11 Incredible Hawks in Washington: Explore their Beauty (+ Photos)
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Hawks in Washington state are a prominent presence, soaring across its diverse landscapes. From the coastal regions to the mountainous areas, Washington offers a variety of habitats that attract different species of hawks. Washington’s abundance of forests, open spaces, and wetlands provide ample hunting grounds for these birds of prey.
Lists of Hawks in Washington:
Red-tailed Hawk – The most common hawk in Washington, they can be spotted across the state, including Mount Rainier National Park.
Cooper’s Hawk – Distributed across Washington, often seen in forested habitats like Olympic National Park.
Northern Harrier – Preferring open habitats, Northern Harriers are seen across the state, particularly in Skagit Valley.
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Common during migration seasons, you can see them in forested areas like the North Cascades National Park.
Swainson’s Hawk – Swainson’s hawks are mostly spotted during migration, good sighting spots include grasslands and agricultural areas, especially in eastern Washington.
Rough-legged Hawk – These hawks are winter visitors, most commonly seen in the state’s open fields and meadows.
Northern Goshawk – These secretive birds prefer large, dense forests like those in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Red-shouldered Hawk – Less common, but can be spotted in the southwestern part of the state, including Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
Ferruginous Hawk – These hawks are less common, usually seen in open grasslands in eastern Washington.
Broad-winged Hawk – Broad winged hawks are seen mostly during migration season, particularly in the state’s forested areas.
Zone-tailed Hawk – The rarest on the list, sightings are sporadic, with occasional sightings reported in various parts of the state.
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.
35 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in) /Female: 42 to 50 cm (17 to 20 in)
62 to 99 cm (24 to 39 in)
Male: 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.
41–52 cm (16–20 in)
97–122 cm (38–48 in)
Male 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.
23 – 30 cm
17 to 23 in
82 – 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’.
1.8 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.
47 to 60 in
1.32 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.
Male: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in) / Female: 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 in)
89 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.
15 to 23 in
35 to 50 in
1.21 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.
51 to 69 cm (20 to 27 in)
122 to 152 cm (48 to 60 in)
907 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.
13 to 17 in
29 to 39 in
9.3 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.
18 to 22 in
1.4 – 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.
Where to Spot Hawks in Washington
The widest range of hawks in Washington can be observed in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s diverse habitats support a number of raptor species year-round.
Additionally, here are some prime hawk-spotting sites in Washington:
Mount Rainier National Park: Home to the state’s highest peak, it’s an excellent place to spot Northern Goshawks, particularly during summer and fall.
Olympic National Park: This park’s unique ecosystem supports a variety of hawks, including Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks, which can be spotted in the summer months.
San Juan Islands: These islands offer opportunities to spot Sharp-shinned Hawks during spring and fall migrations.
Yakima River Canyon: In Central Washington, this area is known for winter sightings of Rough-legged Hawks.
Spokane River Centennial Trail: Running for 37.5 miles from Nine Mile Falls to the Idaho state line, this trail is home to several hawk species including the Ferruginous Hawk.
Columbia National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the heart of the Columbia Basin, this refuge is known for its Red-shouldered Hawks, particularly during winter.
Washington’s dramatic landscapes – from coastal areas to mountainous regions, provide ample opportunities to see these magnificent raptors. Whether you’re looking for a summer vacation spot or a weekend birding trip in the fall, these locations offer you the best chance to see a variety of hawks in their natural habitats.
Don’t forget to explore what neighboring states have to offer. The rugged coastline offering Oregons hawks plenty of appeal. East of Washington, the beautiful landscapes offer a diverse range of habitats in Idaho for hawks, from the wetlands of the Coeur d’Alene River to the sprawling plains of the Snake River. Even further afield, the hawks of Alaska make for an awe-inspiring sight, particularly during the summer when migratory species return to their northern nesting grounds.
Facts about Hawks in Washington
Harrier Hawks in Washington: Northern Harriers, distinguishable by their owl-like facial disk and low, gliding flight pattern, are a common sight in the grasslands and marshes of Washington state.
Raptor Migration Through the Puget Sound: During the migration seasons, the Puget Sound area in Washington provides a prominent route for various species of hawks.
Cooper’s Hawk Urban Adaptation: Once primarily woodland birds, Cooper’s Hawks have successfully adapted to urban environments and can be frequently seen in Washington’s cities, often near bird feeders.
Rare Sightings of the Ferruginous Hawk: Ferruginous Hawks, the largest Buteo in North America, have been spotted in the arid regions of eastern Washington, making any sighting an exciting event for bird enthusiasts.
Raptor Rehabilitation at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center: This center located in Arlington, Washington, provides care for injured, sick, or orphaned hawks, contributing to the preservation of these raptors in the state.
FAQs About Hawks in Washington
What is the most common hawk in Washington?
The most common hawk in Washington is the Red-tailed Hawk. This adaptable raptor can be found in a wide range of habitats throughout the state, known for its signature reddish-brown tail.
What is the biggest hawk in Washington?
The Ferruginous Hawk, which occasionally visits eastern Washington, is the largest hawk species seen in the state. They prefer open, arid areas and are recognized by their rust-colored back and broad wings.
What is the smallest hawk in Washington?
The smallest hawk in Washington is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite its size, this raptor is a formidable hunter, often seen near bird feeders hunting smaller birds.
When is the breeding season for hawks in Washington?
The breeding season for hawks in Washington typically starts in early spring, around March or April, and can last until July. Timing can vary slightly based on species and individual environmental factors and many migrate south for warmer breeding grounds.
What do hawks eat in Washington?
Most hawks consume a varied diet that includes small mammals (including many medium sized mammals), ground squirrels, birds (yes they eat birds – and not just small birds!), and reptiles. For instance, Red-tailed Hawks often feed on rodents, while Sharp-shinned Hawks are known to prey on smaller birds.
Are Hawks protected in Washington?
Yes, all north american hawks and other birds like bald eagles and golden eagles are protected in Washington under state law and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to kill, trap, or possess hawks without a special permit including:
broad winged hawk scientific name Buteo platypterus
northern goshawk scientific name Accipiter gentilis
red tailed hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis
sharp shinned hawk scientific name Accipiter striatus
rough legged hawk scientific name Buteo lagopus
cooper’s hawk scientific name Accipiter cooperii
northern harrier scientific name Circus hudsonius
About the author
Jack Taylor is a passionate bird enthusiast and seasoned avian biologist, making bird-watching and nature conservation not just his career, but his life’s calling. With his extensive field knowledge and knack for storytelling, Jack translates the wonders of avian life into captivating posts. His blog is a testament to his love for feathered friends and his commitment to sharing their fascinating world with others.