15 Astonishing Hawks in Arizona (#9 is a Must-See!)




Hawks in Arizona

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Arizona, a state known for its diverse habitats, from desert landscapes to mountainous regions, is home to an impressive array of hawks. With 15 distinct species residing in the state, these majestic birds of prey serve as an essential part of the ecosystem, controlling rodent populations and balancing nature.

  • Red-Tailed Hawk – The Red-tailed Hawk is perhaps the most common hawk in North America and has a significant presence in Arizona.
  • Cooper’s Hawk – Widespread and frequently seen in suburban areas and forests.
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk – Another relatively common species, often seen preying near bird feeders.
  • Northern Harrier – Commonly sighted in open habitats, though populations can fluctuate.
  • Swainson’s Hawk – Regularly seen in Arizona, especially during migration seasons.
  • Ferruginous Hawk – Often spotted in the open, arid regions of the state.
  • Common Black Hawk – Not as widespread as some others on this list but can be found along rivers and streams.
  • Northern Goshawk – While less common, they are present in the higher altitude forests.
  • Zone-Tailed Hawk – Not as common but can be seen mimicking the flight pattern of the Turkey Vulture.
  • Broad-Winged Hawk – More frequently sighted during migration seasons.
  • Gray Hawk – These birds are less common and typically found in the southern part of the state near water.
  • Rough-Legged Hawk – They are infrequent winter visitors to Arizona.
  • Short-Tailed Hawk – Very rare in Arizona, primarily found in the extreme south of the state.
  • White-Tailed Hawk – Not typically found in Arizona, primarily resident in coastal southern Texas.
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk – Rare in Arizona, more commonly found in eastern and coastal regions of the U.S.

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.

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’.

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.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo regalis
Length51 to 69 cm (20 to 27 in)
Wingspan122 to 152 cm (48 to 60 in)
Weight907 to 2,268 g (32.0 to 80.0 oz)

The Ferruginous Hawk is a large raptor native to the open landscapes of North America. The term “ferruginous” comes from the Latin word for rust, referring to the bird’s reddish-brown coloration. Ferruginous Hawks are primarily known for their size, broad wings, and a distinctive leg feathering that extends to the toes, a feature that makes them the most “feather-legged” of the North American hawks. This bird feeds primarily on mammals like rabbits and prairie dogs, but will also eat birds and reptiles. They thrive in open habitats such as prairies, plains, and deserts, where they often perch on the highest point available. Their nests are typically constructed on cliffs, trees, or man-made structures and are quite large, reflecting the size of the bird itself. Despite their intimidating presence, Ferruginous Hawks are generally more docile than other raptors.

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
Common Black Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeogallus anthracinus
Length21 inches
Wingspan50 inches
Weight840 g

The Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) is a bird of prey that inhabits various regions across the Americas. Characterized by its black plumage, this bird is native to coastal and interior regions, ranging from the Southwestern United States to Central America, extending down to parts of South America. In its habitat, it is often found near bodies of water like rivers, streams, and marshes. A distinct feature of this bird is its broad, rounded wings and a short, broad tail which allow it to maneuver through densely forested habitats with relative ease.

A notable behavior of the Common Black Hawk is its preference for aquatic prey. It feeds primarily on crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and other small animals found in or near water. This bird is typically solitary, only forming pair bonds during the breeding season. It builds large stick nests high in trees or on cliff faces near water, demonstrating a strong tie to its preferred aquatic habitats. Vocal and conspicuous during breeding season, these birds are known for their piercing, distinct calls that resonate through their habitats.

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.

Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone Tailed Hawk
Zone Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo albonotatus
Length18 to 22 in
Wingspan46–55 in
Weight1.4 – 2lb

The Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus) is a medium-sized bird of prey that can be found in parts of North, Central, and South America. Its most striking feature is its distinct tail, which displays a series of black and white bands, providing this raptor its descriptive name. This bird has a largely blackish plumage, which combined with its tail banding, and general shape and flight pattern, makes it often mistaken for the common Turkey Vulture, a case of Batesian mimicry that can allow it to approach prey unnoticed.

Its diet is highly varied and opportunistic, consuming a wide range of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Although the Zone-Tailed Hawk usually hunts by soaring and circling high in the air, it can also stealthily approach prey by flying low to the ground. During the breeding season, these hawks pair up and construct nests out of sticks and plant material, typically in tall trees or cliff edges. Its vocalizations, a series of high-pitched whistles, often signal its presence in the area.

