8 Incredible Hawks in West Virginia (+ Guide)




Hawks in West Virginia

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Hawks in West Virginia are diverse and abundant, with a variety of species found throughout the state. These magnificent birds of prey can be observed soaring over woodlands, fields, and mountainous regions. West Virginia provides a suitable habitat for hawks, offering a mix of forests, open spaces, and water bodies that support their hunting and nesting needs.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – The most common hawk in West Virginia, these hawks can be spotted throughout the state, including in the Monongahela National Forest.

  2. Cooper’s Hawk – Widespread across West Virginia, they are often seen in forested habitats like the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

  3. Red-shouldered Hawk – These hawks are often found in the eastern part of the state, including the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk – Broad-winged Hawks are common during migration seasons, usually seen in forested areas like the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

  5. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Common during migration seasons, these hawks can be seen in forests like the Dolly Sods Wilderness area.

  6. Northern Harrier – Preferring open habitats, Northern Harriers can be spotted across West Virginia, particularly in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

  7. Rough-legged Hawk – These hawks are winter visitors, and can be seen in open fields and meadows during the colder months.

  8. Northern Goshawk – Preferring large, dense forests, Northern Goshawks are rarer but can be spotted in areas like the Monongahela National Forest.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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 West Virginia 

The best place to find the widest range of hawks in West Virginia is the Monongahela National Forest. This sprawling forest with its diverse habitats hosts a variety of hawk species.

Here are the top hawk watch sites in West Virginia:

  1. Coopers Rock State Forest: This forest is well known for its sightings of Cooper’s Hawks, especially during the spring and fall migration seasons.

  2. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve: A variety of hawks including Red-tailed Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks can be spotted here, particularly in the warmer months.

  3. Kanawha State Forest: This forest is a popular place for spotting Sharp-shinned Hawks during migration periods.

  4. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: Here you can commonly spot Red-shouldered Hawks, especially in spring and summer.

  5. Blackwater Falls State Park: This park is home to many Northern Goshawks, particularly in the colder months.

  6. Seneca Rocks: This area is well known for its sightings of Rough-legged Hawks during the winter.

West Virginia’s rich forests, clear streams, and rugged mountains make it an ideal habitat for various hawk species. These raptors can be found throughout the state, from the dense woodlands of Monongahela National Forest to the high cliffs of Seneca Rocks. While spring and fall migration periods are excellent times to spot these birds, many species also reside here year-round, offering birdwatchers plenty of opportunities to spot these majestic creatures.

After exploring the diverse hawks of West Virginia, birdwatchers may want to continue their raptor-spotting journey in the neighboring states. The hawks in Pennsylvania, to the north, offer a different array of species in their rolling hills and extensive forests. If you head east, you’ll find the hawks in Maryland residing in the state’s coastal areas and urban parks.

To the south, the hawks in Kentucky add to the region’s raptor diversity with their presence in the state’s grasslands and forests. Finally, to the west, the hawks in Ohio represent the vast population of raptors in the Midwest. Traveling through these states and observing the differences in hawk populations gives a fuller picture of the diversity and distribution of these magnificent birds across the region.

Facts about Hawks in West Virginia 

  1. Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory: An old fire tower in Monroe County is now one of the best places to observe migrating hawks in the Eastern US.

  2. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: West Virginia witnesses an impressive migration of Broad-winged Hawks every September, which is a significant event for bird watchers.

  3. Red-shouldered Hawks Habitat: These hawks are quite common in West Virginia’s deciduous forests and wetlands, adding to the biodiversity of these areas.

  4. Exceptional Sightings of Rough-legged Hawks: Typically a bird of the arctic, Rough-legged Hawks have been sighted during winters in West Virginia, which is quite a rarity.

  5. Conservation Efforts: The state has been proactive in conserving raptors, including hawks, through educational initiatives, habitat restoration, and species-specific programs.

FAQs About Hawks Found in West Virginia 

What is the most common hawk in West Virginia?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in West Virginia. They are frequently seen soaring in the sky and perching on treetops and power lines throughout the state.

What is the biggest hawk in West Virginia?

The Red-tailed Hawk is also the largest hawk species in West Virginia. They have a wingspan of up to 56 inches and are known for their broad, rounded wings and short, wide tails.

What is the smallest hawk in West Virginia?

The smallest hawks are the Sharp-shinned Hawks. They are known for their ability to maneuver through forests while hunting small birds.

When is the breeding season for hawks in West Virginia?

The breeding season for hawks in West Virginia typically starts in early spring and can extend into the summer. However, the timing can vary slightly between species and depending on environmental conditions.

What do hawks eat in West Virginia?

Hawks in West Virginia have a diverse diet that consists of small mammals, ground squirrels, birds, reptiles, and insects. Some species, like the Red-tailed Hawk, often feed on rodents such as mice and squirrels.

Are Hawks protected in West Virginia?

Yes, all hawk species along with other birds of prey like Great Horned Owls in West Virginia are protected by state laws and federal regulations like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to harm, possess, or kill hawks without specific permits. This includes these birds:

  • 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

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