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7 Amazing Species of Hawks in Florida (Pictures)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 01-26-2024

With the varied landscapes and warm climate, the hawks in Florida live in the state’s expansive swamps and dense forests which serve as a rich habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. 

In this article, we will focus on 7 hawk species that are residents of Florida. These birds of prey are integral to the state’s natural balance, each playing a vital role in the ecological community.

As we learn about these resident hawks, we’ll offer insights into their habits, characteristics, and the environments they prefer. We’ll also highlight the importance and beauty of these magnificent raptors within the state’s ecosystems.

The 7 species of hawks found in Florida that you’ll learn about below are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and the Cooper’s Hawk. Keep reading to learn about each species!

1. Red-tailed hawk

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

Red-tailed Hawks have a broad wingspan, a striking appearance, and are a familiar presence across Florida. These adaptable raptors have made a niche for themselves not just in the wild expanses but also in the urban sprawl, showcasing their versatility in habitat preference.

With a keen eye for detail, these hawks utilize their exceptional vision to spot potential prey from considerable heights. Their adeptness at soaring and perching in strategic locations underscores their skill as predators.

red tailed hawk face
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk | image by Bird Feeder Hub

As year-round residents of Florida, Red-tailed Hawks contribute significantly to the ecological balance, controlling rodent populations and adding to the state’s natural diversity.

Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks in North America. These large hawks live in Florida and most of North America all year long. They are commonly seen soaring above looking for prey with their amazing vision or perched along the roadside on telephone poles. Learn more facts about the Red-tailed Hawk.

2. Red-shouldered Hawk

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

The Red-shouldered hawk is a full time resident to all of Florida, and most of the eastern half of the U.S. They eat mostly small mammals, other birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Red-shouldered Hawks are known for living and nesting in wooded areas and forests. They will commonly re-use the same nest year after year.

Red-shouldered Hawks are also known for their distinctive call, a clear kee-rah, which echoes through their forest habitats. This sound plays a crucial role in their territorial behavior and mating rituals.

red-shouldered hawk standing on top of dead opossum
Red-shouldered Hawk with its prey | image by

At first glance they may look similar to the red-tailed variety, these hawks are easily identifiable by their striking plumage: a rich, rufous-red breast contrasted with black-and-white checkered wings and back. This distinctive coloring not only adds to their beauty but also aids in camouflage among the dappled light of forest canopies.

The population of Red-shouldered hawks has increased over the last 50 years in their range. The biggest threat to this species is the clearing of wooded areas where they nest and breed. Learn more about the Red-shouldered hawk here.

3. 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

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Canada and the United States. They can be found all over the place in North America, including Florida. However, the areas of breeding only, year-round, migrations, and non-breeding are very spotty throughout its range.

Characterized by their slate-gray back and wings contrasted with a finely barred reddish-orange chest, Sharp-shinned Hawks possess a distinctive appearance that sets them apart.

Image: dbadry |

Their sharp, hooked beaks and long, banded tails further contribute to their sleek, predatory look. Juveniles have a more subdued coloration, with brown streaks over a cream background, making them sometimes difficult to distinguish from other small hawks at a distance.

They are known 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.

4. Short-tailed Hawk

credit: Amendezg at en.wikipedia | CC 3.0
  • Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
  • Length: 16 to 17 inches  
  • Weight: 10.6 to 21.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 35 to 40 inches  

The Short-tailed Hawk, a rare and elusive raptor, is primarily found in the southern regions of Florida, making it one of the state’s more unique avian residents. While it is also present in parts of Mexico and Central and South America, its presence in the United States is largely limited to Florida. Here, it can be found year-round in the southern tip and the Florida Keys, with a breeding distribution that extends into central Florida.

short tailed hawk
Short-tailed Hawk | image by cuatrok77 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Characterized by its remarkable agility in the air, the Short-tailed Hawk navigates effortlessly through Florida’s varied habitats, from the dense canopy of the Everglades to the coastal mangroves. Its adaptability is further showcased by the existence of two distinct color morphs – a lighter phase and a darker phase – which aid in camouflage and hunting.

