14 Types of Hawks in New Mexico (Photo Guide)




Hawks in New Mexico

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Hawks in New Mexico are diverse and abundant, with a variety of species inhabiting the state. With its varied landscapes of forests, open fields, and desert areas, New Mexico provides ample hunting grounds and nesting sites for hawks.

List of hawks in New Mexico:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: Commonly found all around the state, but particularly in areas with a mix of open fields and forest edges, such as the Santa Fe National Forest.

  2. Cooper’s Hawk: Frequently sighted in wooded areas and suburban neighborhoods across the state.

  3. Swainson’s Hawk: Known to nest in the grasslands of New Mexico, including areas within the Cibola National Forest.

  4. Northern Harrier: Frequently seen in wetlands and grasslands across the state, including the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

  5. Ferruginous Hawk: Prefers the open grasslands and prairies in New Mexico, particularly in the eastern part of the state.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk: Found in forested areas throughout New Mexico, but are more common in the northern parts of the state.

  7. Zone-tailed Hawk: These hawks prefer the wooded canyons of the southern part of the state.

  8. Harris’s Hawk: Mostly found in the desert and semi-desert regions in the southern parts of New Mexico.

  9. Northern Goshawk: Prefers the denser forests in the northern part of the state.

  10. Rough-legged Hawk: These birds are winter visitors, often seen in open areas and fields.

  11. Broad-winged Hawk: Rare in New Mexico, but may be spotted during migration season in forested areas.

  12. Gray Hawk: These hawks are rare and found primarily in riparian areas in the extreme southwestern part of the state.

  13. Common Black Hawk: They are seen in riparian areas throughout New Mexico, particularly in the Gila Wilderness.

  14. Osprey: Although not technically a hawk, Ospreys are often seen near large bodies of water, particularly during their migration.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone Tailed Hawk
Zone Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo albonotatus
Length18 to 22 in
Wingspan46–55 in
Weight1.4 – 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.

Harris’s Hawk

Harriss Hawk
Harriss Hawk 2
Scientific NameParabuteo unicinctus
Length18 to 23 in
Wingspan41 to 47 in
Weight1.2 to 3.6lb

The Harris’s Hawk is a unique bird of prey and is distinct in appearance compared to many other hawk species. It boasts a beautiful color palette, with dark brown plumage contrasted by chestnut-red shoulders, wing linings, and thighs, and a white patch at the base of the tail. This raptor has a reputation for its unusual social behavior, being one of the only bird species that hunts cooperatively in packs.

A native to the arid southwest regions of the United States, Mexico, and South America, the Harris’s Hawk prefers habitats like scrub desert, savannas, and woodland edges. While not typically found in Louisiana, it may appear in the state as a vagrant. These birds are known for their agility and hunting prowess, often pursuing prey on the ground and from low perches. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals and birds, but they’ve also been known to take larger prey such as jackrabbits and hares.

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.

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.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo plagiatus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan31 to 34 inches
Weight12.5 – 18.8 oz

The Gray Hawk, also known as the Grey-lined Hawk, is a small bird of prey that is found across a vast range in the Americas, from the southwestern United States through Mexico and Central America, extending to northern South America. It is easily recognizable by its light gray body, darker gray wings, and white underparts with fine gray barring. Its tail is marked with broad white and black bands, giving it a distinctive appearance in flight.

The Gray Hawk is a generalist predator, with a diet that primarily consists of lizards, snakes, small mammals, and birds. It has a unique hunting style, often soaring or perching to locate prey before launching a rapid, direct flight to capture it. The species is monogamous and pairs are known to remain together for multiple breeding seasons. Nests are built high in trees, and both parents participate in the incubation and feeding of the young.

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
Common Black Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeogallus anthracinus
Length21 inches
Wingspan50 inches
Weight840 g

The Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) is a bird of prey that inhabits various regions across the Americas. Characterized by its black plumage, this bird is native to coastal and interior regions, ranging from the Southwestern United States to Central America, extending down to parts of South America. In its habitat, it is often found near bodies of water like rivers, streams, and marshes. A distinct feature of this bird is its broad, rounded wings and a short, broad tail which allow it to maneuver through densely forested habitats with relative ease.

A notable behavior of the Common Black Hawk is its preference for aquatic prey. It feeds primarily on crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and other small animals found in or near water. This bird is typically solitary, only forming pair bonds during the breeding season. It builds large stick nests high in trees or on cliff faces near water, demonstrating a strong tie to its preferred aquatic habitats. Vocal and conspicuous during breeding season, these birds are known for their piercing, distinct calls that resonate through their habitats.


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.

