The 8 Species of Hawks in Illinois

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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 Illinois. 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.

Hawks in Illinois

When it comes to hawks in Illinois, there are 8 different species that you may encounter. Those species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and the Swainson’s Hawk.

There have been a few reports of the Ferruginous Hawk in the state of Illinois, but the bird does not have a range within the state so I did not include it on this list.

Wanna know a little bit about where you can see them in Illinois and what they look like?

Keep reading..

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1. Red-tailed Hawk

Length: 17.7-25.6 in  
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz 
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in  

Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most common hawks in the U.S. with almost 2 million nesting hawks in North America. This number accounts for about 90% of the global Red-tailed Hawk population. These large hawks live in Illinois and most of North America all year long.

Red-tailed Hawks are most active during the day or early morning and are commonly seen soaring above looking for prey with their amazing vision or perched along the roadside on telephone poles. They aren’t often seen in backyards lurking around feeders because they prey on larger animals that just songbirds.

Learn more about the Red-tailed Hawk here.


2. Red-shouldered Hawk

Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in  

The Red-shouldered hawk is a year-round resident to Illinois, and much of the eastern half of the United States. They eat mostly small mammals, other birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They are known for living and nesting in wooded areas and forests. The Mississippi River which acts as the western border to Illinois also acts as the western edge of their range in the northern half of the state. To the south they extend a bit beyond the river into Missouri.

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. Red-shouldered Hawks will commonly re-use the same nest year after year. Learn more about the Red-shouldered hawk here.


3. Sharp-shinned Hawk

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 North America, including Illinois. Sharpies migrate north to Canada and Alaska to breed each year, and south to Central America in the winter time. They are very migratory birds, but you have a couple of opportunities to see them each year as they are passing through your state. You can see their range map here.

These small hawks are notorious 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. Cooper’s Hawk

Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Cooper’s Hawks can sometimes appear to be just a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (see video below to tell the difference between Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks). They can be found in Illinois year-round and their range covers most of North America.

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. Females tend to be larger and more dominant over the males of this species.

Learn more about the Cooper’s hawk here.


5. Broad-winged Hawk

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-only range throughout the entire state of Illinois. Broad-winged Hawks migrate each year by the thousands, these large flocks are called “kettles”. If you want to spot a Broad-winged Hawk while they’re in Illinois, try walking through a forest during the summer and listening for their piercing whistle.

Broad-winged Hawks have one brood each year with 1-5 eggs. 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.


6. Northern Goshawk

photo by: Iosto Doneddu | CC 2.0

Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

Northern Goshawks are large birds of prey, similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks. The Northern Goshawk is considered scarce in most of the state, with a non-breeding population in northern Illinois. They live in large forests and may be hard to find, but your best chance is to quietly walk and listen in mature forests with large trees.  They are also known for fiercely protecting their nests and young, even attacking people who come too close.

Adults are dark slate gray on top with barred light gray underparts, and have a light stripe over their eyes. Northern Goshawks live and nest in forests high up in the trees. They are mostly opportunistic eaters with a wide range of prey including other birds, mammals, carrion, and insects.


7. Rough-legged Hawk

photo by: DickDaniels | CC 3.0

Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz 
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in

Rough-legged Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks are the only American hawks to have feathered legs all the way down to their toes. The Rough-legged Hawk comes in two distinct variations; light morph and dark morph. The plumage of males and females look quite different in both morphs. As you might expect, light morphs are overall lighter colored with a somewhat mottled pattern, and dark morphs are a dark chocolate brown color with two-toned light/dark under their wings and tails.

Rough-legged Hawks have a non-breeding range throughout the entire state of Illinois and most of the U.S. making winter the best time to see one in the state or the United States. They migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each season to breed and spend their winters here in the states.


8. Swainson’s Hawk

Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in

Swainson’s Hawks have a breeding range only in the northwestern corner of Illinois, near the Mississippi River. April and September is the best time to see them as they are flying into or out of their North American breeding grounds. They perch on telephone poles, fence posts, and tree branches scanning the ground for signs of food.

They have one of the longest migrations of any North American raptor. Swainson’s Hawks migrate all the way from southern South America by the thousands in flocks called “kettles” each year to breed in North America. They have long wings, short tails, light underbellies, reddish-brown chests, and typically have brown and gray upper parts.


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About Jesse

Jesse enjoys bird watching and feeding birds in his backyard, learning about the different species, and sharing his knowledge and experiences.

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