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The 10 Hawks in Kansas (With Pictures)

 Updated by Melanie Cruff on 03-01-2024

In the heartland of America, Kansas offers a remarkable array of habitats that beckon an impressive diversity of hawk species. From the sweeping prairies that stretch as far as the eye can see to the wooded canopies along the banks of the Arkansas River, the Sunflower State’s landscapes provide an ideal backdrop for observing these majestic raptors in their natural environment. In this article we including photos, descriptions, and intriguing facts about the 10 hawks that call Kansas home. 

There are about 16 species of hawks regularly found in North America. When it comes to hawks specifically found in Kansas, there are 10 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, American Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, and Northern Harrier.

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

Keep reading..

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7 – 25.6 in
Weight:  24.3oz – 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. Their diet is mainly small to medium sized mammals like mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels.

red tailed hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Adults have a brick-red tail that is easy to identify. However as juveniles, these hawks have a brown and white striped tail and won’t gain the red coloration until they are about 2 years old. Red-tailed hawks have a wide range of plumage variation around the country, but there are some common characteristics you can look for. In general these hawks have pale underparts with a dark brown back. They have brown streaking on their breast, often with a band of darker brown streaks going across their belly. 

The red-tailed hawk gives out a long screech that has become a representation for all raptors. In movies and TV, their screech is almost always used as the sound for any hawk or eagle shown on screen. 

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

The Red-shouldered hawk is a year-round resident in eastern Kansas, and much of the eastern half of the United States. You may see some that have wandered into the central or western part of the state, but for the most part they stay east of Wichita. Red-shouldered hawks 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.

A good identifying feature is the heavy orange barring on the breast that extends all the way down the belly. They have dark, nearly black feathers down their back and wings. At the top of their back and “shoulders” this will be mixed with reddish feathers (hence their name). From the mid-back down there will be a lot of white mixed in with the dark feathers (almost a checkerboard pattern), ending in a strongly banded tail. 

red-shouldered hawk perched in tree
Red-shouldered Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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. You may hear this hawk before you spot it. They give a loud “kee-aah” call that is usually repeated several times in a row.

3. Sharp-shinned Hawk

sharp shinned hawk perched snowy day
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. While they remain year-round in some areas of the U.S., in Kansas they can be see during spring and fall migration, or in the winter when they come south. 

Sharp-shinned Hawks, often referred to by their nickname “sharpies”, are notorious for stalking backyards and bird feeders as songbirds make up about 90% of their diet. If you see one in your yard be sure to take down your feeders for a few days and allow the hawk to move on before putting them back up.

sharp shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile) | image by NPS Photo/ Tim Rains via Flickr

Adults have a dark head, nape and back, giving the appearance of wearing a hood. Their lower face and breast is white with heavy orange barring. Note their small, rounded head, large red eye and long, banded tail. Juveniles have a brown back with brown streaking down the chest, and a yellow eye instead of red. They look very similar to the Cooper’s hawk, but are smaller with a more rounded head. 

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers hawk adult perching
Adult Coopers Hawk

Scientific nameAccipiter cooperii
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, but there are subtle differences. Both have a slate colored back, red eye, and heavy orange barring on their underparts. The Cooper’s hawk is slightly larger overall, but that doesn’t help much unless they are next to each other! The head of the Cooper’s hawk appears more squared-off, and the dark feathers on top of their head appear more as a cap than a hood. Juveniles have a brown back, streaky brown head and underparts, and a yellow eye.

They can be found across Kansas year-round and their range covers most of North America.

coopers hawk fencepost wings up
Cooper’s hawk (juvenile) | source: Dona Hilkey

Their habitat is forests and woodlands, but they also seem fairly at home in the suburbs. Their main food source is small birds, which they deftly hunt in the tree canopy. Many people encounter the Cooper’s hawk in their backyard, where they have been known to go after birds at a bird feeder, especially starlings, doves and pigeons. 

Crashing through trees and foliage on a high speed chase after birds does take its toll. Studies of Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that many of them had at one point broken bones in their chest from impacts with branches and trees while chasing birds. 

5. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawk (Image: Andrew Cannizzaro | CC BY 2.0 | wikicommons)

Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz 
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in

Broad-winged hawks are migratory. They travel north into the eastern U.S. from South America to spend the summer, including far eastern Kansas. If you are hoping to see them in central or western Kansas, you’ll have to keep an eye out during spring (April) and fall (September) migration.

