Unveiling the 12 Hawks in Florida (With HD Pictures & Spotter’s Guide)




Hawks in Florida

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Florida is home to a diverse range of hawk species, from the common Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, to less common species like the Ferruginous Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk. These birds of prey can be seen year-round, especially during breeding season, across various habitats. For bird watchers and nature enthusiasts, the state offers a spectacular chance to observe these magnificent raptors in their natural habitats.

Quick Summary of Types of Hawks in florida

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: The most common hawk in Florida, it can be found statewide in woods and fields.

  2. Red-shouldered Hawk: Also common throughout the state, it favors wetland areas and forests.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Found mostly in woodlands throughout Florida, they are common in both rural and suburban areas.

  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk: These hawks prefer forested areas and are most commonly spotted during the migration season.

  5. Northern Harrier: These hawks are typically found in open grasslands and marshes throughout the state.

  6. Broad-winged Hawk: Predominantly a migratory species in Florida, they can be seen in forests during the spring and fall.

  7. Swainson’s Hawk: Less common in Florida, they can occasionally be seen during migration season in open fields and prairies.

  8. Short-tailed Hawk: This hawk is found mostly in southern Florida, particularly in the Everglades, and is often seen soaring high above the forests.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk: These are winter visitors in Florida and can be spotted in open fields and marshes.

  10. White-tailed Hawk: A rare visitor to Florida, these hawks are occasionally spotted in open grasslands in the southern part of the state.

  11. Northern Goshawk: This species is a rare visitor to Florida, but some have been spotted in northern parts of the state during winter.

  12. Ferruginous Hawk: These hawks are very rare in Florida, but a few sightings have been reported in open country during migration.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Florida’s Feathers in Flight: Top Spots to Observe Hawks

Florida’s diverse ecosystems are home to a variety of raptors. Below are some of the best locations for observing these majestic birds of prey:

  1. Everglades National Park: As a wetland paradise, it’s a haven for Red-shouldered Hawks.

  2. Big Cypress National Preserve: With a mix of swamps and marshes, it’s a favorite spot for the Swainson’s Hawk.

  3. Ocala National Forest: This central Florida forest, with its pine and hardwood canopies, is a preferred habitat for Cooper’s Hawks.

  4. Anastasia State Park: Home to diverse bird species, this park in St. Augustine is ideal for spotting Red-tailed Hawks.

  5. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: This Audubon sanctuary near Naples provides a unique habitat for the Short-tailed Hawk.

  6. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park: Known for its grassland and marshes, this park is a prime spot for Northern Harriers.

  7. Tampa Urban Areas: Surprisingly, the cityscapes of Tampa are known for sightings of Sharp-shinned Hawks.

  8. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge hosts a wide variety of bird species, including Broad-winged Hawks.

  9. Florida Keys: For a chance to spot rare hawks like the White-tailed Hawk, try exploring the scenic Florida Keys.

In Florida, with its myriad of natural habitats, you can find hawks all year round. Species such as the Red-shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are residents of the state, while others like the Broad-winged Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk are migratory, typically seen in Florida during the spring and fall migration seasons.

To enhance your chances of spotting these magnificent birds, it’s recommended to venture out during dawn and dusk, the prime hunting times for many raptors. Don’t forget your binoculars and a good field guide to assist in identification. A keen eye, a dose of patience, and an understanding of their behaviors will make your hawk-spotting in Florida an unforgettable adventure.

While Florida provides a unique haven for numerous species of hawks, its neighboring states are equally remarkable, each hosting a captivating variety of raptors. If you’re a bird enthusiast keen to expand your sightings beyond the Sunshine State, these are some key locales worth exploring.

Begin your journey by heading north to the Peach State, where Georgia’s coastal marshes and dense forests offer an astonishing diversity of raptors. Learn more about these fascinating birds of prey and their habitats in our comprehensive guide to hawks in Georgia.

Next, venture west to the vibrant landscapes of Alabama, where river valleys and expansive farmlands create the perfect environment for numerous hawk species. Our detailed guide on Alabama’s hawk species sheds light on the magnificent raptors that rule these skies.

