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Nevada is home to a diverse array of hawks, attracting bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From the majestic Swainson’s Hawk soaring over open grasslands to the elusive Northern Goshawk hidden in dense forests, Nevada offers opportunities to observe and appreciate these fascinating birds of prey. With its varied landscapes including marshes, prairies, and woodland areas, Nevada provides habitat for a wide range of hawk species.
Whether you’re exploring the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest or visiting the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, you’re likely to encounter hawks displaying their impressive aerial skills and hunting behaviors. Keep your eyes to the skies and be prepared for an unforgettable hawk-watching experience in the Silver State.
List of hawks in Nevada:
Swainson’s Hawk: A common summer resident often seen in the Great Basin region of Nevada, particularly around agricultural areas and open grasslands.
Cooper’s Hawk: Often found in forested areas, particularly near water sources. A good place to spot them is the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
Northern Harrier: This bird prefers marshy areas and open fields. The Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge is a common location to spot them.
Red tailed hawk: Red-tailed Hawks can be seen in both rural and urban areas, soaring high in the sky or perched on telephone poles, trees, or fence posts as they scan the ground for prey.
Red-Shouldered Hawk: Although not as common as in other states, you can occasionally spot these birds in woodland areas around the Las Vegas region.
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Typically found in forested areas, these hawks can be seen in places like the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
Ferruginous Hawk: These birds prefer the prairies and open spaces of Northern Nevada. The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge is a common place to find them.
Rough-legged Hawk: These birds are winter visitors and prefer open fields and grasslands. The Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a good place to see them in the winter months.
Northern Goshawk: They are rare in Nevada, mostly found in dense forests. They can be occasionally spotted in places like the Great Basin National Park.
Zone-Tailed Hawk: Zone tailed hawks can be seen in various habitats across Nevada, especially in Southern parts of the state near the border with Arizona.
Broad-winged Hawk: These birds are mostly seen in Nevada during migration. The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a possible place to spot them during these times.
Common Black Hawk: These birds are very rare in Nevada but can occasionally be spotted around riparian areas in the Southern region, particularly near Laughlin.
Harris’s Hawk: These birds are rare visitors to Nevada and are occasionally sighted in the southernmost parts of the state.
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.
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.
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.
45–65 cm (18–26 in)
110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in)
690 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.
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’.
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.
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.
18 to 22 in
1.4 – 2lb
The Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus) is a medium-sized bird of prey that can be found in parts of North, Central, and South America. Its most striking feature is its distinct tail, which displays a series of black and white bands, providing this raptor its descriptive name. This bird has a largely blackish plumage, which combined with its tail banding, and general shape and flight pattern, makes it often mistaken for the common Turkey Vulture, a case of Batesian mimicry that can allow it to approach prey unnoticed.
Its diet is highly varied and opportunistic, consuming a wide range of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Although the Zone-Tailed Hawk usually hunts by soaring and circling high in the air, it can also stealthily approach prey by flying low to the ground. During the breeding season, these hawks pair up and construct nests out of sticks and plant material, typically in tall trees or cliff edges. Its vocalizations, a series of high-pitched whistles, often signal its presence in the area.
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.
Where to Spot Hawks in Nevada
The Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Nevada provides the widest range of hawk species. This 900 square mile refuge encompasses a diverse array of habitats, from sagebrush desert to mountainous terrain, making it an ideal location for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts. Other places to find hawks in Nevada include@
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest: The largest national forest in the lower 48 states is a great place to see Cooper’s Hawks and other raptors. The dense forest and abundance of prey species make it an ideal habitat for these birds.
Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge: This area, particularly during the winter months, is an excellent place to see Rough-Legged Hawks. The lake’s rich wetlands and surrounding grasslands provide excellent hunting grounds for these birds.
Great Basin National Park: Although rarer, the Northern Goshawk has been spotted in this park. The mature, dense forests are preferred by this elusive species.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: A haven for migrating Broad-Winged Hawks, this refuge has marshes, meadows, and desert habitat that provide good rest and foraging opportunities for these birds.
