Hawks are considered birds of prey, also known as raptors, and are a large group that contains more than 200 species in the world. In the United States, there are about 25 species of hawks. Today, we’re taking a look at the 7 hawks found in Florida.
This bird of prey is medium in size, diurnal and quite powerful. Each type of hawk has its own hunting style and lives in a variety of habitats. The common name for these birds is hawk, however, the term Buteo is also used. As members of the Accipitridae family, hawks are classified along with eagles, kites, Old World vultures and buzzards. As mentioned above, there are 7 species of hawks in Florida, and they are:
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Short-Tailed Hawk
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Cooper’s Hawk
Below, we will look at each species individually and learn more about their size, plumage, personality, feeding habits, habitat and other interesting facts.
|18.1 – 19.7 in||10.6 – 26.5 oz||40.2 – 46.5 in|
Known as the only harrier in North America, the Northern Harrier hawk makes its home all over the United States and Canada. Found in Florida, this variety is distinctive from a distance. They are slim, long tailed with a white patch on the upper part of their tail and have a face like an owl. Adult males are grayish with dark tipped wings, whereas females are pale with brown streaking and spotted plumage.
Like owls, Northern Harrier hawks utilize their acute hearing and sharp vision to hunt their prey. When hunting, they tend to hover and then pounce. They will often subdue their prey by drowning them. You will often find them hunting in fields and the marshes of Florida. In regards to breeding, males will generally only have one to two female partners, but they have been known to have up to five partners at once.
|17.7 – 25.6 in||24.3 – 51.5 oz||44.9 – 52.4 in|
The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in North America. Large in size, these hawks live in most of the U.S including Florida, where they are found all year long. These hawks have a broad, rounded wings and a short tail. Their coloring, as their name indicates, is a red tail, with rich brown colors above, pale feathers below and streaked belly with a dark bar between their wrist and shoulder. There are regional differences in their coloring which include dark-morph and rufous-morph.
Their behavior while hunting includes wide circling, and eyes fixed on the ground searching for prey. Their attacks are slow and controlled, diving with their legs outstretched for attacking their prey. Red-Tail hawks are generally seen searching for prey over fields as well as sitting atop telephone poles.
|16.9 – 24.0 in||17.1 – 27.3 oz||37.0 – 43.7 in|
Found among tall trees and water, the Red-shouldered hawk makes Florida its full time home, as well as most of the eastern half of the U.S. They are commonly found living and nesting in forests and wooded areas. This hawk will often re-use its same nest from year to year. With a population increase in the past 50 years, this species of hawk is safe as long as wooded areas where they nest and breed aren’t invaded or destroyed.
The Red-shouldered hawk is medium in size with a slim body and broad wings that square at the tips. Their coloring is reddish brown underneath with banded black and white wings and tails. They hunt over wooded areas and mostly eat small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. They have a distinct sound when soaring over forests and perching high in trees.
|9.4 – 13.4 in||3.1 – 7.7 oz||16.9 – 22.1 in|
This tiny hawk is known to be the smallest hawk in the U.S. and Canada. Although it can be found all over North America, it is often residing in the state of Florida. The Sharp-shinned hawk can be found invading backyard feeders with their long legs and tails. Their short wings allow them to fly at top speed throughout the deep woods and open areas where they make their homes.
As noted previously, these hawks love stalking feeders for songbirds. They are easiest to spot in the fall with their small head, large eyes, blue gray topside and narrow reddish orange bars on their breast. As agile fliers, the Sharp-shinned hawk will pounce from short perches as well as prey from high overhead. They have a noticeable flap and glide flying pattern when hunting.
|15 – 17 in||0.86 – 16.1 oz||16 – 35 in|
The Short-tailed hawk is only found in the U.S. in the state of Florida. Sightings are rare, but it lives full time in the southern tip of the state as well as in the Keys and further south in Central America and Mexico. The short-tailed hawk is one of the least studied species, therefore information is limited.
Shor-tails are typically found on the edge of their habitat in grasslands, wetlands and open fields. The coloring of these birds is both dark and light. The light variety is dark above and light colored below, and the dark variety has completely dark plumage. These hawks hunt slowly, circling from a few hundred feet above their prey.
|14.6 – 17.7 in||7.8 – 24.0 oz||24.4 – 35.4 in|
The Cooper’s Hawks is found in Florida year round and throughout North America. This hawk is often mistaken as the larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They have gray backs and reddish barred chests and eyes, the Cooper’s hawk has a rounded long tail and rounded wings.
Known for stalking feeders and other birds, this medium size hawk hunts fast and low to the ground. Its preferred habitat is forests and wooded areas, however, it will nest in leafy suburban areas like backyards. To note, Cooper’s hawks from the western part of North America are quite smaller than those found in the East.
|13.4 – 17.3 in||9.3 – 19.8 oz||31.9 – 39.4 in|
The Broad-winged hawk is found in the southern tip of Florida, and migrates by the thousands each year. These small, compact raptors have large reddish-brown heads and full, chunky bodys with barred undersides. Their tail is short and square with broad white and black bands.
Known to have a piercing whistle, this hawk will fiercely protect their nest. When building a nest and breeding, they will do so up to a half mile away from other birds of prey. They will hunt small prey from underneath the forest canopy and near roads by perching and dropping down to attack.
Interesting Facts About Hawks
- A hawk’s lifespan is between 10 and 20 years in the wild.
- The Northern Goshawk is the largest of the hawk species weighing in at almost 5 lbs, and has a wingspan up to 50 inches.
- The Little Sparrowhawk is the smallest hawk with a wingspan of 15 to 20 inches and weighs around 3 ounces.
- Hawks can see clearly up to 8 times better than the sharpest human eye.
- Hawks have amazing hearing but have very poor smell.
- Some hawks can dive up to 150 miles per hour through the air.
- When hunting, hawks can catch their prey not only on the ground but also mid air.
- Outside of mating and nesting, hawks will ultimately spend their life alone.
- When hawks flock together, it is called a kettle.
- Some species of hawks are monogamous, staying with one mate for their entire life.
- Hawks have a courtship dance they perform to find a mate.
- Both male and female hawks will cater to the nest of eggs until they hatch.
- Hawks can see in color like humans. They can also see colors in the ultraviolet range.
- Female hawks are generally larger than their male counterparts.
- Baby hawks fledge quickly (42 to 48 days).
Hawks In Florida: Summing Up
Hawks are an impeccable predator, each type with its own flying, hunting and behavior styles. Hawks live virtually all over the earth, except for a few extreme polar regions. The 7 species of hawks in Florida mentioned in this guide can also be found around North America as well. Although each species has a different range, many of them have populations that overlap. To protect populations, it is imperative to decrease habitat destruction. Some species of hawks have healthy populations, whereas others are in greater danger. To learn more about hawks of florida, check out The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Interested in birding or birdwatching? We put together a great beginners guide to birding for you to check out when you want to get started.
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