Georgia is home to a small variety of hawks, each species adapted to the state’s diverse habitats. From the widespread Red-tailed Hawk to the unique Northern Harrier, these birds of prey play a vital role in Georgia’s ecosystems.
This article provides an overview of the hawk species found in Georgia, discussing their physical characteristics, behaviors, and habitats, reflecting the ecological diversity of the state.
Certain species like Red-tailed Hawks are Buteos, while Cooper’s Hawks are Accipiters. Buteos were known as buzzards in the Old World but recognized as hawks in the New World. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on New World hawks.
When it comes to hawks in Georgia, you have 6 different species that can be found in the state. Those species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and the Cooper’s Hawk.
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 claim the title of the most common hawks in North America, and their presence extends year-round across Georgia and much of the country. These majestic raptors are a familiar sight as they’re often spotted soaring high above.
They use their remarkable vision to scan the landscape for potential prey. It’s not unusual to spot them perched along the roadside, often on telephone poles, as they keep a watchful eye on the terrain below.
As the largest hawks in Georgia, Red-tailed Hawks play a vital role in the ecosystem by primarily preying on rodents and small mammals, effectively managing local populations.
However, their diets are not limited to rodents alone; they occasionally diversify their menu with other avian species, reptiles, and any available food sources, showcasing their adaptability as opportunistic hunters.
Possibly why they were originally put in the buzzard family who are known avian scavengers. These powerful birds are an integral part of Georgia’s avian tapestry, contributing to the balance of its ecosystems.
2. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a dedicated year-round resident throughout the state of Georgia, as well as much of the eastern half of the United States. They a diverse diet primarily consisting of small mammals, avian species, reptiles, and amphibians, and play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance.
Red-shouldered Hawk have an affinity for wooded areas and forests, and known to establish nests in these lush habitats. They known to regularly reuse the same nest year after year, a testament to their strong attachment to their chosen breeding sites.
In the past 50 years or so, the population of Red-shouldered Hawks has experienced a significant increase within their range… about 2% per year overall growth. However, this species faces a significant threat posed by the clearing of wooded areas, which disrupts their nesting and breeding grounds.
Despite their name emphasizing ‘red shoulders,’ it’s important to note that the reddish coloration extends beyond just the shoulders, encompassing most of the Red-shouldered Hawk’s underparts and chest area, adding to the distinctiveness of this remarkable species.
- Learn more facts about the Red-shouldered Hawk.
3. 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 that encompasses the state of Georgia and extends across the eastern half of the United States. Their annual migration, numbering in the thousands, is a remarkable spectacle where these raptors form large flocks known as ‘kettles’ during their journey.
In Georgia, Broad-winged Hawks are most frequently observed from early April through early October, coinciding with their nesting and breeding seasons. During this time, they are actively engaged in raising their young and maintaining their territories.
Breeding pairs of Broad-winged Hawks produce a single brood each year, typically consisting of 1 to 5 eggs. Nest construction is a collaborative effort, with the female taking the lead while the male provides assistance.
Broad-winged Hawks are known for their fierce protection of their nesting sites, often establishing their nests with a minimum half-mile separation from other birds of prey. These hawks eat small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and, on occasion, other bird species, underscoring their role as predators within Georgia’s diverse ecosystems.
4. Sharp-shinned Hawk
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of hawks in Georgia, as well as the rest of North America. They are widespread and common in the United States, including Georgia. However, they have a non-breeding population throughout the state and migrate far north each year to breed.
While the Sharp-shinned Hawk holds the title of the smallest hawk species in Georgia and North America, its wide distribution across the United States, including Georgia, demonstrates its adaptability to various habitats like the Cooper’s hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawks migrate north annually for breeding, during which they are known for their stalking of backyards and bird feeders, primarily targeting songbirds as their main food source.
If you see one in your backyard, consider taking down your feeders for a few days and allow the hawk to move on before putting them back out.
- Learn more facts about the Sharp-shinned hawk.
5. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawks are considered to be medium to large in size, and can sometimes appear to be just a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They have a year-round presence in Georgia and a wide distribution across North America.
Cooper’s Hawks have distinct markings and plumage patterns that help distinguish them from Sharp-shinned Hawks. In addition to their hunting prowess, Cooper’s Hawks are known for being highly adept at navigating through dense forests and urban environments, which contributes to their adaptability and success in these settings.
Like the Sharp-shinned Hawk, they are also 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.
6. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
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 Georgia. 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 Northern Harriers 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 Georgia and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
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.