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Hawks In Maryland: Top 8 Free State Species

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Mar 29th, 2024
Hawks in Maryland

Maryland has eight types of hawks. You can see some of these hawk species from your backyard as they come looking for small birds like blue jays. Other hawks in Maryland prefer dense forests and marshlands, so you'll have to tour national parks. 

Another difference you'll notice as we discuss these species is that some are resident species seen any time of the year, while others pop in here and there. Consequently, after talking about the eight species in this state, we'll list a few places you can see them.

Let's get started!

Facts About Hawks Of Maryland: Plumage, Behavior, Habitats

Bird watching is fun when you know the species you want to see and their habitats. We want to give you such an experience when looking for the hawks of Maryland. Therefore, we'll tell you what these birds look like, how they sound, and their habitats.

Read Also: Common Birds of Maryland

1. Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

It's a common sighting in this state, and you don't have to go far from your home as red-tailed hawks perch on fence posts. You'll see them as you drive across the countryside.

The characteristic red tail of this hawk is unmistakable. It's one of the large hawks in Maryland as it flaunts a wingspan between 44.9 and 52.4 inches. A male red-tailed hawk is smaller from bill to tail than a female as it measures 17.7 to 22.1 inches long, while a female can grow to 25.6 inches long.

The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) flaunts pale feathers on the back and a streaked underbelly, though there are variations as you might spot a dark morph or a rufous morph hawk. The former has chocolate-brownish plumage, and the latter's underbelly is reddish-brown.

It's a resident bird in most of the southern region of North America, with the northern area hosting the migrant hawks that fly south in winter. Red-tailed hawks in Maryland eat small mammals like voles and rats most of the time.

Even though these birds hunt starlings and blackbirds, they rarely visit backyards unless you have a big property that's likely to have small rodents. 

These birds have sharp talons that tear any prey fast, and that's how they defend their nests from large birds like bald eagles and great horned owls.

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk

They are the smallest hawks we'll talk about today. But, sharp-shinned hawks are large avians compared with species like sparrows and robins, as they measure 9.4 to 13.4 inches long.

A sharp-shinned hawk has a blue-gray back and dark wings similar to Cooper's hawks. Its tail is long and dark, whilst its underside has red-orange bars. A sharp-shinned hawk is smaller than Cooper's hawk though they have similar plumage. But, you'll rarely see them perched on the same tree for you to compare their sizes. 

Luckily, they have different sounds as a sharp-shinned hawk makes a Kik-Kik-Kik sound while Cooper's call is a Cak-Cak-Cak.

North America has both resident and long-distance migrants of sharp-shinned raptors. The ones in the northern areas like Canada fly south to winter in the U.S. or as far as the southern countries in Central America like the American kestrels. 

The resident raptors live in some eastern and western states. Other states like California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Maryland host the wintering birds.

Unlike the other hawk species above, a sharp-shinned hawk visits bird feeders to hunt songbirds because avians make up a large part of the diet. It also eats small numbers of rodents, bats, squirrels, lizards, frogs, snakes, and large insects.

3. Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Its favorite habitats include woodlands and forest edges. There are migrant birds in the northern states and parts of Canada where these hawks breed. They migrate short to medium distances after the breeding seasons to winter in southern Mexico and Honduras.

Maryland is in the resident range of this hawk species, so you'll see it any time of the year.

These Maryland hawks fly fast when they spot prey, and you'll hear them zip past as they rush through canopies in dense forests. You'll know Cooper's hawk by its bluish-gray back, black cap, rounded wings, and red eyes. Its underbelly has reddish bars. This hawk perches upright with its strongly banded tail hanging below.

You'll see it in your backyard, preying on smaller birds like starlings and mourning doves. It's larger than the sharp-shinned hawk as it measures 14.6 to 15.3 inches long. Unlike most hawks where the female builds the nest, a male Cooper's hawk does most of the work.

4. Northern Goshawk

It's an elusive hawk species that'll have you searching for it in forests near riparian lands. If you're lucky to see a northern goshawk, you'll know it by its slate-gray crown, gray bars on its underbelly, white eyebrows, and red eyes. 

It's among the largest Maryland hawks as it grows between 20.9 and 25.2 inches long. But, a northern goshawk isn’t as large as a bald eagle, one of the largest avians in North America.

During the nesting season, you'll spot northern goshawks in different habitats across North America. The birds in the eastern states breed in mixed-hardwood forests with trees like birch and beech.

On the other hand, the goshawks in the west prefer pine forests or aspen groves. Breeding pairs reuse nests or take over the ones built by other raptors. Watching northern goshawks perform their courtship dance is mesmerizing as their sky dance consists of slow flapping, dives, and swoops.

The northern goshawk's full name is goose hawk, and it has migratory habits as it moves to a lower elevation in winter. Maryland is in the wintering range.

