9 Amazing Hawks in Pennsylvania: A Guide (2023)




Hawks in Pennsylvania in Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

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Hawks in Pennsylvania are a diverse group of birds of prey, with nine different species inhabiting the state. These majestic birds can be found in various habitats, ranging from forests and fields to suburban areas. They play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling populations of small mammals and birds.

Lists of Hawks in Pennsylvania:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are widespread and can be seen all across Pennsylvania, making them probably the most common hawk in the state. Try looking for them in places like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary or in rural farmlands.

  2. Sharp-shinned Hawk – These small hawks are commonly found in forested areas throughout the state, including places like Allegheny National Forest or Ricketts Glen State Park.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks are common in both urban and suburban areas, as well as in forests across Pennsylvania. The Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia is one of the places where you might spot them.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk – These hawks are common during migration seasons, particularly in the spring. They can often be seen in areas like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

  5. Osprey – Ospreys can be seen near rivers and lakes, especially during their breeding season. Locations such as Presque Isle State Park or the Delaware River are good places to spot them.

  6. Northern Harrier – Look for Northern Harriers in marshes and grasslands, particularly in places like Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area or Pymatuning State Park.

  7. Red-shouldered Hawk – This species prefers wet forested areas and can be found in locations like Cook Forest State Park or the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

  8. Northern Goshawk – Northern Goshawks can be found in large, dense forests. Try looking for them in the northern part of the state, in places like the Allegheny National Forest.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors in Pennsylvania and can be seen in open fields and meadows. Check out locations in the northern part of the state 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.

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.


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.

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.

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 Pennsylvania 

The best place to find the widest range of hawks in Pennsylvania is undoubtedly Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. This world-renowned bird sanctuary, located in the Appalachian Mountains, is a prime location for hawk watching, especially during the fall migration season.

Here are some other exceptional spots for hawk viewing in Pennsylvania:

  1. Presque Isle State Park – Located on Lake Erie, it’s a great location for spotting Northern Harriers.

  2. Raccoon Creek State Park – Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are often sighted in this mixed forest and wetland habitat.

  3. French Creek State Park – An excellent spot for sighting Broad-winged Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks.

  4. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge – Ideal for spotting Northern Harriers in its extensive wetlands.

  5. Allegheny National Forest – Home to Northern Goshawks and many other raptors.

  6. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – A good spot for hawk-watching, particularly during migration season.

  7. Point State Park – Located in downtown Pittsburgh, you can often spot Red-tailed Hawks here.

  8. Nockamixon State Park – This park, with its mix of open water and woodlands, is a favorite haunt of the Osprey.

Pennsylvania, with its diverse landscapes ranging from mountainous regions to coastal wetlands, provides a range of habitats for various hawk species. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is an essential stop for hawk enthusiasts, especially in the fall, when you can witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of raptor migration. In contrast, the state parks and national forests offer opportunities to observe these magnificent birds in their natural habitats, hunting, and nesting.

Though Pennsylvania is a remarkable state for observing hawks, the journey doesn’t need to end at its borders. If you appreciated our guide on hawk-watching in Pennsylvania, you’ll surely find interest in the hawk scenes of neighboring states. Take a trip to explore the hawk species of New York, delve into the vibrant hawk life in Ohio, or observe the skies in New Jersey for different hawk species. Each state, with its own unique landscapes, offers distinct bird-watching experiences, from New York’s mountain ranges to New Jersey’s wetlands and the variety of habitats across Ohio.

Facts about Hawks in Pennsylvania 

  1. Peregrine Falcon Recovery: Following near extinction due to DDT pesticides, Peregrine Falcons have successfully repopulated Pennsylvania through conservation efforts.

  2. Northern Harriers in Montour Preserve: Northern Harriers, unique ground-nesting raptors, are a rare sight in Pennsylvania, with known sightings at the Montour Preserve.

  3. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: Every fall, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania is a hub for the migration of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks.

  4. Visible Red-tailed Hawks in Hibernia County Park: A pair of Red-tailed Hawks, the state’s most common hawk, has nested near Hibernia County Park’s Mansion, providing a unique observation opportunity.

  5. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s Conservation Role: Established in 1934, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania, serves as a world-leading center for raptor conservation research and education.

FAQs About Hawks in Pennsylvania 

What is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania?

The most common hawk in Pennsylvania is the Red-tailed Hawk. Known for its wide distribution across North America, this bird of prey is often sighted soaring high above the state’s open fields and woodlands. The distinctive red tail, for which it’s named, makes it easily recognizable among other bird species.

What is the biggest hawk in Pennsylvania?

The biggest hawk found in Pennsylvania is the Red-tailed Hawk. This robust bird of prey can reach lengths of 22 inches with wingspans up to 56 inches, making it the largest hawk species in the state. Its size, combined with its wide distribution and reddish-brown tail, makes it a notable presence in Pennsylvania’s skies.

What is the smallest hawk in Pennsylvania?

The smallest hawk species in Pennsylvania is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This small raptor typically measures between 9 to 13 inches in length with a wingspan of around 20 to 23 inches. Despite its small size, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is a fierce predator, adept at hunting smaller birds through dense vegetation.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Pennsylvania?

The breeding season for hawks in Pennsylvania typically commences in early spring and lasts until mid-summer. The timing is ideal as it coincides with an abundance of food sources. Nesting pairs of hawks can be seen soaring and engaging in aerial displays as part of their courtship rituals during this period.

What do hawks eat in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, hawks have a varied diet which includes small mammals such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits, as well as other birds and insects. Some larger hawk species, like the Red-tailed Hawk, are capable of hunting slightly larger prey, showcasing their impressive predatory skills.

Are Hawks protected in Pennsylvania?

Yes, hawks are indeed protected in Pennsylvania under both state and federal laws. This protection includes prohibitions on hunting, trapping, or otherwise harming these birds or disturbing their nests. This safeguarding effort is crucial for maintaining hawk populations and contributing to the ecological balance.

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