8 Species of Hawks in Montana (Pictures and Info)

Hawks in Montana

Watching a hawk for bird lovers is eye-pleasing. Their large talons, hooked beaks, conspicuous presence, and fierce attitudes are quite attractive. They come into the raptors group. Birds that swoop down on their prey are considered raptors. There are more than 14 species of birds known as raptors, and hawks are one of them.

Montana is one of the northernmost states in Canada. It is home to many famous parks and wildlife refuges, which makes it a great place for birds of prey. This is because they can safely live and raise their young ones in protected wildlife refuges. There are different species of hawks in Montana.

We have shared below the 8 commonly seen species of hawks in Montana. So, if you love this bird of prey and want to learn about their behavior and habitats, you would love it. Read on –


Broad-winged hawk (Buteo Platypterus)

Broad-winged hawk

Broad-winged hawk is a migrating species of hawks in Montana. While they spend most of their time in the eastern hub of the state, they migrate to Montana during the fall.

They are quite interesting when it comes to their migrating journey. They start their migration journey from the north of Montana, spend the breeding period in the eastern half of the US, and live the winters in South America.


How to identify them

Broad-winged hawks are one of the smallest species of hawks found in Montana, with a dark brown back and light breast and belly. While the tail of the adult one is brown to grey with white stripes, the young ones have a brown tail with a light black terminal band. Both the male and female Broad-winged hawks look similar.

Weight – 9.3 to 19.8 ounces
Length – 13.4 to 17.3 inches
Wingspan – 31.9 to 39.4 inches


Food habits

The feeding habit of the broad-winged hawks is quite impressive. During the nesting season, their diet includes mammals, like shrews, chipmunks, and voles. In the winter season, they hunt insects, frogs, and lizards. They can also hunt during the flight.



Broad-winged hawks are found in dense and unbroken deciduous or coniferous woodlands.


Interesting fact

Broad-winged hawks do not feed during their migration period.


Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo Swainsoni)

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are one of the popular species of hawks that complete the longest migration path, starting from Alaska to Southern South America.

They mainly spend the winter in the Southern part of South America. If you find a hawk in the open field on fence posts, on the telephone poles, or power lines giving a birds-eye view of their territory, it is going to be Swainson’s Hawk for sure.

How to identify them

Swainson’s Hawks are found in white, brown, and gray. They are the large soaring raptors.

They can be divided into two color variations – the light morph and the dark morph.

While the light morph adults are white with dark underparts, the dark morph adults are dark brown with a light patch under the tail. The group of Swainson’s Hawk is known as a kettle. They migrate in the huge kettle in ten to thousands.

Weight – 24.4 to 48.2 ounces
Length – 18.9 to 22.1 inches
Wingspan – 48 inches


Food Habits

This species mainly depend on mammals and insects for their food. The majority of their diet includes mammals during the breeding seasons. During this time, they prey on gophers, squirrels, rabbits, and voles.

Their diet and food preference vary regionally. For example, when they spend their migration time near Alberta, burrowing owls take a significant part in their diet. While in Utah, they prefer rabbits, and when the breeding season is over, they rely mostly on insects, like grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, etc.



Swainson’s hawks prefer open habitats for foraging. Though earlier they used to live in prairie and grassland, they have now shifted to open agricultural fields to find their food.


Interesting fact

Swainson’s hawks eat numerous amount of insects, which causes thin eggshells due to ingesting a high amount of toxins.


Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis)

Red-tailed Hawk

It is one of the most widespread hawks in Montana. Though they live in Montana during the breeding time, some nest and live there throughout the year. It is the second-largest hawk species in Montana and North America.


How to identify them

The large size is one of the easiest ways to distinguish this species. The adult red-tailed hawk has a rufous colored tail with or without a black terminal bar, and the underside is light with a dark belly band.

The young ones and the adult ones look almost the same except for one that is the brown tails with dark bars.

Weight – 24.3 to 51.5 ounces
Height – 17.7 to 25.6 inches
Wingspan – 44.9 to 52.4 inches


Food habits

They feed on a wide variety of prey. Just like the other hawks, the large part of their diet includes mammals, from small mice to hares and rabbits during the breeding season. They also eat medium-sized birds and reptiles.



They are mainly found in the open areas, close to farms and cities near the woodlots. Red-tailed hawks don’t prefer the dense forest; instead, they favor the urban areas.


Interesting fact

If you love gathering knowledge about birds, the red-tailed hawks would be a fascinating creature to you. Some of the amazing facts about red tail birds are:

  • The eyesight of this species is eight times more powerful than humans.
  • They are the loudest when it comes to defending their nest.
  • The food cry of the young ones sound like “klee-uk”
  • They can live up to 20 years.
  • Their eye color changes as they age.


Northern Harrier (Circus Hudsonius)

Northern Harrier

You can find this species throughout the state of Montana. However, they live only in the western part of Montana throughout the year. Northern harriers migrate to other places in the region during the breeding period and in South America during winter.


