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8 Intriguing Ohio Hawks: How To ID Each Species

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Mar 27th, 2024
White and black hawk flying

There are eight different species of hawks in Ohio.

The most popular and one of the most widespread hawks in North America is a regular, year-round sight in the state.

Most of the others are highly migratory and may only be seen in winter or spring.


Some of these migratory birds put up a lovely sight to watch when they head south in magnanimous kettles.

Let's get to meet these Ohio hawk species. I'll introduce them and give you an idea of what they sound like, so you can ID them yourself.

The 8 Types Of Hawks Of Ohio

Ohio is home to some of the finest largest, finest, and tiniest hawks in North America. Let’s meet them. You’ll be intrigued by how these fierce birds of Ohio

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

  • Reddish brown and white hawkLength: 17.7 to 25.6 inches 
  • Wingspan: 44.4 to 52.4 inches
  • Weight: 690 to 1300 grams

The red-tailed hawks are easily the most widely distributed North American raptors. So, it doesn't come as a shock that they happen to be popular hawks in Ohio.

It's said, actually tested; if you take a long road trip, you'd see one soaring or perched on a telephone pole.

The range of red-tail hawks in the Buckeye State covers everywhere with a semi-open habitat - any area with trees for cover and open space to hunt. Examples are agricultural fields, grasslands, parks, or even scrub deserts.

Most red-tailed hawks in the state stay year-round in their territories. But many come in from neighboring states to winter. It's usually a sight to watch when native hawks fight off the "invading" red-tails.

Red-tailed hawks also happen to be famous in the movies. The piercing sound of one calling has been used in movies and cartoons for ages.

Do they sound like eagles? That's because they are voice-over actors in movies.

2. Rough-legged Hawk (The Lagopus)

  • brown hawk standing on a fieldLength: 18.5 to 20.5 inches
  • Wingspan: 52 to 54.3 inches
  • Weight: 715 to 1400 grams

The rough-legged hawk is the largest buteo hawk in Ohio.

These hawks are also called "hare's foot" because of their furry legs and feet. It's actually a translation of their botanical name, "Buteo Lagopus."

Rough-legged hawks visit Ohio in winter from around September to as late as May. While they don't breed in the state, you may catch a glimpse of courtship displays with mates.

These large raptors soar over agricultural fields, marshes, and reclaimed mines searching for their daily R's - rodents, reptiles, and rabbits. In-flight, they have a visible dark banded white tail and wings and a dark breast.

3. Northern Goshawk

  • brown hawk on a snowy fieldLength: 20 to 25.2 inches
  • Wingspan: 40.5 to 46.1 inches
  • Weight: 631 to 1364 grams

The northern goshawks are the largest accipiter hawks in Ohio, quite as bulky as red-tailed hawks.

But they are perhaps the easiest to distinguish when you see them. Well, if you see one - they are rare visitors to the northern part of the state.

What makes northern goshawks stand out is their finely barred plumage of gray and white. They have a slate gray crown and back, with their whole body barred pale gray. It's hard to miss them.

If you miss that, you would recognize their loud "ki-ki-ki-ki" alarm call. Northern Goshawks give this screech when they're threatened or hunting.

4. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

  • hawk facing right on a branchLength: 9.4 to 13.4 inches
  • Wingspan: 16.9 to 22.1 inches
  • Weight: 87 to 218 grams

Sharp-shinned hawks are small, agile hawks with something of a reputation in Ohio. These hawks aren't day-to-day raptors you'd always see.

But there's a high chance you wouldn't miss their kettles in spring and fall.

Hundreds or thousands of sharp-shins and other raptors fill the sky in April/May and September/October on their journey further south.

Oh, but they may travel alone too.

Southern and eastern Ohio folks living near forests stand better chances of seeing these small hawks. They maximize their agility and smaller size in dense woods to snatch prey, even right off their perch.

I must mention that they are almost identical with cooper's hawks - the latter only being larger.

As always, you can learn the call of this hawk to make a clear distinction. No two hawks really sound the same. 

5. Cooper's Hawk

  • Red-orange hawk on branch of a treeLength: 14.6 to 17.7 inches
  • Wingspan: 24.4 to 35.4 inches
  • Weight: 22 to 680 grams

Cooper's hawks are the last accipiter (smaller, more agile hawk family) - hawks in Ohio. The other ones being their highly identical cousins, sharp-shins, and much larger northern goshawk.

Many birders mistake cooper's hawks for Sharp Shins. But they are sizable, about the size of a crow.

Also, cooper's hawks are more common. They can be seen across both urban and rural areas in Ohio.

And they are likely the no.1 culprit if a raptor is snatching your backyard birds. While it's only natural, you can take down the feeder for a few weeks to avert the feeding hazard at your feeder.

Cooper's hawks have slate-gray back and crown and pale rusty-color underparts - basically the same as Sharp Shins, except for their rounded tails and red eyes.

