Exploring Hawks in Texas (15 Types!!)




Hawks in Texas Big Bend National Park

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Texas is a paradise for hawk enthusiasts, offering a captivating glimpse into the world of these magnificent raptors. With its vast landscapes, ranging from expansive prairies to dense forests and coastal regions, Texas provides a wide array of habitats for hawks to thrive.

Lists of Hawks in Texas:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk species in Texas. They can be found throughout the state, including at Big Bend National Park.

  2. Harris’s Hawk – These birds are quite common in the southern parts of Texas, especially around Falcon State Park and the Rio Grande Valley.

  3. Swainson’s Hawk – Swainson’s Hawks are common during the summer months and can often be seen in open country across Texas. Try spotting them in places like Caprock Canyons State Park.

  4. Red-shouldered Hawk – These hawks are fairly common in the eastern and coastal parts of Texas, often seen in areas like the Brazos Bend State Park.

  5. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout Texas, particularly in wooded areas. Check for them in urban parks in cities like Houston and Austin.

  6. White-tailed Hawk – White-tailed Hawks are commonly found in the coastal plains of South Texas. Look for them in places like the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

  7. Northern Harrier – Northern Harriers can often be seen in open habitats such as marshes and grasslands. Good locations for sighting these hawks include Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

  8. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Sharp-shinned Hawks are typically found in Texas during the winter months, in forests and wooded areas.

  9. Broad-winged Hawk – Broad-winged Hawks are more common during the migration season. Look for them in the forests of East Texas.

  10. Zone-tailed Hawk – These hawks prefer hilly and mountainous regions, often seen in the western parts of Texas, including areas like the Davis Mountains State Park.

  11. Gray Hawk – Gray Hawks are commonly found in the lower Rio Grande Valley, such as the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

  12. Ferruginous Hawk – These hawks are more commonly seen in the Panhandle region of Texas during the winter.

  13. Northern Goshawk – This species is rare in Texas, but there have been sightings in the Guadalupe Mountains.

  14. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors in Texas, and they are usually seen in the northern parts of the state.

  15. Common Black Hawk – Common Black Hawks are a rare sight, typically seen along streams in the Trans-Pecos region.

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.

Harris’s Hawk

Harriss Hawk
Harriss Hawk 2
Scientific NameParabuteo unicinctus
Length18 to 23 in
Wingspan41 to 47 in
Weight1.2 to 3.6lb

The Harris’s Hawk is a unique bird of prey and is distinct in appearance compared to many other hawk species. It boasts a beautiful color palette, with dark brown plumage contrasted by chestnut-red shoulders, wing linings, and thighs, and a white patch at the base of the tail. This raptor has a reputation for its unusual social behavior, being one of the only bird species that hunts cooperatively in packs.

A native to the arid southwest regions of the United States, Mexico, and South America, the Harris’s Hawk prefers habitats like scrub desert, savannas, and woodland edges. While not typically found in Louisiana, it may appear in the state as a vagrant. These birds are known for their agility and hunting prowess, often pursuing prey on the ground and from low perches. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals and birds, but they’ve also been known to take larger prey such as jackrabbits and hares.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainsons Hawk
Swainsons Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo swainsoni
Length17–22 in
Wingspan46–54 in
Weight1.8 lb – 2.5 lb

Swainson’s Hawk, a raptor in the Buteo genus, is recognized by its long wings and somewhat small bill. Named after British ornithologist William Swainson, this hawk is notable for its long-distance migration, travelling from its breeding grounds in North America to wintering areas in Argentina, one of the longest migratory journeys of any American raptor.

The diet of Swainson’s Hawks changes with the seasons. During the breeding season, they primarily feed on rodents and birds (burrowing owls if they are in abundance), while they shift to a diet of insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles, during migration and in their wintering grounds. They are also known for their soaring flight pattern and their distinctive two-part call that sounds like a plaintive whistle.

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.

White-Tailed Hawk

White Tailed Hawk
White Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameGeranoaetus albicaudatus
Length17–24 in
Wingspan46–56 in
Weight1.94–2.73 lb

The White-Tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey that ranges across both North and South America. Recognizable by its predominantly gray body and white underparts, this raptor is most distinguished by its white tail adorned with a single, broad black band near the tip. Younger hawks often have rufous markings on their upperparts, which fade to gray as they mature.