Despite its fascinating characteristics, the Short-tailed Hawk remains one of the least studied birds in the region. This lack of extensive research has resulted in a scarcity of detailed information and imagery available to the public and the scientific community. This highlights the need for focused conservation and study efforts within Florida’s ecosystems to protect this elusive bird and gain deeper insights into its life and habitat preferences.

5. Cooper’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 14.6-17.7 in
  • Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

At first glance, Cooper’s Hawks can sometimes appear to be a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They can be found in Florida year-round and their range covers most of North America.

With their slate-gray back, reddish-barred chest, and long, banded tail, Cooper’s Hawks exhibit a striking appearance that sets them apart. These medium-sized raptors are known for their agility in flight, particularly when navigating through dense forests or suburban areas.

coopers hawk eating in tree
cooper’s hawk eating in tree

Cooper’s hawks interactions with humans often occur in the vicinity of bird feeders, where they are observed stalking their avian prey, reflecting their adaptability to human-altered landscapes.

They’re notorious for stalking feeders and feed almost exclusively on other birds. Their preferred habitat is forests and wooded areas but will also nest in suburban wooded areas and backyards too. Learn more facts about the Cooper’s hawk.

6. 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

The Broad-winged Hawk has a breeding range in the panhandle of Florida, a migration range in the central regions of the state, and a winter range in the southern tip of Florida. Broad-winged Hawks migrate each year by the thousands, these large flocks are called “kettles”. Broad-winged Hawks have one brood each year with 1-5 eggs.

Distinct for their compact size and distinctive barring on the underparts, Broad-winged Hawks are easily recognized during their migration by their tight, spiraling flocks.

Image: Magicman2u2 |

These “kettles” create a spectacular vision in the sky, a phenomenon that attracts birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. On an individual level, their plumage features rich browns and whites, with a notably banded tail that adds to their visual allure.

The female is in charge of constructing the nest, with help from the male. They will fiercely protect their nesting site and build their nests with at least a half-mile of seperation from other birds of prey. Their diet is consistent with that of most other birds of prey.

7. Northern Harrier

northern harrier face
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 stands out as the only harrier variety of hawks in North America, with a wide range extending from the breeding grounds in Canada to the warmer winter habitats in Florida. These birds are distinctive for their preference for open fields and marshes, where they gracefully glide close to the ground while hunting.

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

Unique among hawks, Northern Harriers share an owl-like trait: they utilize their keen sense of hearing, in addition to their sharp vision, to locate prey. This adaptation allows them to detect and capture prey hidden in the vegetation, sometimes employing unusual tactics such as drowning larger prey to subdue them. Their face is surrounded by a disc of feathers that helps to direct sound to their ears, enhancing their auditory hunting capabilities.

The social structure of Northern Harriers is equally fascinating. Males are known to be polygynous, potentially mating with up to five females in a single breeding season, though one or two mates are more typical. This aspect of their behavior, along with their hunting techniques and habitats, underscores the Northern Harrier’s unique place among North American raptors.

21 thoughts on “7 Amazing Species of Hawks in Florida (Pictures)”

  1. We saw a large grey feathered hawk? silently swoop down and grab a dove by our bird feeder. We live in coastal central west Florida. Trying to find out if it was a grey hawk but researching shows either rare north of Mexico or this hawk is not in our region. Any thoughts?

    • Hey Susan, yeah I don’t think Gray Hawks are found in Florida. Adult Cooper’s Hawks are blueish-gray on top and commonly stalk bird feeders so that’s a possibility.

      • I’m also seeing a gray hawk or falcon in NE Coastal Florida. It’s about the size of a large pigeon/small hawk and is all gray (head, stomach, under wings). I’ve only been able to see it flying so I don’t know the colors of it’s back. I’m getting the same search results as Susan that these birds are north of Mexico. Either way, it’s a beautiful bird.

  2. I just saw a hawk in ocala florida (rolling hills) over 2ft lenth and atleast 4ft wing span. This is no BS! Ive seen many hawks around/on our property so, I know how big they usually r but this one was HUGE! How is this possible??