A more succinct distinction is their call. Cooper's have a "cak-ca-cak-cak" key that's different from sharp shin's "ki-ki-ki" call.

6. Northern Harrier

  • Big hawk flyingLength: 18.1 to 19.7 inches
  • Wingspan: 40.2 to 46.5 inches
  • Weight: 300 to 750 grams

Northern harriers are skilled hawks who breed in Ohio and winter in Central and South America. They are also called "marsh hawks" as it is their favorite hunting ground.

If their habitat receives heavy snow in winter, they go as far south as Cuba in a similar "open" habitat.

Northern harriers can be seen gliding over grasslands, marshes, and prairies, listening and watching for a catch. Sometimes, they drown larger prey like rabbits, in water.

I love to call them "owl hawks" because of their looks and hunting style.

Northern Harriers have a flat disc-like head like owls and hover at only 5-10 feet away from the ground while hunting. Actually, the disc-like face is an arrangement of feathers that gives them ultra-sharp hearing over other hawks.

Northern Harriers can either be gray (the gray ghost) or brown (females). But they always have a visible white rump patch.

Northern harriers are pretty vocal with their high-pitched calls while in flight. 

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • red shouldered hawk on a fenceLength: 16.9 to 24 inches
  • Wingspan: 37.0 to 43.7 inches
  • Weight: 486 to 774 grams

The red-shouldered hawk is the infamous "most handsome Buteo in Ohio."

It's not because they have chiseled faces but for their brilliantly colored plumage. Red-shouldered hawks have a white-checkered rusty-red body and back barred in black and white.

The distribution of the red-shouldered hawk in an area is tied with the availability of wet (riparian) woodlands.

Once considered a rare sighting, they've now grown accustomed to human presence. As long as there are matured trees or canopies around, they'd even nest close enough to human activity.

Red-shouldered hawks are permanent residents to Ohio but move south for winter.

Like most hawks, you need to know their calls to tell them apart from a distance.

Also, quality binoculars particularly come in handy if you prefer to distinguish by sight. See how the zoom on the video made a huge difference?

8. Broad-Winged Hawk

hawk flying in the sky

  • Length: 13.4 to 17.3 inches
  • Wingspan: 31.9 to 39.4 inches
  • Weight: 265 to 560 grams

Broad-winged hawks are the smallest Buteo Ohio hawk. But they are still about the size of a crow, or larger, but definitely bigger than Sharp-Shins.

These birds of prey are primarily found in southeastern Ohio, where mature forests abound. Broad-wings are long-distance migrants, only breeding in Ohio between April to August.

As winter nears, they embark on a journey down south for "greener" pastures in dozens or hundreds. In prime Broad-Wing states, their kettle may number up to thousands.

An easy way to tell when a broad-winged hawk is in flight is to look for three black and white bands on its tail.

Moreover, they have a high-pitched scream that makes it easy to identify them from a distance.

It's similar to how a red-tailed hawk calls, but a cuter version so to speak.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ohio Hawks

Can you own a Hawk in Ohio?

No, unless you are a falconer or a licensed professional using it for an educational purpose. Even then, most hawks held in captivity by professionals sustain an injury keeping them from the wild. Not that they were held as pets. It's a federal offense to have a hawk in your possession, dead or alive. 

What Kind of Hawks Live in Ohio?

The Buckeye State welcomes eight (8) different species of hawks within its borders:

  1. Red-Tailed Hawk
  2. Red-Shouldered Hawk
  3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
  4. Cooper's Hawk
  5. Swainson's Hawk
  6. Rough-legged Hawk
  7. Broad-Winged Hawk
  8. Northern Goshawk

Are Red-Tailed Hawks in Ohio?

Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawks in Ohio. These large buteo hawks stay year-round in their thousands. Red-tailed hawks adapt excellently to almost every territory in the state. They've mastered using their size, thriving as fearsome and persistent hunters. And infamously as poultry invaders. 

Is it Legal to Kill a Red-Tailed Hawk in Ohio?

It's a federal offense to kill or harm hawks in any way. However, you can obtain a permit from Wildlife Services if they've turned your property into a recurring place for an easy catch. 

What is the Biggest Hawk in Ohio?

The rough-legged hawk is the heaviest (about 3 pounds) hawk in Ohio but not the largest by height. Several other hawks like the Swainson's, red-tailed, and the northern goshawk closely follow or surpass the rough-legged hawk by length. However, the red-tailed hawk is the tallest in Ohio. It's about 3 inches taller (longer) than an adult rough-legged hawk.

Wrapping Up

Well, that's a wrap on Ohio hawks.

If you've ID-ed all the hawks on this list, that's awesome. If not, I hope it helps you spot one from hearing or recognizing any hawk you come across in the state.

I'm pretty much intrigued about the northern goshawks. Have you seen any in the state?

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