This blog is reader-supported. When you make a purchase or take any action through links on this site, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me continue providing valuable content to enhance your experience. Thank you!
Delaware is home to a remarkable array of hawks, captivating both bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From the soaring Red-tailed Hawks to the agile Cooper’s Hawks, these majestic raptors can be found throughout the state’s diverse habitats.
List of hawks found in Delaware:
Red-tailed Hawk: The most commonly observed hawk in Delaware. They can be found throughout the state, including in popular areas like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Cooper’s Hawk: These hawks are quite popular and can be found in both rural and suburban areas, often in wooded habitats. Brandywine Creek State Park is a good place to spot them.
Northern Harrier: This bird can often be seen gliding low over open fields and marshes. Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a good place to observe them.
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Though not as commonly seen due to their secretive nature, they can be found in dense forest areas like those in Redden State Forest.
Red-shouldered Hawk: These hawks favor deciduous forests and can be spotted in wooded areas such as Lums Pond State Park.
Broad-winged Hawk: While not as common as the others, these hawks can be seen during the migration season in places like Ashland Nature Center.
Northern Goshawk: These are more elusive and prefer dense forests. They can be occasionally seen in larger state parks, such as White Clay Creek State Park.
Rough-legged Hawk: These hawks are less common and are mostly seen in Delaware during the winter. They prefer open fields and marshes, like those at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
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.
35 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in) /Female: 42 to 50 cm (17 to 20 in)
62 to 99 cm (24 to 39 in)
Male: 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.
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.
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’.
15 to 23 in
35 to 50 in
1.21 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.
13 to 17 in
29 to 39 in
9.3 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.
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.
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.
Top Spots to Find Hawks in Delaware
Delaware, being part of the Atlantic Flyway, offers a range of birding opportunities with several fantastic locations for spotting hawks.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the eastern coast of Delaware, this wildlife refuge is an excellent location to spot a variety of hawks, especially Red-tailed Hawks. Its extensive wetlands and marshes offer perfect hunting grounds for these raptors.
Brandywine Creek State Park: This state park, with its mixed deciduous forests, is a great place to observe Cooper’s Hawks. The hawks often nest in the tall trees found throughout the park.
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge: Situated along the western shore of the Delaware Bay, this refuge is a fantastic spot for viewing Northern Harriers, which can often be seen soaring over the open marshes and grasslands.
Redden State Forest: With its vast expanse of dense forest, this location is ideal for catching sight of the elusive Sharp-shinned Hawks. They’re often found darting through the forest in pursuit of prey.
Lums Pond State Park: Home to a variety of habitats, from deciduous forests to freshwater wetlands, this state park is a good location to spot the Red-shouldered Hawks which favor these kinds of environments.
Ashland Nature Center: During the migration season, this nature center is an excellent location to spot the Broad-winged Hawks as they pass through the area.
Hawks can be found throughout Delaware, with their presence in different regions varying depending on the time of the year. During the spring and summer months, you may observe hawks such as the Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks nesting and raising their young in areas with tall trees, such as Brandywine Creek State Park and Lums Pond State Park. In contrast, the Broad-winged Hawks are usually spotted during their fall migration at places like the Ashland Nature Center.
In the winter months, you may observe Rough-legged Hawks at locations like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. They migrate from the arctic and subarctic regions to winter in more temperate areas, including Delaware. Northern Harriers can also be spotted year-round at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, gliding low over the marshes as they hunt for small mammals and birds.
Bordering Delaware to the north, Pennsylvania is known for its lush forests and mountains, home to many hawks types in Pennsylvania. Maryland’s diverse ecosystems, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Appalachian Mountains, provide ideal habitats for a varierty of Maryland hawks. Virginia, a region rich in birdlife thanks to its coastal, mountainous, and forested regions with los of hawks species in Virginia.
Interesting Facts about Hawks in Delaware
Diverse Hawk Species: Delaware is home to a diverse range of hawk species, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, and the rare Northern Goshawk.
Migration Hub: Delaware serves as an important migration hub for hawks, with many species passing through during their seasonal journeys. The state’s strategic location along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a prime spot for hawk watching.
Prime Hawk Watching Sites: Delaware offers excellent locations for observing hawks, such as Cape Henlopen State Park, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and White Clay Creek State Park. These areas provide open spaces and suitable habitats for hawks to hunt and rest.
Coastal Hawk Observations: Coastal regions of Delaware, including Cape Henlopen and Delaware Bay, offer unique opportunities to spot migrating hawks, as they follow the coastlines during their journey. These areas provide sweeping views and a chance to witness impressive flights.
Hawks as Top Predators: Hawks play a crucial role in the ecosystem as top predators. They help maintain a balance by controlling populations of small mammals and birds, contributing to the overall health of Delaware’s wildlife.
Nesting in Delaware: Several hawk species nest in Delaware, including the Red-shouldered Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawk. These majestic birds build their nests in tall trees, often near water sources or in forested areas.
Protection and Conservation: Hawks in Delaware are protected under state and federal laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These regulations aim to conserve and ensure the well-being of these magnificent birds and their habitats.
FAQS About Hawks in Delaware
What is the most common hawk in Delaware?
The Red-tailed Hawk, known scientifically as Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk species in Delaware. Often seen perched on roadside poles or soaring over open fields, these large hawks have a strong banded tail, characteristic of their species, and rounded wings which they use to ride thermals while hunting for prey.
What is the biggest hawk in Delaware?
The Northern Goshawk, the scientific name for which is Accipiter gentilis, is one of the biggest hawks in Delaware. A secretive bird that prefers dense vegetation and very tall trees, it’s known for its long tail, strongly banded tail, and rounded wings.
What is the smallest hawk in Delaware?
The smallest hawk in Delaware is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. The sharp shinned hawk scientific name is Accipiter striatus. Known for their rounded wings and long tail, these birds are adept at navigating through dense vegetation as they hunt for small birds.
When is breeding season for hawks in Delaware?
Breeding season for most hawks in Delaware, including the common Red-tailed Hawk and secretive Northern Goshawk, starts in early spring and can last a few weeks. During this time, adult birds are often seen building up to eight nests in very tall trees.
What do hawks eat in Delaware?
Hawks in Delaware, as birds of prey, eat a diet mainly consisting of small mammals like ground squirrels and slippery fish. They also eat birds, often capturing prey from bird feeders. Additionally, they sometimes partake in winter prey like small birds and medium-sized birds.
Are Hawks protected in Delaware?
Yes, hawks in Delaware, like other birds of prey such as bald eagles, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law makes it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, or sell hawks without a special permit.
Where can I watch hawks in Delaware?
Delaware has several excellent hawk watch sites for bird enthusiasts. One of the popular places is Cape Henlopen State Park, a recognized birding hotspot, especially during the fall migration period. Here, you can expect to see various species, including Red-tailed Hawks, the Coopers Hawk, and even the majestic Bald Eagle. Photographing birds during this season can be particularly rewarding.
What are some characteristics of immature hawks in Delaware?
Immature hawks in Delaware, like the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, often have different coloring than their adult counterparts. They typically have brown streaking on their underparts, a barred rufous chest, and lack the red tails seen in adults. Their feathers might also display a white rump patch and white checkered wings. As they mature, their plumage will change to the characteristic adult patterns.
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.