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Hawks in Ohio are a diverse group of birds of prey that inhabit various habitats throughout the state. These hawks can be found in different landscapes, from forests and woodlands to open fields and marshes. Ohio provides a rich and varied environment for hawks to thrive, making it an ideal destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
Lists of Hawks in Ohio:
Red-tailed Hawk: The most common and widespread hawk in Ohio, they can be found throughout the state, often seen perched on roadside poles or soaring over fields.
Red-shouldered Hawk: These hawks are mostly found in the woodlands and river valleys in the southern part of Ohio.
Cooper’s Hawk: More urbanized than other species, these hawks can be spotted in Ohio’s larger cities and suburbs where they hunt smaller birds.
Broad-winged Hawk: Commonly seen in Ohio’s forests, particularly during their spring and fall migrations.
Sharp-shinned Hawk: Primarily found in the woodlands of Ohio, these agile raptors are expert bird hunters.
Northern Harrier: These unique, owl-faced hawks can be found hunting in the open grasslands and wetlands of Ohio, especially in areas like the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
Rough-legged Hawk: A winter visitor to Ohio, best spotted in open country and farmlands.
Northern Goshawk: These hawks are rare in Ohio and are mostly seen in the northeastern region of the state during winter months.
Osprey: While not a hawk, these impressive raptors are found near bodies of water across Ohio where they dive for fish. A good spot to see them is the Hoover Reservoir near Columbus.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
50–66 cm (19.5 – 26 in)
127–180 cm (50 – 71 in)
2 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 Ohio
The best place to see a wide variety of hawks in Ohio is the Lake Erie shoreline, where these birds of prey often concentrate during their migration seasons. Here are some of the top places to spot hawks in the state:
Magee Marsh Wildlife Area: Known as a birding hotspot, this area offers excellent chances of sighting migrating hawks in the spring and fall.
Kelleys Island: This island in Lake Erie is known for its hawk watch platform, which provides a great spot for viewing migrating hawks.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park: This park’s diverse habitats attract a variety of hawk species.
Shawnee State Park: Nestled in the Appalachian foothills, this park is a good place to spot Red-shouldered Hawks and other raptors.
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area: Located in Wayne County, this is one of Ohio’s largest remaining marshlands, attracting Northern Harriers and other raptors.
Hawks in Ohio can be found across a range of habitats, from forests and wetlands to the wide open countryside. Migratory species like the Broad-winged Hawk and Northern Harrier tend to be more visible during the spring and fall migration seasons, while resident species like the Red-tailed Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk can be spotted throughout the year. During the winter months, the state sees an influx of Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Goshawks, particularly in the open country and northeastern regions respectively.
Ohio’s geographical location, diverse habitats, and abundance of prey make it a haven for hawks. Bird watchers are most likely to see these birds during the early morning and late afternoon hours when they are most active.
Variety of Species: Ohio is home to nine species of hawks, showcasing a diverse range of sizes, hunting styles, and habitats.
Osprey Reintroduction: While not a hawk, the Osprey was reintroduced into Ohio in the 1990s and has since established successful breeding populations, primarily near large bodies of water.
Broad-winged Hawk Migration: Every spring and fall, thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass over Ohio during their migration, a spectacle for bird watchers.
Urban Cooper’s Hawks: Cooper’s Hawks have adapted to life in Ohio’s cities and towns, where they have become adept at hunting pigeons and other city birds.
Northern Goshawk Sightings: While rare, the Northern Goshawk has been sighted in Ohio during the winter, primarily in the northeastern part of the state.
FAQs About Hawks in Ohio
What is the most common hawk in Ohio?
The most common hawk in Ohio is the Red-tailed Hawk. It’s an adaptable bird that can be found in a variety of habitats including forests, fields, and even alongside highways.
What is the biggest hawk in Ohio?
The Northern Goshawk is the largest hawk that can be seen in Ohio. They are, however, more scarce and usually seen only during the winter months in the northeastern parts of the state.
What is the smallest hawk in Ohio?
The smallest hawk in Ohio is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite its small size, this hawk is a fierce hunter, often preying on smaller birds.
When is the breeding season for hawks in Ohio?
The breeding season for most hawk species in Ohio typically begins in early spring and lasts through summer. Nesting behaviors can be observed during this time.
What do hawks eat in Ohio?
Hawks in Ohio have a varied diet that largely consists of small mammals like mice and squirrels, as well as birds and insects. Their diet changes based on the availability of prey in their habitat.
Are Hawks protected in Ohio?
Yes, all hawk species are protected in Ohio under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It’s illegal to harm, harass, or own hawks without a special permit.
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.