Where to Spot Hawks in New Mexico 

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is arguably the best place in New Mexico to see the widest range of hawks. The refuge’s varied habitats, which include wetlands, forests, and grasslands, attract a diverse array of raptors throughout the year.

This wildlife refuge offers excellent opportunities to spot Northern Harriers flying low over the wetlands, Red-tailed Hawks soaring above, and Ferruginous Hawks hunting in the grasslands.

Other places include:

  1. Santa Fe National Forest: Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are commonly seen in this expansive forest.

  2. Cibola National Forest: This forest’s varied terrain and altitude are ideal for spotting Swainson’s Hawks, among others.

  3. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Northern Harriers are frequently seen soaring low over the grasslands and wetlands here.

  4. Gila Wilderness: This remote and rugged wilderness is home to various raptors, including the Common Black Hawk.

  5. Clayton Lake State Park: This park in the northeastern part of the state is a good place to spot Rough-legged Hawks during winter.

  6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park: The desert landscape around the park attracts Harris’s Hawks and Zone-tailed Hawks.

  7. Elephant Butte Lake State Park: This park’s large reservoir is a good place to spot migrating Ospreys in spring and fall.

  8. Caballo Lake State Park: This park offers another opportunity to see Ospreys during migration periods.

  9. Aguirre Spring Recreation Area: Nestled in the Organ Mountains, this area is home to several hawk species, including the rare Gray Hawk.

Santa Fe National Forest and Cibola National Forest are other great places for hawk spotting, especially during the breeding season in the spring and summer. The forests’ mix of open fields and dense woodland is perfect for Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, which can be seen hunting or tending to their nests. Birdwatchers should also look out for Sharp-shinned Hawks in the denser parts of these forests. In the autumn, migrating Broad-winged Hawks occasionally pass through these areas, offering a rare sighting opportunity.

However, New Mexico isn’t the only state where you can enjoy these incredible birds of prey. Heading north, you’ll find that the hawks of Colorado offer an equally diverse and fascinating array of species, often found in breathtaking mountainous landscapes. The hawks in Arizona prefer the state’s desert habitats, yet some species overlap with New Mexico’s, offering a unique perspective on the adaptability of these remarkable predators. The hawks in Texas share some of New Mexico’s birdlife, but they also present species unique to the Lone Star State’s diverse ecosystems.

Facts about Hawks in New Mexico 

  1. Gray Hawk’s New Mexico Breeding Grounds: Despite being primarily a tropical bird, Gray Hawks have been known to breed in the southwestern corner of New Mexico. This location represents the northernmost point of their range in the United States.

  2. Osprey Migration: The Osprey is not a resident of New Mexico, but it can be spotted during its spring and fall migrations. The state’s numerous bodies of water provide great fishing grounds, making it a crucial stopover point for these raptors.

  3. Northern Harrier’s Unique Hunting Style: The Northern Harrier, commonly spotted in New Mexico’s grasslands, exhibits a unique hunting style. It relies on both vision and hearing to locate prey, often seen flying low over open ground, enabling it to hear as well as see its prey.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk Sightings: The Broad-winged Hawk is rarely sighted in New Mexico as it typically resides in the Eastern United States. However, during migration, some individuals have been reported to stray into New Mexico, causing excitement among bird watchers.

  5. Common Black Hawk’s Limited Range: The Common Black Hawk is a rare sight in New Mexico, with sightings mostly confined to the Gila River area. Its range in the state is limited, as it prefers riparian habitats with abundant water-dwelling prey. This limited distribution makes any sighting a memorable one.

FAQs About Hawks in New Mexico 

What is the most common hawk in New Mexico?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in New Mexico. This adaptable raptor can be spotted across the state, from its lowland deserts to high mountain regions, often seen soaring in wide circles in the sky or perched on highway poles.

What is the biggest hawk in New Mexico?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk in New Mexico, and it is also the largest hawk in North America. Known for their impressive wingspan, these hawks inhabit the open habitats of New Mexico, such as grasslands and deserts.

What is the smallest hawk in New Mexico?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in New Mexico. Despite their small size, these hawks are fierce predators often found hunting smaller birds in forested areas or visiting bird feeders in residential areas.

When is the breeding season for hawks in New Mexico?

Most hawks in New Mexico breed during the spring months, usually from March through June, though the timing can vary slightly depending on the species and specific environmental conditions of the year.

What do hawks eat in New Mexico?

Hawks in New Mexico have a varied diet that includes small mammals, birds, ground squirrels, reptiles, and insects. The diet depends on the species of the hawk and the availability of food in their specific habitats.

Are Hawks protected in New Mexico?

Yes, hawks are protected in New Mexico under both state and federal law. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all species of hawks, making it illegal to harm, hunt, or possess these birds or their parts without specific permission.

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