Identifying the 14 Species of Hawks in Texas For Avid Bird Watchers: 2021 Guide

Last Updated: April 25, 2021

Have you ever wondered about the numerous species of birds that are found flying overhead in Texas, especially during the winter months?

I sometimes do.

Due to its vast size and location directly north of Mexico, Texas is home to many different species of migratory birds—both year-round and seasonal. Some of the most common birds spotted throughout various regions of Texas are different species of hawks.

This article provides information on the following 14 different hawks in Texas, including characteristics and where they can be spotted in the great state. Some are year-long residents located all over the state, while others are winter dwellers only found in small parts of Texas.

14 Different Species Of Hawks In Texas

Let’s get started and find out how far we get into our Texas hawk identification. 

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 17.7-25.6 in
  • Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in

Red-tailed hawk standing on grass

The most commonly spotted Texas hawk is the red-tailed hawk. Their distinguishing features include a band of dark spots across the belly, dark feathers between the shoulder and wrist, and light spots on the back. 

This large Texas hawk species is predominantly dark brown on its back and pale brown on its underside, with adults having a red coloring of their tail feathers.

The red-tailed hawk can be found throughout all of Texas and most of the United States.

They are typically spotted perched on fence posts and telephone poles or soaring above open fields.

2. Red-Shouldered Hawk

 Characteristics

  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in

hawk standing on a fence

The red-shouldered hawk is a medium-sized hawk with black and white checkered spotting on its wings, a red-orange tint to its breast, and black and white stripes along the tail. 

They have broad wings and medium-length tails that fan out while soaring high above the ground. Juveniles are brown with white and broad streaks on their underside.

The red-shouldered hawk can be found in Eastern parts of Texas year-round. 

They reside in woodland areas near rivers and other small bodies of water, building nests in large trees. They are often spotted soaring high along the coast or ridges.


3. Cooper’s Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 14.6-17.7 in
  • Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Red-orange hawk on branch of a tree

One of the smaller Texas hawks is cooper’s hawk, having a similar size to a crow. This type of hawk has reddish-orange stripes across its breast and underneath the wings. Adult cooper’s hawks are blue-gray above, while juveniles are brown.

Cooper’s hawks are found year-round throughout most of Texas, making their home in wooded areas like forests and heavily treed backyards.

They often fly fast and low to the ground in order to surprise prey.

4. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 9.4-13.4 in
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in

hawk standing on a branch

The sharp-shinned hawk is easily confused with cooper’s hawk due to its similar coloring. However, this Texas hawk species is even smaller than cooper’s hawk and compares closely to the size of a robin. 

These hawks are blue-gray above with reddish-orange stripes across the breast. Juveniles are mostly brown with white underparts that have brown streaks.

The sharp-shinned hawk is found throughout Texas in the winter months after migrating South from their northern U.S. and Canadian breeding grounds.

They breed in heavily forested areas and migrate in open habitats.

5. Swainson’s Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 18.9-22.1 in
  • Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 48 in

brown Swainson's hawk standing on log

The swainson’s hawk has a light-colored belly, reddish-brown breast, white throat, and a dark brown back. Most males have gray heads, while females typically have brown heads. 

The underwings are lined with white feathers that strongly contrast with their black flight feathers. This Texas hawk is similar to the red-tailed hawk due to its large size and habitat.

Swainson’s hawks are present in Texas from mid-Spring to early Fall. They are typically spotted in groups, soaring high above the ground or resting in open fields.

They can also be found on fence posts and telephone poles.

6. Northern Harrier

Characteristics

  • Length: 18.1-19.7 in
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in

Dark brown hawk near the sea

The northern harrier is most distinguishable by the white patch on its rump, which is most visible when they are gliding low over a field. 

Females and juveniles are brown with black stripes on the tail. Males are white-gray with black wingtips and black stripes on the tail.

The northern harrier is found in Texas during the winter months. They make nests on the ground in tall grasses and live in open habitats like fields, grasslands, and wetlands.

They can also be spotted on low posts or trees closer to the ground.

7. Broad-Winged Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 13.7-17.3 in
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in

hawk flying in the sky

Broad-winged hawks have a similar coloring to the red-shouldered hawks with less coloring on the breast. They have reddish-brown heads, black and white bands on the tail, and dark brown framing the wings.

Broad-winged hawks can be spotted in southern and eastern parts of Texas during mid-Spring to early Fall. Like the swainson’s hawk, these hawks of Texas migrate in large groups.

They live in forested areas and can be found soaring above the forest canopy in search of prey.

8. White-Tailed Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 18.1-22.8 in
  • Weight: 31.0-43.6 oz
  • Wingspan: 50.4-51.6 in

White-tailed hawk standing

The white-tailed hawk is a large eagle-like hawk with dark gray on its back and reddish-brown feathers on the shoulder. They also have a white tail with a black band across the tip and are solid white on the breast.

The white-tailed hawk is found year-round in the southern parts of Texas. They reside primarily in coastal prairies, grasslands, and pastures.

