10 Fascinating Hawks in Mississippi (+ Photos)




Hawks in Mississippi

Affiliate Disclaimer

This blog is reader-supported. When you make a purchase or take any action through links on this site, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me continue providing valuable content to enhance your experience. Thank you!

Hawks in Mississippi are diverse and captivating birds of prey that can be found throughout the state’s varied landscapes. From open fields to forested areas, marshes to residential neighborhoods, Mississippi offers a range of habitats where hawks thrive.

While some species are year-round residents, others visit during specific seasons or migrate through the state. Mississippi provides ample opportunities for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts to observe these magnificent raptors in their natural habitats.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: Found throughout Mississippi in various habitats such as open fields, forests, and along highways.

  2. Red-shouldered Hawk: Commonly seen in forested areas, wetlands, and along rivers and streams.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Often observed in woodlands and suburban areas, particularly around bird feeders.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk: Found in forests and wooded areas, especially during their migratory period. Can be seen in locations such as DeSoto National Forest.

  5. Northern Harrier: Typically seen in open fields, marshes, and coastal areas like the Mississippi Delta and coastal barrier islands.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk: Often spotted in woodlands and near bird feeders in residential areas.

  7. Rough-legged Hawk: Rare winter visitor to Mississippi, usually found in open fields and farmlands.

  8. Swainson’s Hawk: Occasional visitor during migration, known to utilize open habitats such as prairies and agricultural fields.

  9. Ferruginous Hawk: Rare visitor to Mississippi, prefers open grasslands and prairies.

  10. Northern Goshawk: Rare in Mississippi, mostly observed in large forests, particularly in the northern part 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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Where to Spot Hawks in Mississippi 

  1. Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge: Located in central Mississippi, this refuge offers diverse habitats including forests, grasslands, and wetlands, attracting a wide variety of hawks. Visit during fall and winter to witness the influx of migratory hawks passing through.

  2. Tishomingo State Park: Situated in the northeastern part of the state, this park is known for its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife. Hawks can be observed soaring above the park’s rugged cliffs and dense woodlands throughout the year.

  3. Gulf Islands National Seashore: Along the coastal areas of Mississippi, this national seashore provides opportunities to spot hawks while enjoying stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico. Look for hawks soaring over dunes, marshes, and maritime forests.

  4. Tombigbee National Forest: Located in northeastern Mississippi, this expansive forest offers a mix of pine and hardwood forests, providing ideal habitat for various hawk species. Visit during spring and summer to witness breeding activities and the presence of resident hawks.

  5. Starkville: This city in Oktibbeha County, known for its rich agricultural landscapes and open fields, is a great place to spot hawks hunting for prey. Keep an eye out for hawks perched on utility poles or hovering above farmlands.

In Mississippi, hawks can be found throughout the year, but their abundance and behavior vary with the seasons. During the fall and winter months, Mississippi becomes a prime location for hawk migration, as many species pass through the state on their way to warmer regions. This is an excellent time to spot a diverse range of hawks, including Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks, as they soar overhead or perch in trees.

In exploring the breathtaking sights of Mississippi, one can’t ignore the magnificent spectacle of hawks soaring across the sky. Adjacent regions also play host to these majestic birds, each offering unique vistas for bird enthusiasts. For instance, in the lush and diverse habitats of Alabama, hawks offer a splendid sight that adds to the state’s natural beauty. The same is true for the picturesque landscapes of Louisiana, where you can see hawks glide effortlessly over the state’s varied terrains. Meanwhile, in the scenic hill country of Tennessee, these hawks further enrich the state’s rich biodiversity.

Facts about Hawks in Mississippi 

  1. The Black Hawk is a rare and elusive species: The Black Hawk, also known as the Cuban Black Hawk, is a rare visitor to Mississippi. It is considered a vagrant species and occasionally makes appearances in the southernmost parts of the state. Spotting one of these elusive hawks in Mississippi is a special treat for birdwatchers.

  2. Hawks play a vital role in rodent control: Hawks, including Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, are efficient predators of rodents. With their keen eyesight and sharp talons, they help keep rodent populations in check, providing valuable pest control services in Mississippi’s agricultural areas.

  3. Hawks utilize thermals for efficient soaring: Mississippi’s warm climate and thermals, which are columns of rising air, create ideal conditions for hawks to soar effortlessly. By using these thermals, hawks can conserve energy while flying and cover great distances in search of food or during migration.

  4. The Pearl River is an important habitat for hawks: The Pearl River, which runs through Mississippi, serves as a vital habitat for various hawk species. Its surrounding wetlands and forests provide food sources and nesting sites for hawks such as Red-shouldered Hawks and Northern Harriers. Exploring the areas along the Pearl River can offer unique opportunities to observe these hawks in their natural habitat.

FAQs About Hawks in Mississippi 

What is the most common hawk in Mississippi?

The most common hawk in Mississippi is the Red-tailed Hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis, known for its strongly banded tail. It is widespread throughout the state and can be found in various habitats, including open fields, woodlands, and along highways. With its characteristic red tails and broad wingspan, the Red-tailed Hawk is easily recognizable and frequently observed in Mississippi.

What is the biggest hawk in Mississippi?

The biggest hawk in Mississippi is the Ferruginous Hawk. Although not as commonly seen as some other hawk species in the state, the Ferruginous Hawk is known for its impressive size. It has a wingspan of up to 55 inches and a length of around 22-27 inches, making it one of the largest hawks found in Mississippi.

What is the smallest hawk in Mississippi?

The smallest hawk in Mississippi is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This compact and agile hawk measures about 10-14 inches in length and has a wingspan of approximately 20-27 inches. Its small size and fast-flying nature make it a formidable predator, especially when hunting small birds.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Mississippi?

The breeding season for hawks in Mississippi typically occurs during the spring and early summer months. Depending on the species, breeding activities can start as early as February and continue through July. During this time, hawks establish territories, build nests, and engage in courtship displays. It is an important period for their reproductive cycle and the raising of their young. Red-shouldered Hawks with their reddish brown heads often nest in tall trees, preferably near water sources such as rivers, swamps, or wetlands.

What do hawks eat in Mississippi?

Hawks in Mississippi have a diverse diet they eat small mammals, such as mice, voles, and rabbits. They are skilled hunters and also prey on birds, including doves, ground squirrels, songbirds, and waterfowl. Additionally, hawks may consume reptiles, amphibians, and insects when suitable prey is available in their habitat.

Are Hawks protected in Mississippi?

Yes, hawks are protected in Mississippi under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state wildlife regulations. It is illegal to harm, disturb, or possess hawks without the appropriate permits. These protective measures aim to ensure the conservation and well-being of hawk populations, allowing them to thrive in their natural habitats and contribute to the ecosystem. This includes these hawks:
Red-tailed Hawk Scientific Name – Buteo jamaicensis, Red-shouldered Hawk Scientific Name – Buteo lineatus, Cooper’s Hawk Scientific Name – Accipiter cooperii Broad-winged Hawk: Scientific Name – Buteo platypterus Northern Harrier: Scientific Name – Circus hudsonius

About the author

Latest posts