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Hawks In Indiana: Top 8 Species Of The Hoosier State

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Mar 26th, 2024
Hawk flying towards camera

From mature forests to prairie grasslands, Indiana has a varied landscape, which makes it an ideal wildlife habitat. Not to mention, it has a continental climate. It is home to over 413 bird species, including mighty raptors. 

You will find at least eight hawks in Indiana. While they may not as diverse as other birds, identifying birds of prey in the Hoosier State is challenging. 

Next time you see a hawk, do not be left clueless! Read on and we’ll talk about the physical characteristics, feeding habits, and habitats of these predatory birds of Indiana

8 Of The Most Common Hawks In Indiana  

1. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 

Red-Tailed Hawk

The United States is home to more than two million red-tailed hawks, and you will find many of them in Indiana. 

These hawks in Indiana are easily identified with their short but wide cinnamon-red tail. Meanwhile, its wings are round and broad. 

The back, on the other hand, is reddish-brown and the front has pale streaks. 

Red-tailed hawks are opportunistic hunters. They are also known as a chicken hawk and will eat free-range poultry. 

Aside from chicken, the diet of red-tailed hawks also includes ground squirrels, wood rats, vole, mice, and rabbits. They also eat birds, such as starlings and bobwhites. 

If you want to see a red-tailed hawk, you will find them around woods and fields, including those with scattered clearings. 

These hawk species are a common sight in private properties, not to eat at backyard bird feeders but to feed on larger birds. 

2. Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

With a length of up to 13 inches and wings spanning approximately 22 inches, sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks you will find in Indiana. 

A sharp-shinned hawk has short, rounded wings while the tail is long. An orange bar on the upper chest is highly visible, which fades upon reaching the belly. 

Looking for a sharp-shinned hawk in Indiana? 

You will find it in forested areas. These small birds are also a common sight around bird feeders, which is where they wait for songbirds. 

It is rare for a sharp-shinned hawk to say in low locations. These small hawks are most commonly found in dense and mature forest areas. 

A sharp-shinned hawk is an ambush predator. It sits patiently and will quickly get out of the cover to swoop on a bird, which makes up to 90% of its diet. 

While it will eat mostly small birds the same size as a robin, sharp-shinned hawks will also feed on rodents, bats, lizards, frogs, and squirrels, although only in small numbers. 

3. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) 

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Can you guess the distinguishing physical characteristic of a red-shouldered hawk? The name itself is already a giveaway! You can easily identify red-shouldered hawks because of the red markings on their shoulders, which are most visible when they are perched. 

More so, a red-shouldered hawk has black and white checkered wings. Meanwhile, its strongly-banded tail is black with several white streaks. These forest-dwelling hawk species are generalists. They have a varied diet, which includes small mammals and amphibians. Crayfish is also a crucial food source. 

Wooded areas are the most common habitats for red-shouldered hawks, especially those next to swamps and rivers. You will find red-shouldered hawks in Indiana throughout the year. While they can be seen in almost all areas of the state, most sightings were in the southern region. 

A red-shouldered hawk is territorial. It attacks crows and great-horned owls, among other birds that will get too close to their nests. 

4. Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Northern Harrier

The only harrier variety of hawks that is indigenous to North America, the northern harrier is slim with a long tail. It has long and broad wings. Its wings have pale gray feathers while the belly is white with many brown patches. 

When flying, one of the most noticeable in a northern harrier is that the tips of the wings are higher than the body, forming a distinct V shape. 

Northern harriers have a wide range of open habitats. Your best chance of seeing them would be at grasslands and wetlands. They will often nest in low areas. These birds prefer areas with dense vegetation, especially those with willows and reeds. 

The diet of a northern harrier will include small rodents and rabbits. It will also eat birds, doves, flickers, and ducks. 

5. Broad-Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) 

Broad-Winged Hawk

A broad-winged hawk is easily recognizable with its reddish-brown head, black and white band in its broad tail, and barred underparts. 

Most of the broad-winged hawk sightings in Indiana were recorded in the southern parts of the state. They are rare birds, so there is a slim chance of spotting these raptors. 

