In this article, we’re going to give you a quick but informative overview of the hawks in Arkansas. With a little help, you’ll become that much better at identifying them based on their looks, tendencies, and migratory habits. We’ll also throw in a few fun facts. Raptors can leave some people scratching their head when it comes to identifying them. It’s difficult to get up close to them, and many are just varying shades of brown, especially when soaring high overhead.
Luckily, this list of Arkansas hawks should help with the confusion.
8 Species of Hawks in Arkansas
The 8 species of hawks in Arkansas are the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Northern Goshawk, and the Rough-legged Hawk.
1. Sharp-shinned Hawk
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 grey feathering on their backs, nape, and crown, giving it a hooded look. Their eyes are distinctly red.
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.”
After performing their acrobatics through the trees and catching a meal with their catlike 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.
Sharpies are found in Arkansas in the winter months. During this non-breeding season, they can be seen hunting small birds and mammals along forest edges.
Songbirds make up roughly 90% of the Sharpie’s diet. This allows them to serve the important function of keeping wild bird populations healthy and manageable.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Length: 14.6 – 15.3 in
Weight: 7.8 – 14.5 oz
Wingspan: 24.4 – 35.4 in
Very similar to the Sharpies in looks with a steely blue back and wings and reddish barring on the belly, but Cooper’s are larger overall. It’s not uncommon for there to be discrepancies between large female sharpies and small male Cooper’s, since female hawks are larger than males. Cooper’s Hawks have a flatter head and rounded tail, which can help distinguish the two.
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.
Don’t be surprised if a Cooper’s hawk swoops down onto your backyard feeders. Little birds out in the open, focused on stuffing their bills? The hawks are practically being fed on a silver platter!
Although they aren’t opposed to eating smaller birds, their favorites are larger species, such as doves, starlings, robins, jays, grouse, quail, and chickens.
Cooper’s Hawks can be found in Arkansas year round in forests and woodlands, but they also enjoy leafy suburbs.
These hawks can be ruthless. As with most hawks, they kill their prey by squeezing it, but Cooper’s have been seen taking it a step farther and even drowning their prey.
To further prove their rough tendencies, in a study of more than 300 Cooper’s Hawk skeletons, 23 percent showed healed-over fractures in the bones of the chest.
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
Length: 16.9 – 24.0 in
Weight: 17.1 – 27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0 – 43.7 in
Red-shouldered Hawks can be found year-round in Arkansas and have deep, reddish chestnut colored feathers that appear marbled on the wings with bars on the breast. They have stark bars on the tail and pitch black eyes.
Red-shouldered hawks live in wet deciduous woodlands. If you’re out and about and catch sight of this bird, you can expect to find water of some sort nearby such as swamps, rivers, or marshes.
Unlike other species that feed on birds, Red-shoulders prefer non-feathered prey if they can. They eat small mammals, snakes, lizards, and amphibians.
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
Length: 13.4 – 17.3 in
Weight: 9.3 – 19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9 – 39.4 in
These stocky birds have pale underbellies with almond colored barring. They have dark backs and narrow white bars on their tails.
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-wings spend the breeding season in Arkansas before migrating back to South America for the winter. While here, they can be found nesting near forest openings and bodies of water.
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
Length: 17.7 – 25.6 in
Weight: 24.3 – 51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9 – 52.4 in
This large hawk is pretty conspicuous with their contrasting red tail against their brown bodies above and white bellies below. There are several morphs of this species that have varying degrees of streaking on the belly and markings on the head. The Eastern morph, the one found in Arkansas, has a well defined belly band and a white throat.
Red-tailed Hawk pairs are the epitome of the perfect couple. They perform a cool sky dance when courting each other, clasping talons and spiraling to the ground. Red-tails then build their nest together and mate for life. They have also been seen hunting together, working as a unit to catch squirrels from a tree. The pair will stay together until one of them dies.
These guys can be found year round in Arkansas. Sightings typically increase in the winter as migrants from Canada come down and mingle with the year-round residents.
Red-tailed Hawks have that classic, raspy cry that people associate with raptors. Not all raptors sound like how they’re portrayed in the movies (ahem, I’m talking about you, Bald Eagle.) In fact, it’s often the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk that’s used in the soundtrack to portray the fierce birds of prey. I bet you can even hear it in your head now as you read this!
6. Northern Harrier
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)
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. They like living and hunting in fields and marshes.
Like owls, Northern Harriers rely on their hearing as well as their vision to hunt, and they sometimes subdue their larger prey by drowning them. Males can have up to five female partners at once, although it’s more common for them to have just one or two.
Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks in Arkansas and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
7. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are only occasional visitors to the northern half of the state of Arkansas. Like Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks are also accipiters, and have rounded wings and long tails. However, Northern Goshawks are much bigger than these other accipiters, and are in fact the largest accipiters in North America.
Like the other accipiters we’ve mentioned so far, Northern Goshawks are secretive birds. Though they are the most widespread accipiter in the world, they live in large, dense forests and tend to remain out of sight, so finding them is not easy. Northern Goshawks have mostly gray plumage, with bright red eyes and bold white stripes that give them the appearance of having eyebrows. They are often considered to be symbols of strength, and even Attila the Hun had the image of one adorned on his helmet.
Northern Goshawks have been popular to use in hunting by falconers for over 2000 years. They were once known as “cooks hawks” because of their excellent ability to bring in meat to cook.
8. Rough-legged Hawk
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 most of the state. For most of the year they’re found in the open Arctic tundra, where they also 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 and often depend on how abundant lemmings, a major food source, are in the Arctic.
Rough-legged Hawks get their name from their feathered legs that help them stay warm in the frigid north. Along with Golden Eagles, these hawks are the only raptors in America that feature feathers along their legs and all the way down to their talons. Rough-legged Hawks are large buteo hawks, with stocky bodies and long, broad wings. Their tails are longer than most buteos, though, and their feet and beaks are small.
When in flight they hold their wings in a “V” shape, and their tails fan out. In North America there are many color variations in plumage, including light and dark morphs. Adult light-morph males feature white underparts and gray-brown uppers, while dark-morphs are typically dark brown all over with the exception of their underwings.
The name “Rough-legged” refers to the feathers on the Rough-legged Hawk’s legs that go all the way down to their feet. The Ferruginous Hawk and the Golden Eagle are the only other North American raptors to have these extra long leg feathers.