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.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo plagiatus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan31 to 34 inches
Weight12.5 – 18.8 oz

The Gray Hawk, also known as the Grey-lined Hawk, is a small bird of prey that is found across a vast range in the Americas, from the southwestern United States through Mexico and Central America, extending to northern South America. It is easily recognizable by its light gray body, darker gray wings, and white underparts with fine gray barring. Its tail is marked with broad white and black bands, giving it a distinctive appearance in flight.

The Gray Hawk is a generalist predator, with a diet that primarily consists of lizards, snakes, small mammals, and birds. It has a unique hunting style, often soaring or perching to locate prey before launching a rapid, direct flight to capture it. The species is monogamous and pairs are known to remain together for multiple breeding seasons. Nests are built high in trees, and both parents participate in the incubation and feeding of the young.

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.

Short-Tailed Hawk

Short Tailed Hawk
Short Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo brachyurus
Length15.3-17.3 in
Wingspan32.7-40.5 in
Weight13.6-16.9 oz

The Short-Tailed Hawk is a small to medium-sized bird of prey that inhabits parts of North, Central, and South America. Its name stems from its uniquely short tail, which is prominently visible during its characteristic flight. This bird presents two color morphs: a dark form, which is uniformly dark gray or brownish-black, and a light form, with a primarily white underbody and dark upperparts.

The Short-Tailed Hawk is known for its impressive hunting skills. It predominantly preys on small birds, which it often catches mid-air, but its diet also includes small mammals and reptiles. Hunting usually involves soaring high in the air, sometimes for hours at a time, before diving quickly to snatch its prey. During the breeding season, this raptor constructs a small nest of sticks in the crowns of tall trees.

White-Tailed Hawk

White Tailed Hawk
White Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameGeranoaetus albicaudatus
Length17–24 in
Wingspan46–56 in
Weight1.94–2.73 lb

The White-Tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey that ranges across both North and South America. Recognizable by its predominantly gray body and white underparts, this raptor is most distinguished by its white tail adorned with a single, broad black band near the tip. Younger hawks often have rufous markings on their upperparts, which fade to gray as they mature.

The White-Tailed Hawk is a formidable hunter with a broad diet that includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. It’s known for its hunting style, typically soaring at high altitudes and diving steeply onto its prey, as well as for its versatility, sometimes hunting from a perch or even on the ground. The hawk’s monogamous breeding pairs construct large, bulky nests, usually situated in the crowns of tall trees or on cliff faces, depending on the habitat.

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.

Where to Find Hawks In Arizona

Arizona’s diverse habitats provide a home to various species of hawks. Here are some excellent locations to observe these impressive raptors:

  1. Saguaro National Park: Known for its dense saguaro cactus forests, it’s a perfect habitat for many species, including the Red-tailed Hawk.
  2. Kofa National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the Sonoran Desert, it’s a wonderful place to spot desert-adapted species such as the Harris’s Hawk.
  3. Coconino National Forest: In this forest of northern Arizona, you might find Northern Goshawks, especially near the Mogollon Rim.
  4. Tucson’s Urban Areas: Hawks such as Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are known to thrive in urban areas and can often be seen in Tucson’s city parks or even in residential neighborhoods.
  5. San Pedro River Valley: This area, especially near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, is a great spot to observe migrating hawks like Swainson’s Hawks.
  6. Grand Canyon National Park: This globally renowned park’s high cliffs provide excellent updrafts for soaring hawks and other raptors.
  7. Sonoran Desert National Monument: This monument’s desert landscape can often reveal the majestic Ferruginous Hawk.
  8. Huachuca Mountains: These mountains, especially around the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, are a great place to look for various species of migrating hawks.
  9. Santa Catalina Mountains: North of Tucson, these mountains offer a diverse range of habitats, increasing the variety of hawks you might spot.

Remember, the early morning hours tend to be the best for observing these birds of prey as they hunt for food. Also, migration seasons (spring and fall) are especially active times.

While Arizona is a fantastic locale for observing hawks, surrounding states also offer unique and captivating bird-watching experiences. If you head west, you can uncover the varied ecosystems and their feathery inhabitants with a guide to the hawk species found in California. For those venturing north, the mesmerizing landscapes and bird populations await you; learn more about the unique hawks of Utah.

Going east, New Mexico’s distinct environments offer a diverse range of raptors. Dive into the world of New Mexico’s hawks and discover species that call these habitats home. Last but not least, Nevada to the northwest holds a stark beauty, mirrored in the resilient raptors that inhabit its deserts and mountains.

You can explore the varieties of hawks native to Nevada, adding to your ever-growing bird-watching experiences. As you explore these regions, you’ll find each offers a unique twist on hawk observation, expanding your knowledge and appreciation of these magnificent birds of prey.

