Hawks in Kansas (11 Types to be Found)




Hawks in Kansas

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Kansas is a haven for a diverse array of hawks, from Red-tailed Hawks to Northern Harriers, Cooper’s Hawks, and even the migratory Swainson’s Hawks. Thanks to its unique location on the Central Flyway migration route, the state offers an ever-changing spectacle of these raptors, delighting birdwatchers and naturalists alike.

List of Hawks in Kansas:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: As Kansas’s most frequently spotted hawk, the Red-tailed Hawk thrives across the state but is particularly common around the Konza Prairie Biological Station, where its favorite prey, rodents, are plentiful.

  2. Northern Harrier: This bird is often found soaring low over fields and marshes. The Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is a good location to observe these hunters.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Known for their acrobatic flying while hunting through dense woodlands, Cooper’s Hawks are often found in areas like Clinton State Park in Lawrence.

  4. Swainson’s Hawk: These hawks migrate through Kansas in large numbers. They’re often seen in the open fields around the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge during migration seasons.

  5. Red-shouldered Hawk: More common in the eastern part of the state, these hawks can often be spotted in the woodlands of the Perry State Park.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk: A frequent visitor to bird feeders, they can be found in suburban areas and parks such as Shawnee Mission Park.

  7. Ferruginous Hawk: These birds are spotted in the western plains of Kansas, particularly around the Cimarron National Grassland where their favorite prey, prairie dogs, are found.

  8. Broad-winged Hawk: During migration season, these hawks can be seen in large numbers in locations such as the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk: These winter visitors can be found hunting in open fields around the Milford Nature Center and Wildlife Area during colder months.

  10. Northern Goshawk: Rare in Kansas, these hawks prefer secluded forests. On occasion, they’ve been seen in the wooded areas around the Tuttle Creek State Park.

  11. Gray Hawk: Quite rare in Kansas, a sighting might occur in the southern parts of the state around the Cross Timbers State Park.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo plagiatus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan31 to 34 inches
Weight12.5 – 18.8 oz

The Gray Hawk, also known as the Grey-lined Hawk, is a small bird of prey that is found across a vast range in the Americas, from the southwestern United States through Mexico and Central America, extending to northern South America. It is easily recognizable by its light gray body, darker gray wings, and white underparts with fine gray barring. Its tail is marked with broad white and black bands, giving it a distinctive appearance in flight.

The Gray Hawk is a generalist predator, with a diet that primarily consists of lizards, snakes, small mammals, and birds. It has a unique hunting style, often soaring or perching to locate prey before launching a rapid, direct flight to capture it. The species is monogamous and pairs are known to remain together for multiple breeding seasons. Nests are built high in trees, and both parents participate in the incubation and feeding of the young.

Where to find hawks in Kansas

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge: A heaven for bird watchers, this Refuge hosts many hawk species. You’ll find an array of these majestic birds here, especially during the migration season.

  1. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area: This is one of the best places to observe hawks in Kansas, especially during migration season.

  2. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: Hawks often circle above the open prairie, searching for their next meal.

  3. Konza Prairie: This preserved grassland is a great place to see Swainson’s Hawks, known to thrive in this kind of habitat.

  4. Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge: With its mix of grasslands and forests, this refuge is a prime location for hawk species that prefer forest edges, such as the Red-shouldered Hawk.

Hawks can be seen throughout the state of Kansas at any time of the year, with peak times varying depending on the species. The migratory Broad-winged Hawk, for instance, is most commonly seen in the spring and fall, while resident species like the Red-tailed Hawk can be observed year-round.

During the fall migration (August to November), hawk watch sites like the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area become the focal point for bird watchers as a myriad of hawk species pass through these regions. It’s not uncommon to spot a Ferruginous Hawk or a Northern Harrier soaring in the sky.

Kansas is situated at the heart of America, where the diverse habitats of its surrounding states provide numerous birdwatching opportunities and you can follow their journey further north to discover the hawks species in Nebraska that thrive amidst the state’s mix of grasslands and forests. Head to Missouri can offer a unique perspective on hawks in Missouri that prefer forested habitats and river valleys. Going south, the Great Plains meet the Central Flyway, a major route for migrating birds, including hawks found in Oklahoma, and let your birdwatching adventure continue!

Five Lesser-Known Facts About Hawks in Kansas

  1. Kansas Hawks’ Unique Migration Route: Kansas is located on the Central Flyway, one of the major bird migration routes in North America. This results in a significant variety of hawks passing through the state, especially during migration seasons, offering a splendid sight for birdwatchers.

  2. Ferruginous Hawks in Kansas: Ferruginous Hawks, the largest hawks of the open prairie, are relatively rare in Kansas, but a small number have been known to breed in the western part of the state. Their presence indicates the health of the prairie ecosystem they inhabit.

  3. Swainson’s Hawks’ Long-Distance Journey: Swainson’s Hawks, commonly sighted in Kansas, are long-distance migrants, traveling thousands of miles each year from Kansas to wintering grounds in Argentina. This epic journey is one of the longest migrations of any American raptor.

  4. The Broad-winged Hawk Sighting: Broad-winged Hawks are typically forest-dwelling birds and rarely seen in Kansas. However, there have been occasional sightings during migration seasons, particularly in the eastern forests of the state, a unique occurrence that adds to the state’s ornithological diversity.

  5. Cooper’s Hawks Urban Adaptation: While many hawks prefer open habitats, Cooper’s Hawks have adapted remarkably well to urban environments. In recent years, they have become more common in Kansas’s urban areas, proving their resilience and adaptability to human-altered landscapes.

FAQs on Hawks Found in Kansas

What is the most common hawk in Kansas?

The Red-tailed Hawk, or as scientifically known, the Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk in Kansas. This North American raptor is easily identifiable by its distinctive red tails and strongly banded tail feathers. They are often spotted perched on tall trees or telephone poles along the state’s western border, keenly observing the ground for prey.

What is the biggest hawk in Kansas?

The Ferruginous Hawk, with its scientific name being Buteo regalis, holds the title as the biggest hawk in Kansas. This impressive bird, sporting light morph and dark morph forms, has a broad wingspan and is known for its power and size that rivals even larger birds like the Bald Eagles.

What is the smallest hawk in Kansas?

The smallest hawk found in Kansas is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, or Accipiter striatus scientifically. It is a secretive bird, usually seen in the forest’s tall trees. This medium-sized hawk, despite being small, is a skilled hunter, preying mainly on other birds.

When is breeding season for hawks in Kansas?

Breeding season for hawks in Kansas typically begins in early spring and lasts through summer. Some species, like the Swainson’s Hawks, migrate south to North American breeding grounds after spending winters in places as far as the Arctic Tundra and Northern Canada.

What do hawks eat in Kansas?

Hawks in Kansas have a diverse diet that includes ground squirrels, large insects, and other small to medium-sized mammals. Depending on the species, they are also known to prey on other birds. The experienced bird watcher might even spot a hawk hunting from fence posts or telephone poles.

Are Hawks protected in Kansas?

Yes, hawks are protected in Kansas under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to harm, hunt, or possess these birds of prey without a valid permit.

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