18 Magnificent Types of Hawks and Where to Find Them

From the Arctic to the tropics, these powerful predatory birds are a marvel to behold.

Cooper's Hawk profile
Jim Cumming / Getty Images

Hawks and eagles are among the more than 200 species of the family Accipitridae, a group of swift, strong raptors that kill other animals for food and are diurnal, or active during the day. Hawks are generally divided into large, broad-winged buteos, sometimes known as “soaring hawks,” that live in open country like grasslands, and accipiters, which tend to be smaller and inhabit woodlands. Hawks are typically smaller than eagles but larger than falcons. Like most raptors—and unlike most other birds—female hawks tend to be larger than males. 

Here are 18 of the most magnificent buteo and accipiter hawks in the world.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
bmse / Getty Images

Named for its distinctive rust-colored tail, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the most common hawk in North America. The red-tail prefers open country and seeks out high perches like roadside poles to watch for prey. It likes small rodents but also eats squirrels, rabbits, bats, snakes, insects, frogs, and other birds. When mating, both hawks will circle as the male performs spectacular dives, sometimes passing prey to the female in mid-flight. During the spring breeding season, pairs build their nests in tall trees and cliff ledges — and increasingly, on tall buildings in urban areas. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the lower 48 United States. 
  • Spring: During breeding season, they may also be spotted in Canada and Alaska.
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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk.
BirdofPrey / Getty Images

Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) are the smallest bird-eating accipiters in North America, with a range extending through Central and South America to northern Argentina. Although these swift, agile woodland hunters will consume rodents and insects, their diet is mainly small birds, which they pluck before eating. Sharp-shinned hawks frequent agricultural, suburban, and urban areas, seeking prey at bird feeders and other places where birds congregate. Adults have gray-blue wings, backs, and heads, with rust-and-white speckled underparts.

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Although migratory, some remain year-round residents of the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, Appalachia, Upper Midwest, the Northeast, and Mexico. 
  • Spring/Summer: Canada, Alaska, the lower 48 states, and Mexico.
  • Winter: Southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. 
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Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's hawk with prey
mirceax / Getty Images

The striking Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii ) has amber-colored eyes, grey wings, a black tail, and a brown and white speckled breast. It eats birds and small mammals like chipmunks, mice, and squirrels. The stealthy hunter moves silently from tree to tree before swooping down to surprise prey from behind. Researchers have discovered that some hummingbird species cluster their nests near those of Cooper’s hawks in order to protect their eggs from hungry jays, who avoid predators. Both Cooper’s hawk and its close relative the sharp-shinned hawk are increasing in urban areas. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Most of the lower 48 United States, Baja California, and parts of northern and central Mexico.
  • Summer: Also present in Canada and the northernmost United States. 
  • Winter: Some migrate as far as southern Mexico and Honduras.
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Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged buzzard or hawk (Buteo lagopus), sitting, autumn coloured tundra, Northern Norway, Norway
Gerhard Kraus / Getty Images

The large rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus) breeds in the Arctic tundra of North America, Asia, and Europe, where it spends summers hunting voles and lemmings before migrating south. Some are dark brown with distinctive white marks, while others display paler patterns. The common name comes from its fully-feathered legs, which, along with a body layer of dense down, help it to withstand the cold. When hunting, the rough-legged hawk often faces into the wind and hovers as it scans for prey, or watches from a pole or high tree branch. Lacking trees on the tundra, it sometimes uses caribou bones as nest material.

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Summer: Arctic tundra.
  • Winter: Canada, United States, more southern regions of Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia.
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Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawk landing on branch in Green Cay Wetlands near Boynton Beach, Florida
Diana Robinson Photography / Getty Images

The rusty wings of the red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus ) give way to bold brown and white wing stripes, while the breast displays fine bars of lighter brown and white. It might be difficult to spot in its woodland home, but the red-shouldered hawk’s loud whistle is easy to pick out (though it could be a mimicking blue jay). A group of American crows will sometimes mob these predatory birds—surrounding and harassing them as a defensive act—but the two species may also team up to chase away owls that threaten red-shouldered hawk offspring. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: California coastal regions, including much of Baja California, and the American South. 
  • Winter: Northern and central Mexico, southwestern Oregon, eastern California.
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Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous hawk

Wendy Miller / Flickr/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The “regal” ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) is the largest buteo in North America. One of the only species to have feathered legs all the way to its toes, the gray-headed hawk takes its common name from its rust-colored back and legs, with white and red wing patterns and a white chest. Less common ferruginous hawks have deeper, more chocolate-toned coloring.

