Hawks in New Jersey (8 Types With Pictures)




Hawks in New Jersey

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Hawks in New Jersey are an integral part of the local ecosystem. This diverse group includes the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk, among others. These birds of prey are renowned for their hunting skills, feeding primarily on small mammals and birds. Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, hawks contribute significantly to maintaining balance in New Jersey’s natural habitats.

List of Hawks in New Jersey:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: Commonly seen throughout New Jersey, often perched on utility poles or soaring in open fields and along highways.
  2. Cooper’s Hawk: Frequently found in suburban and wooded areas of New Jersey, known for their agile hunting of small birds.

  3. Red-shouldered Hawk: Found in forests and wetland areas of New Jersey, recognized by their distinctive reddish shoulders.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk: Known for their migratory behavior, seen in New Jersey during the breeding season, particularly in forested habitats.

  5. Sharp-shinned Hawk: Often spotted in wooded areas of New Jersey, skilled at maneuvering through dense vegetation while hunting small birds.

  6. Northern Harrier: Found in coastal areas and marshes of New Jersey, known for their low-flight hunting technique over open fields.

  7. Northern Goshawk: Inhabits mature forests of New Jersey, building nests high in trees and hunting a variety of prey.

  8. Rough-legged Hawk: Seen during the winter months in New Jersey, often in open areas such as grasslands and agricultural fields.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

Exploring the Best Places to Find Hawks in New Jersey

1. Cape May Hawk Watch: Located at Cape May Point State Park, this renowned birding site offers prime opportunities to spot migrating hawks during the fall season. With its strategic position along the Atlantic Flyway, it serves as a major stopover for hawks and other raptors.

2. Delaware Water Gap: Situated along the Delaware River, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a haven for birdwatchers. The diverse habitats, including forests, fields, and river corridors, attract a variety of hawks throughout the year.

3. Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: This expansive wetland and forested area in Morris County provides a valuable habitat for hawks. With its diverse ecosystem, it offers excellent birdwatching opportunities, especially during the migration seasons.

4. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge: Located along the southern coast of New Jersey, the refuge encompasses a mix of salt marshes, tidal pools, and woodlands. It serves as an important resting and feeding area for hawks during their migratory journeys.

5. Kittatinny Ridge: Running through the northwest part of the state, the Kittatinny Ridge (also known as the Blue Ridge) offers a favorable habitat for hawks. The ridge’s elevation and open areas provide optimal conditions for hawk sightings, especially during migration.

During the fall migration, New Jersey becomes a hotspot for hawks as they embark on their journey south. Cape May Hawk Watch, situated at the southern tip of the state, is particularly renowned for its hawk-watching opportunities. The months of September and October witness a significant influx of hawks passing through the region.

Continuing your bird-watching adventure beyond the vibrant ecosystems of New Jersey, there’s a wealth of avian biodiversity to explore in the surrounding states. To the north, New York’s expansive forests and coastline offer a diverse habitat for hawks; delve deeper with our comprehensive guide on New York’s hawks.

To the west, Pennsylvania’s rich landscapes, from rolling hills to vast woodlands, are home to various hawk species; learn more with our Pennsylvania hawks. Just south of New Jersey, Delaware’s coastal and inland ecosystems provide an impressive viewing experience for hawk enthusiasts; discover more with our overview of Delaware’s hawks.

Insights into Hawks in New Jersey

  1. Migration Spectacle: New Jersey is a crucial stopover for hawks during their fall migration, with thousands of birds passing through the state as they head south.

  2. Raptor Capital: The Delaware Bay region in New Jersey is known as the “Raptor Capital of North America” due to the high concentration of raptors, including hawks, during the migration season.

  3. Urban Adaptability: Hawks, such as the Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk, have adapted to urban environments in New Jersey, thriving in cities and suburban areas.

  4. Diverse Diet: Hawks in New Jersey exhibit a diverse diet, preying on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even insects, displaying their versatility as opportunistic hunters.

  5. Endangered Species: The Northern Harrier, also known as the Marsh Hawk, is a state-endangered species in New Jersey due to habitat loss and degradation of marshlands.

  6. Breeding Grounds: New Jersey’s extensive wetlands, including the Delaware Bay and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, serve as vital breeding grounds for various hawk species.

  7. Distinctive Flight Patterns: Hawks in New Jersey are known for their acrobatic flight displays, including soaring, hovering, and stooping techniques, which aid in their hunting strategies.

  8. Migratory Timing: New Jersey’s hawk migration peaks in September and October, attracting birdwatchers and enthusiasts to witness the impressive numbers and diverse species on the move.

  9. Resident Raptors: While many hawks pass through during migration, several species, including the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, reside in New Jersey year-round, adding to the state’s raptor population.

  10. Habitat Variety: From coastal areas and wetlands to forests and open fields, New Jersey offers a range of habitats that cater to different hawk species, showcasing the state’s ecological diversity.

FAQS on Hawks found in NJ

What is the most common hawk in New Jersey?

The Red-tailed Hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis, is the most common hawk in New Jersey. It features a dark brown back and barred underparts. Red-tails are known to consume small mammals and other birds, often seen soaring in the sky or perched observing the ground. They dwell in mixed forests and are prevalent in New Jersey year-round.

Are hawks protected in NJ?

Yes, all hawks and birds of prey, including common ones such as the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk scientific name Accipiter cooperii, are federally protected in New Jersey. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to harm, disturb, or possess these birds, their eggs, or their nests. Violations of these protections can lead to severe penalties.

What is the biggest hawk in New Jersey?

The Red-tailed Hawk, known for its strong, banded tail, is the largest hawk species in New Jersey. These large hawks, sporting dark feathers and a long tail, are agile hunters, capable of catching small rodents and other birds. Their rounded wings contribute to their impressive hunting skills.

What is the smallest hawk in New Jersey?

The Sharp shinned Hawk scientific name Accipiter striatus) is the smallest hawk in New Jersey. Known as secretive birds, they are often found in dense forests where they hunt small birds. Their rounded wings and long tails enhance their agility in flight, making them effective predators despite their size.

When is breeding season for hawks in New Jersey?

Breeding season for hawks in New Jersey typically falls in the spring, between March and May. Hawks such as the Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned lay brown blotched eggs and pale blue mottled eggs, respectively. They nest in tall trees or cliff ledges and can become very territorial during this period.

What do hawks eat in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, hawks like the Red-tailed and Sharp-shinned Hawks feed on a diverse diet. Red-tailed Hawks, being large hawks, prefer hunting small mammals and game birds, while the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawks often hunt birds (yes they do eat birds). These New Jersey hawks demonstrate their adaptability and skill in catching prey, further cementing their roles as integral parts of the ecosystem.

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