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The 8 Hawks in Pennsylvania & Their Majestic Appearances

hawks in Pennsyslvania

Last Updated: September 20, 2022

The fall season is the best time to hawk watch - you don't want to miss the sight of hawks soaring through the sky and diving into prey.

This year...

Why not go to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania? The state boasts eight hawk species that can all be seen at the mountain, along with other raptor species.

With this, we compiled the types of hawks in Pennsylvania so you can identify each one the next time you visit.

The Eight Species Of Hawks In Pennsylvania

1. Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Broad Winged Hawk on a tree branch

Measurements

Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)

Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)

Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)

Appearance

As the name suggests, the Broad Winged Hawk has broad wings despite its compact size (compared to other Pennsylvania hawk species).

Its upperparts are a mottled brown color, while its underparts are white with a brown bar pattern.

Meanwhile, the tail and underwing feathers are white with black bands that you can easily distinguish as it flies.

Diet

They have a varied diet from small mammals such as mice and squirrels, amphibians, reptiles, large insects, small birds, and even small fish.

It hunts by watching from perches underneath the forest canopy, usually along the edge of woods or near a body of water. 

Once it spots prey, the hawk swoops down and attacks with its talons.

It may also hunt by flying through the woodlands to search for prey actively.

Habitat

This species prefers living in dense deciduous or coniferous forests, typically along openings created by roads, wetlands, or trails. They usually nest in the lower part of a large coniferous or deciduous tree.

The best season to findthese birds is during the fall migration, where they move to Central America and even further south.

They typically form a flock of thousands, soaring over coastal lines and mountain ridges whenever they migrate.

You may also find this bird in Pennsylvania during the breeding season, although it's harder to spot because it prefers staying inside a forest during this time.


2. Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

young Coopers Hawk standing on a branch

Measurements 

Male

Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)

Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)

Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)

Female

Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)

Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)

Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)

Appearance

This medium-sized Pennsylvania hawk has dark blue-gray upperparts, while its underparts are white with a rufous bar pattern.

Meanwhile, its tail and underwings are gray with many black bands.

This species looks nearly identical to the Sharp Shinned Hawk. They're bigger, so you need to look at them closely to tell them apart.

Diet

Its prey primarily consists of small mammals and small-medium birds such as the American Robin, Blue Jay, and flickers. However, this species also consumes reptiles and insects.

This bird usually hunts for prey in stealth, observing from densely covered perches.

Once prey is found, the bird swoops down and catches with its feet, squeezing (or drowning) the prey repeatedly until death. This behavior is unlike the falcon, which typically kills prey through biting.

Habitat

They occur in various woodlands, forested mountain regions, and even wooded subdivisions or backyards.

During nesting, the typical nest site is in a high part of a deciduous or coniferous tree, on top of some pre-existing foundation like an old nest from other animals.

This hawk species is native to North America, where it can be seen in Pennsylvania throughout the entire year.

You can look for them near the edges of woodlands, but they can be easily found in the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

However, you have to be mindful of the weather, as they are more difficult to spot during the cold winter in Pennsylvania.


3. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Northern Harrier in mid flight

Measurements

Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)

Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)

Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)

Appearance

The Northern Harrier's feathers are multiple shades of gray, from the head, neck, upper wings, and tail.

Meanwhile, its underparts and rump are entirely white, except for the spotted breast. Its underwings are also completely white but with black edges.

For the female birds, the gray parts are replaced with brown.

Diet

This bird's diet has a wide range, depending on the season and location.

It specializes in hunting rodents and large insects like grasshoppers. Still, it may also consume larger mammals such as rabbits, small birds, certain amphibians and reptiles, and even carrion during winter.

Unlike the other hawks of Pennsylvania, which hunt by observing from a perch, they hunt by flying low, scanning the ground for prey.

Habitat

Instead of the typical forest, they prefer wide-open terrains (both dry and wet), such as marshes, savannas, and prairies.

