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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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.
Jesse has been feeding birds in his backyard and bird watching across the country for years. He loves learning about the different species and sharing his knowledge and experiences on this website.