9 Incredible Hawks in New York (With Photo Guide)




Hawks in New York

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Hawks in New York are a diverse group of birds of prey that inhabit the state. They can be found in various habitats, ranging from forests and grasslands to urban areas. Each species has its own unique characteristics, feeding habits, and preferred habitats, making the presence of hawks in New York a fascinating aspect of the state’s wildlife.

Lists of Hawks in New York:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk: The most commonly seen raptor across the state, particularly visible along highways where they perch on posts to hunt for small mammals. They are easily found in upstate rural areas and even in New York City’s parks.

  2. Sharp-shinned Hawk: These are frequently spotted in woodlands throughout the state, especially during their migration seasons in the spring and fall.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk: Like the Sharp-shinned Hawk, these birds are often seen in wooded areas statewide, though they have also adapted well to suburban environments.

  4. Northern Harrier: Look for these unique, ground-nesting hawks in the grasslands and marshes across New York State, including the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

  5. Osprey: These fish-eating hawks are often spotted near large bodies of water, such as the Hudson River and the shores of Long Island.

  6. Broad-winged Hawk: Primarily a bird of large forests, they are particularly common in the Adirondacks during the summer months.

  7. Red-shouldered Hawk: Mostly found in the southeastern part of the state, particularly in the Hudson Valley region.

  8. Northern Goshawk: These hawks prefer large, unbroken forests, making them harder to spot. Your best chance is in the Adirondack Mountains.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk: These hawks are not year-round residents, but rather winter visitors, best spotted in the open fields and farmlands upstate during the colder months.

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.

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’.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Where to Spot Hawks in New York 

The best place to find the widest range of hawks in New York is the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge offers a diverse range of habitats, attracting a wide variety of hawks, particularly during the migration seasons.

Here are some of the other locations to spot hawks in New York:

  1. Central Park, New York City: This famous urban park surprisingly offers excellent hawk-spotting opportunities, particularly for Red-tailed Hawks, even amidst the city bustle.

  2. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: Though technically in Pennsylvania, this sanctuary is close to the New York border and is one of the best places in the Northeast to observe migrating hawks, especially in the fall.

  3. Fire Island National Seashore: This coastal location is great for spotting fishing hawks such as Ospreys during the summer.

  4. Braddock Bay Park, Rochester: Known for its hawk watch platform, this park along Lake Ontario is a fantastic spot to watch migrating hawks in the spring.

  5. Derby Hill Bird Observatory: Located on Lake Ontario, this is one of the premier hawk-watching sites in the Northeast, particularly in March and April when many hawks pass through.

  6. Letchworth State Park: Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” this park is home to a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons and a good spot for other raptors as well.

  7. Sterling Forest State Park: Near the New Jersey border, this park is an excellent spot to see a variety of raptors, including the less common Northern Goshawk.

  8. Bear Mountain State Park: In the Hudson Valley, this park is known for its fall hawk migration, which peaks in September.

Hawks in New York can be found in a range of habitats, from the urban jungle of New York City to the quiet forests of the Adirondacks. Many of these locations offer unique vantage points, such as the hawk watch platform at Braddock Bay Park, where observers can get a bird’s-eye view of raptors soaring on thermals.

Different species of hawks can be seen throughout the year, with peak viewing times during the migration seasons in the spring and fall. The fall migration is particularly spectacular, when thousands of hawks pass through the state on their way to wintering grounds further south.

During the summer months, residents such as Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are actively breeding and may be seen around their nests. In the winter, look for Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers in the state’s open fields and marshlands.

As you explore the diverse range of hawks in New York, you might also want to extend your birdwatching adventures to hawks in New Jersey. Similarly, the mountainous landscapes of Pennsylvania are a veritable haven for the hawks of Pennsylvania. Connecticut, known for its expansive coastlines and forested hiking trails, also hosts a variety of Connecticut hawks.

Facts about Hawks in New York 

  1. Breeding Ground for Broad-winged Hawks: New York is one of the primary breeding grounds for the Broad-winged Hawk. This species tends to breed in New York during the spring and early summer before migrating to Central and South America for the winter.

  2. Sizable Osprey Population: Thanks to conservation efforts, New York now boasts a significant population of Ospreys, particularly in the Long Island area. This area has become a vital nesting ground for these sea hawks, which were previously endangered in this region.

  3. Hawk Watch in Derby Hill: One of the best places to witness the spring migration of hawks in North America is Derby Hill Bird Observatory in New York. During this period, thousands of hawks fly over this point on Lake Ontario’s southeastern shore.

  4. Northern Goshawks in the Adirondacks: The vast Adirondack Park in Upstate New York is known to host Northern Goshawks. These secretive hawks are challenging to spot due to their preference for dense, secluded forests, making each sighting a special occurrence.

  5. Successful Red-Tailed Hawk Nesting in NYC: Red-tailed Hawks have famously adapted to urban life in New York City. A pair named Pale Male and Lola became famous for successfully nesting on a building on Fifth Avenue. Their story underscores the adaptability of these resilient birds.

FAQs About Hawks in New York 

What is the most common hawk in New York?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk species in New York. You can spot this ubiquitous bird of prey in both rural and urban areas, with several pairs known to nest in New York City itself.

What is the biggest hawk in New York?

The Northern Goshawk, known for its impressive size and agility, is the largest hawk in New York. This raptor can have a wingspan of up to 46 inches and is most commonly found in the forests of the Adirondacks.

What is the smallest hawk in New York?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk found in New York. With a slender body and wings, it’s particularly adept at maneuvering through dense forests as it pursues small birds, its primary prey.

When is the breeding season for hawks in New York?

The breeding season for most hawks in New York tends to be in the spring and early summer, typically starting in April and lasting until June or July, depending on the species and weather conditions.

What do hawks eat in New York?

Hawks in New York have a varied diet that consists primarily of small mammals like mice and ground squirrels, birds, and insects. The Osprey, a sea hawk known as the fish hawk, primarily eats fish it catches from bodies of water.

Are Hawks protected in New York?

Yes, hawks and bald eagles are protected in New York under both federal and state laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to harm, harass, or own a hawk without a special permit. This includes:

  • Broad-winged Hawk: scientific name Buteo platypterus
  • Red-tailed Hawk: scientific name Buteo jamaicensis
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk: scientific name Accipiter striatus
  • Rough-legged Hawk: scientific name Buteo lagopus
  • Red-shouldered Hawk: scientific name Buteo lineatus
  • Cooper’s Hawk: scientific name Accipiter cooperii
  • Northern Harrier: scientific name Circus hudsonius
  • Northern Goshawk: scientific name Accipiter gentilis
  • Northern Harrier: scientific name Circus hudsonius
  • All other hawks

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