Interesting Facts about Hawks in Arizona

Urban Adaptation: In the bustling city of Tucson, Cooper’s Hawks have adapted remarkably well to urban living. They are often spotted in residential neighborhoods and parks, demonstrating their adaptability.

Rare Residents: The Common Black Hawk, typically found in Central and South America, finds a northernmost home in Arizona’s riparian areas, offering birdwatchers a unique viewing opportunity.

Migration Pathways: The San Pedro River Valley in Arizona is a major migration corridor for Swainson’s Hawks. Every spring and fall, birdwatchers can see large groups of these hawks flying overhead.

Hawk vs. Owl: Northern Goshawks, found in the high-altitude forests of Arizona, have been known to square off with Great Horned Owls. Both species often compete for the same nesting areas.

Desert Raptor: The Harris’s Hawk, a social bird often found hunting in cooperative groups, is primarily found in the Sonoran Desert. This includes areas within Arizona.

Mimicry Masters: Zone-tailed Hawks, which can be found in Arizona, use a special tactic to hunt: they mimic the flight pattern of Turkey Vultures to get closer to their prey undetected.

Waterway Hawks: Common Black Hawks in Arizona are most frequently found along riparian corridors – an unusual habitat for hawks. The Verde River and its tributaries are popular spots to spot these uncommon birds.

Size Matters: Ferruginous Hawks, which are often sighted in Arizona during winter, are the largest hawks in North America. They are easily recognizable by their broad wings and legs feathered all the way to their toes.

Rare Sightings: The Gray Hawk is a tropical bird, but birdwatchers can spot them in Arizona, one of the few places in the United States where they breed. You’re most likely to see them in riparian woods near the Mexican border.

Soaring Above the Canyon: The Grand Canyon’s high cliffs provide updrafts for soaring raptors, making it an excellent spot to see various hawks riding the thermals above one of the world’s natural wonders.

What is the most common hawk in Arizona?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common among the hawks in Arizona, characterized by its signature reddish tail feathers. These birds are found across the state, including the famous Grand Canyon National Park and Tonto National Forest. Their broad wings allow them to soar high and effortlessly spot small mammals like ground squirrels – a primary source of their diet.

What kind of hawks are in Arizona?

Arizona is a haven for a variety of hawk species. Among the most notable are the Red-tailed Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk, the Gray Hawk, and the Zone-tailed Hawk. You can also spot Sharp-shinned Hawks, recognized for their rounded wings and sharp beaks. Northern Harriers, with their distinctive white checkered wings and feathered legs, also inhabit Arizona. During the breeding season, these diverse hawks contribute to the vibrant ecosystem, presenting excellent birdwatching opportunities.

Is it good to have a hawk in your backyard?

Yes, it can be beneficial to have a hawk in your backyard, especially for natural pest control. Hawks, including Cooper’s Hawks, hunt small mammals and other birds that could potentially harm your garden. These birds of prey can often be found near bird feeders hunting for small birds. However, while it is indeed thrilling to spot a hawk in your backyard, it’s important to remember they are wild creatures and should be respected and not disturbed.

What is the largest bird of prey in Arizona?

The Ferruginous Hawk holds the title of being the largest bird of prey in Arizona. Renowned for its long broad wings and wide tail, this bird is easily recognizable. The Ferruginous Hawk has light gray and dark brown feathers, and its name “ferruginous” is derived from its rusty color that is prominently visible on its back and wings. This hawk species prefers open grasslands and deserts where they can spot prey from tall trees, offering a magnificent sight for any birdwatcher in Arizona.

What hawk species can be found at the Grand Canyon National Park?

The Grand Canyon National Park is home to several hawk species, including the Red-tailed Hawks, Gray Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, short tailed hawks, and Zone-tailed Hawk. Interestingly, the White-tailed Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks, recognizable by their broad wings and distinct feathered legs, can also be found here. These hawks, along with other bird species, create a vibrant and diverse avian community in the park, attracting bird enthusiasts worldwide. Furthermore, the park’s tall trees and vast expanses provide an ideal habitat for these hawks to hunt small mammals, adding to the ecosystem’s balance.

Do Arizona hawks migrate, and if so, where do they go?

Yes, some hawk species do migrate. Notably, Gray Hawks migrate to Central and South America during the winter months. These birds, known for their dark brown feathers and long broad wings, travel great distances from Arizona to warmer climates. Similarly, Swainson’s Hawks, also migratory, make an impressive journey all the way to South America. The Northern Harriers, on the other hand, are partial migrants, with some moving south to Central America and others remaining in the region. The migration patterns of hawks are a fascinating study in avian behavior and the ecological interconnectedness of regions.

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