The White-Tailed Hawk is a formidable hunter with a broad diet that includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. It’s known for its hunting style, typically soaring at high altitudes and diving steeply onto its prey, as well as for its versatility, sometimes hunting from a perch or even on the ground. The hawk’s monogamous breeding pairs construct large, bulky nests, usually situated in the crowns of tall trees or on cliff faces, depending on the habitat.

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’.

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.

Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone Tailed Hawk
Zone Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo albonotatus
Length18 to 22 in
Wingspan46–55 in
Weight1.4 – 2lb

The Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus) is a medium-sized bird of prey that can be found in parts of North, Central, and South America. Its most striking feature is its distinct tail, which displays a series of black and white bands, providing this raptor its descriptive name. This bird has a largely blackish plumage, which combined with its tail banding, and general shape and flight pattern, makes it often mistaken for the common Turkey Vulture, a case of Batesian mimicry that can allow it to approach prey unnoticed.

Its diet is highly varied and opportunistic, consuming a wide range of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Although the Zone-Tailed Hawk usually hunts by soaring and circling high in the air, it can also stealthily approach prey by flying low to the ground. During the breeding season, these hawks pair up and construct nests out of sticks and plant material, typically in tall trees or cliff edges. Its vocalizations, a series of high-pitched whistles, often signal its presence in the area.

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo plagiatus
Length18–24 in
Wingspan31 to 34 inches
Weight12.5 – 18.8 oz

The Gray Hawk, also known as the Grey-lined Hawk, is a small bird of prey that is found across a vast range in the Americas, from the southwestern United States through Mexico and Central America, extending to northern South America. It is easily recognizable by its light gray body, darker gray wings, and white underparts with fine gray barring. Its tail is marked with broad white and black bands, giving it a distinctive appearance in flight.

The Gray Hawk is a generalist predator, with a diet that primarily consists of lizards, snakes, small mammals, and birds. It has a unique hunting style, often soaring or perching to locate prey before launching a rapid, direct flight to capture it. The species is monogamous and pairs are known to remain together for multiple breeding seasons. Nests are built high in trees, and both parents participate in the incubation and feeding of the young.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo regalis
Length51 to 69 cm (20 to 27 in)
Wingspan122 to 152 cm (48 to 60 in)
Weight907 to 2,268 g (32.0 to 80.0 oz)

The Ferruginous Hawk is a large raptor native to the open landscapes of North America. The term “ferruginous” comes from the Latin word for rust, referring to the bird’s reddish-brown coloration. Ferruginous Hawks are primarily known for their size, broad wings, and a distinctive leg feathering that extends to the toes, a feature that makes them the most “feather-legged” of the North American hawks. This bird feeds primarily on mammals like rabbits and prairie dogs, but will also eat birds and reptiles. They thrive in open habitats such as prairies, plains, and deserts, where they often perch on the highest point available. Their nests are typically constructed on cliffs, trees, or man-made structures and are quite large, reflecting the size of the bird itself. Despite their intimidating presence, Ferruginous Hawks are generally more docile than other raptors.

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.

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
Common Black Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeogallus anthracinus
Length21 inches
Wingspan50 inches
Weight840 g

The Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) is a bird of prey that inhabits various regions across the Americas. Characterized by its black plumage, this bird is native to coastal and interior regions, ranging from the Southwestern United States to Central America, extending down to parts of South America. In its habitat, it is often found near bodies of water like rivers, streams, and marshes. A distinct feature of this bird is its broad, rounded wings and a short, broad tail which allow it to maneuver through densely forested habitats with relative ease.

A notable behavior of the Common Black Hawk is its preference for aquatic prey. It feeds primarily on crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and other small animals found in or near water. This bird is typically solitary, only forming pair bonds during the breeding season. It builds large stick nests high in trees or on cliff faces near water, demonstrating a strong tie to its preferred aquatic habitats. Vocal and conspicuous during breeding season, these birds are known for their piercing, distinct calls that resonate through their habitats.

Where to Spot Hawks in Texas 

The most diverse collection of hawks in Texas can often be found at the Big Bend National Park. This expansive desert park provides an ideal habitat for numerous hawk species, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, and Zone-tailed Hawk. They can be observed along the park’s vast hiking trails and scenic overlooks, with spring and autumn being the best times for hawk spotting due to migration.

Here are some other excellent spots in Texas for observing hawks:

  1. Brazos Bend State Park – Located just southwest of Houston, this park is well-known for its Ferruginous Hawks that inhabit the area during the winter months.

  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park – This park’s canyons and woodlands provide an excellent habitat for Swainson’s Hawks and other raptors, especially in the spring and fall migration periods.

