Hawks in Florida [8 Awesome Hawk Species in Florida!]

hawks in florida

Did you know that there are 8 species of hawks commonly found in Florida? Some of these birds call Florida home all year round while others typically migrate to or through the state during winter.

 So, next time you’re out bird watching, you can keep a look out for these large birds of prey. They certainly come in all shapes and sizes and we’ll be looking at the different features of each one so that you can easily identify them.

8 Species Of Hawks Found In Florida

There are 8 species of hawks that can often be seen in the state of Florida. Here are some interesting facts about each one.

Species Scientific Name Height Weight Wingspan
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus Up to 13.5 inches 3.8 ounces Up to 26.5 inches
Broad-Winged Hawk Buteo platypterus Up to 17.5 inches 16 ounces 33 inches
Red-Shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus Up to 19 inches Up to 1.9 pounds Up to 42 inches
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii Up to 20 inches 8.24 ounces Up to 35.5 inches
Short-tailed Hawk Buteo brachyurus Up to 17.5 inches Up to 18 ounces Up to 41 inches
Swainson’s Hawk Bueto swainsoni Up to 22 inches Up to 48 ounces Up to 54 inches
Red-Tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Up to 26 inches Up to 3.5 pounds Up to 55 inches
Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius Up to 19.7 inches Up to 26.5 ounces Up to 46.5 inches

As you can see, the Red-Tailed hawk is the largest of the hawk species found in Florida and the Sharp-Shinned hawk is the smallest.

Let’s look at the identifying features of each of these birds.

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Although Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks found in Florida, they are amazingly acrobatic and athletic. You’ll mostly see these in Florida during the winter when they’re out of their breeding season. Here are some distinguishing features.

  • These birds have a blue-gray back and wings.
  • They have orange-colored bars on their upper chest.
  • Their wings are relatively short when in full flight as they only have a wingspan of around 26 inches.
  • These hawks have quite a long tail.

You will most often see Sharp-shinned hawks in forested areas. However, you might also see them around your bird feeders, especially when they’re on the hunt for prey.

These birds like to feed on songbirds and other small birds. They like to sit in wait under the cover of trees until they spot a likely predator.

2. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawks often migrate through Florida to spend the winter in South America. However,  some of these hawks will spend their time in southern Florida all year round.

Here are some identifying features to look for.

  • These birds have reddish-brown heads and backs.
  • Their chests are white with brown bands.
  • They have broad bands on the tails in black and white.
  • The tips of their wings are black while the undersides are white and light brown.

Broad-winged hawks like to spend most of their time in forested areas. However, they migrate in large numbers. At this time they’re fairly easy to spot above. Look for the dark outline around their wings and tail. During their migration, these birds can travel over 4,000 miles.

Their diet mainly consists of small mammals and frogs.

3. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks can be found in Florida all year round and are quite easy to identify by the following characteristics.

  • The uppersides of their wings and tail are heavily banded in white and dark brown.
  • Their chest and shoulder feathers are a rusty red color. The lower chest has visible bands of white.
  • The heads and faces of these hawks are a light gray in color.

These birds are mainly found in forested areas. They are also commonly seen in suburban areas. Especially where there are plenty of trees that can give them a good vantage point for hunting.

The diet of the Red-shouldered hawk consists mainly of lizards, snakes and small mammals.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

You’ll find Cooper’s hawks in Florida all year round. Quite often, these bird like to hang around backyard feeders to prey on unsuspecting songbirds. These birds almost look identical to the Sharp-skinned hawks except the latter is much smaller. Here are the identifying features of the Copper’s hawk.

  • The feathers on their backs and heads are a dark brown color.
  • Their chests are white with rust-colored bands.
  • Their long tails are also heavily banded in white and dark brown to black.

5. Short-Tailed Hawk

Short-tailed hawks can be found in southern Florida all year round but many will come to breed in the summer time from Central and South America. However, the population of short-tailed hawks is fairly small. Here are their distinguishing features.

  • Their chests are completely white.
  • The underside of their wings are white towards the top with the bottom half banded in dark and light brown.
  • The head is almost black but the birds have a white throat.

These hawks rarely perch in the open so they can be hard to spot. Instead, they soar high up in the sky and then dive down to catch their prey. Their diet consists mainly of smaller birds like warblers and meadowlarks.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

There’s a small population of Swainson’s hawks that live in Florida all year round. However, mostly these birds spend their summer breeding in other parts of the country and then migrate to Argentina around August and September. During this migration, some hawks can’t get around the Gulf of Mexico, so they spend the winter in Florida instead.

To identify these birds, look for the following characteristics.

  • These birds have a very long wing-shape and pointed wingtips.
  • They have dark brown flight feathers which creates a trailing edge to the wings.
  • The upper chest on these birds is usually dark brown and this gives them a hooded appearance.
  • Their bellies are usually light colored with some very light brown banding.

Swainson’s hawks prefer wide open spaces, usually grasslands and like to perch on fence posts. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, reptiles and large insects.

7. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks are quite common and can be found in Florida all year round. In fact, they don’t have a preferred habitat and can be found almost everywhere. Their most distinguishing feature is their red tail but here are other characteristics to look for.

  • Their wings vary in color from light brown to almost black. The undersides of their wings can sometimes be almost totally white except for a few brown specks.
  • They generally have a dark brown head.
  • Their chest is white and often has speckles of dark brown.
  • When in flight, there’s no mistaking their rusty red tail feathers.

These hawks like to spend their timing soaring high up in the sky over open fields. This allows them to watch the ground below for small mammals that they can prey on. They can also often be seen sitting on top of telephone poles as this gives them a good view of the country around them.

Their preferred diet is small mammals like rabbits and voles.

8. Northern Harrier

Northern harriers like to spend the winter in Florida as their breeding grounds are in North America and even Canada. These hawks have a very owl-like appearance so they are easy to identify. Here are the most distinguishing features.

  • Their bodies are quite slender with broad wings and a long rounded tail.
  • The face of Northern harrier is flat just like an owl and its beak is quite small and sharply hooked.
  • In this species, the males have gray backs and white chests with black wingtips. They also have a black-banded tails.
  • Female Northern harriers have brown backs and whitish undersides that have brown streaks.
  • Both males and females of the species have a distinctive white patch on their rump which is easily seen while the birds are in full flight.

These birds prefer wide-open spaces including grasslands and marshes. They like to fly low over the ground when they’re hunting for prey. Interestingly, these birds tend to eat on the ground rather than swooping up their prey like many other hawks.

Final Thoughts

If you live in Florida, there are primarily eight species of hawks that you should be able to spot whenever you’re out bird watching. These hawks vary in size and coloring. Some of them live in Florida all year round while others migrate through as they head to warmer regions further south.

Many of these hawks can be easily identified if you know what you’re looking for. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with the different features of each species so that you can identify which species of hawk you see the most often.

Some of the smaller hawks even like to visit backyard bird feeders so that they can prey on the smaller birds that frequent these feeders.

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