These hawks soar above the prairies, deserts, and other open terrains in the western United States, preying primarily on rodents and other small mammals. In winter, groups of ferruginous hawks often hang around prairie dog colonies, waiting to nab a meal. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Nevada. 
  • Spring: Breeding range extends northward to eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. 
  • Winter: Throughout the southwest United States, including California and western Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Also present in parts of northern and central Mexico. 
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Rufous Crab Hawk

The rufous crab hawk (Buteogallus aequinoctialis) has a lighter underbelly and a bright yellow or orange cere with a black beak. It inhabits coastal mangroves from Venezuela to southern Brazil, with fossil evidence from Jamaica indicating its range once included the Caribbean basin.

Swooping from branches to capture crabs at burrow entrances or hunting them by flying over mudflats, the hawk uses its hooked bill to shell them before eating. It breeds in the spring and is known for dramatic in-flight courtship rituals. The rufous crab hawk has been designated near threatened as it experiences a population decline, likely due to mangrove degradation. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Coastal mangrove wetlands in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana, and Brazil.
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Northern Goshawk

Close-up of northern goshawk of prey perching on snow,Poland
Pawel Kawecki / 500px / Getty Images

The medium-large Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) has a large distribution that includes North America, Europe, and Asia, and includes several regional subspecies. These orange or red-eyed hawks have slate-gray backs and white breasts with dramatic gray-black streaks. They live in forests and hunt in woods and along streams and wetlands where they have sufficient cover to surprise prey. Northern goshawks breed from mid-to-late spring. They tend to nest in mature conifers and ferociously defend their nest against perceived threats, including humans. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Many Central European populations remain sedentary, while those from Eastern and Northern Europe may migrate. In North America, they can be seen year-round in Alaska, Canada, and parts of the western United States. 
  • Winter: May be found also in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains, as well as northern Nevada, eastern Oregon, and Washington. In Europe they may appear in the Mediterranean and North Africa. 
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Harris's Hawk

Harris Hawk, Parabuteo unicinctus, and chicks on nest in Saguaro cactus, Sonoran Desert, Arizona, USA
John Cancalosi / Getty Images

Harris's hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) is a dark brown and copper-colored hawk with yellow legs and cere (bare area above the beak) and white tail markings. It ranges from the southwestern United States to Chile and Argentina. This social creature is a rare raptor species that hunts in groups and applies a cooperative approach to guarding nests by watching and harassing predators. It also practices “back-standing”—a behavior in which hawks stand on top of one another to spot prey and predators. Recent research found that the Harris’s hawk has exceptional color vision, which may play an important role in its hunting success. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: American Southwest, Mexico, Central America, and arid regions of South America. Harris’s Hawk does not migrate. 
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African Harrier Hawk

Amazing animal. African Harrier hawk bird of prey foraging for food at nest.
Ian Dyball / Getty Images

Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa at elevations up to 10,000 feet, African harrier hawks (Polyboroides typus)—the largest in Africa—have special abilities when it comes to hunting. In addition to hunting from a perch or in flight, they run along a branch or jump between branches in pursuit of prey. Most incredibly, they search for prey by hanging upside down from a tree, thanks to double-jointed knees.

These gray raptors have a black tail with a white band, black and white bars on the breast and leg feathers, and distinctive orange-yellow skin around the eyes. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Woodlands and savanna, particularly clustered in West Africa, southern Africa, and East Africa, especially Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  
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Ridgway's Hawk

Ridgway's hawk in Punta Cana
Marvin del Cid / Getty Images

Found exclusively on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Ridgway's hawk (Buteo ridgwayi ) is one of the most critically endangered raptors in the world, with threats from deforestation, hunting, and botfly larvae, which eat its offspring in the nest. Intensive conservation efforts are underway to save it.  

