Hawks in Maine (8 + 1 Raptor)




Hawks in Maine

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Hawks in Maine include a variety of species that can be found in different habitats across Maine, from forests to open grasslands. They display diverse characteristics, hunting strategies, and diets, making them fascinating birds of prey that contribute to the ecosystem of Maine.

Maine offers excellent opportunities for hawk watching given its diverse habitats. Here are the hawks you might encounter in Maine:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: Being the most common, you can find these birds throughout Maine, including Acadia National Park and in suburbs.

  2. Broad-winged Hawk: These hawks are widespread in Maine’s forests during summer, particularly in Baxter State Park.

  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk: Look for these birds in mixed forest areas or even in your backyard, particularly in autumn when they migrate.

  4. Osprey: Although not technically a hawk, these raptors are common near coastlines, rivers, and lakes, such as Moosehead Lake or the Penobscot River.

  5. Northern Harrier: These birds prefer open habitats like marshes and grasslands, which are common along the Maine coast and in the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge.

  6. Cooper’s Hawk: These hawks are a bit harder to spot, but your best bet is in dense woodland areas, including Acadia National Park.

  7. Northern Goshawk: These elusive hawks inhabit dense forests, particularly in the north of the state around the North Maine Woods area.

  8. Red-shouldered Hawk: Although not very common, you might see these birds in mature forests near water bodies, such as the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk: As winter visitors, they can be spotted in open fields and farmland during the colder months, particularly in the southern parts of the state.

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.

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.

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’.


Osprey 2
Scientific NamePandion haliaetus
Length50–66 cm (19.5 – 26 in)
Wingspan127–180 cm (50 – 71 in)
Weight2 lb 0 oz – 4 lb 10 oz)

The Osprey, is a unique bird of prey found almost worldwide. It’s distinct for its diet, as it feeds almost exclusively on fish, diving feet-first to catch its prey in bodies of water. This bird is easily identifiable by its dark brown back, contrasting with its white underparts and head, and a distinctive dark eye-stripe that extends to the sides of the neck.

Ospreys are known for their incredible ability to hover in the air while locating fish below, before plunging into the water for the catch. Their nests, made of sticks and lined with softer material, are usually built in open surroundings for easy approach, often on top of trees, poles, or platforms specifically designed to encourage Osprey habitation.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Where to Spot Hawks in Maine 

Maine is a haven for bird watchers, with a diverse range of habitats that attract numerous hawk species. Below are some of the best locations to spot hawks in the state:

  1. Acadia National Park: This is a top spot for a variety of hawk species including the Red-Tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk. With diverse habitats, it’s a raptor paradise.

  2. Baxter State Park: A prime location to spot Broad-winged Hawks, particularly in the summer months. The park’s forested areas provide ideal nesting grounds.

  3. Moosehead Lake: This large freshwater lake is an excellent spot to view Ospreys, often seen hunting for fish.

  4. Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge: Northern Harriers frequent this region, preferring its open habitats like marshes and grasslands.

  5. North Maine Woods: An ideal spot to find Northern Goshawks, which prefer dense forest habitats.

  6. Allagash Wilderness Waterway: This scenic waterway with its surrounding mature forests is a good place to spot Red-shouldered Hawks, although they are not very common.

  7. Southern Maine Farmlands: Open fields and farmlands in Southern Maine are ideal for spotting Rough-legged Hawks, particularly during winter.

Acadia National Park is known for its diversity of hawk species, making it an ideal spot for bird watchers. Its mix of coastal, forest, and mountain habitats attract different hawk species, including Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, among others. Bird watching is particularly rewarding during migration periods in spring and fall when hawks are most active.

Baxter State Park, on the other hand, is a hotspot for Broad-winged Hawks during the summer months. These birds nest in the park’s forests, taking advantage of the rich prey base available. Bird watchers can observe these hawks during the day as they hunt for food or care for their young. As the summer ends and fall begins, bird watchers can witness these hawks preparing for their migratory journey south.