Sail towards the sunset, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Mississippi River, creating an essential migratory corridor for many hawk species. Dive into our engaging piece about Mississippi’s raptors to know more about these aerial acrobats. No matter which path you choose, your pursuit of hawk watching promises a journey of discovery, delight, and learning.

15 Fun Facts About Hawks in Florida

  1. Resilient Raptors: Red-shouldered Hawks, a common sight in Florida, are remarkably adaptable, thriving in both suburban areas and wetlands.

  2. Urban Hawks: Cooper’s Hawks have become a frequent sight in urban areas across Florida, where they’re known to swoop through backyards in pursuit of other birds.

  3. Migration Marvel: Broad-winged Hawks, seen in Florida during migration seasons, travel all the way to Central and South America for wintering.

  4. Size Isn’t Everything: Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawks found in Florida, but their size doesn’t hinder their hunting skills.

  5. Endangered Elegance: The Florida Keys host the rare White-tailed Hawk, listed as an endangered species in Florida due to habitat loss.

  6. Nesting Behavior: Red-tailed Hawks, one of Florida’s most common hawks, build some of the largest nests among North American raptors.

  7. Specialized Hunters: Northern Harriers, spotted in Florida’s grasslands, have a unique hunting style, flying low to the ground to catch small rodents and birds.

  8. Rare Residents: Swainson’s Hawks are rare visitors to Florida, primarily residing in the western and central parts of North America.

  9. Stealthy Stalkers: Short-tailed Hawks, native to Florida, have a unique hunting style, soaring high and then diving rapidly to surprise their prey.

  10. Master Mimic: The Red-shouldered Hawk, common in Florida, can mimic the calls of other birds, an unusual trait among hawks.

  11. Adaptation Skills: Cooper’s Hawks, frequently found in Florida, have adapted their flight patterns to maneuver through dense woodlands.

  12. Long-distance Migrants: Swainson’s Hawks undertake one of the longest migration journeys of any American raptor, sometimes covering a distance of over 14,000 miles.

  13. Iconic Tail: The Red-tailed Hawk gets its name from its russet-red tail, a distinguishing feature that’s easily noticeable when this hawk soars over Florida’s skies.

  14. Hawk or Harrier?: Unlike other hawks, Northern Harriers are known for their owl-like facial discs, which help in directing sound to their ears for efficient hunting.

  15. Survival Skills: Red-shouldered Hawks are opportunistic feeders, altering their diet based on availability. In Florida, they are known to feed on a variety of prey, from small mammals to amphibians and even insects.

FAQS About Types of Hawks in florida

What kind of hawks does Florida have?

Florida is home to several species of hawks including the common Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk. Other species include the Ferruginous Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Northern Harrier, among others. Bird watchers also enjoy spotting the less common Swainson’s Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk, making Florida a paradise for raptor enthusiasts.

What’s the biggest hawk in Florida?

The Ferruginous Hawk, occasionally seen in Florida, is the largest species of hawk found in North America. Sporting broad wings and a rusty brown plumage, this hawk is a remarkable sight for bird watchers. Its size and impressive hunting skills make it a formidable bird of prey.

How do I keep hawks away from my property?

Keeping hawks away from your property involves removing their food source, which often includes small mammals and birds from backyard feeders. Planting tall trees or installing structures that disrupt their flight can also deter them. Try not to attract other birds, as hawks often stalk backyard feeders for easy prey.

Where can I spot hawks in Florida?

Hawks can be found all over Florida year-round, but some hotspots include the Everglades National Park and the Ocala National Forest. Species like the Red-shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk are common in both deep woods and suburban areas, while Northern Harriers rely on grasslands for hunting.

What’s the best time of year to see hawks in Florida?

The breeding season is the best time to see hawks in Florida, typically from March through August. However, migratory birds like the Swainson’s Hawk migrate south to Central and South America during winter, making spring and fall the best times for bird watching these species.

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