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 Kansas. 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 Kansas
When it comes to hawks in Kansas, there are 9 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, Swainson’s Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.
Wanna know a little bit about where you can see them in Kansas and what they look like?
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks around 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 Kansas 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.
There are more Red-tails around in the winter time as the migrating hawks fly south from their breeding grounds to join the population of year-round hawks. Here’s a quick video of a Red-tailed Hawk we saw trying to coax a squirrel to come out from under a sign post.
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 along the eastern border of Kansas, 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. Red-shouldered Hawks will commonly re-use the same nest year after year.
These forest-dwelling raptors build their nests high up in the tree-tops, near a water source. 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.
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 Kansas. They have a non-breeding population in all of Kansas where you may see them in the winter as they migrate north to Canada and Alaska to breed each year. You can see their range map here.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are known for stalking backyard feeders since songbirds are their main food source. 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.
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 Kansas year-round and their range covers most of North America.
These highly skillful flyers are also notorious for stalking feeders and feed almost exclusively on other birds like the Sharpie. Their preferred habitat is forests and wooded areas but will also nest in suburban wooded areas and backyards too. 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 state Kansas, except for the along the eastern border where there is a small breeding range. 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 Kansas, 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 separation from other birds of prey. Their diet is consistent with that of most other birds of prey.
6. Northern Goshawk
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 with a non-breeding population in Kansas. 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
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 Kansas, making winter the best time to see one in the state or the U.S. in General. They migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each season to breed.
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 throughout Kansas and can frequently be seen during the summer and warmer months. April and September is the best time to see them as they are coming in and 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.
9. Ferruginous Hawk
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
The Ferruginous Hawk has 3 range classifications in the state of Kansas. Year-round along the western border, then winter, and then scarce going from west to east. The eastern half of the state does not have a distribution of Ferruginous Hawks, though they may occasionally be seen in areas east of Wichita. They may be seen in the winter hunting in groups near prairie dog towns or sitting atop telephone poles.
Ferruginous Hawks are large in size and either light or dark in color, depending on if they fall into the light morph or dark morph category. They are the largest hawks in Kansas and also North America, even larger than the Red-tailed Hawk. The word ferruginous actually means “rust-colored” and refers to the reddish back and legs in light morphs which are much more common than the dark morph.
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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.