7 Species of Hawks in Florida (Pictures & Info)

Hawks in Florida

All the avid bird-watchers would agree that spotting a hawk is not an everyday affair for them. With their swift flight and high-altitude abodes, these birds of prey seldom hover close enough to be spotted by us. This is probably the reason why most of us know little about these fierce birds.

Did you know that there are about 200 different species of hawks in the world? Even if you knew this, you surely wouldn’t know that the state of Florida is home to 7 different Hawk species.

In this article, we will take a look at these Hawk species and learn about their characteristics in order to identify them if you ever spot them.


Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Buteo lineatus
Body length – 38-61 centimeters (15-24 inches)
Weight – about 550 to 700 grams
Wingspan – 90-127 centimeters (35-50 inches)
Lifespan – 20 years
Diet – Carnivore

The Red-shouldered Hawks have earned the reputation of being the noisiest among all Hawk species. These medium-sized hawks have a wide breeding range all over North America. Though they are non-migratory birds, the northern population of Red-shouldered Hawks often move south to Mexico during the winter season.

Both sexes of the Red-shouldered Hawks are similar in appearance, except the females are slightly larger in size than their male counterparts.

Their heads are dull brown, which slowly changes to red on their chest and bars. Their bellies are much paler in comparison. The tails of these hawks are longer than what is expected of all Hawk species in general and have prominent white bars on it.

The upper parts of their body are dark brown with pale spots all over it. Their legs are long and yellow. The red shoulders that have given these hawks their name is only visible when they are perched and cannot be found during flight.

A juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk resembles the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk closely, which is why there is a lot of confusion between the two. The hawks that you will find in Florida are slightly pale in comparison to their cousins in other states.

The Red-shouldered Hawks hunt on their prey in one of the two ways: either by sitting over a high tree or by flying over woodlands looking for them. When they have found their prey, these hawks drop directly onto them in the air, often killing them in the process.

If they have fulfilled their hunger, the Red-shouldered Hawks might also cache the remaining food in their nest. They generally feed on chipmunks, voles, gophers, moles, and mice, but can also feed on reptiles, amphibians, and other insects.


Short-Tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk - eBird

Scientific name – Buteo brachyurus
Body length – 38-43 centimeters (15-17 inches)
Weight – about 453 grams
Wingspan – 90 centimeters (35 inches)
Lifespan – up to 18 years
Diet – Carnivore

Although the Short-tailed Hawk is native to America, in North America, they can be found in no other state except Florida. Even in Florida, these Hawks are not a common sight. These small tropical hawks have a dark brown upper body with pale undersides and insides of their wings.

If you ever spot one of them in flight, you won’t be able to tell they have a brown body because all you would see is their white undersides. And if their reputation is anything to go by, finding these hawks perched is an extremely rare phenomenon.

Short-tailed Hawks rarely come closer to the ground, even for hunting. They only hunt in flight by suddenly dropping on their prey, taking them by surprise, and killing them. Smaller birds such as blackbirds, grackles, and meadowlarks, are their central prey in Florida. They also feed on rodents, amphibians, and large insects occasionally.

The Short-tailed Hawks prefer to inhabit dense forests with vast expanses of open marshes, farmlands, or prairies nearby. They make their nest in trees of pine, cypress, mangroves, etc.

Due to the rare sightings of the Short-tailed Hawks, little is known about their breeding behavior. However, we have learned about their migration pattern in Florida. The hawks who reside in northern Florida migrate to the peninsula during winters, while the residents of southern Florida stay in the same place all year round.


Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Buteo platypterus
Body length – 32-44 centimeters (13-17 inches)
Weight – about 265 to 560 grams
Wingspan – 74-100 centimeters (29-39 inches)
Lifespan – 12-16 years
Diet – Carnivore

The Broad-winged Hawks are one of the small members of the hawk family. The annual fall migration of these Hawks is a huge affair for which many of the enthusiastic bird-watchers gather.

In a manner, we can say that the migratory behavior of the Broad-winged Hawks has brought all the hawks into the spotlight of the birders. The bird-watching begins in September in New England, from where the hawks travel through the Appalachian ridges towards their final destination in South America.

Of all the Hawk species found in North America, the Broad-winged Hawks are the smallest in size. Their body is dark brown, with dark wing coverts contrasting with silver-colored flight wings. They have a distinctive white throat that separates the head from the body. Some of them have a dark patch on their throats which seems like a bib.

The Broad-winged Hawks have wingtips that are more pointed than that of the other hawks, with a straight trailing edge. Their wingbeats are stiff, which is probably they soar on flat wings most of the time.

The calling sound of the Broad-winged Hawks is a thin whistled “kee kee”. They nest in dense deciduous woodlands and soar over wetlands and meadows in search of food. While a small portion of their population is used to living near humans, most of them still avoid human settlements.


Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier - eBird

Scientific name – Circus hudsonius
Body length – 41-52 centimeters (16-20 inches)
Weight – about 300 to 751 grams
Wingspan – 97-122 centimeters (38-48 inches)
Lifespan – up to 12 years
Diet – Carnivore

The Northern Harriers are the only species of harrier hawks who are indigenous to North America. While these migratory hawks inhabit the northern regions of the United States, during winter, they travel to southern parts of the country.

