9 Fascinating Hawks in Rhode Island (Updated Guide)




Hawks in Rhode Island Norman Bird Sanctuary

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Hawks in Rhode Island can be found throughout the state, from coastal areas to woodlands. Hawks are known for their keen eyesight, powerful flight, and hunting skills. Rhode Island offers diverse habitats that support these majestic raptors, making it a great place for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts to observe and appreciate the beauty of hawks in their natural environment.

Lists of Hawks in Rhode Island:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk species in Rhode Island. They can be seen in both rural and urban environments throughout the state, including areas like the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge.

  2. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks can be found across the state, especially in forested areas and neighborhoods with mature trees. They are common in urban parks in cities like Providence.

  3. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Sharp-shinned Hawks are usually found in the state’s forests and wooded areas. Places like the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area are great spots for sighting these birds.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk – These hawks are common during the migration season and can be seen in various parts of the state, including the George Washington State Campground.

  5. Osprey – Ospreys are common near Rhode Island’s many water bodies. You can spot them around Narragansett Bay, Block Island, and coastal areas during the breeding season.

  6. Northern Harrier – Northern Harriers can often be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge is a good location for sighting these hawks.

  7. Red-shouldered Hawk – These hawks prefer woodlands and wetland habitats and can often be found around the Great Swamp Management Area.

  8. Northern Goshawk – This elusive raptor is typically found in large, dense forests and is less common in Rhode Island. They might be sighted in the state’s larger woodland areas, like the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area.

  9. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors to Rhode Island and can be spotted in open fields and meadows during this period. These hawks are less common and are usually seen 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.

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.

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’.

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 Rhode Island 

The best place to spot the widest range of hawks in Rhode Island is the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown. This area has a variety of habitats, making it an excellent location for different species of hawks throughout the year.

Some other top places to spot hawks in Rhode Island include:

  1. Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge – Known for hosting migrating Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks.

  2. George B. Parker Woodland Wildlife Refuge – A haven for Red-tailed Hawks amidst the old-growth forests.

  3. Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge – An excellent site to see Northern Harriers gliding over the open fields.

  4. Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge – An ideal place for viewing Broad-winged Hawks and Ospreys.

  5. Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge – Here, you can often spot Red-shouldered Hawks.

  6. Beavertail State Park – Another great location for viewing migrating hawks, including the Northern Goshawk.

In Rhode Island, the varied landscapes, ranging from open grasslands to dense forests, provide an ideal habitat for diverse species of hawks. The Norman Bird Sanctuary, with its lush forests and abundant prey, is a favorite nesting site for many hawks, while Sachuest Point and Beavertail State Park are major stopovers during the migration seasons in spring and fall.

Rhode Island offers a unique birdwatching experience with its diverse hawk populations. If you are interested in exploring more, you might want to check out the neighboring states as well. We’ve got you covered with our guides on the magnificent hawks in Massachusetts, the wide variety of hawks in Connecticut, and the hawks you can find in New York. Just as in Rhode Island, these states offer diverse habitats and plenty of opportunities to witness these majestic creatures in action.

Facts about Hawks in Rhode Island 

  1. Unique Red-shouldered Hawk Presence: Rhode Island is interestingly located at the intersection of the northern and southern range of the Red-shouldered Hawk. This species, primarily forest dwellers, find suitable habitats in Rhode Island’s forested areas and wetlands, offering birdwatchers a unique chance to observe their behavior.

  2. Osprey Restoration Success: Though not technically hawks, Ospreys are fascinating raptors that have seen a triumphant comeback in Rhode Island, notably in the coastal areas, after near-extinction due to DDT use in the 1950s and 1960s. Their successful restoration can be attributed to dedicated local conservation efforts.

  3. Sightings at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge: This Refuge in Middletown, Rhode Island, is a hotspot for raptor sightings, especially during migration seasons. Species such as Northern Harriers and Cooper’s Hawks are frequently spotted here, making it a must-visit for hawk enthusiasts.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: In the fall, Rhode Island sees a migration wave of Broad-winged Hawks. Napatree Point in Watch Hill is considered one of the best places to observe this spectacular event.

  5. Norman Bird Sanctuary Hawk Watch: Located in Middletown, this sanctuary conducts an annual ‘Hawk Watch’ event every fall. Visitors can join experts to observe, identify, and count migrating hawks, eagles, and falcons, contributing to citizen science and helping to monitor raptor populations.

FAQs About Hawks in Rhode Island 

What is the most common hawk in Rhode Island?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk species found in Rhode Island. Named for their distinct reddish-brown tail, these raptors are highly adaptable and can be observed in a variety of habitats ranging from forests to cityscapes. With their widespread distribution, they play a significant role in the state’s ecosystem.

What is the biggest hawk in Rhode Island?

The Red-tailed Hawk, known for its broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail, is not only the most common but also the largest hawk in Rhode Island. Adults can grow up to 22-27 inches in length with a wingspan reaching up to 56 inches. This size allows them to be easily identifiable while in flight.

What is the smallest hawk in Rhode Island?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species found in Rhode Island. Measuring only 10-14 inches in length with a wingspan of 20-27 inches, these agile fliers are well-equipped for hunting in the dense forests. Despite their small size, they are incredibly effective predators.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Rhode Island?

The breeding season for hawks in Rhode Island generally starts in early spring, around March, and can continue until June. During this period, hawks engage in nesting activities, often returning to the same nest sites year after year. The peak of the breeding season often coincides with an abundance of food.

What do hawks eat in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, hawks maintain a diverse diet. They are carnivorous birds of prey and primarily feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, and squirrels. However, they’re also known to hunt birds, reptiles, and insects. Some larger species like the Red-tailed Hawk can take larger prey, including rabbits and pheasants.

Are Hawks protected in Rhode Island?

Yes, hawks are protected under Rhode Island state law as well as the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law makes it illegal to harm, harass, or possess these birds, their eggs, or their nests without a permit. These protections are in place to ensure the survival of these important raptor species.

What other birds of prey are in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island is home to several species of birds of prey, in addition to hawks. This includes the Bald Eagle, a symbol of American national pride, and the Osprey, both frequently seen near water bodies hunting for fish. Owls, like the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl, are also common and known for their nocturnal hunting habits. Smaller raptors, such as American Kestrels and Merlins, are part of Rhode Island’s avifauna too, showcasing the diversity of birds of prey in the state.

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