Florida Hawk Species: Getting To Know The Brown Raptors Of The South

Back view of brown hawl

Last Updated: April 25, 2021

You can find about nine types of hawks in Florida, but that number drops to half a dozen if you consider your chances of seeing them.

Tough, eh?

These raptors are either year-round residents or visitors from migratory trips. Most won't be hard to identify, but spotting them would be a hassle. 

Let's jump in for a closer look at these Florida hawk species. From the most common to the rarest of them all. 

The 9 Hawk Species Of Florida

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

hawk standing on a grass

  • Length (beak to tail) 1.4 to 2 ft
  • Weight: 1.5 to 3+ lbs 
  • Wingspan: 3.2 to 5 ft
Red-tailed hawks are the most common in Florida, and perhaps, North America. They stay in Florida all year long due to the warm climate.

You can easily see a red-tailed hawk hovering in the sky or perched on a tree, watching for movement of prey below with its sharp eyes in most towns of Florida.

They have adapted to living within urban areas and cities in the past decade. It's no surprise they are one of few hawk species with their population on the rise.

Another reason they're easy to spot is their affinity to soaring at high altitudes and for longer too. Their massive wings play no small part.


2. Red-Shouldered Hawk

hawk on top of bird house

  • Length (beak to tail): 1.4 to 2 ft
  • Weight: about 1 to 1.6 pound
  • Wingspan: 3 to 3.6 ft

It's a medium-sized hawk that's relatively smaller than the red-tailed hawk. Florida red-shouldered hawks tend to have a paler and grayish compared to those from the Northeast or California.

Like the red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks are permanent residents in Florida and the US's eastern states. 

They feed on small mammals, lizards, amphibians, or make anything within their size as food! Doing this while flying or perched atop a precipice.

Red-shoulders are found in forests and wooded areas in Florida, often close to rivers or swamps. And they are joined by red shoulders from the north who migrate down south for the winter. But those native to Florida stay year-round. 

With their population, you can easily spot one perched on a dead tree, scouting the area for a potential meal.


3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

hawk facing right on a branch

  • Length(beak to tail): 0.7 to 1.2 ft 
  • Weight: 0.2 to 0.5 pound 
  • Wingspan: 1.4 to 2.2 ft
Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks of Florida.

Somehow, they make Robins and Thrushes a favorite meal, despite their small size. They often stalk backyard feeders to see if they can grab a meal. Whenever you see one soaring above, it's best to take down your feeder for a few days till the danger passes. 

Sharp-shinned hawks are migratory and seen only during winter in Florida. They come over after breeding in Northern US states and Canada.

If you're looking to spot one, it can be a struggle. Not only are their numbers dropping, but they intentionally hide to stalk prey.

Well, you'll have more luck spotting one if you stay in a wooded area.


4. Short-Tailed Hawk (The Buzzard)

brown hawk

  • Weight: 2.5 lbs 
  • Wingspan: about 3 1/2 ft

The short-tailed hawk is one of the few hawks native to Florida. And they are a rare sight, with estimates of less than 500 hawks in the state.

Although these birds can be seen year long, they aren't a common sight. In fact, these hawks are only found in central Florida. Only studies have been carried out on these species.

In addition to being rare birds, they have unique behavior for hawks. These birds soar at comparably low altitudes while gliding with the wind.

Short-tailed hawks feed on smaller birds and hunt in open areas, preferably with trees nearby. 

For clarification, it is a member of the genus "Buteo" and not fully considered a hawk. So it's also called a Buteo or Buzzard.


5. Swainson's Hawk

back view of a hawk on a branch

  • Length (beak to tail): 1.3 to 1.8 ft
  • Weight: 0.7 to 1.5 lbs
  • Wingspan: 4 ft
The swainson's hawk, also known as Grasshopper or Locust Hawk, is another rare find in Florida.

You only get a chance to see these hawks in southeastern Florida, if they get stranded on the way to the Gulf of Mexico for their winter migration. 

They primarily live in Western states through spring and summer and then move to South America for the winter season.

