Discover Hawks in Vermont: 8 Types (2023)




Vermont Missisquoi Hawks

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Hawks in Vermont are a captivating sight, offering an enchanting glimpse into the state’s diverse wildlife. With their majestic wingspans and keen hunting skills, these birds of prey command attention. Vermont’s lush forests and open landscapes provide the perfect habitat for hawks to thrive.

Lists of Hawks in Vermont:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawk species in Vermont. They can be seen throughout the state, including in areas such as the Green Mountain National Forest.

  2. Broad-winged Hawk – Broad-winged Hawks are common during migration season, typically found in forested areas across the state. They can often be spotted in places like the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks are found across Vermont, particularly in forests and suburban areas with mature trees. Look for them in places like the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.

  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk – These hawks inhabit forested areas and are often seen during migration periods. The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is a good area to spot them.

  5. Red-shouldered Hawk – Red-shouldered Hawks are typically found in wetland areas and can be spotted by their strongly banded tail. They’re less common but can be seen in areas like the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.

  6. Northern Harrier – Northern Harriers prefer open habitats such as marshes and grasslands. They can often be spotted in places like Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area.

  7. Northern Goshawk – Northern Goshawks are more elusive and prefer large, dense forests. They can sometimes be spotted in Vermont’s larger woodland areas, such as the Green Mountain National Forest.

  8. Rough-legged Hawk – Rough-legged Hawks are winter visitors in Vermont, usually seen in open fields and meadows during this season.

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.

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.

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’.

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 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.

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 Vermont 

The top location in Vermont for observing the broadest range of hawk species is undoubtedly Mount Philo State Park. Its elevated perch provides an exceptional vantage point for hawk-watching, particularly during the spring and fall migration seasons when a wide variety of species can be spotted.

Here are some additional notable locations for hawk-spotting in Vermont:

  1. Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area: Located in Addison, this is a popular spot for bird watchers, especially during migration seasons when Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen.

  2. Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge in Swanton is a breeding ground for Cooper’s Hawks, making spring and summer the optimal times to visit.

  3. Green Mountain National Forest: The expansive forest area is a great location to spot Sharp-shinned Hawks and Northern Goshawks, particularly during fall migration.

  4. Camel’s Hump State Park: Known for its distinctive profile, this park in Waterbury is a good spot for observing Broad-winged Hawks during the summer months.

  5. Sandbar State Park: Located in Milton on the shores of Lake Champlain, this park is a fantastic place to watch Red-shouldered Hawks, particularly during the spring and fall migration periods.

Vermont’s diverse landscapes, from forested mountains to wetland refuges, provide various habitats for an array of hawk species. These sites, coupled with the changing of the seasons, offer birdwatchers a wealth of opportunities to spot these remarkable birds.

Though Vermont offers exceptional hawk-spotting experiences, your birdwatching journey can extend well beyond the state’s borders. To the east, New Hampshire’s hawks soar over the White Mountains and other natural landmarks. Meanwhile, New York’s hawks populate the expansive Adirondacks to the west. And, of course, we can’t forget the hawks of Massachusetts to the south. Each of these neighboring regions boasts its own unique hawk-watching experiences, expanding your opportunities for exciting birding adventures beyond Vermont.

Facts about Hawks in Vermont 

  1. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: Every fall, Vermont’s mountain ridges are the scene of Broad-winged Hawk migration. Mount Philo State Park is one location to watch this spectacular movement.

  2. Red-tailed Hawks’ Dominance: The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk species in Vermont, easily identifiable by its reddish-brown tail.

  3. Northern Goshawk’s Secretive Nature: This elusive bird, the largest accipiter in North America, breeds in Vermont’s forests. Its presence is often associated with healthy, mature forest ecosystems.

  4. Sharp-shinned Hawk’s Size: The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk found in Vermont, often spotted near bird feeders, where they prey on smaller birds.

  5. Raptor Rehabilitation at Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS): VINS, in Quechee, provides medical treatment to injured hawks, helping to return them to their natural environment.

FAQs About Hawks in Vermont 

What is the most common hawk in Vermont?

The most common hawk in Vermont is the Red-tailed Hawk. This species is versatile and can thrive in a variety of habitats, from rural countryside to urban areas. Red-tailed Hawks are easily identifiable by their reddish-brown tail.

What is the biggest hawk in Vermont?

The Northern Goshawk is the largest hawk species found in Vermont. This bird prefers mature, continuous forests, and its presence is often an indication of a healthy ecosystem.

What is the smallest hawk in Vermont?

The smallest hawk found in Vermont is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite its small size, it is a fierce hunter, often frequenting bird feeders where it preys on smaller birds.

When is the breeding season for hawks in Vermont?

Hawks breed in Vermont typically in early spring, around late March to early April, and can last until July. The timing may vary slightly depending on the species.

What do hawks eat in Vermont?

Hawks in Vermont have a varied diet that includes small mammals, ground squirrels, other bird species, and reptiles. The specific diet depends on the species of hawk. For example, Red-tailed Hawks often feed on rodents, while Sharp-shinned Hawks primarily eat smaller birds.

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