White-tailed hawks often look for brush fires to hunt the animals that are escaping the flames.

9. Harris’s Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 18.1-23.2 in
  • Weight: 18.2-31.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 in

Flying hawk across the grass

Harris’s hawks are reddish-brown in color with white feathers underneath their tails. Juveniles have white patches on the belly and wings, with a narrow white stripe across the bottom of the tail.

Harris’s hawks have long legs and tails, with females weighing almost twice as much as the males.

Harris’s hawks are typically only found in Texas south of San Antonio. They tend to perch on features that allow them to have a wide view of the surrounding area in order to seek prey.

This type of hawk also frequents urban and suburban areas in search of easy access to water and prey.

10. Gray Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 15-24 in
  • Weight: 13.8-16.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 25-35 in

Gray hawk on a tree branch

The gray hawk is a medium-sized hawk. Adult gray hawks are almost entirely gray with black and white stripes on the tail. They also have black wingtips, a dark stripe through the eyes, and white cheeks. 

Juvenile gray hawks look noticeably different from the adults, with dark brown streaks and spots on the breast. Juveniles also have dark brown feathers throughout, rather than the gray of the adults.

The gray hawk can be spotted in South Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

These hawks make their home near water in heavily forested areas and savannahs.

11. Ferruginous Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 22.1-27.2 in
  • Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in

hawk held by a man

Ferruginous hawks have a white breast, reddish-brown wings, and large pale heads. These Texas hawks are the largest hawk species found in the state. 

While similar to the red-tailed hawk, the ferruginous hawk has a lighter color and rusty tint to the wings that set them apart.

Ferruginous hawks are present in the Texas panhandle and western parts of the state during the winter months.

This type of Texas hawk prefers to make its home in open prairies and grasslands, often hunting on the ground.

They are typically found perched on telephone poles and wooden posts looking for prey.

12. Rough-Legged Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 18.5-20.5 in
  • Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in

brown hawk standing on a field

Rough-legged hawks are large hawks with long and narrow wings compared to other hawks. Their bill is small in comparison to the body size. 

These hawks have pale underwings with dark-brown patches on the belly and at the bend of the wings. The tails are dark at the tip and a pale color at the base.

Like the ferruginous hawk, these types of hawks in Texas are only present during the winter months in the panhandle and western parts of the state.

Rough-legged hawks breed in the arctic and migrate during the winter months to habitats like fields, prairies, and deserts.

13.  Zone-Tailed Hawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 17.7-22.1 in
  • Weight: 21.4-33.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 29.9-34.5 in

hawk facing right

Zone-tailed hawks are grayish-black with white bands on the tail and black and white stripes on the underside. They have a lighter build with slim wings and a long tail compared to the more popular red-tailed hawk.

Zone-tailed hawks are present in southern and western Texas where they are often mistaken for a Turkey Vulture due to their similar size and coloring. 

Other types of hawks in Texas that are similar to this species are the gray hawk, the common black hawk, and the great black hawk.

14. Northern Goshawk

Characteristics

  • Length: 20.9-25.2 in
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

brown hawk on a snowy field

Northern goshawks are large hawks with broad wings and long tails, similar in size to red-tailed hawks. 

Adults are dark gray above with a lighter gray color on the breast and underwings. Juveniles are brown with dark stripes in the tail. Adults have red-orange eyes, while juveniles have yellow eyes.

Northern goshawks are scarce in Texas and are only spotted in northern parts of the state near cities like Amarillo.

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Texas Hawks

Can I shoot a hawk in Texas if it tries to attack humans or animals?

According to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to injure, capture or kill any raptors which include hawks. If you are caught shooting a hawk, no matter the reason, you may be subject to severe fines or even jail time.

How often do you see hawks around neighborhoods in Texas?

Hawks can be spotted in Texas throughout the year, making their homes in various regions of the state. Cooper’s Hawks and Harris’s Hawks make their homes in or around neighborhoods in order to easily find prey like pigeons. 

If you want to know more about Texas hawk migration and appearances, you can visit the Hawk Migration Association of North America website.

What do Texas hawks eat?

Texas hawks eat a variety of prey. The most common prey of hawks is small rodents, rabbits, insects, bats, snakes, lizards, frogs, small poultry, squirrels, and other smaller birds. 

For a specific breakdown of each hawk species prey, you can visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website and search for each hawk you are interested in learning more about.

Watch as a red-tailed hawk hunt its prey here:

How big are hawks in Texas?

The different types of hawks in Texas have varying sizes typically ranging between the size of a crow and a goose. In most Texas hawk species, the female has a larger size and weighs more than the male. 

To see a scale of size for each hawk species, you can visit the All About Birds website. 

Final Thoughts

As the largest state in the continental U.S., Texas is home to a diverse profile of birds. Learning about the characteristics and locations of the most common Texas hawks can help you tell them apart.

Whether you’re an avid bird watcher or are simply curious about the various types of hawks in Texas, knowing the color patterns, sizes, and where they are found across the state can be useful. Knowing more about hawks will allow you to have a deeper appreciation for these great birds.

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