This species typically nests in loose colonies on low ground or over shallow waters in a dense field or marsh.

You can find this species in Pennsylvania all year. Apart from its appearance, you can recognize this bird by its flight, where it forms a "V" with its wings.


4. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Red-Shouldered Hawk staring back from a tree

Measurements

Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)

Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)

Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)

Appearance

The edge of this hawk's upper wings is red, making it look like red shoulders, hence the name. The rest of its wings and tail are brown with a white bar pattern.

The remaining upperparts (head and back) are a plain brown, while its underparts are white with a rusty red bar pattern.

Diet

The Red Shouldered Hawk's varies depending on season and location, although it primarily eats mammals such as voles and chipmunks.

Other times, it consumes amphibians, insects, small birds, other small mammals, crayfish, small fish, and carrion (rarely).

It usually hunts on a perch, either within a forest or in an open area, before swooping down to catch its prey.

It may also actively hunt by flying low to take prey by surprise.

Habitat

This bird's preferred habitat is in mixed woodlands near a body of water such as rivers or swamps.

The nest site is usually in a deciduous or coniferous tree, located on branches against the main trunk.

They're found all year in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, although they move to the western half during the breeding season. The best time to look for them is between fall and winter.

If you've seen a Barred Owl in Pennsylvania, that's an indicator that this species is present because they share the same range and habitat in Eastern USA.


5. Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red Tailed Hawk in a tree

Measurements 

Male

Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)

Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)

Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

Female

Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)

Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)

Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

Appearance

As if it wasn't obvious already, this species has a cinnamon-red tail. The rest of its upperparts (including the throat) are brown with some white spots.

Meanwhile, the underparts are white with some brown streaks. The underside of its wings is also white but with a brown bar pattern and black tips on the feathers.

A flying Turkey Vulture may appear to be a Red-tailed Hawk from a distance, but Turkey Vultures have longer, more rectangular wings that the birds maintain above horizontal, producing V shape.

Diet

This is another one of the Pennsylvania hawks with a varied diet depending on the season and location.

Most of its diet consists of mammals such as rodents and rabbits. It also consumes a variety of reptiles (especially snakes), amphibians, insects, birds, bats, and many other creatures.

Hunting is done by watching from a high perch, then swooping when the prey is spotted.

Small prey is taken back to the perch, while larger prey is partly eaten on the ground.

Habitat

Red Tail Hawks prefer living in open country areas where perches are elevated and scattered. It may even perch on telephone poles and billboards.

The usual nesting site (which tends to be very high) is on a tree that's taller than the surrounding trees. It may even nest on cliff ledges, arms of giant cacti, and structures such as buildings.

Among the Pennsylvania hawk species, the Red Tailed Hawk is the easiest to find throughout the year due to its massive number.

The key to spotting this bird is to look for high perches. You may even spot one flying in circles during a long car ride!


6. Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Northern Goshawk perched in a tree

Measurements

Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)

Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)

Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)

Appearance

The upperparts of the Northern Goshawk are dark blue-gray (almost black), while its underparts are a streaked pale gray. There's also a pale gray stripe above its eyes (like eyebrows).

Meanwhile, the underwing feathers are also gray but with a dark bar pattern. Finally, its gray tail has three-four black bands.

Although both sexes are similar, the female birds tend to be larger than males.

Diet

Among the Pennsylvania hawks, this species eats many medium-sized birds such as crows and grouse.

Other parts of its diet include small mammals such as rabbits and hares, reptiles, insects, and smaller birds.

Northern Goshawks are known as fierce hunters, even more than some of their relatives, such as the Sharp-Shinned and Coopers Hawk!

They patiently wait from one perch to another before flying at high speed whenever they hunt.

Their pursuit of prey can be so intense that they plunge through tangled branches and thickets!

Habitat

This species primarily resides in dense coniferous and deciduous forests. The nesting site is typically inside a huge opening in a tree high above the ground.

In Pennsylvania, the Northern Goshawk resides in the state all year, but they move to the state's southern regions during winter.

