Louisiana provides many species of hawks with just what they need to hunt and nest happily. Some species migrate thousands of miles during the year and are only in the state for a bit of time, while others stick around all year. In this article we’ll look at the 8 amazing species of hawks in Louisiana!
Humans have used hawks for centuries as partners in falconry hunting. While many species were on the decline for decades, quite a few are making a comeback now, in part due to the suspension of DDT use. Hawks like a wide range of habitats, from open ground to dense woodland and marshes. So you’ll come across them all over the state Louisiana. Let’s take a look at the first species on the list, the Cooper’s Hawk!
Hawks in Louisiana
1. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)
Residents year-round in most of Louisiana, Cooper’s Hawks are found not just in woodlands, but in many suburban neighborhoods as well, feasting on the smaller birds visiting household bird feeders.
These birds kill their prey by squeezing them to death with their strong feet instead of biting them like some other raptors do. Dive-bombing smaller birds can take its toll though – one study found that over 20% of Cooper’s Hawk skeletons examined had healed fractures from accidents sustained during hunting.
2. 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 climes, including Louisiana. 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 can have up to five female partners at once, although it’s more common for them to have just one or two.
3. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
These tiny hawks prefer woodlands and forests. They migrate from Canada south to warmer climates including Louisiana for the winter, and while they tend to migrate all at once, they do this individually instead of in any sort of organized flocks.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in the United States. In some parts of the country, people watch the hawks migrating south in organized hawk-watches. Sharp-shinned Hawks also pluck the feathers from their prey before eating it so that they don’t consume the feathers.
4. Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
Red-shouldered Hawks live year-round in Louisiana, and enjoy its swamps, bottomland woods, and deciduous forest areas near streams and rivers. They return to their same nesting areas for multiple years.
These hawks feed mainly on small rodents, but will also eat snakes, frogs, and other amphibians and reptiles. Great Horned Owls will sometimes hunt the nestlings of Red-shouldered Hawks.
5. White-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Geranoaetus albicaudatus
Length: 18.1-22.8 in (46-52 cm)
Weight: 31.0-43.6 oz (880-1235 g)
Wingspan: 50.4-51.6 in (128-131 cm)
The White-tailed Hawk usually makes its home along the Texas coastline and south into Mexico, but it is a rare visitor to southwestern Louisiana from time to time as well. They like open prairie land and perch on tall trees or fence posts waiting for prey.
White-tailed Hawks sometimes hang out around brush fires, waiting to snatch prey animals as they flee the fire. They embellish their nests with one extra-long stick that doesn’t seem to have any purpose, and keep adding other nest materials even after the eggs in it have been incubated.
6. Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
Rough-legged Hawks breed far north in the Arctic, and only come south for the winter. Even then, they might only be glimpsed rarely in Louisiana. These birds enjoy open areas and can even be seen around airports.
Adult Rough-legged Hawks eat about a tenth of their body mass in food every day during non-nesting season. They are thought to be able to detect some ultraviolet light, which allows them to see rodent urine and follow the trails to its prey.
7. Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
Broad-winged Hawks migrate south to Central and South America for the winter, but spend their breeding season in eastern North America, including Louisiana. They leave en masse in the fall, sometimes thousands at a time, and attract many hawk-watching parties along their migration route.
During the nesting season, these hawks like wooded areas and can be hard to spot. They like more secluded spots near water. In addition to small rodents, reptiles, and amphibians, they eat quite a few insects. The Broad-winged Hawk prefers to catch its prey on the ground, rather than snatching anything out of the air.
8. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
The Red-tailed Hawk is possibly the most common hawk in North America. A resident in Louisiana year-round, they prefer open ground areas with high places for perching to look for prey.
These hawks frequently hunt at roadsides, perched on telephone poles and easily seen when traveling through the country by car. Red-tailed Hawks are easy to train, and are one of the most popular species used for falconry hunting. Want to learn more about Red-tailed Hawks? Check out this article with some awesome Red-tailed Hawk facts.
Where to See Hawks in Louisiana:
Some hawks are easy to spot- you may see a Cooper’s Hawk swooping down in your backyard after smaller birds, or a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a telephone pole when you head to the grocery store. However, the more elusive species may take a bit of special care to find. Louisiana is full of nature reserves, parks, and other areas to go bird-watching.
Because so many hawks are migratory visitors to and from Louisiana, there are opportunities to see these traveling groups in different parts of the state during the autumn. Broad-winged Hawks can be seen in the thousands in September and October along the southwestern coastal areas of the state.
In November, incoming visitors include the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Harrier. Local organizations like the Baton Rouge Audubon Society or the Orleans Audubon Society are excellent resources to find places in your area where you may be able to see the hawks mentioned here.
Events like the Great Louisiana Birdfest in Mandeville can also be not only a great place to see hawks and other birds, but a fun way to meet other birding enthusiasts.
Many Louisiana State Parks offer a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities, and some of them may have special programs specifically for hawk-watching. There are a variety of birding trails that crisscross through every area of the state as well. Audubon Louisiana also has great resources for starting your birding trips and a lot of great information about other wildlife.