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Hawks in Indiana are diverse and can be found in various habitats, including grasslands, forests, and urban areas. The state is home to nine different species of hawks, such as the red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and Cooper’s hawk. These majestic birds of prey play a vital role in Indiana’s ecosystem, controlling rodent populations and maintaining a balance in the food chain. They are known for their keen eyesight, powerful flight, and impressive hunting skills.
9 Species of Hawks in Indiana:
Red-tailed Hawk: The most common hawk in Indiana, recognized by its varying colors and red tail feathers.
Red-shouldered Hawk: Found near woody areas in forests near rivers or lakes, but with a declining population due to habitat loss.
Northern Goshawk: Typically found in heavy forests, they have a matte gray head and distinctive features like a backward swooping white line on the face.
Sharp-shinned Hawk: The smallest hawk in the US and Canada, easily distinguishable by its long tail and rounded wings.
Cooper’s Hawk: Residing in populated areas, these shy hawks are larger and similar in appearance to the sharp-shinned hawk. They feed primarily on other birds.
Broad-winged Hawk: Breeding in Indiana and migrating south towards Florida, they are similar in size to the red-shouldered hawk and show little size difference between males and females.
Swainson’s Hawk: Known for their long wingspans and pointed wings, they are often seen in groups and feed on Indiana’s insect population, especially grasshoppers.
Rough-legged Hawk: Breeding in the arctic, they migrate to prairie and grasslands, often perching on fence posts or utility lines in cities. They have shaggy feathers on their legs.
Northern Harrier: Indigenous to North America, they breed in northern regions and winter in more southern climates, including Indiana. They rely on acute hearing and vision to hunt prey, similar to owls.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1.8 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.
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.
Locations for Hawk Watching in Indiana
Brown County State Park: Nestled in the scenic hills of southern Indiana, Brown County State Park offers an ideal habitat for hawks. Visit during fall migration to witness the spectacle of hawks soaring above the treetops, utilizing the park’s diverse forested landscape for hunting and resting.
Indiana Dunes National Park: Situated along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park provides a unique coastal habitat attracting a variety of bird species, including hawks. Spring and fall migrations are the best times to observe hawks here as they navigate the lake’s shoreline and dune ecosystems.
Eagle Creek Park: Located in Indianapolis, Eagle Creek Park encompasses diverse habitats like woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands, making it a prime location for hawk sightings. Visit during the winter months when bald eagles migrate to the park, attracting other raptors such as red-tailed hawks.
Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area: Situated in Greene County, this expansive wetland area is a haven for a wide range of bird species, including hawks. With its open fields and marshes, it provides excellent hunting grounds for hawks year-round, particularly during the breeding season in spring.
When seeking hawks in Indiana, keep in mind that their presence and abundance can vary based on seasons and weather conditions. During migration seasons, such as spring and fall, hawks can be observed in higher numbers as they journey to and from their breeding grounds. Look for open areas, fields, and perches like tree branches or utility poles where hawks often perch to survey their surroundings.
Indiana’s diverse bird population, particularly its hawks, is a reflection of the rich and varied ecosystems it shares with its neighboring states. To the north, Michigan’s vast forests and lakes create a unique environment for numerous hawk species. Discover more about these magnificent birds and their habitats in our guide to the hawks of Michigan. Eastward, the state of Ohio also offers a rich biodiversity that supports a variety of these birds of prey. Our Ohio hawks guide provides a comprehensive overview.
Moving south, Kentucky’s distinct mix of forests, grasslands, and wetlands is home to a unique population of hawks, which you can learn more about the hawks of Kentucky. Lastly, to the west, Illinois’ diverse ecosystems support a fascinating array of these predatory birds. Explore the Illinois hawks for a deeper understanding. This regional interconnectivity of habitats provides a vibrant tapestry of life for these awe-inspiring creatures.
Interesting Facts about Hawks in Indiana
Migration Spectacle: Indiana witnesses the annual migration of hawks, particularly the Broad-winged Hawk, in large flocks called “kettles.” These impressive aerial displays occur in the fall as the hawks make their way south to their wintering grounds.