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area: This area near Las Vegas is good for seeing Sharp-Shinned Hawks, which prefer the wooded areas here.
Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge: Located on Pyramid Lake, it’s a great place to spot Northern Harriers, particularly in marshy areas.
Most of these locations provide year-round opportunities for spotting hawks, but migration periods, particularly in spring and fall, can offer even more bird-watching possibilities as hawks pass through the area. Winter can also be an excellent time for viewing certain species, such as the Rough-Legged Hawk, which are winter visitors to the state.
The varied landscapes of Nevada, from its desert basins and rugged mountains to its lush wetlands, support a diverse array of wildlife, including an impressive range of hawk species. The northern regions, with places like Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, are particularly good for spotting various hawk species. These areas, characterized by wide open spaces, grasslands, and wetlands, provide ample hunting grounds for these skilled predators.
The vast landscapes and birding opportunities extend into the neighboring states. For instance, many of the raptors you see soaring over the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest also inhabit the forests of California, see our guide on hawks in California. Eastward, the Great Basin region seamlessly connects Nevada to Utah, where hawks in Utah make their summer home. Similarly, hawks seen in the lower elevations of Nevada, such as the Zone-Tailed Hawk, can also be found in hawks of Arizona, especially around the Grand Canyon region.
Lastly, moving north into Oregon and Idaho, the same high desert and mountainous habitats home to the Ferruginous Hawk in Nevada extend into these states. Get a complete overview of these regions’ raptors with our hawks in Oregon and hawks in Idaho guides.
Facts about Hawks in Nevada
The Harris’s Hawk in Nevada: The Harris’s Hawk, normally associated with the desert regions of the Southwest, is occasionally sighted in the southernmost parts of Nevada. These sightings are rare and always a treat for bird enthusiasts due to the hawk’s striking appearance and cooperative hunting behavior.
Swainson’s Hawk Migration: The Swainson’s Hawk, which can be found throughout Nevada in the summer, is known for its exceptionally long migration. These hawks travel more than 6,000 miles from Nevada to Argentina, one of the longest migrations of any raptor.
The Ferruginous Hawk’s Breeding Grounds: In the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Nevada, the Ferruginous Hawk has been known to nest and breed. This hawk is the largest of North American hawks, and its choice of breeding location gives birdwatchers an opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close.
Common Black Hawk Rarity: The Common Black Hawk is one of the rarer visitors to Nevada, primarily seen in riparian areas near Laughlin. Due to its rarity and striking dark plumage, any sighting of this bird is quite a noteworthy event.
Northern Harrier’s Sexual Dimorphism: In the marshy areas of Nevada’s Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Northern Harrier can often be seen. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look quite different. Males are grayish with black wingtips, while females are brown. This difference is especially noticeable in Nevada’s open landscapes.
FAQs About Hawks in Nevada
What is the most common hawk in Nevada?
The most common hawk in Nevada is the Swainson’s Hawk. These birds are often seen throughout the state, particularly in the Great Basin region. They are summer residents, arriving in Nevada to breed and raise their young.
What is the biggest hawk in Nevada?
The biggest hawk in Nevada is the Ferruginous Hawk. It is considered the largest hawk in North America, with an impressive wingspan that can reach over 4.5 feet. This species can often be found in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Nevada.
What is the smallest hawk in Nevada?
The smallest hawk in Nevada is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite its small size, it is a skilled hunter, often seen darting through the forests in pursuit of small birds, its primary prey.
When is the breeding season for hawks in Nevada?
The breeding season for hawks in Nevada typically starts in spring and continues through the summer. Some species, like the Swainson’s Hawk and Ferruginous Hawk, travel to Nevada specifically for breeding purposes.
What do hawks eat in Nevada?
Hawks in Nevada have a varied diet that primarily consists of small mammals, such as mice, rabbits, and ground squirrels. They are also skilled hunters of birds, reptiles, and occasionally insects. Hawks employ their sharp talons and beaks to capture and consume their prey.
Are Hawks protected in Nevada?
Yes, all species of hawks in Nevada are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law makes it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, or sell hawks, and also protects their nests and eggs.
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.