Unveiling the 11 Majestic Hawks in Michigan (Guide +Photos)
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The state of Michigan, with its diverse natural habitats ranging from lush forests to expansive wetlands, offers numerous opportunities for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts to spot hawks. Hawks can be found in Michigan year-round, as some species, like the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, are resident birds, while others, like the Broad-winged Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk, migrate to or through the state at different times of the year.
Types of Hawks in Michigan
Red-tailed Hawk: The most common hawk in Michigan, typically found in open fields and on the edges of forests.
Cooper’s Hawk: This hawk can be spotted in woodlands throughout the state, often stalking bird feeders in suburban areas.
Broad-winged Hawk: Mostly seen in Michigan’s northern forests during the summer breeding season.
Red-shouldered Hawk: This species prefers mature forests with nearby water bodies in southern Michigan.
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Often observed near bird feeders, these hawks prefer mixed or deciduous forests.
Northern Harrier: Commonly found in marshes and open grasslands throughout Michigan.
Rough-legged Hawk: Prefers open habitats like fields and marshes, seen mostly in winter in Michigan.
Northern Goshawk: Prefers the mature forests of the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula.
Swainson’s Hawk: A rare visitor, can occasionally be spotted in open fields and farmlands during migration.
Ferruginous Hawk: A very rare visitor in Michigan, seen occasionally during migration periods.
Short-tailed Hawk: Extremely rare in Michigan, with only a few records of this species appearing in the southern regions of the state.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
51 to 69 cm (20 to 27 in)
122 to 152 cm (48 to 60 in)
907 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.
The Short-Tailed Hawk is a small to medium-sized bird of prey that inhabits parts of North, Central, and South America. Its name stems from its uniquely short tail, which is prominently visible during its characteristic flight. This bird presents two color morphs: a dark form, which is uniformly dark gray or brownish-black, and a light form, with a primarily white underbody and dark upperparts.
The Short-Tailed Hawk is known for its impressive hunting skills. It predominantly preys on small birds, which it often catches mid-air, but its diet also includes small mammals and reptiles. Hunting usually involves soaring high in the air, sometimes for hours at a time, before diving quickly to snatch its prey. During the breeding season, this raptor constructs a small nest of sticks in the crowns of tall trees.
Where to Spot Hawks in Michigan: Top Locations and Tips
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: This national park is home to a variety of bird species, including the Red-tailed Hawk.
Isle Royale National Park: Nestled in Lake Superior, this park provides an excellent habitat for the Northern Goshawk.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge: Here, you may spot Northern Harriers soaring low over the refuge’s wetlands and grasslands.
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge: The Cooper’s Hawk is one species you may see in this urban refuge.
Hiawatha National Forest: Broad-winged Hawks are frequent summer visitors to this northern Michigan forest.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park: This park’s dense forests provide great habitats for several hawk species, including the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Pointe Mouillee State Game Area: In this expansive wetland, you might see Rough-legged Hawks during winter.
To find these fascinating raptors, you’ll want to head to natural areas with suitable habitats. Forested areas, both deciduous and coniferous, are popular with species like the Northern Goshawk and Red-shouldered Hawk. Open areas such as fields and marshlands are preferred by Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks.
It’s also helpful to note that some species, like the Sharp-shinned Hawk, are often seen near bird feeders preying on smaller birds. Pay attention to the time of year as well: spring and fall migrations can be particularly good times to spot these birds in Michigan.
If you’re a birding enthusiast keen to expand your horizons, consider hopping over to Ohio. Our comprehensive guide on hawks in Ohio showcases the fascinating species you can find there, often in similar environments as those in Michigan. To the north, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan extends into Wisconsin, providing a continuous rich habitat for our avian friends. Discover more about the hawks that call Wisconsin home in our dedicated article.
