Discover 9 Hawks in Maryland (With Pictures and Tips!)




Hawks in Maryland

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Maryland boasts a diverse array of hawks due to its unique geography, ranging from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the most common species include Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and Broad-winged hawks. They can be spotted in natural areas across the state, from Catoctin Mountain Park to Assateague Island.

Here are hawks in Maryland:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Commonly seen perched on trees along the highways or soaring in open areas across the state.

  2. Broad-winged Hawk – Look for them in forested areas, especially during migration periods. Catoctin Mountain Park is a notable hotspot.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk – Frequently found in wooded areas and increasingly spotted in suburban regions.

  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Prefers dense woodlands. They’re often seen at bird feeders in towns hunting smaller birds.

  5. Red-shouldered Hawk – Look for them in mixed woodlands near water bodies. They’re often seen in Chesapeake Bay area.

  6. Northern Harrier – Found in open fields and marshes. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a good place to spot them.

  7. Osprey – Also known as the “Fish Hawk”, they’re found near bodies of water. Look for them in coastal areas, especially around Chesapeake Bay.

  8. Northern Goshawk – Prefers mature forests. They are rare but can occasionally be spotted in the mountainous regions of western Maryland.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk – A rare winter visitor. Open fields and farmlands are the best places to spot this species.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.


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 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.

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 Maryland

When searching for hawks in Maryland, it’s important to be aware of the specific habitats and seasonal patterns that attract these birds. Many hawks can be found in forested areas, including mixed woodlands and mature forests, where they nest and hunt for prey. Open fields, marshes, and coastal areas near bodies of water are also prime locations for spotting hawks, particularly Northern Harriers and Ospreys.

  1. Catoctin Mountain Park: This park is known for its diverse range of hawks, making it a hotspot for birdwatchers. Hawks can be found here throughout the year, but the best time to spot them is during the fall migration season when large numbers of Broad-winged Hawks pass through the area.

  2. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the Chesapeake Bay area, this refuge is a great place to observe Northern Harriers. These hawks can be seen flying low over the open fields and marshes of the refuge. They are most commonly spotted during the winter months.

  3. Green Ridge State Forest: Situated in the mountainous regions of western Maryland, Green Ridge State Forest offers a chance to see the elusive Northern Goshawk. These hawks prefer mature forests and can occasionally be spotted in this area, especially during the colder months.

  4. Assateague Island National Seashore: This coastal area provides an excellent opportunity to observe Ospreys, also known as “Fish Hawks.” These magnificent birds can be seen near bodies of water, including the coastal regions around Chesapeake Bay. They are most active during the spring and summer months when they are nesting and raising their young.

  5. Gunpowder Falls State Park: This park is known for its diverse birdlife, including various species of hawks. Look for wooded areas within the park, as hawks, such as Cooper’s Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks, are frequently found in these habitats. The best time to spot them is during the breeding season in spring when they are actively nesting and displaying territorial behavior.

The best time to observe hawks in Maryland varies depending on the species. Fall migration, typically from September to November, is a key period when large numbers of hawks pass through the state, especially at locations like Catoctin Mountain Park. Winter months can offer opportunities to see rare visitors like Rough-legged Hawks in open fields and farmlands. Spring and summer are ideal for observing nesting behaviors and territorial displays of hawks, such as Cooper’s Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks, in wooded areas.

For bird watchers, an expedition tosee Virginia hawks or hawks in West Virginia can be as rewarding, especially during the migration season when the landscapes come alive with the sight of these majestic birds. Similarly, hawks found in Pennsylvania and Delaware species of hawks, offer unique spots for hawk watching, especially around areas that lie close to Maryland’s borders.

Facts about Hawks in Maryland

  1. Maryland is a hotspot for hawk migration: Every spring and fall, Maryland becomes a prime location to observe the migration of hawks. Locations like the Conowingo Dam and Washington Monument State Park offer remarkable vantage points for this spectacle.

  2. The state hosts one of the most diverse hawk populations: Maryland is home to at least nine different species of hawks, including rare ones such as the Northern Goshawk. This diversity is facilitated by the state’s varied habitats ranging from coastal areas to forested regions.

  3. Maryland’s Broad-winged Hawk migration is a must-see: Each fall, bird watchers flock to Cumberland Gap to witness the spectacular migration of Broad-winged Hawks. Thousands of these birds pass through this area, creating awe-inspiring “kettles” in the sky.

  4. Red-shouldered Hawks are suburban nesters in Maryland: Unlike many hawk species that prefer undisturbed forests, Red-shouldered Hawks have adapted to life in suburban areas of Maryland. They can often be found nesting in neighborhoods with large trees.

  5. Hawks in Maryland have helped control invasive species: Hawks, such as the Cooper’s Hawk, have played a significant role in controlling populations of non-native species like the House Sparrow and European Starling, which can have detrimental effects on native bird populations.

FAQs About Hawks in Maryland 

What is the most common hawk in Maryland?

The Red-tailed Hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis is the most common hawk in Maryland. Red tailed hawks can be easily identified by its distinctive cinnamon red tail and brown streaking on its chest. Known for their adaptability, these hawks found in both rural and urban environments, are often spotted perched on tall trees or roadside posts while hunting for ground squirrels and other small mammals.

What is the biggest hawk in Maryland?

The Northern Goshawk scientific name Accipiter gentilis, a secretive bird usually found in dense forests, is the largest hawk species found in Maryland. It’s very long tail and broad, rounded wings enable it to maneuver swiftly through the forest as it hunts for backyard birds and small mammals.

What is the smallest hawk in Maryland?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk scientific name Accipiter striatus holds the title for the smallest hawk in Maryland. Known for their sharp talons and pale underneath, these smallest hawks are often seen darting through tall trees in pursuit of other hawks and smaller birds, exhibiting their excellent hunting skills.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Maryland?

Breeding season for hawks in Maryland typically begins in early spring. During this time, species such as the Cooper’s Hawk scientific name Accipiter cooperii and the Red-shouldered Hawk scientific name Buteo lineatus can be seen displaying courtship behaviors. Their nesting sites are often found in tall trees in dense forests and secluded areas.

What do hawks eat in Maryland?

Hawks in Maryland have a diverse diet which includes small mammals like ground squirrels, other bird species and insects. Larger species, such as the Northern Goshawk, will also take larger prey, including backyard birds and other hawks. Hawks that do this include broad winged hawk scientific name Buteo platypterus, rough legged hawk scientific name Buteo lagopus and northern harrier scientific name Circus hudsonius.

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