This gray hawk with rust and white barred legs has a varied diet that includes rodents, birds, insects, and amphibians, but reptiles—lizards and snakes—are its primary food. It has a curious nesting behavior, building directly on top of the Dominican Republic’s national bird, the palmchat, to create a two-story, two-species nest.

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Currently, the only known breeding population is in the Dominican Republic’s Los Haitises National Park.
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Swainson's Hawk

Portrait of a Swainson's Hawk
Jeff Edwards / Getty Images

When it comes to migration spectacles, few species put on such an impressive show as Swainson's hawks (Buteo swainsoni), which journey by the thousands from the western United States and Great Plains to Argentina. In fact, its migration is one of the longest of the American raptors.

During the breeding season this slender gray, white, and brown hawk soars above open country in search of rodents, rabbits, reptiles, and insects. But in winter, it mostly feeds on large insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies, pursuing them on foot as well as in flight.  

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Summer: The American West, western Canada, and eastern Alaska. 
  • Fall: This is prime time to catch the mass migration of Swainson’s hawk. Some of the best places to see them are near Corpus Christi, Texas; the San Joaquin Valley of California; Veracruz, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Panama, as well as Colombia, eastern Peru, western Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.
  • Winter: Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil. During this season they follow migratory dragonflies and other insect swarms.
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Hawaiian Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo Solitarius) Also Known As 'lo, Perched On Tree Branch
Design Pics / David Ponton / Getty Images

Known as the ‘lo in the Hawaiian language, the solitary, non-migratory Hawaiian hawk (Buteo solitarius) is Hawaii’s only remaining endemic hawk species. Today the ‘lo is only found on the Big Island of Hawaii, though its population has begun to rebound in recent years. It has a varied, adaptable diet including insects, small birds, mongooses and even shellfish. It can range from dark and medium brown to white with gray mottling, especially on its underparts and wing feathers. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Present across the Big Island, especially in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Frequent sightings occur near the summit of Kilauea and the Mauna Loa Road.
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Pale Chanting Goshawk

Pale chanting-goshawk, Melierax canorus
MikeLane45 / Getty Images

This goshawk has an extensive range throughout arid scrubland, savanna, and desert regions of southern Africa. It can swoop down on rodents, but it’s also a swift runner that can catch spiders, insects, and lizards on the ground. It is known to follow other predators and then opportunistically nab prey that their competitors flush out. The pale chanting goshawk has a pewter-gray body with fine black and white barred legs and underbody. Its flashiest physical features are its bright orange beak and legs. The scientific name, Melierax canorus means “melodious hawk,” and it has a distinctive, lovely song. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Southern Angola, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and southwestern Zimbabwe. The pale chanting goshawk is non-migratory.
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Gray Hawk

Grey Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)
mjf795 / Getty Images

The smaller, long-tailed gray hawk (Buteo plagiatus) is a neotropical species ranging from the Amazon Basin through Central America and Mexico. Their range barely touches the southern regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, though populations have recently grown in some borderland areas. In the tropics, they prefer dry forests and savanna tree species; in their northern range they seek out cottonwoods, mesquite, and willows along streams. Gray hawks perform spectacular sky dances during the spring and summer breeding season, and work together to construct their nests. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Gray hawks with a more southern range do not migrate. 
  • Spring and summer: It’s possible to spot the northernmost populations in southern Texas and Arizona, and occasionally New Mexico.
  • Winter: Northern populations tend to overwinter in Mexico. 
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Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone - tailed Hawk, Buteo albonotatus
hugocorzo / Getty Images

The gray-black zone-tailed hawk (Buteo albonotatus) prefers riparian forest, woodlands, and desert uplands, ranging from the southwestern United States through Central and South America. It takes advantage of the fact that prey often mistake it for a harmless turkey vulture and let down their guard. It is known for dramatic mating rituals involving aerial loops and dives. The drama extends to defense of summer breeding territory, in which competing hawks circle, scream, entangle talons, and fall toward the ground. In flight, it can reach a height of more than 7,000 feet. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: In much of Central and South America, the zone-tailed hawk doesn’t migrate. 
  • Summer: Can be found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States during breeding season. 
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Black-Faced Hawk

This small, black and white hawk (Leucopternis melanops), featuring a dramatic black eye mask and bright orange legs and cere, lives year-round in moist forests and mangroves of northern South America. It hunts and perches below the canopy, seeking out small prey like snakes and amphibians. Its breeding season runs from February to May. 

