Maine is the most northern state in the U.S and is an iconic New England destination. While the state is famous for it’s seafood – primarily lobster rolls – and lighthouses, Maine is also home to a vast selection of wildlife and flora. It houses Arcadia National Park, the only national park in New England, and offers large sections of forests, mountains, and coastal areas. There are plenty of great birding spots throughout the state, as well as a diverse range of birds to observe. In this article, we’re going to focus on birds of prey and cover the 7 species of hawks in Maine.
7 Species of Hawks in Maine
Out of the 7 species of Hawks in Maine, only one is found year-round, the Northern Goshawk. All of the other species including Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks, are only regularly found in the state during specific times of the year.
Keep on reading to find out the best seasons for finding hawks in Maine.
1. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are found year-round in Maine — but good luck finding them. They’re very secretive hawks that prefer to live inside large, dense forests, so locating them is often a challenge. They’re also very protective of their territory, and are known for attacking people who get too close to their nests. You’re best bet for getting a glimpse of the Northern Goshawk is to head to the woods and be as quiet, observant, and patient as possible.
Northern Goshawks are accipiter hawks, they’re smaller than buteos, with longer, narrower tails. Northern Goshawks are among the largest and bulkiest of the accipiters, large females can be about as big as Red-tailed Hawks. These hawks are mostly gray, with a defining white streak where their eyebrows would be. Accipiters like the Northern Goshawk also have differing flight behavior than buteos, they use short, quick flaps followed by a smooth glide.
2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
For the most part, Sharp-shinned Hawks are only found during breeding season in Maine, though there are coastal portions of the state where they’re sometimes spotted year-round. Like Northern Goshawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks are accipiters except much smaller — in between the size of a robin and a crow. Their wings are short and rounded, and they have long, narrow tails that sometimes show a notch at the tip. They also feature predominantly blue-gray plumage, with narrow, pale orange barring on their undersides. Their eyes are are a deep, striking orange.
During the breeding season, these hawks stick to the interiors of forests and woodlands. They can be challenging to spot due to their small size and elusive nature, but during migrations they’re often seen in numbers as they pass along mountain ridges and coastlines. Otherwise, they take advantage of dense foliage to quickly ambush their main prey, small birds.
3. Cooper’s Hawk
Length: 14.6- 17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Telling apart a Cooper’s Hawk from a Sharp-shinned Hawk is no easy feat. Like Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks are accipiters, with medium-sized frames, broad, rounded wings, and long, narrow tails. They even share nearly the same coloration and patterning as Sharp-shinned Hawks — blue-gray plumage with red-orange barring on the underparts. However, Cooper’s Hawks are larger than Sharp-shinned Hawks, about the size of a crow.
Cooper’s Hawks are found during the breeding season in Maine, in dense woodlands and forests. They’re stealthy birds that aren’t easily spotted, but during migration they’re more noticeable They’re also known for stalking backyard feeders, waiting for groups of songbirds to gather before ambushing them. If this starts happening in your yard, just remove the feeder for a few days, the hawk will have no choice but to move on.
4. Red-Tailed Hawk
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
Though Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most common hawks in America, they’re only found during the breeding season in Maine. These large hawks are buteos with bulky bodies, broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail. Some females appear so large that they are easily mistaken for eagles at a distance.
Red-tailed Hawks have deep brown plumage on their upper parts and creamy undersides with streaking. A dark bar between their shoulder and wrist on the underside of their wings is visible in flight. Red-tailed Hawks favor open country. They’re frequently spotted circling above fields and on the edges of woodlands, or perched upon tall poles and branches.
5. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in
Breeding populations of Red-shouldered Hawks are found in Maine during the spring and summer. Most populations of these hawks are stable, though their numbers have generally reduced over the years. Red-shouldered hawks occupy woodlands and forests, often those close to bodies of water like rivers and swamps. They’re often hard to spot, but learning their loud “kee-ah” call helps locate them. Sometimes blue jays will mimic this call, so make sure you’re chasing after the right bird.
Red-shouldered Hawks are another type of buteo hawk. They’re medium sized birds that are smaller with Red-tailed Hawks — with broad, round wings, and medium length tails. Their plumage is quite colorful, with reddish barring on their chests and underparts and dark-brown and white patterned wings. During flight, small, translucent crescents are visible near their wingtips.
6. Rough-Legged Hawk
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
During the summer breeding season, Rough-legged Hawks occupy territories in the Arctic tundra — but during the fall they migrate south and are found in Maine and other portions of the northern United States during the winter. Look for them in open areas such as fields, prairies, and clearings. When they hunt these hawks are often seen hovering in the wind, scanning the ground below for small animals and rodents.
Rough-legged Hawks are large buteos with wings and tails that are long compared to other buteo hawks. They feature bold patterning on their mostly dark brown plumage. A broad, dark band across their white bellies is often visible. Rough-legged hawks get their name from the feathers that run down their legs all the way to their talons. The Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle are the only other raptors that share this trait.
7. Broad-Winged Hawk
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
Broad-winged Hawks are commonly found in Maine during breeding season in the spring and summer. They’re most often reside in woodlands and forests, where they either perch in the understory of trees, or circle above looking for prey. However, during breeding season they don’t tend to be very noticeable.
The best time to observe these hawks is during their fall migration, where giant flocks of thousands of birds come together to travel south. These swirling clouds of hawks are referred to as “kettles,” since they appear as if they’re being stirred by a large spoon. Broad-winged Hawks are small buteos with stocky bodies, large heads, and short tails. Adults have reddish-brown heads and pale bellies with brown barring. Black and white banding is also featured on their tails.