After discovering the vibrant hawk species in Maine, it’s fascinating to explore the raptors of the neighboring states as well. Venture over to New Hampshire to explore the amazing hawks of New Hampshire, where the White Mountains offer a majestic backdrop for hawk watching. Or, if you’re heading south, you’ll want to check out the variety of hawks in Massachusetts.

Facts about Hawks in Maine 

  1. Broad-winged Hawks and the Great Migration: One fascinating aspect of Broad-winged Hawks in Maine is their migratory behavior. Every fall, thousands of these hawks gather in large groups known as “kettles” and begin their incredible journey south to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

  2. Red-tailed Hawks and Variation: Red-tailed Hawks in Maine are known for their variation in plumage. While most Red-tailed Hawks have a signature red tail, those found in Maine can display a darker, almost chocolate brown tail, particularly in younger birds. This variation has been linked to the colder climate.

  3. Ospreys and Recovery: Ospreys have made a remarkable comeback in Maine. Despite suffering declines due to DDT exposure in the mid-20th century, proactive conservation efforts have seen their numbers rebound impressively in the state.

  4. Northern Harriers and Habitat Preference: Unlike most hawk species that prefer forested habitats, Northern Harriers in Maine are most often seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. This is unique as these types of habitats are becoming increasingly scarce in Maine due to development and changes in land use.

  5. Rough-legged Hawks and Wintering: While most hawk species migrate south for the winter, Rough-legged Hawks actually come to Maine for the colder months. These Arctic birds are built for cold weather and migrate south to Maine and other parts of the U.S. for a milder winter compared to their Arctic breeding grounds.

FAQs on Hawks in Maine

What is the most common hawk in Maine?

The Red-tailed Hawk, with its recognizable ‘red tails’, is the most commonly sighted hawk in Maine. These buteo hawks are known for their broad, round wings and reddish-brown heads. They are typically seen perched in tall trees or soaring high in the sky. Red-tailed hawks can adapt to a variety of habitats, from the open countryside to dense forests.

What is the biggest hawk in Maine?

The Northern Goshawk, scientifically known as Accipiter gentilis, holds the title for the biggest hawk in Maine. These accipiter hawks are characterized by their long tails and relatively short, rounded wings. Adult goshawks are known for their blue-gray plumage and striking red eyes.

What is the smallest hawk in Maine?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest hawks in Maine. Their scientific name is Accipiter striatus. These tiny raptors have narrow tails and very pointed wings. Male hawks are usually smaller than their female counterparts, a characteristic quite noticeable in this species.

When is breeding season for hawks in Maine?

Breeding season for most hawk species in Maine typically begins in early spring and continues through summer. During this time, male and female hawks perform elaborate courtship displays, often involving a series of soaring and diving flights. Juvenile birds often take longer to gain their adult plumage.

What do hawks eat in Maine?

Hawks in Maine have a diverse diet that mainly includes small to medium-sized mammals and birds. Ground squirrels, mourning doves, and even the occasional blue jay can become prey for these raptors. Some species, such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk, are also known to frequent bird feeders for unsuspecting small birds.

Are Hawks protected in Maine?

Yes, hawks are protected under both Maine state law and federal laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This protection extends to all species of hawks, prohibiting hunting, trapping, or possession without special permits. Protection measures also apply to nests and eggs.

How do hawks in Maine interact with other raptors like bald eagles and peregrine falcons?

In Maine, hawks share their habitat with other raptors such as the majestic bald eagle and the swift peregrine falcon. These raptors often maintain territories and generally avoid each other to reduce competition. However, interactions do occur, usually over food or territory, and can involve aerial chases and displays of dominance.

Do hawks in Maine migrate during the fall season?

Yes, several hawk species in Maine, such as the Broad-winged Hawk (scientific name Buteo platypterus), partake in fall migration. These hawks journey to warmer climates in Central and South America during the fall season. Birdwatchers often gather to witness this amazing spectacle, turning it into popular “hawk-watching parties”.

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