Georgia is a beautiful state with coastal and hilly terrains, sandy beaches, and leafy backyards. When we listen closely to nature’s sounds during a quiet afternoon, we can hear the screeching sounds of big birds and the warning chirps of small birds. The skies of Georgia are graced with the beautiful display of different bird species, and we can be lucky to have some of them perch on our backyards. Among the bird species in Georgia, one bird stands tall to claim recognition. The hawks of Georgia have practically become our neighbors, our pest control partners, and sometimes threat to small pets that stray outside. Either way, the raptors may swoop in once or twice a day, but their sound and impact are a catch.
There are several hawks in Georgia with different characteristics, if you know where to look. This article will discuss the different hawk species found in this great state and ways of identifying them the next time one flies or perches close.
Hawks Species in Georgia
As we briefed above, different hawks live, fly, nest, or perch in Georgia. We may have encountered one or two in our daily lives. The most common species are:
• Red-tailed Hawk
• Broad-winged Hawk
• Red-shouldered hawk
• Sharp-shinned hawk
• Northern Harrier
• Cooper’s Hawk
• Rough-legged hawk
Each hawk has some unique characteristics that separate them from the other. Let us look at each characteristic and distinctive feature.
1. Red-tailed Hawk
The red-tailed hawk is a common species in Georgia all year round. They are often seen circling above fields looking for prey; thus, one has a better chance of catching sight of it on areas with massive layers of field. The red-tailed hawk is a rich brown on its top side with pale feathers on its chests and lower sides. The sure way to identify it is looking for its distinctive red tails, brick-red above and light buff-orange below.
It is also the largest hawk species in Georgia, measuring at 45-56cm for males and 50-65cm for females. Other features include:
|45-56cm for males and 50-65cm for females
The Buteo hawk has broad, rounded wings close in size between the crow and goose’s wings. Apart from its distinctive short and red tail, we usually know the red-tailed raptor is around by the sound of its high-pitched descending screech. Their food primarily consists of rodents, small mammals, and the occasional snack in small birds and reptiles.
We cannot fail to point out that the red-tailed raptor nests in tall buildings or towers, tall trees, and cliff ledges. If you stumble across its 2-3 eggs, you can identify them by their whitish brown blotched color. So, the next time we hear that distinctive raptor screech in Hollywood movies, call it the Red-tailed hawk.
2. Broad-Winged Hawk
The Broad-winged hawk is a member of the Buteo Genus and the smallest of its kind. If you see one, you will identify it by the wings’ size and how they lie broadly across its body when it is on flight. The white and black bars on their broad wings are an identification feature.
Although this hawk is common in Georgia, they are a shy species that is not often seen around humans. They can be found in dark, dense forests and woody habitats, but close enough to open land for hu8nting. Its features are:
|13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
|9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
|31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
|Up to 20 years
Other characteristics include their color; the adults can be dark or light brown with pale flight feathers and a dark edge on their wings.
They have a breeding range in Georgia’s northern side and migrate to South America in flocks. These annual migrations are in thousands, in large flocks called the kettles.
We can see the broad-winged hawk in Georgia between April and October while they are still nesting and breeding because of the annual migrations. However, the most spectacular time to see them is migrating.
One fun fact to note about this species is that they have monogamous breeding pairs, but they will not interact outside the breeding season. Also, they can retain the same breeding pairs for years.
They hunt by sitting and waiting for prey while perched on treetops. Broad-winged hawks rarely hunt while flying. Their diet includes smaller birds, small mammals, frogs, and lizards.
The broad-winged hawks build their nests far from other prey birds, and the females fiercely guard them. They nurture a brood of 1-5 eggs each year in the nest.
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawks are a common sight in Georgia all year round, covering 15% of sightings in the state. These hawks can easily pass for Broad-shouldered hawks for their wings, but they are much more colorless with a beautiful pattern on the top side of their wings. The color patterns comprise checkered black and white wings and reddish-brown shoulders, chest, and undersides that can be seen when the bird perches.
Other features and characteristics include:
|16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
|17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
|37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
Red-shouldered hawks live in forest areas with open canopies, close to water bodies like swamps, for better hunting. They are also common in suburban areas where houses are mixed with woodlands.
These hawks sit on perches and wait for prey; they swoop in for the catch when they spot it.
Sometimes, they hunt by hovering in circles around their target, comprising small mammals like mice and lemmings and occasionally snakes, frogs, and lizards near water bodies. You can tell that a red-shouldered hawk is around by the loud ‘cack-cack’ call they make.
The red-shouldered hawk is very territorial and has proven this by attacking birds such as Great Horned Owls and crows that move close to their territory. The hawk attacks even humans who get too close to their nests.
As a permanent resident of Georgia, you will sight this hawk in most state areas, but quite common in the state’s southern regions. They are also known to re-use their nests each year, build on broad-leaved trees near water bodies. They also lay 2-5 bluish or white eggs.
4. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s hawk can easily be mistaken for a larger version of Sharp-Skinned hawk, but key features make them different. They are more common in woodland areas than the Sharp-skinned hawk, and you can see them in Georgia during winter.
They have a medium-sized body(crow-sized), broad shoulders, a rounded tail, and a boxier head; they will raise the head feathers as a form of aggression. The Cooper Hawk feathers’ colors are blue-grey for the back and red-orange at the breast. This color feature is what makes them so like sharp-skinned hawks.
Other features and characteristics of Cooper’s hawk include:
|Male-14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm), Female- 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
|Male-7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g), Female- 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
|Male-24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm), Female- 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)
|Up to 12 years
They mostly hunt smaller birds, and you are likely to see them near a feeder. Their diet comprises small mammals like mice and squirrels. Cooper’s Hawks wait on their prey by sitting on perches and ambush them as they pass.
These raptors are known for their flying agility, which they portray in the high-speed chases they dedicate to prey. You will see Copper’s hawks in leafy suburbs and parks, usually announcing their presence with a more resonant cack-cack sound. Generally, they are evenly distributed throughout the state.
When it comes to building nests, both male and female raptors of this species participate; the male does the heavy lifting, though! They usually lay 2-6 pale blue or bluish-white eggs. Another unique behavior is how they fly; they rarely flap their wings continuously, even when crossing large open areas.
5. Sharp-shinned Hawk
As we have seen above, the sharp-skinned hawk looks like Cooper’s hawk; only the former is smaller in size with a shorter head. It is among the smallest of hawks in Georgia. However, it makes up for its smaller size by massive athletics and acrobatics. Notice those fast speeds we see past bird feeder or in the woods? Yes, that is the sharp-skinned hawk in motion.
Like Cooper’s hawk, they also have blue-grey backs and orange bars on their chests. The difference is that their wings are relatively short but with a long tail. When both Cooper’s and Sharp-skinned hawks fly past, it is hard to tell one from another. Other features and characteristics are:
|9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
|3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
|16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm
Sharp-skinned hawks are migratory birds; therefore, they are not common sightings. However, it is possible to spot them frequently in Georgia during winter, outside their breeding season. Their habitat is in dense forests, especially when breeding; they will avoid nesting in low vegetation areas.
An interesting behavioral feature is how these keep a low-profile during the breeding season to avoid predation. The sharp-skinned hawk produce a brood of 3-8 eggs for each breeding season.
These raptors hunt small birds 90% of their feeding time, with songbirds making up most of this diet; They will occasionally feed on small rodents and insects.
They hunt by surprise factor, patiently waiting for their prey and dashing to ambush them at high speeds. If you have a feeder in your backyards, these raptors will always perch close by to hunt small birds. If you do not want to watch the sharp-skinned hawk hang those robins on a branch and tear off the flesh, we recommend getting your feeders down for a while to drive them away.
They prefer forest and wooded areas as habitats and live in leafy suburbs and backyards. The hawks make their nests far up in conifer trees in dense forests and lay 3-8 white or pale blue mottled eggs. Listen to a shrill, repetitive sound for Sharp-skinned hawk calls.
6. Northern Harrier
The Northern Harrier hawk graces Georgia skies in the winter only after breeding in Canada and northern states in other months. It has a slim body structure, broad wings with a long tail, and gliding low over grassland and marshes.
The Northern harrier has a white belly of feathers with small brown patches scattered on the white mass. The wings have pale grey feathers. Other features and characteristics of this bird include:
|18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
|10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
|40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
The male northern harrier will mate with one or two females during the breeding season. Both sexes are also very aggressive and territorial and will chase off other harriers of the same sex if they invade their territories.
Northern harrier relies on their hearing to hunt; their diet is mainly made up of small mammals like mice and small birds. Their habitat is in areas of low vegetation, usually grassland and wetlands. The hawks also nest on the ground in dense vegetations such as reeds, willows, or brushtails, laying 4-5 dull white eggs.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
It is the least seen hawk in Georgia, only sighted in winter, outside their breeding seasons in the far north of the state. The Rough-legged hawk has a long tail and smaller bills than the other raptors in this list. They can be pale all over with dark streaks or sometimes dark with pale flight feathers.
Other features and characteristics:
|18-20 in (45-50cm)
|Up to 18 years
The hawks display monogamous mating throughout their breeding season and sometimes nest together. You will find them in open grasslands and barren areas but will nest in trees and cliffs. The Rough-legged hawk preys on small mammals and birds.
Hawks In Georgia: Final Word
The next time you hear warning chirps from songbirds, or the screeching call of a raptor, look up. You might behold a migration in progress. We hope you can now identify those raptors that perch in your backyard. If you happen to spot any hawks in Georgia that we haven’t listed here, please let us know in the comments below!
- Interested in birding and birdwatching? We’ve put together a beginners guide for you to start on your journey!
- Want to capture some really fantastic bird photography? We’ve reviewed the best cameras for the beginning birder, and we’ll help you make a sound purchase to get you on your way in taking some beautiful photography.
- Check out more hawks in the south with our hawks in Texas article!