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9 Species of Hawks in Arkansas (Pictures)

 Updated by Melanie Cruff on 03-01-2024

Nestled within the diverse landscapes of the Natural State, Arkansas offers a haven for bird enthusiasts and wildlife aficionados alike. From the densely wooded Ozark Mountains to the expansive bottomland hardwood forests along the Mississippi River, Arkansas boasts a remarkable variety of ecosystems that attract and sustain a diversity of hawks. This article showcases the species of hawks that live in Arkansas either all year or for part of the year, with tips for identification and when they are present in the state.

The 9 species of hawks in Arkansas are the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk.

Kindly be aware that throughout this article, we use the term ‘hawks’ to encompass both accipiters and buteos, aligning with North American terminology. This choice adheres to regional naming conventions and is not meant to disregard the taxonomic distinctions between these various groups of birds of prey.

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

sharp shinned hawk perched snowy day
sharp-shinned hawk

Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz 
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in

Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest accipiters and are fondly referred to as “sharpies.” They have copper barring on their white underparts and blue-gray feathering on their back, nape, and crown, giving them a hooded appearance. Their eyes are distinctly red. Juveniles have a brown back with brown streaking down the chest, and yellow eyes. 

Unlike some larger hawks that swoop down on their prey from high above, these agile hawks are small and quick enough to dart through woods to sneak up on their prey or burst from a tree limb to chase them. Because of this, they are known as “pursuit hunters.” Songbirds make up the majority of their diet, and because of this they are often seen stalking backyard bird feeders. 

Sharp-shinned hawk (Image credit: Ilona Loser | CC BY-SA 3.0 | wikicommons)

After performing their acrobatics through the trees and catching a meal with their talons, sharpies will take its prey back to a perch and de-feather it. If the catch is for their mate or nestlings, they will often remove and eat the head first before giving the rest away. 

Sharp-shinned hawks are found throughout Arkansas during the winter months, after migrating down into the state from their summer breeding range in Canada. When spring comes, most will migrate north again but some do remain year-round along the northern border. Look for them hunting small birds and mammals along forest edges. 

2. Cooper’s Hawk

cooper hawk
Cooper’s Hawk (adult) | image by Ken Pitts via Flickr

Scientific nameAccipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6 – 17.7 in
Weight: 7.8 – 24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Very similar to the Sharp-shinned hawk in looks, with a steely blue back and wings, striped tail, red eye, and reddish barring on the belly, but Cooper’s are larger overall. Compared to the sharpie their head has more of a brown “cap” than a hood, and appears more squared off than round. The tip of their tail also appears more rounded, while the sharpie has a more squared off tail. Juveniles have a different appearance with a brown back, heavily brown streaked underparts and a yellow eye. 

Cooper’s hawks are some of the most able and skilled fliers in the bird world. Their power, paired with agility and stealth, make them formidable predators and they can shoot through the treetops, chasing prey at super speeds. 

coopers hawk juvenile pole
Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile) | image by Robert Nunnally via Flickr

Don’t be surprised if a Cooper’s hawk swoops down onto your backyard feeders. Although they aren’t opposed to eating smaller birds, their favorites are larger species, such as doves, starlings, robins, jays, grouse, quail, and chickens. Crashing through trees and foliage on a high speed chase after birds does take its toll. Studies of Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that many of them had at one point broken bones in their chest from impacts with branches and trees while chasing birds. 

Cooper’s Hawks can be found in Arkansas year round in forests and woodlands, but they also enjoy leafy suburbs. 

3. Red-shouldered Hawk

Image: peteyp8 |

Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7

Red-shouldered hawks are common in their range, which is the eastern U.S. and the western coast of California. They can be found throughout Arkansas, where remain year-round.

A good identifying feature is the heavy orange barring on the breast that extends all the way down their belly. They have dark, nearly black feathers down their back and wings. The top of their back and “shoulders” are rusty-red feathers, giving them their “red-shouldered” name. From the mid-back down there will be a lot of white barring mixed in with the dark feathers, ending in a strongly banded tail. 

red shouldered hawk
red shouldered hawk | credit: ALAN SCHMIERER

You may hear this hawk before you spot it. They give a loud “kee-aah” call that is usually repeated several times in a row. Some people think it sounds a bit like a seagull. They will loudly call to mark territory or when alarmed. 

Red-shouldered hawk nestlings often fall victim to Great Horned Owls. Occasionally these hawks and crows (also victims of the owl) will work together to mob and chase off Great Horned Owls.

4. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawk (Image: Andrew Cannizzaro | CC BY 2.0 | wikicommons)

Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz 
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in

These stocky hawks have pale underbellies with brown barring on the chest. They have dark backs and white bars on their tails. In flight, look for their short tail with large bands of black and white, and broad wings with pointed tips. From below, you can see a dark outline around the wings.

Broad-winged hawks have a varied diet, but mostly stick to frogs, toads, and small rodents. The rest of their meals are rounded out with insects, reptiles and other amphibians and mammals. 

broad winged hawk flight
Broad-winged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Broad-winged hawks spend the breeding season throughout Arkansas before migrating back to South America for the winter. While here, they can be found nesting near forest openings and bodies of water. You may have to do some searching though, as they tend to be secretive and shy away from humans while breeding. 

