Idaho is home to the Rocky Mountains and over 21.5 million of acres of forests. 21,589 of these acres are protected National Forests making Idaho a great home for many different types of raptors, such as hawks. In this article we’ll be learning about the hawks in Idaho.
In the below list of Idaho birds of prey we’ll look at each of the 8 species of hawks found in the state of Idaho.
Let’s get to it!
Hawks of Idaho
The 8 species of hawks found in the state of Idaho are the Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Ferruginous hawk, and the Northern Goshawk.
1. Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in
Swainson’s Hawks have a breeding range throughout the state of Idaho. They have a very long migration path that stretches from Alaska all the way to southern South America where they spend their winters.
Look for Swainson’s Hawks in open fields perched on fence posts, along power lines and telephone poles, and other elevated perches that give them a “birds eye view” of their territory. These raptors are gray, white, and brown in color and feed primarily on small rodents and mammals, reptiles, and even insects.
Swainson’s Hawks also migrate in huge kettles in the tens of thousands and will even intermix with kettles of Broad-winged Hawks forming massive flocks of migrating hawks.
2. 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
Probably one of the most widespread hawks in North America, the Red-tailed Hawk is commonly seen throughout the state Idaho.
Red-tailed Hawks are the second largest hawks in Idaho and North America, second only to the Ferruginous Hawk that you’ll also see on this list. Red-tailed Hawks feed primarily on small to medium sized mammals and you won’t often see them in your yard and around your bird feeders. You may occasionally catch one snatching up a squirrel however.
Coupled with their large size, Red-tailed Hawk’s red tail feathers set them apart from other species making it a bit easier to identify them in the wild.
Fun fact: Did you know that when you hear a bird of prey call in a movie, even if it’s supposed to be an eagle, it’s usually a Red-tailed Hawk?
3. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
Northern Harriers resemble owls more than any other species of hawk, although they aren’t related to owls. Like owls though, they rely on both vision and hearing to hunt their prey. Harriers are almost always spotted in flight and don’t sit perched as often as other species since they hunt from the air. Look for them soaring over grasslands, marshes, or fields throughout their range.
Northern Harriers are found throughout the state of Idaho all year long.
4. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Sharp-shinned Hawks are prevalent throughout the state of Idaho, aside from the northern areas of the state where they have a breeding range only. They mostly occupy deep woodlands and forests, where they rely on the element of surprise to hunt their prey.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest hawks in Idaho as well as the United States. Their slender bodies, rounded wings, and long, square-tipped tails help them quickly navigate through dense forests. Their colors and plumage are very similar to Cooper’s Hawks that you’ll see next. In fact, telling these two birds apart can be difficult even for the pros. Both species of hawks are bluish-gray on top, with light-orange barring on their pale under-parts.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are also notorious for ambushing congregations of songbirds at backyard bird feeders, so be sure to take your feeders down for a few days if you see this happening.
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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
Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized accipiters that look very similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but with slightly larger heads, longer tails, and longer frames. Both birds have grayish upper parts and pale undersides with rufous barring, and red-orange eyes (in adults). However, a close examination of the tails of these hawks will show that the tips of Cooper’s Hawks’ tails are rounded, where Sharp-shinned Hawks’ are square.
As accipiters, Cooper’s Hawks rely on other birds as a large part of their diet. Common prey for Cooper’s Hawks include Blue Jays, Starlings and American Robins in addition to rodents, reptiles, and other small animals. Like Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks are secretive and elusive, so going to hawk watches during migration times is often the easiest way to observe them.
You’ll only find Cooper’s hawks in Idaho all year throughout most of the state, and during the breeding months only in Northern Idaho.
6. Northern Goshawk
Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are found all throughout Idaho and are some of the largest accipiters in North America. Like other accipiters, Northern Goshawks are elusive birds. They stay away from populated areas and live in dense, mature forests where they hunt and nest. Though they are the most widespread accipiter in the world, spotting them may prove difficult.
They have mostly gray feathers, with bright red eyes and bold white stripes that give them the appearance of having eyebrows. Northern Goshawks hunt and feed on small mammals as well as other birds.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
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 range in Idaho. They migrate far north to the arctic tundra regions of Canada and Alaska to breed each year. Here they spend their summers breeding and hunting lemmings and other small mammals.
Look for them in the winter soaring overhead in open country and fields or high perches carefully watching for movements on the ground and their next meal. One identifying feature of Rough-legged hawks is their leg feathers that go all the way down to their feet.
Rough-legged hawks are mostly brown and white but these hawks come in 2 variations, light morphs and dark morphs. Light morphs are mostly white underneath while dark morphs have mostly dark colors with pale white edges.
8. Ferruginous Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks in Idaho as well as all of North America. They have a pretty limited range and are only found in the western half of the United States, and parts of northern Mexico. In Idaho you can find a breeding range only in southern and south-central areas of the state, so start looking for them in the Spring. They prefer wide open spaces and can be seen soaring high above grasslands, prairies, and fields.
Like the Goshawk above, these hawks come in both light and dark variations. The dark morphs are much rarer than light morphs and have a rusty chocolate color. They breed high on high cliffs or tall trees and feed primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and pocket gophers.