Depending on who you ask, there are up to 25 different species of hawks in the United States. Due to different states having different climates and food sources for the various species, each state may have it’s own collection of hawks that live there at various times of the year. In this article we’ll discuss hawks in Colorado. How many species can be found in the state, and a little bit about each one.
Raptors of all types are very interesting to me and I enjoy writing about them so I’ve been trying to cover as many states as possible recently. It can be a chore to search the internet trying to find what species of hawks live in your state.
Common Hawks in Colorado
When it comes to hawks in Colorado there are 9 different species that you may encounter. These species all have a range in the state of Colorado according to either allaboutbirds.org or neotropical.birds.cornell.edu.
Those 9 species hawks in Colorado are the Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.
Wanna know a little bit about where you can see them in Colorado and what they look like?
Read on to see!
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
The Red-tailed Hawk is a large hawk and the most common one in all of North America. They have a year-round range in the entire state of Colorado and can commonly be seen soaring overhead or perched high up on telephone wires and high in trees. They feed mostly on small to medium-sized mammals so they aren’t seen in backyards stalking bird feeders as often as a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk is.
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
The Sharp-shinned Hawk has a year-round range to the west, and a non-breeding population in about the eastern third of Colorado. Sharp-shinned Hawks, aka Sharpies, are notorious for stalking backyards and bird feeders as songbirds make up about 90% of their diet. They are the smallest hawks in Colorado and in North America. If you see one in your yard be sure to take down your feeders for a few days and allow the hawk to move on before putting them back up.
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Cooper’s Hawks can be found all year long throughout the state of Colorado. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks look extremely similar and the size difference is the main indicator between the two species. Like the Sharpie, the Cooper’s Hawk loves to prey on other birds and can also be a nuisance in backyards. See the video below for some tips on how to tell the two hawks apart. Cooper’s Hawks are generally forest birds but they are moving more and more into urban and suburban areas which is why they can often be seen in cities, parks, and backyards.
4. Broad-winged Hawk
The Broad-winged Hawk as a migration range in the very eastern part of Colorado. If you’re near this part of the state in the spring, keep your eyes open for them as they are often spotted at this time of year during their migration. They have breeding grounds to the north in Canada as well as to the west.
Broad-winged Hawks leave South America by the hundreds of thousands in the fall to start their migration to their breeding grounds in North America. Once they arrive they are found in the eastern part of the U.S. and throughout much of Canada, but not the western parts of the United States. Overall they are rare in Colorado.
5. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are found all over Colorado. They have a year-round range in the western two-thirds of the state, the remaining eastern portion of Colorado is divided between non-breeding and scarce. The Northern Goshawk is the larger relative to the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks. This raptor got its name from the Old English word for “goose hawk,” which refers to the fact that it preys on other birds. They can be identified by their mostly gray color, orange or red eyes, and white stripes over their eyes that look like eyebrows.
6. Rough-legged Hawk
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
The Rough-legged Hawk has a non-breeding population in all of Colorado. The best time to see one anywhere in the U.S. is in the winter time since they migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each year to breed. They can easily be identified by their feathered legs that go all the way down to their toes. The only other species of hawk with this trait is the Ferruginous Hawk, who is further down on this list.
7. Swainson’s Hawk
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in
Swainson’s Hawks can be found throughout the state of Colorado with a breeding range. The best time to see these hawks is in the summer time on utility poles along the road scanning the ground for prey. They may also be seen traveling in large flocks in the tens of thousands called “kettles” in April and September as they are flying to and from the United States during their migration. They have one of the longest migration routes of any American raptor with some traveling from Southern South America all the way to Alaska to breed.
8. Ferruginous Hawk
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
The Ferruginous Hawk is found year-round throughout much of Colorado. Along with the Rough-legged Hawk they are the only other species to have feathers all the way down to their toes. They are the largest of all North American hawks, even larger than the Red-tailed Hawk. They can be seen soaring high overhead or perched on telephone poles scanning the ground for prey. The majority of Ferruginous Hawks fall into the “light morph” category and are mostly pale in appearance with light underbodies. This indicates there are “dark morphs” which are naturally much darker in color, they only account for a small percentage of Ferruginous Hawks though.
9. Northern Harrier
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. The Northern Harrier can be found throughout Colorado year-round.
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. These hawks like living and hunting in fields and marshes, so if you’re trying to spot one look in places like this!
Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks in Colorado and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
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