    • Hawks come in all shapes and sizes! I can’t say for sure which hawk you saw but red-tailed hawks are fairly common in your area and they can be as large as you described. It’s also possible you saw another large bird of prey like an eagle or an osprey.

  3. I have a photograph of a hawk that we’re trying to identify but it doesn’t look like the photographs that are posted here. Anyway you could help me identify this beautiful bird?

  4. Hi! I keep chickens in my backyard and there is a red shouldered hawk (I think) that has been coming to sit on the fence and watch them. There is no access from above because the chickens range under a large tree. It’s a fairly small hawk, but we saw it with a squirrel not too long ago. Is it possible for the hawk to kill a chicken at close range? Or is that hawk just window shopping?

    • Hi Kelly, it’s hard to say. Larger hawks, eagles and owls have all been known to go after chickens. A red shouldered hawk could try and go after chickens if they wanted to. I have seen some people say they have spotted them hanging around their chickens, but have only ever seen them eating squirrels. Maybe the squirrels are attracted to the chicken feed or something else about the chicken coop area and thus the hawks are drawn in by the squirrel activity and not necessarily the chickens. So it could really go either way, keep an eye on what the hawk is up to. Might not be a bad idea to start thinking about some netting or enclosures for the chickens for more protection. If you look around YouTube some people have made videos about how they protect their chickens from hawks that might give you some ideas. Good luck!

  5. I live in Central Florida, and have Kite Hawks here. There’s been a total of 4 flying around & perched in trees in my backyard at one point. They’re beautiful birds and make the funniest sound.

  6. I recently saw a kestrel pinning and eating a small lizard on my lawn when suddenly a Cooper’s Hawk pounced on the kestrel and carried it, and the lizard, away.

  7. We are fairly new to this part of florida, northcentral, about 50 miles due north of Tampa. Live in the country. Have frequently seen a large hawk, in our yard and around the property. The crows always chase it away, tho. I have tried to google and see what it is. The distinguishable thing is noticed is, it has two wide white stripes across both wings. The overall color seems to be like a red hawk….

    • Hi Barbara – unfortunately it is very hard to ID a bird just based on someone’s description, especially hawks with their variable plumage. Sometimes the best trick is to go to Google and type in as many descriptives as you can think of and look through the photos and see if you can find it. The only bird that comes to mind when you say it looks like a hawk but has definite white stripes on the wings is the Common Nighthawk. Not an actual hawk, despite the name!

  8. Do hawks eat rabbits in Florida? We live in Jacksonville and have rabbits that like to play in the yard. We have a lot of hawks around. How what size/weight is too big for hawks?

    • Yes, many hawks will eat rabbits. If you have pet rabbits in the yard I wouldn’t leave them unsupervised. Try to give them some cover and stay close by. If you can’t supervise them, having them in a hutch or some type of enclosure would be safest.

  9. Our acreage is host to many small birds including annual nesting for
    Pileated woodpeckers, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red cockaded woodpeckers
    Split tail terns
    Broad-winged hawks, Red-tailed hawks
    Screech-owl, Short-eared Owl, Great Horned Owl
    Sadly, all will be disrupted due to highway progress that will eminent domain this bird paradise. Efforts to get a lane shift north (10 feet) to avoid disruption has been futile. 🙁

  10. I moved to an area in Jacksonville Fl recently in a neighborhood called Fish Eagle where there are small ponds and it is known to have turtles, geese, fish, etc… I have 3 small dogs with the smallest being a yorkie of about 3.5#. I just just saw a large all brown Eagle or Hawk fly slowly out of the tree in the back and no joke its wing span was at least 3 foot and maybe 4 foot. It flew very slowly out of the tree and hovered over my house ONLY about 30 feet up and then flew away. I was outside with my dogs and of course am very worried about this. WHat would be the best way to deter this bird from my yard as I have already placed many large shiny hanging ornaments to no avail. ALso, can anyone please tell me the type of bird this may have been? thank you

    • Hawks are harder to deter than smaller birds but we have some ideas in this article HERE. Unfortunately if the hawks are catching food in/around those ponds, they are likely to always be around. But they are also much more likely to go after turtles and squirrels than a dog.

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