Diverse Habitat: Hawks in Indiana can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and urban areas. This adaptability allows them to thrive in different environments throughout the state.
Red-tailed Hawk Population: The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common and widespread hawk species in Indiana. With their distinct reddish tail feathers, they can be easily spotted perched on tree branches or soaring high in the sky.
Courtship Displays: During the breeding season, hawks in Indiana engage in elaborate courtship displays. Males perform aerial acrobatics, such as diving and swooping, to attract females and establish their territories.
Migratory Stopovers: Indiana serves as an important stopover point for many migratory hawks. The state’s strategic location and diverse habitats provide resting and foraging opportunities for these birds as they travel long distances.
Species Diversity: Indiana is home to a diverse range of hawk species, including the Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, and more. Each species has unique characteristics and behaviors, adding to the rich avian diversity of the state.
Nest Building: Hawks in Indiana construct large nests called “eyries” in tall trees or on cliff ledges. These nests are made of sticks and twigs and are often reused and expanded in subsequent breeding seasons.
Population Monitoring: Organizations and bird enthusiasts in Indiana actively monitor hawk populations to assess their health and conservation status. These efforts help ensure the preservation of these magnificent birds and their habitats.
Contributors to Ecosystem: Hawks play a vital role in maintaining the balance of Indiana’s ecosystems. As top predators, they help control populations of rodents and other prey species, contributing to the overall health and stability of the natural environment.
FAQs on Indiana Hawks
What is the most common hawk in Indiana?
The Red-tailed Hawk, with the scientific name Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk in Indiana. This hawk species is easily identifiable by its brown upperparts, dark brown feathers, and distinctive red tail. They are magnificent birds, known to be opportunistic hunters, preying on small mammals and ground squirrels found in Indiana’s diverse ecosystems.
What is the biggest hawk in Indiana?
The largest hawk species found in Indiana is the Great Horned Owl, a majestic bird of prey. Recognizable by its brown feathers, long tail, and striking white checkered wings, this hawk is a sight to behold. It typically makes its home in mature forests and cliff ledges, nesting in the tallest trees.
What is the smallest hawk in Indiana?
The smallest hawk in Indiana is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, also known by its scientific name Accipiter striatus. This small but stocky bird has dark feathers, a long tail, and often hunts smaller birds and small mammals. They are often sighted near backyard bird feeders, hunting birds that gather there.
When is the breeding season for hawks in Indiana?
The breeding season for hawks in Indiana typically begins in early spring and continues through summer. During this time, commonly sighted species of hawks like the Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Goshawk can be seen in mature and mixed forests. The Red-shouldered Hawks nest in tall trees, while others may opt for dense vegetation or even fence posts.
What do hawks eat in Indiana?
Hawks in Indiana have a varied diet, which primarily consists of small birds, ground squirrels, and other small mammals. They are opportunistic hunters, often seen catching prey near backyard bird feeders or taking advantage of Indiana’s insect population. Larger species like the Great Horned Owl may also feed on young turtles.
What are some common small and medium-sized hawk species in Indiana?
Several smaller to medium-sized hawks can be found in Indiana, with the Cooper’s Hawk and the American Kestrel being some of the more common species. The Cooper’s Hawk, known scientifically as Accipiter cooperii, is a medium-sized bird with dark gray upperparts and white underparts with fine, reddish bars. It’s well known for its skilled hunting in suburban and urban environments. On the smaller side, the American Kestrel, the only harrier variety found in Indiana, is an American raptor recognized by its gray upperparts, white underparts, and a prominent white rump patch.
Do all hawk species in Indiana migrate south?
Not all hawk species in Indiana migrate south for the winter. While it’s common for many species, such as Swainson’s Hawk, to migrate to warmer climates like South America, others remain year-round residents. The Great Horned Owl, one of the most common hawks in the state, is one such species that does not typically migrate. Their adaptability to different environments and availability of prey makes Indiana a suitable habitat for them throughout the year.
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.