Northern Harriers are, thus, not permanent residents of Florida, but appear in the state during winters as migratory birds. Although the taxonomists consider the Northern Harriers and the Hen Harriers to be two unique species, many ornithologists still believe them to be conspecific.

The Northern Harriers follow the tradition of other Harriers in case of sexual dimorphism. The females are heavier than their male counterparts, and both sexes have different plumage.

Out of all the raptors of North America, the Northern Harriers have the longest tail and wings in relation to their body length. The males have a grey plumage and a striking aura, which has led them to be called “Grey Ghost”. The females, on the other hand, have a dark rufous plumage.

Both sexes of the Northern Harriers aren’t just different in appearance but also have different calling sounds. The calling sounds of the male is “chek chek chek”, and their flight sounds are “Chuk uk uk uk uk”. The females have an alarm call of “chit it it it it et it”, but whistle a “piih eh” when they are receiving food from their male partners.

Northern Harriers breed in prairies, marshes, grasslands, swarms, bogs, moorlands, or any other open areas. Some of the Northern Harrier males practice polygyny and mate with about 5 females in a single breeding season. They hunt during flight, flying close to the ground in a V shape, hoping to catch squirrels, cotton rats, and voles.

Although these make up a major part of their diet, the Harriers, especially the males, are also known to hunt pipits, larks, sparrows, shorebirds, and waterfowls. If there are any bats in the locality of the Harriers, they are game, too.


Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Accipiter cooperii
Body length – 35-46 centimeters (13-18 inches)
Weight – about 280 to 349 grams
Wingspan – 62-99 centimeters (24-39 inches)
Lifespan – up to 12 years
Diet – Carnivore

Native to the continent of North America, Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks belonging to the genus of Accipiter, otherwise called the true hawk family.

In 1828, their species was discovered by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, the French biologist, and ornithologist. Bonaparte named these hawks after his beloved friend and fellow ornithologist William Cooper.

The Cooper’s Hawks have a wedge-shaped tail and long and thick legs. Their wings have a moderate length. They have a large, squarish head with rounded eyes, and a short, robust bill. Their bills are hooked, particularly designed to tear the flesh of their prey.

Their body is either bluish or brownish-grey in color, with well-defined dark brown feathers with a blue-grey tail having a pale underside.

The female Cooper’s Hawks are larger in size than their male counterparts. The eyes of the adult Cooper’s Hawks range between light orange and red, while the juveniles have yellow eyes. The eyes of the males are often darker than their female counterparts.

The Cooper’s Hawks prefer to live in densely wooded areas but are often found in suburbia as well. These hawks are non-migratory birds who reside in Florida all year round. They are popularly known by a series of different names, such as “hen hawk”, “quail hawk”, “big blue darter”, “chicken hawk”, “flying cross”, “swift hawk”, “striker”, etc.


Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Accipiter striatus
Body length – 23-30 centimeters (9.1-11.8 inches)
Weight – about 82 to 115 grams
Wingspan – 42-58 centimeters (17-23 inches)
Lifespan – about 3 to 13 years
Diet – Carnivore

Popularly known as “Sharpies”, the Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk species of North America, growing about the size of a Jay. These birds have a reverse sexual dimorphism where the females are larger in size than their male counterparts.

Their tails are of a medium length banded with greyish-black tips, with broad wings, long and slender yellow legs, and hooked bill painted with black and yellow.

Sharpies have a dark cap on their head with bluish-grey upperparts and random spots on the scapulars. The underparts are white in color, barred with tawny or rufous bars and rufous thighs. They are mostly silent birds, only making an occasional chattering noise “kew kew kew” when they are close to their nest.

These hawks prefer to build stick nests in coniferous trees. While soaring, they hold their wings forward by bending their wrists and projecting their head in front of the wings.

The Sharp-shinned hawks mainly feed on smaller songbirds such as icterids, finches, tits, thrushes, wood-warblers, and sparrows. The females prefer to hunt on larger birds such as Flickers and American Robins. These hawks are also known to approach backyard feeders in hopes of catching small birds.


Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Scientific name – Buteo jamaicensis
Body length – 45-65 centimeters (18-26 inches)
Weight – about 690 grams to 1.6 kilograms
Wingspan – 110-141 centimeters (35 inches)
Lifespan – about 13 to 25 years
Diet – Carnivore

The Red-tailed Hawks are raptors that breed all over North America and are found in most of the states of the US, including Florida. These Hawks were first discovered in Jamaica, which is why they have “jamaicensis” in their scientific name.

These hawks are known for the brick-red tail which sets them apart from the rest of the hawks you can find in Florida. They choose to inhabit open areas such as deserts and fields and are known to be proficient hunters. They find a high perching point from where they keep an eye on their prey.

However, these adaptable birds can also thrive in mountain regions or tropical rainforests. They mainly feed on mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, and other reptiles. Other names these hawks are known by are “buzzard hawks” and “red hawks”.


Species of Hawks in Florida (summing up)

Being birds of prey, Hawks have earned for themselves quite a scary image among humans. However, in reality, these raptors are gentle and quiet and don’t mess with humans until instigated. After all that you have learned about the species of hawks in Florida, the next time you spot one you will identify them right away.

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