7 Stunning Hawks in Alaska: Can You Spot Them All? (#7 is a Challenge!)
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Alaska is home to a diverse range of hawk species, each with its own unique characteristics and adaptations. One commonly found hawk in Alaska is the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), which has a distinctive feather pattern with dark patches on its white underparts. This species is well adapted to the harsh Arctic climate and can be spotted during the winter months.
Alaska is home to diverse hawk species, including the Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed Hawk.
The Rough-legged Hawk is well adapted to the Arctic climate and can be observed during the winter months.
The Northern Harrier utilizes a low-flying hunting technique and can be seen gliding over open fields and marshlands.
Male: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in) / Female: 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 in)
89 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.
45–65 cm (18–26 in)
110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in)
690 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.
47 to 60 in
1.32 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.
23 – 30 cm
17 to 23 in
82 – 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’.
41–52 cm (16–20 in)
97–122 cm (38–48 in)
Male 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.
1.8 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.
50–66 cm (19.5 – 26 in)
127–180 cm (50 – 71 in)
2 lb 0 oz – 4 lb 10 oz)
The Osprey, is a unique bird of prey found almost worldwide. It’s distinct for its diet, as it feeds almost exclusively on fish, diving feet-first to catch its prey in bodies of water. This bird is easily identifiable by its dark brown back, contrasting with its white underparts and head, and a distinctive dark eye-stripe that extends to the sides of the neck.
Ospreys are known for their incredible ability to hover in the air while locating fish below, before plunging into the water for the catch. Their nests, made of sticks and lined with softer material, are usually built in open surroundings for easy approach, often on top of trees, poles, or platforms specifically designed to encourage Osprey habitation.
Discover the Best Places to Spot Hawks in Alaska
Denali National Park and Preserve: The vast wilderness of Denali serves as a spectacular setting for observing Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Goshawks.
Chugach State Park, Anchorage: This expansive park is home to a rich variety of bird species, including various types of hawks such as the Red-tailed Hawk.
Kachemak Bay State Park, Homer: Kachemak Bay is a prime spot for viewing migrating hawks, especially during the fall season.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: Being the largest national park in the US, it offers ample opportunities to spot soaring hawks against the backdrop of stunning glaciers and mountain peaks.
Kenai Fjords National Park: The coastal cliffs of the park create perfect nesting spots for many hawk species.
Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Fairbanks: Although most famous for waterfowl, this refuge also attracts hawks, making it a great birdwatching destination.
Potter Marsh, Anchorage: This wetland habitat is a haven for various bird species, including hawks.
Tongass National Forest: The vast expanse of this temperate rainforest provides a habitat for several hawk species.
Final Thoughts on Hawks in the State of Alaska
For those entranced by the flight of hawks in Alaska’s expansive skies, extend your sights beyond the Alaskan border and venture into the “Evergreen State,” where the raptors of Washington’s Cascade Range present a thrilling spectacle against the backdrop of towering peaks.
In the beautiful wilderness of Alaska, a variety of hawk species can be observed. Among the most common hawks in Alaska are the rough-legged hawks and the sharp-shinned hawks. Several other hawk species also live there including northern harriers, ferruginous hawks and northern goshawks also inhabit this region along with other birds and many other migratory birds. Hawks are typically identified by their incredible eyesight, predatory nature, and capture prey behavior.
What are the big hawks in Alaska?
Alaska is home to several large hawks, including the red-tailed hawks and the rough-legged hawks. The red tailed hawk length is 18 to 26 inches, these birds are among the largest and most imposing hawk species in Alaska. These large birds can often be seen perched on telephone poles or soaring over the state’s dense forests. A sharp shinned hawk length is 9–12 inches making it the smallest hawk in the state.
How do Northern Harrier and Broad-winged Hawks capture prey?
The Northern Harrier scientific name Circus hudsonius, and the Broad-winged Hawk, Buteo platypterus, both have distinctive features and behaviors that aid them in capturing prey. Northern Harriers possess a unique facial disk that resembles an owl’s, which aids them in pinpointing the location of their prey. It is thought broad winged hawks use their wings to swiftly swoop down on prey, usually small mammals.
Which hawks have featherered legs?
The only American hawks to have feathered legs are Ferruginous hawks and rough legged hawks. The ferruginous hawk is one of the largest of the American birds of prey and is known for its distinctive characteristics, including a “ferruginous” or rust-colored back and shoulders.
About the author
Jack Taylor is a passionate bird enthusiast and seasoned avian biologist, making bird-watching and nature conservation not just his career, but his life’s calling. With his extensive field knowledge and knack for storytelling, Jack translates the wonders of avian life into captivating posts. His blog is a testament to his love for feathered friends and his commitment to sharing their fascinating world with others.