Your best chance of seeing broad-winged hawks in the Hoosier state is in the fall. This is when they migrate to South America. 

Most broad-winged hawks reside in dense and unbroken woodlands. They frequent the openings that are next to wetlands, trails, and roads. 

These migratory birds have a varied diet, which often includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. 

It will spend time perching on the top of trees. And once they spot their prey, they will immediately pounce without mercy. They will rarely hunt when in flight. 

6. Rough-Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) 

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks are larger species compared to most of those mentioned on this list. On average, they have a length of 20 inches. In-flight, their wings can reach a span of up to 54 inches, making them a visual treat when they are soaring high in the sky. 

One of the defining characteristics of a rough-legged hawk is its feathered legs, which is where it got its name. It helps to keep them warm when they are in the Arctic tundra, which is where they spend their summer before they migrate south to Indiana. 

These large birds will eat mostly voles and lemmings. Rough-legged hawks take even larger prey, such as rabbits and squirrels. 

The most common places where you can spot a rough-legged hawk are open fields and marshes. It also perches on the top of utility poles and fence posts. 

7. Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) 

Northern Goshawk

A large bird, the northern goshawk has a distinct white feather grouping that forms a band at the top of its eyes. It complements their reddish-brown eyes. Meanwhile, the body is dark slate gray on the top with barred pale gray underparts. 

Most of the time, northern goshawks will be on high perches watching over their prey. Once it is ready, this stealthy predator will have an agile flight even in areas with dense trees to swoop its food. 

Northern goshawks are secretive birds, so you might have a hard time spotting them. They prefer staying in large forests. 

You might have assumed that you have seen one in your backyard, but chances are, it is a Cooper’s hawk since they look almost like a northern goshawk. 

8. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter coperii) 

Cooper’s Hawk

While it has a large head, Cooper’s hawk is only a medium-sized bird. It has red barred feathers on the breast and belly. Meanwhile, the wings are slate gray. 

With an agile and quick flight, it often ends up surprising its prey. Most of Cooper’s hawk diet consists of small mammals. They will also eat songbirds, which makes them a common sight around backyard feeders. 

You will find Cooper’s hawks in all parts of Indiana, although most of their sightings were on the state’s eastern half. They are also present throughout the year.

If you want to see Cooper’s hawks, then look for them on forest edges. They will also stay on small woodlots and riparian woodlands. 

Bonus: Osprey 


Let’s get one thing straight. Ospreys are not hawks. However, from afar and up close, they certainly look like some of the most common species of hawks, so they deserve a spot on this list.  

Ospreys are also called fish, river, and sea hawks, so it makes sense that they conclude our list. 

Fish makes up to 99% of the diet of an osprey. It has a perfectly curved bill with a fully closed intersect. The latter has been designed specifically to make them great at catching fish, even the slippery ones. 

When it sees fish in the water, the osprey will hit hard. It will plunge directly, making sure that it will be taking its catch. 

Because they eat mostly fish, the most common places to see ospreys are in coastal areas in Indiana. 

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Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the most common hawk in Indiana? 

The most common hawk in Indiana is the red-tailed hawk. It is a large raptor that you can easily spot in the city, often during car journeys when these raptors are circling fields. They are also commonly seen perching on the top of telephone poles. 

What do Indiana hawks eat? 

Hawks in Indiana have varied habitats. In most cases, they will eat rats, mice, voles, pigeons, starlings, ground squirrels, frogs, rabbits, and snakes. 

Can you keep a hawk as a pet in Indiana? 

Yes, you can have a pet hawk in Indiana, but to do so, you will need a valid falconry license. According to Indiana Falconry License Regulations, applicants must pass a test and obtain a score of at least 80%. Even with the license, the state imposes various regulations, such as regarding the type of raptor you can keep. 


Whether they are gliding up in the air, swooping their prey, or perfect silently, seeing raptors in Indiana is a visual treat. Luckily, for those who live in Hoosier State, at least eight species are available in the area. They might not come to your backyard, but with a bit of an adventure, you can find many of them in their natural habitats. 

Are there other hawks in Indiana that you would like to add to the list? Leave a comment below and we would love to hear about them! 

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