During migration flocks called “kettles”, that can contain thousands of birds, circle in the sky. This behavior is commonly observed during migration when birds take advantage of rising warm air currents to gain altitude without exerting much energy.

broad winged hawk flight
Broad-winged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

These smaller hawks have a brown head that transitions into a brown barred chest and white lower belly. In flight, look for their short tail with large bands of black and white, and broad wings with pointed tips. From below, you can see a dark outline around the wings.

These hawks like to be in a secluded area during breeding season. They will nest in forests and along bodies of water far from humans. Their diet is a variety of small mammals, insects, and amphibians such as frogs and toads.

6. American Goshawk

american goshawk
American Goshawk | image by psweet via iNaturalist | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
Length: 20.9-25.2 in 
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz 
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

American Goshawks are large birds of prey, similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks. The American Goshawk is considered scarce or rare in Kansas. They may wander down into the state during the non-breeding, winter season.  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.

Goshawks have a dark gray back and head, with pale underparts covered in fine gray barring. Their tail is barred and they have a thick white stripe over each eye. As part of the accipiter family, they are considered larger and fiercer relatives of the sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawk.

Northern Goshawk (Image: Jevgenijs Slihto | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

But unlike those hawks that are common in backyards, goshawks are quite secretive and tend to remain in the forest, avoiding human populated areas. They have a varied diet of smaller hawks, birds, mammals, reptiles and even insects and carrion. They are considered uncommon, and their population is hard to estimate due to their secretive nature.

7. Rough-legged Hawk

photo by: DickDaniels | CC 3.0

Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
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.

two rough legged hawks
Two color-morphs of the Rough Legged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

To spot them while they are wintering in the U.S., look in open country. They are known for hovering while facing into strong wind, similar to the American Kestrel. They also perch on utility poles and fence posts as well as the tops of slender trees. 

8. 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 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 each year to breed in North America. 

swainsons hawk
Swainson’s Hawk | image by NPS/Patrick Myers via Flickr

Swainson’s Harks are large birds with long wings that appear pointed at the end. They have dark flight feathers that give their wings a thick, dark edge when viewed from below. Their head and upper breast are brown, and their belly and throat are white, giving them a hooded appearance.

9. Ferruginous Hawk

ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous Hawk | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

Scientific name: Buteo regalis
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-only until the center of the state, and then scarce tapering to very rare in the eastern half of the state. They may be seen in the winter hunting in groups near prairie dog towns or sitting atop telephone poles. Their diet is mainly small mammals including rabbits, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels. While they can swoop down and strike, they also sometimes run after their prey!

ferruginous hawk flying
Ferruginous Hawk Flying (light-morph)

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.

10. Northern Harrier

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 has an elegant, almost owl-like face. This disc-shaped face functions similarly to an owls, directing sound into their ears to help them hunt by sound as well as sight. Two helpful identifying features are their long tail, and white patch above the tail. They have a signature flying style, holding their wings in the shape of a “V”. 

northern harrier female

After spending the summer breeding in Canada and the northern U.S., the northern harrier will travel down to Kansas to spend the winter months. You’re likely to see them over marshes, fields, and other wide-open areas. These hawks streak low over the ground where they can put that extra-good hearing to work. Mice, shrews, rabbits, rats and even songbirds are included in their diet.  

Interestingly, during the winter these hawks sometimes roost in groups on the ground, or in a mixed group with short-eared owls. 

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2 thoughts on “The 10 Hawks in Kansas (With Pictures)”

  1. Jesse, I found this site by searching for hawks of Kansas. What we see in our area is not there. I hope you can help. A steel grey hawk has been sighted many times here in my rural town. We also hear calls unlike any of the ‘regular ‘ back yard birds when it is around. What could it be? It’s flight pattern is like other hawks we are familiar with in the Flint Hills… hunting.

    • It’s unfortunately very difficult to help without good photos. And depending on how close you are seeing the hawk and if you are watching it fly overhead, the sunlight and shadows can really play tricks with the coloring. Next time you see it try and get as many identifying features as you can. Is it gray on the back and the breast or just the back? What kinds of stripe patterns can you see on the tail and chest? etc. Here are a few ideas: Both the Ferruginous hawk and the Swainsons hawk have “dark morphs”. That is, a version of the hawk who’s plumage is much darker. Try googling those hawk names + “dark morph” and see if either of those look close. Another gray bird-of-prey in your area that is a possibility is the Mississippi Kite.

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