Hawks in Louisiana (11 Different Species + Photos)




Hawks in Louisiana

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In Louisiana, hawks are a common sight with Red-Tailed Hawks being the most prevalent. They inhabit various parts of the state, from urban areas to forested wetlands. Other common species include the Red-Shouldered Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. Less common are Swainson’s Hawk and White-Tailed Hawk.

Here are the hawk species in Louisiana:

  1. Red-Tailed Hawk: The most common hawk species in Louisiana. They can be found in almost all parts of the state including urban areas and the outskirts of cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

  2. Red-Shouldered Hawk: These hawks are fairly common in Louisiana, primarily inhabiting the forested wetlands. You can find them in areas such as the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: More prevalent in woodland areas, they are also found in suburban and urban areas. Look for them around parks in New Orleans.

  4. Broad-Winged Hawk: These hawks are especially common during migration season and can often be seen in forested areas like Kisatchie National Forest.

  5. Northern Harrier: They are often seen in marshy areas, so check places like the Barataria Preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

  6. Sharp-Shinned Hawk: These hawks prefer dense forests and can be spotted in locations such as Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area.

  7. Swainson’s Hawk: Less common, but can occasionally be seen in Louisiana during migration, especially in open farmland and prairies.

  8. White-Tailed Hawk: This hawk is less common but can be seen in the coastal marshes of southwestern Louisiana.

  9. Rough-Legged Hawk: This species is less frequently observed as it typically only comes as far south as Louisiana during the winter, when food is scarce in its Arctic breeding grounds.

  10. Ferruginous Hawk: This is one of the least common hawks in Louisiana, usually seen during the winter in open habitats.

  11. Harris’s Hawk: This species is not typically found in Louisiana. They are primarily native to the arid regions of the American Southwest.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Harris’s Hawk

Harriss Hawk
Harriss Hawk 2
Scientific NameParabuteo unicinctus
Length18 to 23 in
Wingspan41 to 47 in
Weight1.2 to 3.6lb

The Harris’s Hawk is a unique bird of prey and is distinct in appearance compared to many other hawk species. It boasts a beautiful color palette, with dark brown plumage contrasted by chestnut-red shoulders, wing linings, and thighs, and a white patch at the base of the tail. This raptor has a reputation for its unusual social behavior, being one of the only bird species that hunts cooperatively in packs.

A native to the arid southwest regions of the United States, Mexico, and South America, the Harris’s Hawk prefers habitats like scrub desert, savannas, and woodland edges. While not typically found in Louisiana, it may appear in the state as a vagrant. These birds are known for their agility and hunting prowess, often pursuing prey on the ground and from low perches. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals and birds, but they’ve also been known to take larger prey such as jackrabbits and hares.

Top Places to Spot Hawks in Louisiana:

In Louisiana, hawks can be found in diverse habitats ranging from urban environments to vast wildlife refuges. Cities such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans are home to the Red-Tailed Hawks, which are the most common hawk species in the state. These birds can be seen year-round, often soaring in the sky or perched on tall structures.

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana is one of the best places to observe a wide range of hawk species. This biodiverse forested wetland attracts a variety of hawks due to its rich habitat. Species like the Red-Shouldered Hawk are common residents, while others like the Broad-Winged Hawk and Northern Harrier may be seen during migration seasons. Even less common species, such as the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, have been known to make appearances. Its rich mix of wetlands and woodlands provides an ideal environment for these raptors, making the refuge a must-visit spot for birdwatchers and nature lovers alike.

Baton Rouge and New Orleans: As urban environments, these cities host Red-Tailed Hawks that can be spotted soaring above the cityscape.

Parks in New Orleans: These are good places to spot Cooper’s Hawks, which have adapted to urban and suburban environments.

Kisatchie National Forest: During the migration season, Broad-Winged Hawks often pass through this forested area.

Barataria Preserve: The marshy areas of this preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve are a favorite habitat of the Northern Harrier.

Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area: Dense forests of this area provide a suitable environment for Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

Adjacent to Louisiana, you’ll find an equally enchanting array of hawk species in the neighboring states. Explore the vast Texan landscapes, home to a stunning variety of hawks, in our guide to Texas’s hawks. Arkansas, with its lush green forests, is another hawk hotspot, offering sightings of species like the Broad-Winged Hawk. Discover more in our overview of hawks in Arkansas.