What do they eat? The northern goshawks eat small mammals, insects, and birds like hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, and crows.

5. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

It's one of the more colorful birds of prey in Maryland with its reddish-brown underbelly, plus flight feathers with white and black bands. Its slim body, broad wings, and long tail are a unique combination too.

A red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized hawk with a body length between 16.9 and 24 inches. It migrates from the breeding range north to wintering grounds in Mexico. However, there are nonmigratory birds in the eastern states of the U.S., including Maryland. There are almost no red-shouldered hawks in the western states, except in the West Coast states like California.

These Maryland birds of prey love woodlands with open canopies, deciduous swamps, mixed forests, and where woodlands dot suburban areas. 

A red-shouldered hawk may fly into your backyard to hunt sparrows and doves at your bird feeder. It also eats small mammals and amphibians. 

Red-shouldered hawks are aggressive, so we doubt you'll get close to their nests. They even attack great horned owls that are their size. Even humans are enemies.

6. Rough-legged Hawk

This raptor has either a dark or light morph. The dark rough-legged hawks have pale flight feathers such that the underwings look like they have two colors. The white morph raptors also have pale underwings. However, these rough-legged hawks have black patched wrists and black banded tips. 

A rough-legged hawk grows between 18.5 and 20.5 inches long. The feathered legs are also the reason it's called a rough-legged hawk, and they keep it warm in winter. The central regions between the wintering grounds and the breeding range host birds during the migration. 

Its breeding range is in the arctic, while southern Canada and the U.S. host the wintering grounds.

A rough-legged hawk builds nests on cliffs or outcrops in alpine and tundra areas. It also loves open grasslands, so it's one of the few hawk types you can spot easily.

You'll notice that rough-legged hawks hover over the land looking for voles and ground squirrels. They also eat small mammals, carrion, and birds like ptarmigan.

7. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Maryland hosts the breeding-only population as this hawk species winters in South America, sometimes flying an average of 4,000 miles to its wintering grounds. Some broad-winged hawks also winter in Central America and Mexico. This raptor has a stocky body suited to its home in mixed or deciduous forests and forest openings.

You might go birding several times without sightings of the broad-winged hawk as it lives away from human settlements.

If you’re lucky to see one, you’ll know it’s a broad-winged hawk by its bill-to-tail length between 13.4 and 17.3 inches. Thus, it’s smaller than the red-shouldered hawk we talked about earlier.

You'll probably see broad-winged hawks on a tree, ready to pounce on small mammals below.

8. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Most of the northern areas of North America serve as the breeding range of the Northern Harrier, while the southern lands are wintering grounds. The middle states and the eastern states around Maryland have a resident population you can see any time of the year.

You'll spot a raptor with a long tail gliding close to the ground as it flies over grasslands or marshlands. Other ID details are a white rump patch and a gray back. Female northern harriers have a pale underside with brown streaks. This bird is between the size of red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks as it averages 18.1 to 19.7 inches long.

It loves open habitats though it conceals its nest in grasslands or wetlands.

Best Places To See Maryland Hawks

Do you have your binoculars ready? Here are three places with common hawks.

1. Fort Smallwood Park

Hawks inhabit this park from March to May, so that's the best time to explore the 90-acre sanctuary. It's home to many eastern raptors like the sharp-shinned hawk, red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, and the red-shouldered hawk.

This park has a record of over 250 species, so there are other birds to see besides the hawks in Maryland.

2. Elk Neck Park - Turkey Point

It's the best place to see migrant birds after the breeding season. There's a hawk viewing point where you can see these avians in late summer and early fall.

3. Washington Monument State Park 

It's another thrilling destination for bird lovers looking for hawks during the annual migration. You'll see them as they fly south to their wintering grounds.

Birdhub Speak: Continue your flight with this related post -- Hawks in Connecticut.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do hawks eat in Maryland?

They have all types of food, from small mammals to birds and carrion. Some, such as the sharp-shinned, hunt in bird feeders looking for small birds like European starlings.

Are hawks common in Maryland?

Most of the species we talked about above have resident populations you can see all year round. Other hawks, such as the broad-winged hawk, are seasonal birds.

Are hawks protected in Maryland?

Yes, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects hawks from capture or sale without a license. On top of that, you can't remove their nests or eggs even if they're a nuisance.


The smaller hawks, like the sharp-shinned, inhabit woodlands, while the large birds prefer open grasslands. That gives you a variety of places to visit in this state. 

But, since some migrate after the breeding seasons to wintering grounds south, plan a tour when these migratory species are around.

Though it’s easy to identify hawks by their plumage, you may need other ID details when dealing with Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks, as they both have brown feathers on the underside. 

When are you going birding in Maryland? Let us know how it goes.

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