Hawks in Idaho (10 Different Species)




Hawks in Idaho

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Hawks in Idaho are a diverse group of raptors found in various habitats across the state, from mountainous regions to arid deserts. Their numbers include species like the Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Cooper’s Hawk. Idaho’s landscapes offer abundant food resources and nesting sites for these raptors, making the state a haven for hawk enthusiasts.

List of Hawks Found in Idaho:

  1. Red-Tailed Hawk: As the most frequently seen raptor throughout Idaho, Red-Tailed Hawks can be found in areas like the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and open farmlands across the state.

  2. Northern Harrier: This species is commonly seen gliding over open fields and wetlands, especially in wildlife refuges like the Camas National Wildlife Refuge.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Often found in woodland areas and suburban locales, Cooper’s Hawks are particularly common in the areas around Boise.

  4. Rough-Legged Hawk: Primarily observed during the winter season in southern Idaho, these hawks favor open fields and agricultural lands.

  5. Sharp-Shinned Hawk: This hawk prefers dense forested areas and is particularly noticeable during migration seasons in areas like the Boise National Forest.

  6. Swainson’s Hawk: Found in Idaho’s open agricultural lands and grasslands during summer, Swainson’s Hawks are well-known for their spectacular long-distance migrations.

  7. Ferruginous Hawk: This species is typically found in Idaho’s open country, like the grasslands and plains near the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

  8. Northern Goshawk: Preferring the dense coniferous and deciduous forests of Northern Idaho, Northern Goshawks are elusive but can occasionally be seen in places like the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

  9. Broad-Winged Hawk: Not a common resident, Broad-Winged Hawks are primarily seen during the fall migration season in Idaho’s forested regions.

  10. Red-Shouldered Hawk: Less common in Idaho, Red-Shouldered Hawks are occasionally reported in southern areas of the state, especially near water bodies and wetlands.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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 Idaho

The Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho offers the most diverse range of hawk species in the state. This 485,000-acre conservation area, located south of Boise, is renowned for its high density and diversity of nesting birds of prey. A total of 16 raptor species nest here, including the Red-Tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Cooper’s Hawk among others. Its unique environment, characterized by a combination of climate, topography, and a plentiful supply of prey species, makes it a hotspot for birds of prey.

Other areas include:

  1. Camas National Wildlife Refuge: Situated in Eastern Idaho, it offers an ideal habitat for Northern Harriers with its diverse mix of wetlands and uplands.

  2. Boise Area: This suburban city offers excellent opportunities to spot Cooper’s Hawks due to its green neighborhoods filled with mature trees.

  3. Southern Idaho: In the open fields and agricultural lands of southern Idaho, Rough-Legged Hawks can be spotted primarily during the winter season.

  4. Boise National Forest: Dense forested areas like the Boise National Forest are prime locations for observing Sharp-Shinned Hawks, particularly during migration seasons.

  5. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve: This location offers wide open plains, ideal for observing the Ferruginous Hawk.

  6. Idaho Panhandle National Forests: Northern Idaho’s dense coniferous and deciduous forests, such as those found in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, are good places to spot elusive Northern Goshawks.

Hawks are a common sight in Idaho, seen circling the sky in search of prey or perched on poles and treetops. Different species favor different habitats and can be found throughout the state during various seasons. For example, Red-Tailed Hawks, the most common in Idaho, can be spotted all year round, while Rough-Legged Hawks are primarily winter visitors. Northern Harriers, known for their unique hunting technique, are frequently seen in open fields and wetlands, especially in wildlife refuges.

While Idaho provides a captivating view into the diverse world of hawks, it’s worth noting in Montana, a different set of environments allows for an equally impressive array of Montana hawk species to thrive. Nevada reveals a unique desert ecosystem that supports yet another assortment of hawks in Nevada. Don’t forget the charm of the Pacific Northwest in Oregon, where coastal and forest environments attract their own unique set of raptor species. Explore the fascinating hawks in Oregon to complete your birding journey across this extraordinary region.

Facts About Hawks in Idaho

  1. Idaho’s Rich Hawk Diversity: Idaho is home to a remarkably wide range of hawk species. One reason is its diverse landscape, with habitats ranging from alpine regions to desert landscapes, and even wetlands, each providing suitable environments for different species of hawks.

  2. Swainson’s Hawk Migration: Swainson’s Hawks, commonly found in Idaho, perform one of the longest migrations of any American raptor. They travel over 6,000 miles from Idaho to Argentina, an epic journey showcasing their incredible endurance.

  3. Red-tailed Hawks’ Adaptability: Red-tailed Hawks, the most common hawk species in Idaho, show exceptional adaptability. Their varied diet allows them to survive in different environments, including urban areas, making them a familiar sight even in Idaho’s cities.

  4. The Size of Ferruginous Hawks: The Ferruginous Hawk, another species found in Idaho, is the largest hawk native to North America. Their impressive size is complemented by an equally wide wingspan, making them a spectacular sight in the Idaho skies.

  5. Rough-legged Hawks’ Winter Visit: Rough-legged Hawks breed in the Arctic, but when winter sets in, they travel south to places like Idaho. They are one of the few raptor species able to survive the harsh Arctic conditions, thanks to their feathered legs which provide much-needed insulation.

FAQS on Hawks in Idaho

What is the most common hawk in Idaho?

The most common hawk in Idaho is the Red-tailed Hawk, scientifically known as buteo jamaicensis. These hawks are identified by their reddish-brown heads and long broad wings. They are often seen perched on tall trees, telephone poles, or power poles, scanning for ground squirrels and small rodents – their preferred prey.

What is the biggest hawk in Idaho?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk species found in Idaho. This rare hawk is recognized by its pale feathers and brown bellies. During summers breeding season, you might spot these magnificent birds in the western mountains and Northern Great Plains of Idaho, migrating south to Central America during winter.

What is the smallest hawk in Idaho?

The smallest hawk in Idaho is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This stocky bird is about the size of a large dove, and can be distinguished by its round wings and rusty brown, squared-off tail. Sharp-shinned Hawks are agile fliers, often seen darting around bird feeders to capture other birds.

When is breeding season for hawks in Idaho?

The breeding season for hawks in Idaho typically begins in early spring and lasts until late summer. During this time, it’s not uncommon to find up to eight nests in the tall trees of Idaho’s Rocky Mountains and western mountains. Their eggs vary from bluish-white to brown-spotted.

What do hawks eat in Idaho?

Hawks in Idaho have a diverse diet, primarily consisting of small mammals like ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and prairie dogs. They are also known to eat other birds and occasionally insects. Hawks are proficient hunters, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from high vantage points like power poles.

Are Hawks protected in Idaho?

Yes, hawks in Idaho are protected by both federal and state laws. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all species of hawks, making it illegal to hunt, trap, possess, or sell them without a permit. This protection extends to the Intermountain Bird Observatory and other hawk conservation sites within Idaho.

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