Hawks in Utah: 13 Species! (With Photos)




Hawks in Utah Bryce Canyon National Park

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Utah offers a captivating sanctuary for hawk enthusiasts, showcasing the grace and power of these magnificent birds of prey. its stunning mountains, vast deserts, and picturesque canyons, Utah offers a varied and captivating backdrop for hawk sightings.

Lists of Hawks in Utah:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk species in Utah, found throughout the state, including Bryce Canyon National Park.

  2. Swainson’s Hawk – These hawks are abundant in summer and often seen in open country. Hot spots include the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

  3. Northern Harrier – Northern Harriers are often seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands, such as those found in the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve.

  4. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout Utah, particularly in wooded areas. Look for them in areas like the Dixie National Forest.

  5. Ferruginous Hawk – These hawks favor open landscapes and can often be seen in areas such as the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Sharp-shinned Hawks are typically found in forests and wooded areas. They might be seen in locations like the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

  7. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors in Utah, often spotted in open fields and meadows during this time.

  8. Northern Goshawk – This elusive raptor prefers large, dense forests. It is less common but can be found in Utah’s larger woodland areas, such as the Uinta Mountains.

  9. Broad-winged Hawk – Broad-winged Hawks are more common during the migration season, usually seen in forested areas.

  10. Common Black Hawk – Common Black Hawks are a rare sight in Utah, typically spotted along rivers and streams in the southern regions of the state.

  11. Red-shouldered Hawk – While not common, there have been sightings of the Red-shouldered Hawk in Utah, particularly in the southwestern parts of the state.

  12. Zone-tailed Hawk – Zone-tailed Hawks are relatively rare in Utah, but occasional sightings have been reported, particularly in the southern regions.

  13. Gray Hawk – Gray Hawks are very rare in Utah. Sightings are few and far between, typically in the far southern parts of the state.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Where to Spot Hawks in Utah 

For a diverse array of hawk species in Utah, your best bet is to visit the Bryce Canyon National Park. This national park, known for its stunning geological formations, is an ideal habitat for various species of hawks, including the Red-tailed Hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. The best times for spotting these magnificent birds are during the spring and fall migration seasons.

Here are other noteworthy hawk-watching spots in Utah:

  1. Antelope Island State Park: This park on the Great Salt Lake is known for its diverse bird population, including several species of hawks that can be observed year-round.

  2. Capitol Reef National Park: This unique desert habitat is home to Ferruginous Hawks and Northern Harriers, especially during the spring and fall migrations.

  3. Dead Horse Point State Park: The high cliffs and canyons of this state park near Moab are a preferred habitat for Rough-legged Hawks in the winter.

  4. Canyonlands National Park: This park is another great location to spot Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers, particularly during the migration seasons.

  5. Zion National Park: This park is a breeding ground for Sharp-shinned Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks, making it an excellent spot during the spring and summer seasons.

  6. Great Basin National Park: The park is known for its Swainson’s Hawk population, best observed during spring and fall migrations.

  7. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge: Located at the northern edge of the Great Salt Lake, this refuge is a great place to observe Northern Harriers, especially in the winter months.

Utah’s varied landscapes offer exceptional opportunities for birdwatchers to observe hawks in their natural habitats. However, the journey doesn’t end at Utah’s borders. Take a short trip across the state line to discover the hawks of Nevada, where the desert environments offer a distinct backdrop for hawk watching.

To the east, you’ll find the hawks of Colorado, where the Rocky Mountain landscapes are home to various hawk species. Journey north to spot the hawks of Idaho or south to explore the hawks of Arizona. Each of these neighboring states offers its own unique hawk-watching experiences, providing a wonderful extension to your birdwatching adventures in Utah.

Facts about Hawks in Utah 

  1. Ferruginous Hawks in Utah: The Ferruginous Hawk, the largest of the Buteo hawks, breeds in the grasslands and deserts of Utah. Its name comes from the Latin word “ferrugo,” meaning rust, which describes the bird’s rusty-colored back and legs.

  2. Swainson’s Hawk Migration: Every spring and fall, Utah sees a substantial migration of Swainson’s Hawks. The Great Salt Lake area is particularly well known for these migrations, with large kettles of hawks often visible.

  3. Sharp-shinned Hawks in Urban Areas: Sharp-shinned Hawks, once primarily forest birds, have become more common in Utah’s urban areas, especially during winter. They can often be spotted near bird feeders, looking for an easy meal.

  4. Goshawk Sightings: The elusive Northern Goshawk, a forest-dwelling raptor, is found in Utah’s mountainous regions. Their presence in a particular area is often a sign of a healthy, mature forest ecosystem.

  5. Raptor Rehabilitation at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah: This center plays a crucial role in rescuing and rehabilitating injured, orphaned, and ill hawks in Northern Utah. The work they do significantly contributes to the preservation of Utah’s raptor populations.

FAQs About Hawks in Utah 

What is the most common hawk in Utah?

The most common hawk in Utah is the Red-tailed Hawk. This bird of prey is frequently seen in Utah’s varied habitats, including deserts, forests, and grasslands. The Red-tailed Hawk is known for its distinctive reddish-brown tail, which is a key identifier for this species. This bird has a broad geographic range, and Utah serves as a prominent home for them.

What is the biggest hawk in Utah?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the biggest hawk in Utah. This robust bird is well recognized by its size, large wingspan, and its pale, rust-colored plumage. The Ferruginous Hawk is a bird of open country and is common in Utah’s grasslands and prairies. It uses its formidable size to hunt for a wide range of prey, contributing to the biodiversity of the state’s ecosystems.

What do hawks eat in Utah?

Hawks in Utah have a varied diet based on the availability of prey in their specific habitats. This often includes small mammals like mice, rabbits, and ground squirrels. Some species, like the Sharp-shinned Hawk, primarily hunt small birds. They also consume insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Their role as predators helps maintain the balance of ecosystems in Utah.

Are Hawks protected in Utah?

Yes, hawks are protected in Utah under both state law and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This legislation makes it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, or sell hawks without a special permit. These laws help to ensure the conservation and sustainability of hawk populations in Utah, protecting these magnificent birds for future generations to enjoy.

What is the smallest hawk in Utah?

The smallest hawk species found in Utah is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This petite bird of prey is often found in dense forests, where it uses its small size and agility to hunt. Despite their size, Sharp-shinned Hawks are fierce predators, specializing in catching small birds mid-flight. Their distinctive sharp “shins” or tarsi make them unique among other raptors.

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