There are around 17 types of hawks in North America and most of these can be found in the US and Canada. Some live here throughout the year, others migrate from Central and South America. In the following guide, we’ll cover as many of these birds as we can.
What is the Most Common Hawk Species in North America?
Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawks in North America. These creatures are adaptable and live throughout the United States. They also have a very unique call that you’ve probably heard a few dozen times without even realizing it (more on that below).
How Many Different Hawks Are There in North America?
You will find at least 17 different species of hawk in North America. We say “at least” because migration patterns mean that other species can call this continent home from time to time.
This is just a fraction of the 200 or so hawks that live all over the world.
Types of Hawks in North America
From Cooper’s hawks to red-shouldered hawks and more, North America is home to many types of hawks, some of which you may even encounter in your own backyard.
White-Tailed Hawk (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)
- Length: 17 to 24 inches
- Wingspan: 46½ to 56 inches
- Weight: 31 to 34 oz
The white-tailed hawk is a large hawk that feeds on mammals and mostly ignores small birds. Some birds actually rely on the white-tailed hawk for protection, making it the doorman of the bird world.
Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
- Length: 18 to 26 inches
- Wingspan: 43 to 55 inches
- Weight: 1.5 to 3.5 lbs.
The red-tailed hawk exists throughout the United States and can also be found in parts of Canada. They are adaptable creatures that look for cooler climates in the summer and hotter ones in the winter.
These hawks nest in tall trees, giving them a clear view of their hunting grounds. They feed on rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, and other small mammals. They have also been known to eat other birds, as well as snakes.
Red-tailed hawk screams are commonly used by Hollywood film directors in place of bald eagle screeches. It’s one of those rare Hollywood moments when fiction seems more authentic than fact, as the actual bald eagle screech is pretty tame and not what people expect.
Not convinced? Listen for yourself. Here is a red-tailed hawk screech and here is one from a bald eagle. One sounds like a menacing bird of prey, the other sounds like a hungry seagull. Or, as one YouTube commenter put it, “the most badass tea kettle I’ve ever seen”.
Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus)
- Length: 16 to 24 inches
- Wingspan: 34 to 37 inches
- Weight: 14 to 17 oz
The gray hawk is not a common sight in the United States, but you may catch a glimpse of these hawks in southern Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. They spend most of their time further south and are commonly found in Mexico and Central America.
Short-Tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
- Length: 15.5 to 17.5 inches
- Wingspan: 33 to 41 inches
- Weight: 14 to 18 oz
Short-tailed hawks live in Central and South America, as well as parts of Mexico, Florida, and Arizona. This hawk species is a rare sight in the United States. Not only are the numbers very low, but they also tend to stay away from civilization.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
- Length: 15 to 19 inches
- Wingspan: 38 to 42 inches
- Weight: 1.1 to 1.9 lbs.
The red-shouldered hawk has distinctive red patches on the tops of its wings, which is where its name comes from. They live in forests and prefer areas with an open upper canopy, giving them a view of the surrounding area.
Red-shouldered hawks feed on small mammals and reptiles, including mice and snakes.
Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)
- Length: 18 to 24 inches
- Wingspan: 36 to 48 inches
- Weight: 1.5 to 2.5 lbs.
Harris’s Hawks live in large groups and hunt together, with the order of feeding determined by a social hierarchy. They prey upon small mammals, birds, and lizards and they live in the southwestern United States, as well as parts of Mexico.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
- Length: 13.5 to 17.5 inches
- Wingspan: 33 inches
- Weight: 16 oz
The broad-winged hawk is a small hawk that spends its summers in the USA. It migrates thousands of miles every year, covering huge distances across North America.
Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)
- Length: 20 to 27 inches
- Wingspan: 47 to 60 inches
- Weight: 2 to 5 lbs.
The ferruginous hawk can be either light or dark. It typically roosts in small groups and can be found across the western United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada.
The word “ferruginous” essentially means “rust-colored” and is a unique and distinctive shade seen on both light and dark ferruginous hawks.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
- Length: 18 to 22 inches
- Wingspan: 46 to 54 inches
- Weight: 24 to 48 oz
Swainson’s Hawk spend their summers in the United States and then migrate south in September. They cover a distance of 6,000 miles each time and this takes them a couple of months.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
- Length: 9 to 13.5 inches
- Wingspan: 16.5 to 26.5 inches
- Weight: 3 to 8 oz
The sharp-shinned hawk breeds in parts of the northern United States, as well as most of Canada. For the rest of the time, it lives throughout the US where it resides in forested areas.
Sharp-shinned hawks primarily feed on other birds, waiting for them to fly by and then launching into attack mode.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
- Length: 13½ to 20 inches
- Wingspan: 24½ to 35½ inches
- Weight: 8 to 24 oz
The Cooper’s hawk, like the sharp-shinned hawk, mainly hunts birds. You may see these creatures around bird feeders in your backyard, as they live throughout the United States and most parts of Canada.
The appearance of the Cooper’s hawk is also very similar to the sharp-shinned hawk and it can be difficult to tell these two species apart.
The Cooper’s hawk is a little bigger than the sharp-shinned hawk, but unless they’re perched next to one another, that won’t help you in identifying them.
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
- Length: 16 to 27 inches
- Wingspan: 30 to 50 inches
- Weight: 22 to 50 oz
Unlike Cooper’s hawks and sharp-skinned hawks, you won’t see the Northern goshawks hanging around bird feeders. These birds like to live from built-up areas and most “sightings” are actually of similar birds.
Northern goshawks have deep red eyes and live throughout North America, albeit far away from towns and cities.
Rough Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
- Length: 18.5 to 23.5 inches
- Wingspan: 52 to 54 inches
- Weight: 25 to 49 oz
The rough-legged hawk flies into the wind while hunting and will hover in place as it searches for food. These creatures live in the Arctic tundra and feed on lemmings, as well as other small mammals. They migrate south during the winter and can be seen across North America.
Zone-Tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus)
- Length: 18 to 22 inches
- Wingspan: 30 to 34 inches
- Weight: 21.5 to 33 oz
These North American hawks spend their summers in the southwestern United States and move down toward Central America during the winter months. There are reports suggesting that they are gradually moving north, so while sightings are currently rare in the United States, that seems to be changing.
Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)
- Length: 17 to 21 inches
- Wingspan: 50 inches
- Weight: 22 to 46 oz
The common black hawk is a mostly black-colored bird with an orange bill, orange legs, and white tufts on its tail. It can be seen in parts of California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas, but most of them live in Mexico and Central America.