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas, and the northern Amazon Basin of Brazil.
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Crested Goshawk

Crested Goshawk,Accipiter trivirgatus
photoncatcher / Getty Images

Found in large areas of tropical Asia, the crested goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus) features a dramatic crest on the back of its gray-brown head, along with vertical brown streaks and horizontal bars on its underparts. It is a non-migrating resident of lowland forests, hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Some limited populations also live year-round at higher elevations, including the Himalayan foothills in Bhutan and India.

Where to Spot This Hawk

  • Year-round: Southern Asia, from India and Sri Lanka to southern China, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia, as well as Taiwan and the Philippines. Increasingly, the crested goshawk is colonizing urban areas, including in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. 
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do I identify a hawk?

    When identifying hawks, consider their native range with the time of year. Other characteristics to note are the color of the bird's feathers, any patterns, and the size of the bird.

  • What is the most common type of hawk?

    Found in open habitats throughout North America, the red-tailed hawk is widely considered the most common hawk.

View Article Sources
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  2. Camfield, Alaine. "Accipiter striatus (Sharp-Shinned Hawk)." Animal Diversity Web.

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  4. McCabe, Jennifer D. et al. "Prey Abundance and Urbanization Influence the Establishment of Avian Predators in a Metropolitan Landscape." Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 285, no. 1890, 2018, p. 20182120., doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.2120

  5. Merriman, Joel W. et al. "Abundance of Diurnal Raptors in Relation to Prairie Dog Colonies: Implications for Bird–Aircraft Strike Hazard." Journal Of Wildlife Management, vol. 71, no. 3, 2007, pp. 811-815., doi:10.2193/2006-373

  6. Olson, Storrs L. "Fossil Evidence of the Rufous Crab-Hawk (Buteogallus aequinoctialis) in Jamaica." Journal Of Raptor Research, vol. 40, no. 4, 2006, pp. 284-287., doi:10.3356/0892-1016(2006)40[284:feotrc]2.0.co;2

  7. "Rufous Crab-hawk: Buteogallus aequinoctialis." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2018, p. e.T22695808A131937283., doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22695808A131937283.en

  8. Coulson, Jennifer O., and Thomas D. Coulson. "Reexamining Cooperative Hunting in Harris’S Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)." The Auk, vol. 130, no. 3, 2013, pp. 548-552., doi:10.1525/auk.2013.12063

  9. Potier, Simon et al. "High Resolution of Colour Vision, but Low Contrast Sensitivity in a Diurnal Raptor." Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 285, no. 1885, 2018, p. 20181036., doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1036

  10. Okosodo, E. F. et al. "Diet and Foraging Ecology of Fork Tailed Drongo (Dicrurusadsimilis) in Leventis Foundation Nigeria, Agricultural School South West Nigeria." International Journal Of Environment, Agriculture And Biotechnology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.

  11. Woolaver, Lance G. et al. "Population Genetics and Relatedness in a Critically Endangered Island Raptor, Ridgway’S Hawk Buteo ridgwayi." Conservation Genetics, vol. 14, no. 3, 2013, pp. 559-571., doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0444-4

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  14. Airola, Daniel A., et al. "Wintering Areas and Migration Characteristics of Swainson's Hawks that Breed in the Central Valley of California." Journal of Raptor Research, vol. 3, no. 3, 2019, pp. 237-252., doi:10.3356/JRR-18-49

  15. Raposo Do Amaral, Fabio Sarubbi et al. "New Localities for the Black-Faced Hawk (Leucopternis melanops) South of the Amazon River and Description of the Immature Plumage of the White-Browned Hawk (Leucopternis kuhli)." The Wilson Journal Of Ornithology, vol. 119, no. 3, 2007, pp. 450-454., doi:10.1676/06-034.1

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