This species played a huge part in making hawk-watching famous. Huge, migrating flocks of these birds, also known as “kettles” can contain thousands of birds and are a wonderful sight to see. All the birds in the kettle circle in the sky and are akin to a cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon. 

5. Red-tailed Hawk 

Image: sdc140 |

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7 – 25.6 in
Weight:  24.3oz – 51.5 oz
Wingspan:  44.9-52.4 in

Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk found on the North American continent, living year-round in almost every state, including Arkansas. Their population increases even more during the winter, when birds that have spent their summer in Canada come down to join the others in the U.S. 

Red-tailed hawks are most active during the day or early morning and are commonly seen soaring looking for prey with their amazing vision or perched along the roadside on telephone poles. Their diet is mainly small to medium sized mammals like mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels.

red tailed hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Adults have a brick-red tail that is easy to identify. However as juveniles, these hawks have a brown and white striped tail. Red-tailed hawks have a wide range of plumage variation around the country, but there are some common characteristics you can look for. In general these hawks have pale underparts with a dark brown back. They have brown streaking on their breast, often with a band of darker brown streaks going across their belly. 

Red-tailed Hawks have that classic, raspy scream that people associate with raptors. Not all raptors sound like how they’re portrayed in the movies. In fact, it’s often the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk that’s used in the soundtrack to portray fierce birds of prey, even eagles!

6. Northern Harrier

northern harrier dive
Northern Harrier | image by Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

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 the only harrier variety of hawks indigenous to North America. Its breeding grounds range as far north as Canada, but it winters in more southern climates, including Arkansas. So look for them in the state during the fall and winter, hunting in fields and marshes.

The northern harrier has an elegant, almost owl-like face. This disc-shaped face functions similarly to an owls, directing sound into their ears to help them hunt by sound as well as sight. Two helpful identifying features are their long tail, and white patch above the tail. They have a signature flying style, holding their wings in the shape of a “V”. 

northern harrier male
Northern Harrier (male) | image by Tom Koerner/USFWS via Flickr

Unlike many hawks that nest in trees, this hawk builds a platform on the ground in dense vegetation like reeds, willows, sedges and cattails. Males can have two (sometimes more) mates at once, and they will provide food for the female and offspring. 

7. American Goshawk

american goshawk
American Goshawk | image by psweet via iNaturalist | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

American Goshawks are only rare visitors to Arkansas. Most reside much further north, but sometimes they do wander further down into the U.S. during the winter months. Arkansas is pretty far south for this hawk, but every now and then one is spotted, usually in far northern portions of the state. So if you’re a keen hawk-watcher you may catch one during the winter. 

Like Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk, American Goshawks are also accipiters, and have rounded wings and long tails. However, American Goshawks are much bigger than these other accipiters, and are in fact the largest accipiters in North America. 

Goshawk (Image: Jevgenijs Slihto | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

Like the other accipiters we’ve mentioned so far, American Goshawks are secretive birds. They live in large, dense forests and tend to remain out of sight, so finding them is not easy. They have dark gray backs, light underparts with fine gray barring, and a white stripe above their amber eye.  

8. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawk (Image: Tom Koerner/USFWS | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz 
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in

Rough-legged Hawks aren’t as common in Arkansas as other types of hawks, but do have a non-breeding range throughout the state. In spring and summer they’re found in the open Arctic tundra where they breed. However, during the fall they migrate south to spend the winter in the much of the United States and southern Canada. It’s during the winter they’re found in Arkansas, though they tend to be harder to spot than other species. Their populations are pretty variable from year to year. 

two rough legged hawks
Two color-morphs of the Rough Legged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

They can be identified by their feathered legs that go all the way down to their toes. The only other species of hawk with this trait in North America is the Ferruginous Hawk. Rough-legged hawks come in two color morphs, dark and light. 

The plumage of males and females look quite different in both morphs. 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.

9. Swainson’s Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in

Swainson’s Hawks spend the winter in South America, then migrate up to western North America to breed for the summer. Arkansas is not within their typical range, however they do get spotted during the spring (April-May) and fall (August-September) migration. Most of the sightings occur in the northwest or southwest corners of the state, or along the Arkansas River west of Little Rock. 

swainsons hawk flying
Swainson’s Hawk | image by NPS / Jacob W. Frank via Flickr

Swainson’s Harks are large birds with long wings that appear pointed at the end. They have dark flight feathers that give their wings a thick, dark edge when viewed from below. Their head and upper breast are brown, and their belly and throat are white, giving them a hooded appearance.

During migration they form huge flocks numbering in the thousands, and often mix together with Mississippi Kites, Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks. Their migration takes place during the day, where they often soar over open country.

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2 thoughts on “9 Species of Hawks in Arkansas (Pictures)”


    • I haven’t seen much written about hawks using man made shelters. They like to spend their time high up in trees so having tall trees around is the best help. They sometimes will use man made platforms during nest building season, but these can be difficult to construct as they need to be at least 14 ft high and preferably near woods & trees. I’m sure the squirrels and other critters in your yard will be enticing enough to at least have them continue to periodically visit.


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