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Hawks in Minnesota: Top 10 Species (ID Guide w/ Pictures)

Brown hawk on snow

Minnesota is among the many states popular with birders worldwide, which is hardly surprising because it is full of exciting birding sites.


If you're one of these bird-lovers who probably wonder if there's any chance you get to encounter hawks in Minnesota, then keep reading as we discover their diverse species.

By the end of this article, you will no longer have challenges identifying one hawk species from another, and you will have a more pleasurable birdwatching experience. 😉

Learning About The Minnesota Hawks Species

Identifying the different types of hawks in Minnesota can help you become a better birder and enrich your overall birdwatching experience. So in this section, we'll learn how behaviors, habitat choices, hunting style, and appearances can help us with Minnesota hawk identification.

Let's discover more about the following renowned Minnesota hawks, so you can quickly distinguish them on your subsequent birding encounter:

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawk standing on grass

This Minnesota hawk has a rusty-red tail and typically soar in the sunlit sky or dwells on top of utility poles. Their kind has colors that vary from all-white to chocolate-brown, with white breasts, brownish belly band, and white streaks at its wings' underside.

These red-tails are excellent in soaring and hovering in the wind; you will commonly encounter them flying in circles or perching on fences while watching for their prey.

They are typically hard to spot, as they live in heavily forested areas high up in the trees.

Among the most common Minnesota hawk sounds you will hear with the high-pitched scream sound, remarkably belong to the red-tailed hawk. Most people use this hawk's scream as a raptor sound effect in movies. They also inhabit open fields or woodlots where farms are nearby.

2. Swainson’s Hawk

Dark brown and white hawk

Swainson is a Minnesota hawk species like any other hawks, searching for prey from human-made perches such as the telephone pole.

You can identify a Swainson with their two-toned look at the top portion of their bodies and with wings more extended than its tails. Its underparts appear to have dark plumage during flight, with a pale-colored body and long, pointed wings.

Its wingtips stretch out toward the tail's end or beyond it when at rest. This bird is also amiable; you will mostly see it soaring in large groups.

Additionally, it visits the state in April to breed and raise its juvenile there. Several hawks of Minnesota, like the Swainson, migrate in vast flocks during winter, mainly feeding on small mammals. It would largely seize rodents in flight or run down insects on the ground.

3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

brownish white colored hawk

This bird of prey is one of the hawks native to Minnesota that is slightly smaller than the cooper hawk. Most birders, even the experts, would tell you to examine the head and the tail as the best identifier between these two hawk species.

You will know that it is somewhere nearby when the songbirds at your feeder start being jumpy because this hawk primarily preys on small songbirds.

This Minnesota hawk is such an impressive predatory bird; you'll mostly see it focusing intently on its prey while perched.

Its kind is easily noticeable in pictures of hawks in Minnesota with their slender bodies, long tails, and red eyes. The bird is well known for its speed and graceful maneuverability using its short rounded wings and likes secluded nests in thick forests except when migrating in winter.

4. Broad-Winged Hawk

hawk flying in the sky

Hawks that live in Minnesota have a broadly diverse species, with the broad-winged hawk as one of them. It's a raptor that firmly believes in security in numbers as it is normal to see it with the many others forming huge flocks and migrating together.

These hawks generally have chunky bodies, with upper parts in deep brown color and stripe, reddish underparts, and pointy wingtips.

Like other birds belonging to the buteo genus, the broad-winged hawk also has exceptional soaring skills, traveling the skies with elegance.

It is usual for broad-winged hawks to keep close to the forest's edge, perching on a snag or hunting under the tree canopy. When hunting, the broad-winged hawk will make one swooping motion while using its talons to grab prey like small rodents, insects, etc.

5. Cooper’s Hawk

pinkish white and brown hawk

Among the several hawks in Minnesota, the cooper is one you can find in various habitats, from backyards to parks and woodland. It closely resembles the Sharp-shinned hawk's color except that the Cooper has a more prominent head and neck size with a rounded or square-tipped tail.

The cooper is among the many Minnesota hawks that prey on small to medium-sized birds, perching in obscure places and nesting high on large trees' horizontal branches.

There is a great chance you'd encounter it in any type of forest.

It frequently dwells along forest edges and woods, ambushing its prey or running on the ground in pursuit. Furthermore, the copper also has relatively rapid wing beats with a nasal voice sounding like "kek-kek-kek," especially when they are in distress at their nesting sites.

6. Northern Goshawk

brown hawk on a snowy field

The northern goshawk is more famous for being an excellent hunter and for its aggressive display, including hitting humans with its wings whenever an intruder is nearby. This hawk is an agile flyer like the bird world's slalom king and swifts and hummingbirds.