How to identify them

This species looks more like owls than a hawk. They have a similar characteristic to owls, and that is, they depend on both their vision and hearing to hunt their prey. You will find them always in flight, and there is hardly any time you can catch them perching on the tree or other places. That is because they hunt from the air.

Weight – 10.6 to 26.6 ounces
Height – 18.1 to 19.7 inches
Wingspan – 40.2 to 46.5 inches


Food habits

Northern harriers keep their eyes on the prey while flying. Just like owls, they rely on their eyes and ears to hunt them from the ground or air. Their diet list includes reptiles, small mammals, and birds.



The northern harriers live in open habitat during the breeding season (from April to July). They nest and live in the grasslands, meadows, marshes, and wetlands. They live up to 15 years.


Interesting facts

Like red-tailed hawks, northern harriers have some amazing facts to learn. They are also known as hen harrier and marsh hawk. One male harrier can mate with several females. They can have five mates at a time.


Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest species of hawks found in Montana.

While they live throughout the state of Montana, they prefer to stay in different parts of the region in the different phases of their life.

The sharp-shinned hawks are found in western and central Montana all year round.


How to identify them

Identifying sharp-shinned hawks are quite easy. Their tiny body, round wings, and long and square-tipped nails help you recognize them even in the kettle of hawks. They have a small head nestled in the crook of wings.

Sharp-shinned hawks are known for attacking the group of songbirds at the backyard bird feeder. So, if you are experiencing the same, take your feeders down.

Weight – 3.1 to 7.7 ounces
Length – 9.4 to 13.4 inches
Wingspan – 16.9 to 22.1 inches


Food habits

Though this species mainly eat small birds, their diet chart also includes large insects and small mammals. When they prey on a smaller bird and eat them, they pluck their feathers.



They live in the dense forest and woodlands to hunt their prey discreetly.


Interesting fact

Adult sharp-shinned passes their food to their younger ones in the mid-air.


Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii)

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s hawks look almost similar to the sharp-shinned hawks; the only difference is – they are slightly larger than the latter one. These medium-sized birds have slightly larger heads, long tails, and frames than the sharp-shinned hawks. The red-orange eyes of the two make them quite similar.

Like the sharp-shinned, they are also solitary and elusive. They are found in Montana only during the breeding months.


How to identify them

Cooper’s hawks are a medium-sized hawk with the classic accipiter shape, that is, broad and rounded wings with a very long tail. While the adult coopers have a steely blue-gray upper part with warm reddish bars on the underparts, the young ones have brown above and crispy streaked with brown on the underparts.

Weight – 7.8 to 24 ounces
Length – 14.6 to 17.7 inches
Wingspan – 24.4 to 35.4 inches


Food habits

Their favorite diet list includes small robin-sized birds and mammals, like tree squirrels, chipmunks, bats, and mice. They also prefer to prey on insects and reptiles.



Just like the sharp-shinned hawks, coopers also live in the deep forest to leafy subdivisions and backyards. It helps them to hunt their food easily.


Interesting facts

They may occasionally capture your unwary chickens by attacking the poultry farms.


Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks, found throughout the states of Montana, are the largest accipiters in North America. These elusive birds prefer to stay away from the populated area.

They are solitary birds by nature, and finding them is difficult even in the areas where they nest.


How to identify them

One amazing feature of northern goshawk is their bright red eyes with bold white stripes that give them a look of having eyebrows. The young ones have an indistinctive pale eyebrow stripe and yellow eyes. They have a dark slate gray body with pale gray barred underparts.

Weight – 22.3 to 48.1 ounces
Length – 20.9 to 25.2 inches
Wingspan – 40.5 to 46.1 inches


Food habits

Like other species of hawks in Montana, northern goshawks also hunt and feed on small mammals and other birds.



Being secretive by nature, they prefer to stay away from the populated areas and live in a mature, dense forest, where they can hunt peacefully. Though northern goshawks are widespread in the world, spotting them is a challenging task.


Interesting facts

This secretive bird can only be seen easily in the spring during their breeding season. At this time, you can hear the gull-like call of this bird.


Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo Lagopus)

Rough-legged Hawk

The rough-legged hawks have a non-breeding range in Montana. Because of their fully feathered legs, they are also known as the rough-legged buzzard. Their unique legs help them to protect from rodent bites when they catch their prey.


How to identify them

The completely feathered legs of rough-legged hawks are quite different from the other species. Their flight feathers are light with dark edges, and the tail has a white base with a wide dark tip. The young rough-legged hawks have a brown tail with a less distinctive dark strip.

Weight – 25.2 to 49.4 ounces
Length – 18.5 to 20.5 inches
Wingspan – 52.0 to 54.3 inches


Food habit

A significant part of their diet includes rodents, like lemmings and voles. However, rough-legged hawks also prefer to prey on small mammals and birds.



This species is mainly found in the tundra and taiga of the northern parts of North America. And in the winter season, they prefer to live in prairies, marshes, and agricultural regions.


Interesting fact

Rough-legged hawks make their nest by using sticks and sometimes the bones of caribou.


Conclusion: Hawks in Montana

These were the 8 species of hawks that are commonly seen in Montana. I hope this article was really informative for you.

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