The United States has around 25 different hawk species. Each state has its modified climate and food sources ideal for various species of hawks. As a result, every state may have its unique collection of hawks that reside there at different times of the year. In this article, we will be discussing hawks in Minnesota. Some of the questions we’ll be answering throughout this article include; how many hawk species the state has? And what are some of the features and details of each species?
Minnesota is a Midwestern state in the U.S bordering Canada and Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Since it is a state in the upper mid-eastern part of the United States, Minnesota boasts a typical continental climate type. Therefore, it has humid summers and extreme winters.
Additionally, the state’s climate is often clear, with each season having distinct characteristics. Minnesota is also called the ‘Land of 10,000 lakes,’ yet it has more than 15,000 beautiful lakes.
Besides that, this great state has an impressive number of about 75 state parks in total. With nearly 80,000 visits every year, Fort Snelling State Park is the most popular state park in Minnesota.
So, the state is well-versed to be rich in iconic wildlife, including hawks. And some of the state parks offer excellent bird spots. For instance, you can see hawks like Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, and Broad-winged migrating to and from the Frontenac State Park. The Itasca state park is also a fantastic birdwatching spot, especially if you are looking for the Broad-winged Hawk species.
9 Different Hawk Species In Minnesota
Typically, Minnesota has nine different species of hawks that you can encounter throughout the state. These species include:
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Northern Harrier Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
Do you want to learn a little bit about these beautiful hawk species, what they look like, and where you can find them in Minnesota? Be sure to read to the end.
1. Red-tailed Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common species of hawks in Minnesota that many people know about and see. With about 2 million nests, this hawk is one of the famous hawks in the United States and the second-largest in North America. This figure accounts for nearly 90% of the total population of Red-tailed Hawks in the world.
These large raptors are between 17.7 to 25.6 inches tall and have weights of 24.3 to 51.5 oz. Also, they have a wingspan length ranging from 44.9 to 52.4 inches.
As per the name, these hawks have red tails, which makes them easily identified. Other than that, you will find them with white feathered bellies. Their plumage color ranges from somewhat white to nearly black, meaning that coloration may not be the best indicator.
Red-tailed Hawks are often most active during the daytime or very early in the morning. You can see them soaring high in the sky or perching at a roadside telephone pole looking for prey with their excellent vision.
Moreover, the Red-tailed Hawks exist as lonely birds. Therefore, they habituate in the state’s open parts, and you can often see them resting on lone trees. More importantly, these hawks are incredibly adaptable, meaning that they don’t have specific preferred habitats as they tend to be comfortable everywhere.
You can see Red-tailed Hawks nearly everywhere in Minnesota, from cities and towns to suburbs and even along tree lines. Whether it is a desert, park, roadside, rainforest, scrubland, field, or woodland, you’ll find these birds thriving pretty well. However, their most often nesting spots are in Central Minnesota.
If you want to see the Red-tailed Hawk, wait for the summer months, the period between breeding and migrating. Most of these raptors migrate to the south during winters, but some have permanent residence in Minnesota, and they’ll stay even during colder months.
2. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk is 16.9 to 24.0 inches long, weighs 17.1 to 27.3 oz, and has a wingspan of 37.0 to 43.7 inches. Thus, this hawk species falls in the group of large hawks in Minnesota and the world at large.
Distinctly marked, these hawks have red shoulders that can be seen when perched. They also have white and dark brown patterned wings with primarily white feathers found underwings and bellies. On top of that, they have a striped rufous chest and a strongly banded tail.
Unlike Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks are typically forest occupiers. They like staying in the woodlands with open canopies because the additional space makes their hunting more efficient.
Plus, you’ll find their nests in the woodlands that lie on the edges of swamplands and rivers. Sadly, woodland and forest clearance are the greatest threat to this species of hawks.
You can also find these raptors in the suburban areas with houses mixed with woodlands. In Minnesota’s case, these raptors have a breeding range, mainly in the state’s central part.
The perfect place and time to observe the Red-shouldered Hawk are in the south of Minnesota during autumn, specifically late October. That’s when these raptors begin migrating, and you can see about 300 of them during this time.