It is an enormous raptor with round, falcon-like wings and long tails broader than a Cooper.

The goshawk's color ranges from dark bluish-gray to black, dark-colored heads and backs, and white undersides with grey barring.

Further, the northern goshawk is also one of the fastest flying accipiter and renowned for its fearless hunting skills. This splendidly cunning hawk is typically rapid in aerial pursuit of its prey, a predatory bird capable of catching larger birds generally by quick approach from cover.

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

If you happen to be familiar with birds returning to the same territory for years, well, this Minnesota hawk is one of them. It is quickly distinguishable with its combination of the rusty and blackish-brown upper body with slightly reddish underparts.

This hawk's subspecies from the Eastern side come with a few broad white streaks on their black tails, while those from the West have thinner white stripes.

It generally inhabits swamps, wooded streamsides, and likes nesting high up in the trees in winter.

The red-shouldered hawk's wingtips have noticeable sheer white crescent when in flight, mainly having an arched-like appearance, wings held forward when soaring, and cupped when gliding. This hawk is one sneaky raptor that likes feeding on insects, crayfish, amphibians, and reptiles.

8. Rough-Legged Hawk

brown hawk standing on a field

This hawk species is a diurnal raptor often soaring in the air with its inert body and head in one place while its swift wingbeats keep it motionless. You won't have difficulty identifying it with its dark brown plumage and a paler color on its head and underside.

Most of its adults have varying looks, but their unique-looking white tail with a black band at the tip when in flight is something they have in common.

You will most likely encounter this hawk in agricultural fields and grasslands or farmlands during winter.

Lemmings and voles are some of this raptor's favorite prey since this hawk can see a vole’s urine or scent markings. This urine or marking is evident only within the UV light range, which leads people to believe the rough-legged hawk to have an x-ray vision.

9. Northern Harrier

Dark brown hawk near the sea

Similar to owls, this hawk is also well known for locating its prey by sound.

Therefore, instead of awaiting its target from a perch, the harrier glides over the ground, uses its talon and curved beak when swooping down and killing its game.

Generally, you will have a high chance of seeing the Northern Harrier flying low over open grasslands and marshes while hunting for tiny birds and creatures. Sometimes, it hovers the fields during summer.

Also commonly known as the marsh hawk, the Northern Harrier is such a beautiful diurnal raptor with unmistakable appearance and behavior.

Its look is slightly slender with a longer tail than the Western Marsh and features broader wings than Pallid's.

10. Ferruginous Hawk

hawk held by a man

It's effortlessly distinguishable with its rusty-colored back and shoulders with bluish-grey flight feathers and white breast, which is how the bird got its name. Most birders confuse it for an eagle since both birds share many similarities, including their size.

However, the ferruginous hawk is among the most potent and distinguished buteos, enjoying the semiarid grasslands or the agricultural areas and streams during migration.

Their kind's population depends on the availability of food sources, and they're vulnerable to human disturbance, so they choose nesting sites 20 to 50 feet above the ground.

These hawks mainly feed on tiny creatures and insects.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Hawks protected in MN?

In Minnesota, they don't consider hawks as game animals. Therefore, hawks are under the protection of state and federal law, which means it is illegal to hunt, trap, harm, shoot, or kill them. Anyone who kills a hawk will pay a fine.

It would help if we become aware and understand of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in place. Should you be in a compromising situation with a hawk, you need to secure a permit even to cage it to avoid being liable for a possible misdemeanor.

What is the largest hawk in Minnesota?

The ferruginous hawk is the biggest of the buteo hawks you can find in Minnesota. It has a large head and long, narrow, and pointed wings measuring 53 to 56 inches, and body size grows to a length of 20 to 25 inches.

Learn more about ferruginous hawks here:

What hawks can be seen in Minnesota?

In a previous section, we discussed the different types of hawks in Minnesota and how it will make it easier for every birder to identify each one of them. Here are some of the famous hawk species you can encounter in Minnesota:

  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Swainson hawk
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Broad-winged hawk
  • Cooper's hawk
  • Northern goshawk
  • Red-shouldered hawk
  • Rough-legged hawk
  • Northern harrier
  • Ferruginous hawk

Read Also: Hawks in Missouri

Final Thoughts

Many Minnesota residents enjoy bird watching as a pleasurable activity that can bring birds and their beauty closer to men. It is an activity that continues growing in awareness.

You can find a wide variety of bird species in the state and several breathtaking birding spots, making Minnesota a blissful haven for observing different birds.

Nonetheless,  I hope this article helps you better understand each bird species' diversity to make bird watching more enjoyable and an enriching experience for you. Moving forward, you will realize that bird identification is not as difficult as you think after all.

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