Despite being a permanent resident, sighting is very rare as this bird is secretive and elusive.

They're so hard to spot that researchers have collaborated with scientists to assess the status of this species, called the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project.


7. Rough Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

Rough Legged Hawk standing on a tree

Measurements

Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)

Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)

Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)

Appearance

The Rough Legged Hawk has a white head and underparts, wherein its belly also has brown spots. These white feathers extend until its feet, hence the "rough-legged" name.

Meanwhile, its wings are primarily brown above. Below, the upper part of the wings is brown, the middle is white, and the edges are brown.

Finally, its tail is white on the upper half, while the lower half has many dark bands.

Diet

This hawk heavily feasts on rodents such as lemmings and voles. However, it may also feed on other small mammals, small birds, frogs, insects, and even carrion during winter.

It often hunts by flying low on the ground, scanning for movement. Otherwise, it watches the ground from a low perch.

Habitat

Unlike the other hawks in PA, this species prefers the arctic.

However, they migrate to Central America during winter, usually in open areas such as plains, marshes, deserts, and even airports as long as there's abundant food.

The typical nesting area is in a ledge of a high cliff, but may also occur on slopes, atop large rocks, or atop a tree on a forest edge.

Rough Legged Hawks only visit Pennsylvania occasionally, especially during the end of fall and start of winter.

Since they migrate from the arctic, you'd have more luck finding them in the northern regions of Pennsylvania.


8. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk on a bird feeder

Measurements

Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)

Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)

Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)

Appearance

The Sharp Shinned Hawk is the smallest among the hawks in Pennsylvania! Although sizes are similar, females tend to be larger than males.

This bird has dark blue-gray upperparts, while its underparts are white with a rufous bar pattern. For females, this bar pattern is lighter.

Meanwhile, its underwings are a mix of rufous, white, and blue-gray feathers.

The name "sharp-shinned" comes from its skinny legs.

Diet

Its diet mainly consists of small birds, typically the size of a robin or quail. However, it also eats small mammals, bats, amphibians, reptiles, and large insects.

This bird's primary hunting technique is through stealth, where it waits for prey in dense cover before flying rapidly to catch the prey with its talons.

Habitat

The Sharp Shinned Hawk prefers coniferous, deciduous, and mixed woodlands, typically avoiding the open country.

Their nests are pretty hard to find, as they are concealed in dense conifer. Sometimes, they use old nests from crows or squirrels.

Although they occur in Pennsylvania all year round, they're hard to find because of their compact size and secretive nature.

The best way to find this bird is during migration season, as they travel in large groups along coastlines and ridgelines.

Listen to the sound of a sharp-shinned hawk in this video:


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the predators of the hawk?

Despite being predatory birds, some animals can still attack hawks and their nests. When it comes to eggs and younglings, raccoons, snakes, and red foxes are the typical nest invaders. However, adult hawks can be attacked by eagles such as the Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle, owls such as the Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owl, and even larger hawks.

Can hawks attack humans?

Yes! As a raptor species, hawks are tough and can be particularly fierce when defending their young, especially during nesting. Even though hawk attacks aren't common (unless you're trying to threaten the nest), we included the nesting site of each Pennsylvania hawk so you can stay away from it.

What is the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary?

The Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a site in eastern Pennsylvania to see migrating birds, including hawks, eagles, and falcons such as the American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon. If you want to see a particular hawk, then you need to study the migration timetable because the peak migration in the mountain varies among species. Additionally, the number of migrants changes annually, so don't be discouraged if you miss your favorite hawk.

Final Remarks

Hawks are fierce and formidable creatures that are mesmerizing to watch - as long as you watch from afar, they are a sight that you won't forget.

As you visit Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (or just travel around Pennsylvania), we hope this article helps you identify all eight Pennsylvania hawks.

Once you study their appearance, behavior, and migration patterns, you're bound to see one of these amazing wild birds!

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