When it comes to food, these hawks mainly prey on small mammals. But, they also feast on lizards, amphibians, and snakes when they’re available. Before you see a Red-shouldered Hawk, you’ll first hear the ‘kee-ahh’ sound several times, which is their distinct call.
3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
With a height range of 9.4 to 13.4 inches, a weight of 3.1 to 7.7 oz, and a wingspan length of 16.9 to 22.1 inches, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, especially the male, is the smallest hawk species in Minnesota and U.S at large. As for the females, they are about a third larger than the male counterparts.
Generally, these raptors are pretty athletic and acrobatic. They have slate-colored feathers that cover their wings and backs. To identify a Sharp-shinned Hawk, check out the orange feathers at their upper chest that fade away towards the belly region.
Their offspring have brown feathers, with some having underbelly feathers. Moreover, their wings tend to be short and rounded when flying, although they have long tails.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are very common in densely forested areas of Minnesota. That’s where they make nests, especially on low-exposed trees. 90% of these birds’ food is birds; hence they are more likely to be found around bird feeders where they hunt and prey on songbirds that visit the feeders. Interestingly, these raptors sit patiently, dash out from hiding at a higher speed to ambush, chase and catch birds.
If you want to watch the Sharp-shinned Hawk in Minnesota, wait for winter, their migration seasons. But you can still see a decent number of these hawks that stay in the state all year round. More importantly, these birds have two distinctive calls; a shrill squeal and the other sounds like ‘kik-kik-kik-kik.’
4. Cooper’s Hawk
Most Cooper’s Hawks are 14.6 to 17.7 inches, weigh between 7.8 and 24.0 oz, and have a wingspan of 24.4 to 35.4 inches. Because of this, these hawks exist as medium-sized hawks in Minnesota. They tend to be smaller in size than a crow, and also, the females are quite bigger than the male counterparts.
Visually, this hawk resembles the Sharp-shinned Hawk described above. They have a steely blue-gray appearance that is almost similar to that of the Sharp-shinned hawk. In addition, they both have a little black cap and rufous chests. However, you can tell between these hawks apart by looking at their size.
The adult Cooper’s Hawks have steel blue feathers at their backs and wings. Plus, their underbellies are covered in strips of brown feathers. This species of hawks resides permanently in Northern American.
In Minnesota, they’re commonly found throughout the year in woodlands, leafy forests, or at the edge of fields and backyards in the southern regions. But, their breeding range extends to the rest of the state.
If you want to watch these raptors, autumn, October in particular, is the perfect time for you. They tend to migrate during this time, meaning that you can easily spot a Cooper’s hawk soaring through the sky.
Typically, these birds are pretty secretive and quieter during spring when they are breeding. When active, Cooper’s Hawk emits an alarm-like sound “cak-cak-cak” or “kuck-kuck-kuck” and feeds mainly on other birds.
5. Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawks stand out as medium-sized hawk species featuring lengths between 13.4 to 17.3 inches, the weight of 9.3 to 19.8 oz, and a wingspan of 31.9 to 39.4 inches. Basically, these birds are short and sturdy, making them easily adaptable to forest life.
You will find them with reddish-brown feathers and white and black bars on their tails. The younger Broad-winged Hawks boasts lighter brown-colored feathers. Asides from that, these birds often live in forests and spend most of their time sitting in the canopies, away from human beings.
They make calls similar to a piercing whistle and are usually heard during summers. Their migration to the south occurs during the autumn season, particularly in September. Hence, this is the best time to watch these hawks. Unlike many other hawk species migrating in solitary, Broad-winged Hawks do so in flocks.
However, these raptors often return during spring, intending to spend their warmer months hidden in Minnesota’s forested regions. Also, they can be found in the state’s northern forests unless they’re migrating.
Because it is infrequent for these raptors to hunt while flying, they sit on tree limbs to watch over their surrounding as they wait patiently to dive down to catch a frog, toad, or a small mammal.
6. Northern Goshawk
Weighing from 22.3 to 25.2 oz, measuring 20.9 to 25.2 inches long, and wingspan ranging between 40.5 and 46.1 inches, the Northern Goshawk exists as a large hawk species. In fact, their size is close to that of a goose and quite similar to a Red-tailed Hawk. Like many other hawks, the female Goshawks are larger than the males.
