Depending on who you ask, there are as many as 25 different species of hawks in North America. Due to different regions having different climates and food sources for the various species, each U.S. state may have it’s own variation of hawks that live there at different times of the year. So for this article we’ll cover some of the birds of prey found in Alaska, more specifically hawks in Alaska. We’ll talk about where you might be able to spot them, look at some pictures, and look at some fun facts for each species.
6 species of hawks in Alaska
There are 6 different species that you may be lucky enough to encounter in Alaska. Those species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and the Northern Harrier.
Below is a list of hawks in Alaska along with some pictures you help you identify them should you spot one!
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most common hawks in North America numbering close to 2 million nesting hawks. This number accounts for about 90% of the global Red-tailed Hawk population. These large hawks are found in much of Alaska during the breeding season. So look for them in the spring and summer, before they fly further south in the fall for winter.
Red-tailed Hawks are most active during the day or early morning and are commonly seen soaring above looking for prey with their amazing vision or perched along the roadside on telephone poles. They aren’t often seen in backyards lurking around feeders because they prey on larger animals that just songbirds. Learn some fun facts about the Red-tailed Hawk here.
Here’s a quick video we got of a Red-tailed Hawk who had a squirrel trapped under a sign post. Very clever Mr. Hawk…
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Alaska as well as North America. They can be found all over North America, with a breeding range in most of Central Alaska. Sharpies migrate north from the U.S. to Canada and Alaska to breed each year, and south to Central America in the winter time.
As you can tell, they are migratory birds but you do have a couple of optimal times to see them each year as they are passing through your area. These small hawks are notorious for stalking backyard feeders. If you see one, consider taking down your feeders for a week or two and allowing the hawk to move on. Learn more about the Sharp-shinned hawk here.
3. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are large birds of prey, similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks. The Northern Goshawk is found year-round throughout most of Alaska, though not as common to the north. They live in large forests and may be difficult to find, but your best chance is to quietly walk and listen in mature forests with large trees. They are also known for fiercely protecting their nests and young, even attacking people who come too close.
Adults are dark slate gray on top with barred light gray underparts, and have a light stripe over their eyes. Northern Goshawks live and nest in forests high up in the trees. They are mostly opportunistic eaters with a wide range of prey including other birds, mammals, carrion, and insects.
4. Rough-legged Hawk
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
Rough-legged Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks are the only American hawks to have feathered legs all the way down to their toes. The Rough-legged Hawk comes in two distinct variations; light morph and dark morph. The plumage of males and females look quite different in both morphs. As you might expect, light morphs are overall lighter colored with a somewhat mottled pattern, and dark morphs are a dark chocolate brown color with two-toned light/dark under their wings and tails.
Rough-legged Hawks are migratory birds. They have breeding range in Alaska and are active here in the warmer months. Making the spring and summer, as well as times of migration, the best time to see a Rough-legged Hawk in Alaska. Some even migrate far north to the arctic regions of Northern Canada each season to breed.
5. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
The Northern Harrier is easy to spot with their owlish faces, a white patch on their tail, and their signature gliding style, with their wings in the shape of a V. Majestic is an excellent word to describe these birds.
You can find the Harrier in most of Alaska during the breeding season. You’re likely to see them over marshes, fields, and other wide-open areas.
The Northern Harrier eats small mammals. Unlike other species of hawks, Harriers rely a great deal on their sense of hearing to capture their prey.
6. Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz (
Wingspan: 45-55 in
Swainson’s Hawks migrate north to some areas of Eastern Alaska to breed each year. Really the only Swainson’s Hawks you’ll see anywhere in the lower 48 states are also migratory. Swainson’s Hawks spend their winters in South America. You are likely to find them during the summer, over large areas of open country. They’ll perch on telephone poles, wires, and secluded trees.
Migrating hawks are called kettles, and these Hawks have kettles as large as tens of thousands. If you thought Broad-winged hawks were something to see, you should view these raptors during their migration.
Swainson’s Hawks have converted well to agricultural settings as their habitat has changed over the years. You can find them foraging for prey in crops and fields.