13 Majestic Hawks in Colorado (Photos + Guide)




Hawks in Colorado

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Hawks in Colorado are a fascinating and diverse group of birds of prey that inhabit the state’s varied landscapes. From the iconic Red-tailed Hawk to the elusive Northern Goshawk, these majestic raptors captivate with their soaring flights and keen hunting abilities. Colorado’s rich biodiversity and wide range of habitats provide ample opportunities for observing and studying these magnificent creatures.

List of hawks in Colorado:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: Widely distributed throughout Colorado, commonly seen soaring in open habitats such as grasslands and along highways.

  2. Swainson’s Hawk: Found in Colorado during the breeding season, often seen perching on fence posts or hunting in open areas.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Frequently observed in urban and suburban areas of Colorado, nesting in trees and hunting small birds and mammals.

  4. Northern Harrier: Seen in wetland areas and grasslands of Colorado, gliding low over the ground while hunting for prey.

  5. Sharp-shinned Hawk: Primarily found in forested areas of Colorado, known for their agility in chasing and capturing small birds.

  6. Ferruginous Hawk: Often spotted in open prairies and grasslands of Colorado, recognized by their rusty-colored plumage.

  7. Rough-legged Hawk: Seen during the winter months in Colorado, preferring open fields and agricultural areas.

  8. Northern Goshawk: Inhabits coniferous forests of Colorado, building nests high in trees and hunting a variety of prey.

  9. Broad-winged Hawk: Occurs in Colorado during migration, often seen in forested habitats and soaring in large flocks.

  10. Common Black Hawk: Resides near streams and rivers in southern Colorado, known for its distinctive black plumage.

  11. Red-shouldered Hawk: Found in riparian areas and woodlands of Colorado, identified by their reddish shoulders.

  12. Zone-tailed Hawk: Spotted occasionally in southwestern Colorado, resembling vultures with similar soaring behavior.

  13. Variable Hawk: Rarely seen in Colorado, typically in high-elevation grasslands and open areas.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Variable Hawk

Variable Hawk
Variable Hawk 2
Scientific NameGeranoaetus polyosoma
Length17.7-24 in
Wingspan44-59 in
Weight23-45.8 oz

The Variable Hawk, as its name suggests, is a bird of prey known for its exceptional range of variation in plumage patterns, which can be different even within the same geographic region. These hawks are native to South America and can be found throughout the Andean region, extending from the southern tip of Chile and Argentina up to Venezuela. They inhabit various environments including puna grasslands, montane forest edges, and paramo habitats at elevations up to 5000 meters.

As raptors, Variable Hawks play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They feed mainly on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and large insects. Their nests are built high in trees or on cliff edges, often reusing the same nest year after year. These birds are monogamous, and the pair bonds for life. The females typically lay one to three eggs, with both parents participating in the incubation and rearing of the chicks. Their lifespan can extend up to 20 years in the wild.

Where to Find Hawks in Colorado

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park: Explore the rugged landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park, where hawks can be spotted soaring above the alpine meadows and rugged peaks.

  2. Pawnee National Grassland: Head to Pawnee National Grassland, a vast expanse of prairies and grasslands, where hawks can be seen perched on fence posts or hunting in the open areas.

  3. San Luis Valley: Visit the San Luis Valley, known for its wide-open spaces and agricultural lands, where hawks can be observed hunting for prey or nesting in the surrounding trees.

  4. Great Sand Dunes National Park: Observe hawks gliding over the unique sand dunes and grasslands of Great Sand Dunes National Park, offering a picturesque backdrop for birdwatching enthusiasts.

  5. Chatfield State Park: Explore the diverse habitats of Chatfield State Park, including wetlands and woodlands, where hawks can be seen searching for prey or perched on trees along the water’s edge.

Hawks in Colorado can be found throughout the year, but the best time to spot them is during their breeding season in the spring and summer. During this time, hawks engage in courtship displays and nest-building activities. They can often be seen soaring high in the sky or perched on trees and utility poles, scouting for prey.

Venturing beyond Colorado, each neighboring state boasts unique landscapes and their own hawk species to discover. Experience Wyoming’s untouched wilderness, which sets a stunning stage for these raptors, in our Wyoming hawks guide. Eastwards, Kansas’ diverse terrain hosts a variety of hawk species, which you can learn about in our Kansas hawks.

Down south, New Mexico’s desert ecosystems are home to numerous birds of prey; explore more in New Mexico hawks. To the west, Utah’s rugged cliffs provide breathtaking views of soaring hawks, detailed in our Utah hawks overview. Each state offers an unique bird-watching experience to broaden your avian horizons.

10 Fascinating Facts About Hawks in Colorado

  1. Hawks are skilled hunters: Hawks in Colorado have exceptional hunting skills, using their sharp talons and keen eyesight to catch prey such as small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

  2. Colorado is home to diverse hawk species: Colorado is host to a variety of hawk species, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, and more.

  3. Hawks are skilled fliers: Hawks in Colorado are known for their impressive flying abilities, soaring high in the sky with remarkable agility and grace.

  4. Some hawks migrate through Colorado: Colorado serves as a migratory route for certain hawk species, offering opportunities to witness their remarkable journeys across vast distances.

  5. Hawks play a crucial role in ecosystems: As top predators, hawks help maintain balance in Colorado’s ecosystems by controlling populations of small mammals and birds.

  6. Hawks build large nests: Hawks construct large nests made of sticks, twigs, and other materials in trees or on cliffs, providing secure homes for their young.

  7. Hawks have sharp vision: Hawks possess exceptional eyesight, allowing them to spot prey from great distances and swoop down with precision.

  8. Hawks have distinct calls: Each hawk species in Colorado has its own unique vocalizations, with calls ranging from high-pitched screeches to melodious whistles.

  9. Hawks are highly territorial: Hawks in Colorado defend their nesting territories fiercely, often engaging in aerial displays to establish dominance and protect their young.

  10. Hawks are symbols of strength and freedom: These majestic birds have long captivated human imagination, symbolizing strength, agility, and the spirit of the wild.

FAQs on Colorado Hawks

What is the most common hawk in Colorado?

Colorado’s most frequently sighted bird of prey is the Red-tailed Hawk. These hawks, identifiable by their rusty brown tail feathers, can often be seen soaring overhead in open areas across the state. Their broad wings and penchant for hunting small mammals make them a fascinating subject for bird watching.

What is the biggest hawk in Colorado?

The Ferruginous Hawk holds the title for being the largest hawk in Colorado. These larger birds, distinguished by their light morph and dark morph variants, grace the open prairies and grasslands of the state with their imposing presence.

What is the smallest hawk in Colorado?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, one of the smallest hawks in North America, is also the smallest in Colorado. They’re often found in forested areas where they employ their agility to chase and capture smaller birds. You can recognize them by their blue-gray feathers and long tail.

When is breeding season for hawks in Colorado?

In Colorado, hawks typically have their breeding season during the spring and early summer months. During this period, these birds of prey engage in courtship displays, construct nests, often in tall trees, and raise their young.

What do hawks eat in Colorado?

Hawks in Colorado have a varied diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. They are skilled hunters and rely on their keen eyesight and sharp talons to catch their prey.

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