East of Louisiana, the coastal habitats of Mississippi host an array of raptor species, including the Mississippi Kite. Learn about these majestic birds in our guide on Mississippi’s hawks. Each state offers its unique birdwatching experiences, enriching your understanding of these powerful raptors.

Interesting facts about hawks in Louisiana:

  1. Rare Winter Visitors: Rough-Legged Hawks are not common in Louisiana but have been spotted during the winter months. These Arctic breeders come as far south as Louisiana when food is scarce in their northern habitats.

  2. Urban Dwellers: Red-Tailed Hawks, the most prevalent hawk species in the state, are often seen in urban areas like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. These adaptable birds have learned to thrive in city environments.

  3. Migration Hotspot: During migration seasons, Broad-Winged Hawks fly through Louisiana in large numbers, particularly over forested areas like Kisatchie National Forest. Birdwatchers gather to witness these impressive migrations.

  4. Unique Breeding Grounds: The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana is known to be a breeding ground for Red-Shouldered Hawks. These hawks favor the refuge’s forested wetlands for nesting and raising their young.

  5. Swamp Specialists: Northern Harriers, although not the most common, are specifically adapted to marshy areas found in places like the Barataria Preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Their long wings and tails help them maneuver through these wet landscapes while hunting.

FAQs on Hawks in Louisiana

What is the most common hawk in Louisiana?

The most common hawk in Louisiana is the Red-Tailed Hawk, scientific name Buteo jamaicensis. These birds of prey have broad wings and strongly banded tails. It’s not uncommon to see a red-tailed hawk perched on fence posts or soaring in the sky throughout eastern North America, including Louisiana. They are often seen near backyard bird feeders, waiting for smaller birds and unsuspecting prey.

What is the biggest hawk in Louisiana?

The biggest hawk in Louisiana is likely the Ferruginous Hawk, though this species is quite rare in the state and is more commonly found in Central America. Its large size, light brown feathers, broad wings, and sharp talons make it a formidable bird of prey. Adult hawks of this species are known for their brown-colored feathers and slightly pointed wings.

What is the smallest hawk in Louisiana?

The smallest hawk in Louisiana is the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, scientific name Accipiter striatus. These medium-sized hawks are often seen around household bird feeders, hunting smaller birds. Adult sharp-shinned hawks have dark feathers that can appear almost black under ultraviolet light.

When is breeding season for hawks in Louisiana?

The breeding season for most hawks in Louisiana, including the Red-Shouldered Hawk (scientific name Buteo lineatus), typically begins in late winter and extends through spring. Nesting sites are often located in bottomland woods or wooded swamps. During this time, hawk-watching parties are common in areas where so many hawks are mentioned.

What do hawks eat in Louisiana?

Hawks in Louisiana feed on a variety of prey. Their diet consists of smaller birds, ground squirrels, and other small mammals. Adult male hawks, including species like the Broad-Winged Hawk (scientific name Buteo platypterus), use their sharp talons to snatch up prey. In fact, some even hunt larger animals such as Great Horned Owls.

Are Hawks protected in Louisiana?

Yes, hawks are protected in Louisiana. All species of hawks, from the Red-Tailed Hawk to the Northern Harrier (scientific name Circus hudsonius), are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This makes it illegal to kill, sell, buy, or possess any part of the bird, including feathers, eggs, and nests.

What are some notable hawk species in Louisiana?

Among the variety of hawk species in Louisiana, the White-Tailed Hawk (scientific name Buteo albicaudatus) is noteworthy. While not as common as the Red-Tailed Hawk, White-Tailed Hawks can sometimes be seen soaring over open fields and marshes. Cooper’s Hawk (scientific name Accipiter cooperii) is also found in Louisiana, known for its stealthy hunting around bird feeders. The Cooper’s hawk skeletons examined by scientists demonstrate their adaptation to hunting in wooded environments.

When is the best time to observe hawks in Louisiana?

The best time to observe hawks in Louisiana is during the nesting season, which typically begins in late winter and extends through spring. During this period, even Rough-Legged Hawks, which breed in the far north, might be seen in the state as migratory visitors. Hawk watching parties are popular events during this time, offering bird enthusiasts the opportunity to observe and learn about these fascinating birds of prey.

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