Hawks in Tennessee (8) – A Complete Guide! (2023)




Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hawks in Tennessee

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Tennessee is a captivating destination for hawk enthusiasts, boasting a diverse population of these majestic birds of prey. With lush forests, rolling hills, and expansive farmlands, Tennessee offers an ideal habitat for hawks to soar and showcase their impressive flight skills.

Lists of Hawks in Tennessee:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk species in Tennessee and can be found throughout the state. Areas like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are good places to spot them.

  2. Red-shouldered Hawk – These hawks are relatively common in Tennessee and prefer wetland habitats. You might spot them in places like the Reelfoot Lake State Park.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks are found across Tennessee, especially in forests and suburban areas with mature trees. Try looking for them in the Radnor Lake State Park.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk – Broad-winged Hawks are common during migration season and can be seen in various parts of the state, such as the Fall Creek Falls State Park.

  5. Northern Harrier – The Northern Harrier can often be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge is a good location for sighting these birds.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Sharp-shinned Hawks are typically found in the state’s forests and wooded areas. They might be seen in areas like the Cherokee National Forest.

  7. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors in Tennessee and can be seen in open fields and meadows during this period.

  8. Northern Goshawk – This elusive raptor prefers large, dense forests and is less common in Tennessee. They might be sighted in the state’s larger woodland areas, such as the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

Where to Spot Hawks in Tennessee 

The most diverse collection of hawks in Tennessee can often be found at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This vast wilderness serves as a habitat for several hawk species, including the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Red-tailed Hawk. They can be observed along the many hiking trails and overlooks throughout the park, with spring and autumn being particularly rewarding times for hawk spotting.

Here are some other hawk watch sites in Tennessee for observing hawks:

  1. Reelfoot Lake State Park – Situated in the northwest corner of the state, the park’s swampy surroundings provide an ideal habitat for the Northern Harrier, especially in winter.

  2. Radnor Lake State Park – Nestled in the heart of Nashville, this park is a haven for Sharp-shinned Hawks, who can often be spotted amidst the forest canopy, particularly in the fall migration period.

  3. Fall Creek Falls State Park – Boasting one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States, this park is a favorite spot for Broad-winged Hawks during the spring and summer.

  4. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area – This expansive natural area is home to Red-tailed Hawks, who can be seen all year round soaring above the river valleys and cliffs.

  5. Shelby Farms Park – Located in Memphis, this urban park is a good spot to see Cooper’s Hawks, especially in the late summer when they are breeding.

  6. Cumberland Mountain State Park – This park’s lush forests and serene lake make it a perfect habitat for several hawk species, with the best viewing during spring and fall migration.

  7. Chickasaw State Park – This park, with its extensive forest and wetlands, is a prime location for spotting Red-shouldered Hawks, especially during the spring nesting season.

Tennessee’s hawk population is diverse and impressive, but the spectacle doesn’t end at the state lines. As you continue your bird-watching journey, consider exploring the hawks of Kentucky, where the rolling hills and lush forests offer a unique backdrop for hawk watching. Similarly, the hawks of North Carolina, often found in the majestic Appalachian Mountains, provide an exceptional viewing experience.

Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the magnificent hawks of Georgia, where the state’s diverse landscapes serve as a perfect habitat for these awe-inspiring raptors. Each of these neighboring states presents its own unique blend of nature and wildlife, offering a comprehensive birding experience.

Facts about Hawks in Tennessee 

  1. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: Every fall, thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass through Tennessee on their way to wintering grounds in South America. The Cumberland Plateau is one of the best places in the state to witness this migration spectacle.

  2. Red-tailed Hawk Diversity: The Red-tailed Hawk is Tennessee’s most common hawk, and the state is a great place to observe the remarkable color variations in this species, ranging from dark to light morphs.

  3. Sharp-shinned Hawks in Winter: While many raptors migrate south for the winter, Sharp-shinned Hawks are more commonly seen in Tennessee during this season. They’re attracted to bird feeders, not for the seed, but for the opportunity to prey on small birds.

  4. Cooper’s Hawk Urban Adaptation: Cooper’s Hawks, once primarily woodland birds, have increasingly adapted to urban and suburban environments in Tennessee, showing their remarkable adaptability.

  5. Raptor Rehabilitation at Walden’s Puddle: Walden’s Puddle Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Joelton, Tennessee, provides care and treatment for sick, injured, and orphaned hawks. They play a critical role in maintaining the health and survival of these raptors in the state.

FAQs About Hawks in Tennessee 

What is the most common hawk in Tennessee?

The most common hawk in Tennessee is the Red-tailed Hawk. This bird of prey is found across the state and is known for its broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail that displays a distinctive red color when seen in flight.

What is the biggest hawk in Tennessee?

The biggest hawk species found in Tennessee is the Ferruginous Hawk. While not as commonly seen as other hawks, this bird has a significant wingspan and body size, making it the largest hawk in the state.

What is the smallest hawk in Tennessee?

The smallest hawk in Tennessee is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite its diminutive size, it’s a skillful predator, known for its quick maneuvering abilities in pursuit of smaller birds, its primary prey.

What is the most common hawk in Tennessee?

The most common hawk in Tennessee is the Red-tailed Hawk. This bird of prey is found across the state and is known for its broad, rounded wings and short, wide tail that displays a distinctive red color when seen in flight.

What is the biggest hawk in Tennessee?

The biggest hawk species found in Tennessee is the Ferruginous Hawk. While not as commonly seen as other hawks, this bird has a significant wingspan and body size, making it the largest hawk in the state.

What do hawks eat in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, hawks primarily feed on small mammals, ground squirrels birds, and insects. The diet varies with the species, but commonly includes rodents, rabbits, snakes, and even larger insects.

What other birds of prey are in Tennessee?

Tennessee is home to a diverse array of birds of prey, many species of hawk, including eagles, owls, and vultures. Notable species include the Bald Eagle, the Barred Owl, and the Turkey Vulture, all of which share the state’s varied habitats with hawks. Including :
broad winged hawk scientific name Buteo platypterus

  1. northern goshawk scientific name Accipiter gentilis
  2. red tailed hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis
  3. sharp shinned hawk scientific name Accipiter striatus
  4. rough legged hawk scientific name Buteo lagopus
  5. cooper’s hawk scientific name Accipiter cooperii 
  6. northern harrier scientific name Circus hudsonius
  7. red shouldered hawk scientific name

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