting small mammals, and their plumage varies from light to dark morphs.

What kind of diet do hawks in Alabama have?

Hawks in Alabama have a diverse diet, including small mammals, small birds, and even young turtles. Broad-winged Hawks often hunt for ground squirrels, small rodents, and cottontail rabbits. Rough-legged hawks rely on small mammals like voles and mice.

Some hawks, such as the Sharp-shinned Hawks, can also be seen around bird feeders, making a meal of unsuspecting small to medium-sized birds. Northern Harriers are versatile hunters too, feeding on small mammals and birds, and occasionally preying on larger mammals or small reptiles. It’s truly a fascinating sight for bird watchers to see hawks hunt in their natural habitat.

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