Swainson's get their aliases from their love for grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts. They effectively hunt insects on the ground with an awkward gait. But also watch prey from a high perch, like a tree or telephone pole, before swooping in for the catch.

The species is also known to take advantage of natural or man-made causes to hunt. They've been seen following tractors haying or ploughing to pick up insects or rodents uncovered in the process. Or at the edge of a wildfire to pick off scurrying wildlife. 

Locust hawks feed mainly on insects in the prairie or grasslands and mostly hunt meat when they have to feed their fledglings.


6. Cooper's Hawk

black and brown hawk on top of a tree

  • Length (beak to tail): 1.3 to 1.5 ft
  • Weight: 0.7 to 1.5 lbs
  • Wingspan: 2 to 3 ft

Cooper's hawk is another year-round Florida hawk. It has a striking semblance to the Sharp-Shinned hawk and is only bigger.

These birds are also migratory and only seen in southern Florida during winter but stay through all seasons in northern Florida.

They are based in the deciduous forest areas but can also be seen nesting in backyards and suburbs.

If you ever have a notorious raptor disturbing the peace at your feeder, it's likely to be a cooper hawk. They are infamous for stalking feeders to prey on smaller birds. Interestingly, their diet consists of mainly other birds.


7. Broad-Winged Hawk

flying hawk

  • Length (beak to tail): 2.8 to 3.6 ft 
  • Weight: 0.5 to 1.3 lbs
  • Wingspan: 2.6 to 3.2 ft

Broad-winged hawks are smaller hawks species and are frequent sightings in the eastern state of Florida. 

While they live in Florida throughout the year, not every part of the state would enjoy them.

They stay in the Northern parts during summer to breed, journey in a group of thousands through central Florida in fall, and settle at the southern tip for the winter. 

Broad-winged hawks have closely the same diet as most hawks: small mammals, insects, and amphibians. They hunt close to water or at the edge of forests.


8. Great Black Hawk

big black hawk on top of a tree

  • Length (beak to tail): 1.8 to 2 ft
  • Weight: around 2 lbs
  • Wingspan: about 4.5 ft

The great black hawk, ironically, happens to be the timid one among the hawks of Florida. And the rarest you'd encounter as well.

They are indigenous to Central and South America and have only been seen near Miami. You only have a chance, if any, to see them at the southernmost borders of Florida.

Also known as Brazilian Eagles, they look like the common black hawk but have only two whitetail stripes instead of one.


9. Rough-Legged Hawks

close-up focus of a hawk

  • Length (beak to tail): 1.5 to 1.9 ft
  • Weight: 2.1 to 3 lbs 
  • Wingspan: 4.3 to 4.5 ft

Last but not least is the rough-legged hawk. The name refers to its feathers that extend to the legs for warmth in frigid weather. 

This is the only Florida hawk that's tied to cold climates such as the Arctic.

Typically, it's not a Florida hawk since only a few migrate as far south as Florida. They mostly stop in the Central United States. 

Rough-legged hawks feed primarily on rodents. In summer, over eighty percent of their diet consists of lemmings. They hunt by hovering over open areas, scouting from a perch, or on the ground. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Do Florida Hawks Eat? 

Hawks in Florida eat small mammals like young rabbits, squirrels, rodents, lizards, frogs, snakes, smaller birds, and insects. 

Swainson's hawk, which is seen in south Florida during winter, is particularly known to have a large appetite for insects.

What Does A Hawk Look Like In Florida 

Hawks in Florida have a paler brown and grayish plumage compared to their counterparts from other regions. Here is a video showing some species of hawks:

Can You Own A Hawk In Florida

Yes, you can own a hawk, but only as a falconer. Not as a pet. Hawks can't be tamed and require a boatload of daily care that happens to cost a lot.

You have to sit exams to be granted several permits and licenses to keep one, all of which could cost up to $2000 for a start. 

Final Thoughts

That's a wrap-up of hawks you can spot in FL state. Pictures of hawks in Florida would give you an insight into what they look like. 

But if you want more detailed knowledge of their appearance and behavior, you can learn from our Florida hawk identification piece. 

Kee-haa! Kee-haa!! 

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