Boasting a dark-colored head and deep red eyes, it is nearly impossible to mistake the Northern Goshawk from other species of hawks. Their typical adult hawk has slate-grey wings and a light grey or white-bluish underbelly.
As for their offspring, they have mainly striped brown feathers. These birds spend a lot of their time in the forested areas and make their nests, specifically in coniferous forests. The reason is that these hawks are very secretive and harder to see.
Other than that, Goshawks are well-versed for fiercely protecting their juveniles and nests. They tend to attack people or anything that gets too close to their nests. Therefore, watch these hawks from far. These hawks make ‘ki-ki-ki’ sounds which act as an alarm when threats are close.
Are you wondering what the perfect time to watch a Northern Goshawk is? Well, it’s during autumn and spring when most hawk watches occur. During spring, you can see them doing display fights. In winter, these birds usually migrate from their breeding site. Hence they’re hard to be seen during this period. But you can still see them all over the state all year round.
Additionally, the Northern Goshawks’ migration occurs in mostly Duluth’s Hawk Ridge than any other areas throughout Northern America. As a result, the Hawk Ridge is among the most popular birdwatching spots, especially hawk enthusiasts.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
This medium to large-sized hawk species is 18.5 to 20.5 inches long, weighs 25.2 to 49.4 oz, and has a large wingspan of 52.0 to 54.3 inches. These hawks also have vibrant feather patterns that make them look beautiful.
You will find them with dark feathers on their bellies and tip and pale heads and tails. As the name suggests, this species of hawks in Minnesota have their feet covered with feathers. Thus, these feathers keep them warm during colder habitats they decide to live in.
The Rough-legged Hawks often live and breed in the Arctic tundra during summers, and they are hard to spot. You can watch them in Minnesota during winters as they migrate to the state’s southern part after breeding. And, these hawks usually stay in Minnesota between September and May.
Look out for open spaces like cliff-sides and grasslands if you want to see the Rough-legged Hawk in the state. Most of them use many sticks to make their nests on the cliff-sides, while others use bones.
Although they tend to make a mewing sound closer to their nests, these raptors are super silent. Primarily, they eat lemmings that are adequate in supply in the state. When they move to Minnesota’s southern regions, these birds prey on small rodents like voles, shrews, and mice.
8. Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Hawks have a typical wingspan length of 48 inches, weigh between 24.4 and 48.2 oz, and measures 18.9 to 22.1 inches tall. Apart from that, these raptors have breeding sites in the southern and western parts of Minnesota. You can easily spot these hawks soaring or perching on telephone posts, trees in open fields, or on fence posts in these areas.
Since they are migratory birds, you can expect to see them in Minnesota from April to September when they fly to and from their Northern American breeding spots. Plus, these raptors migrate every year in flocks known as “kettles.”
You will find them with long wings and short tails. Besides that, they have reddish-brown chests, light underbellies, and generally have upper parts covered with brown and grey feathers. Their call sounds like ‘kreeeeeer’ and usually lasts for about 3 seconds.
9. Northern Harrier Hawk
The Circus hudsonius has a length of 18.1 to 19.7 inches, a wingspan of 40.2 to 46.5 inches, and weighs between 10.6 and 26.5 oz. They feature an owlish face and a white spot on the tail, making them easy to identify. Besides that, they have a sliding style signature, and their wings form a V-shape when flying. In short, these birds are majestic.
Northern Harrier Hawks can be found in the central and northern parts of Minnesota during breeding periods. In the southwest parts of the state, you can find these raptors all year round. And can only be spotted in southeast Minnesota during winter. Basically, you’ll most likely see these birds over broad open areas, fields, and marshes.
When it comes to dieting, the Northern Harrier feeds on small mammals. While other hawks use vision to catch their prey, Harriers on the other side use their sense of hearing.
That said, Minnesota is one of the states in the U.S rich in elegant and impressive species of hawks. As a hawk enthusiast, we believe that the above description of the best species of hawks in Minnesota is helpful. Be sure to go through keenly and note down the perfect period for your next hawk-watching experience.
- Ever wondered what the difference is between a falcon and a hawk? You’d be surprised how difficult it is to tell the two apart, sometimes!
- Interested in learning more about birding or becoming a birder yourself? Check out our beginners guide and get started with this wonderful hobby.
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