Traveling east, you can explore the beautiful coastlines and forests of Indiana, another state with an impressive array of hawks. Check out our Indiana hawks guide for an insight into the species you can expect to see. The natural landscapes spanning from Michigan to Illinois provide a great setting for spotting different species of hawks. Check out our feature on hawks in Illinois to learn more about these fascinating birds of prey in the Prairie State.
Facts & Information about Hawks in Michigan
Extended Seasonality: While many bird species migrate south for the winter, Michigan’s Red-tailed Hawks are known to stay in the state year-round, even during the coldest months.
Aerial Hunters: Michigan’s Northern Harriers, unlike most other hawk species, hunt while flying low over open fields and marshes, using their keen hearing as well as their vision to capture prey.
Size Variation: The size of hawks in Michigan varies greatly. For instance, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest hawks, while the Ferruginous Hawk is among the largest in North America.
Master of Disguise: Michigan’s Rough-legged Hawk has a light morph and a dark morph, allowing it to blend seamlessly into different environments during hunting.
Endurance Flyers: The Broad-winged Hawk, native to Michigan, undertakes a lengthy migration every year from North America to South America, covering thousands of miles.
Urban Settlers: Cooper’s Hawks, once struggling due to hunting and pesticide exposure, have adapted remarkably well to city life in areas like Detroit and Grand Rapids, often seen hunting in neighborhoods.
Unique Nests: The Northern Goshawk, also found in Michigan, constructs some of the largest nests of any hawk, often reusing and adding to the same nest year after year.
Impressive Speeds: The Sharp-shinned Hawk, a resident of Michigan’s forests, is an agile flyer that can reach impressive speeds when pursuing its prey through dense woodland.
Special Eyesight: The Short-tailed Hawk, occasionally seen in Michigan, possesses an acute vision, allowing it to spot small prey from great heights.
Rare Sighting: The elusive Swainson’s Hawk is rarely seen in Michigan, making it a prized sighting among the birding community in the state. Its occasional presence is usually during its long migratory journey to and from South America.
FAQS on Hawks in michigan
What kinds of hawks are in Michigan?
Michigan is home to various species of hawks. Some common hawks found in Michigan include the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Northern Goshawk, Ferruginous Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk. Each species has distinct characteristics and habitats.
How can you tell a hawk?
Hawks can be identified by several features. Look for broad wings, a long tail, and sharp, curved beaks. Hawks often have strong, sharp talons and keen eyesight. Their flight pattern, such as soaring or diving, can also provide clues. Colors and markings vary between species, but many hawks have brown feathers with lighter undersides. Size and shape differ among hawk species as well.
Where can you find hawks in northern Michigan?
Northern Michigan is home to various species of hawks. Some hawks commonly found in northern Michigan include the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Northern Goshawk. These hawks can be observed in forests, open fields, and marshy areas throughout northern Michigan.
Do hawks in Michigan eat small mammals?
Yes, many hawks in Michigan feed on small mammals. Hawks, such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, are opportunistic hunters and prey on small mammals like ground squirrels, mice, and other rodents. Small mammals make up a significant portion of their diet, especially during the breeding season and when these prey species are abundant.
How many species of hawks are there in Michigan?
Michigan is home to several species of hawks. While the exact number can vary, there are approximately 10 to 15 species of hawks recorded in Michigan. These include both resident species and migratory hawks that pass through the state during different times of the year.
Are Ferruginous Hawks common in Michigan?
No, Ferruginous Hawks are not common in Michigan. They are a rare sight in the state. Ferruginous Hawks are more typically found in open grasslands and prairies of western North America. While they may occasionally be spotted during migration, their presence in Michigan is infrequent.
What hawks are in Michigan year round?
In Michigan, some hawks can be found year-round. The Red-tailed Hawk is a common resident hawk in the state. Another resident hawk is the Cooper’s Hawk, which can be spotted throughout the year. These hawks are adapted to Michigan’s varied habitats and can be observed in forests, open fields, and suburban areas consistently 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.