  3. San Angelo State Park – Located in central Texas, this park is a frequent home to Red-shouldered Hawks, particularly during their breeding season in spring and summer.

  4. South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center – This coastal birding hotspot is an excellent place to see migrating Broad-winged Hawks in spring.

  5. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge – Located in the Texas Hill Country, this refuge is a good spot for observing Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, especially during the fall migration.

  6. Palo Duro Canyon State Park – Located in the Texas Panhandle, this park is known for its Rough-legged Hawks, which can be seen during the winter months.

  7. Estero Llano Grande State Park – Located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, this park is known for the Harris’s Hawks that inhabit the area year-round.

  8. Lake Meredith National Recreation Area – Located in the Panhandle, this area is known for its winter population of Northern Harriers.

Texas is an extensive state with a broad diversity of hawks, but the bird-watching journey doesn’t have to stop at the state lines. As you continue your exploration, consider checking out the hawks of New Mexico, where the varied landscapes provide a unique environment for hawk spotting. Or cross the state line to the east and discover the hawks of Louisiana, where the lush bayous and forests provide a home to numerous raptors.

Don’t forget the neighboring hawks of Oklahoma with its prairies and woodlands or the hawks of Arkansas, where the Ozark Mountains are a perfect backdrop for these stunning birds. Each of these states offers a unique perspective on these impressive raptors and are worth visiting.

Facts about Hawks in Texas 

  1. Zone-tailed Hawks in Texas: Often confused with the Turkey Vulture, the Zone-tailed Hawk is a unique species found in Texas, especially in the southwestern and Hill Country regions. This hawk’s behavioral mimicry of the non-threatening Turkey Vulture allows it to approach prey undetected.

  2. The Harris’s Hawk Family Lifestyle: The Harris’s Hawk, commonly found in South Texas, exhibits a rare behavior among raptors: cooperative hunting and “stacking,” where hawks stand on each other’s backs. This social behavior is a fascinating spectacle for birdwatchers.

  3. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: Every spring and fall, thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass through Texas along one of the major North American migration flyways. Sites like the Hawk Watch Platform at Hazel Bazemore County Park in Corpus Christi offer prime viewing opportunities.

  4. Red-tailed Hawk Variations: Texas, with its diverse ecosystems, hosts an impressive range of color variations within the Red-tailed Hawk species, providing an exciting challenge for birdwatchers to spot the differences.

  5. Raptor Rehabilitation at Blackland Prairie Raptor Center: Based in North Texas, this center is dedicated to the conservation and rehabilitation of birds of prey, including various species of hawks. They nurse injured, sick, and orphaned hawks back to health, contributing significantly to local raptor preservation efforts.

FAQs About Hawks in Texas 

What is the most common hawk in Texas?

The most common hawk in Texas is the Red-tailed Hawk. These magnificent birds can be spotted all year round in a variety of habitats, including urban areas. Their reddish-brown tail feathers, which they acquire as they mature, make them easily identifiable. With their broad wingspan and soaring flight, they are a majestic sight.

What is the biggest hawk in Texas?

The largest hawk species found in Texas is the Ferruginous Hawk. It’s a striking bird, known for its impressive size and rusty-red back. These birds typically breed in the northern plains but can be spotted in Texas during their migration and wintering period.

What is the smallest hawk in Texas?

The smallest hawk in Texas is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. These agile birds are primarily forest dwellers and are known for their skillful hunting in densely wooded areas. Despite their small size, they are fierce predators, often preying on smaller birds and rodents.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Texas?

Hawks in Texas typically breed between March and July. The exact timing can vary depending on the species, but this period generally marks the start of their nesting season. During this time, hawks can often be seen performing aerial displays as part of their courtship rituals.

What do hawks eat in Texas?

In Texas, hawks have a varied diet that primarily includes small mammals like mice, ground squirrels and rabbits. They also eat birds, reptiles, insects, and sometimes carrion. Their diet can change depending on the season and availability of prey, but they are skilled hunters, always adapting to their environment.

Are Hawks protected in Texas?

Yes, all species of hawks are protected in Texas under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law makes it illegal to kill, capture, possess, or trade hawks without a permit. The law aims to safeguard these raptors and ensure their populations remain healthy and stable.

What other birds of prey are in Texas?

Aside from hawks, Texas is home to a diverse array of birds of prey. These include eagles, such as the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle, various species of owls, like the Great Horned Owl, and falcons, including the Peregrine Falcon and American Kestrel. Texas’s diverse habitats support a rich avian ecosystem.

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