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8 Types of Hawks in Maine (With Pictures)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 02-07-2024

Maine is the northernmost state in the contiguous U.S and is an iconic New England destination. While the state is famous for its seafood – primarily lobster rolls – and lighthouses, Maine is also home to a vast selection of wildlife and flora. It houses Acadia 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 8 species of hawks in Maine. 

The hawks of Maine include the American Goshawk (formerly northern goshawk), Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and the Northern Harrier.

Keep reading to learn more about each of these magnificent birds of prey!


In this article, we refer to both accipiters and buteos as ‘hawks’ in alignment with North American terminology. This usage reflects regional naming conventions and is not intended to overlook the taxonomic distinctions among these groups of birds of prey.

1. American Goshawk 

photo by: Iosto Doneddu | CC 2.0 | wikicommons
  • Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
  • Length: 20.9-25.2 in
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

American Goshawks, formerly 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 American Goshawk is to head to the woods and be as quiet, observant, and patient as possible. 

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

American Goshawks are accipiters, they’re smaller than buteos, with longer, narrower tails. American 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 American Goshawk also have differing flight behavior than buteos, they use short, quick flaps followed by a smooth glide. 

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk 

Image: dbadry |
  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
  • 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.

sharp shinned hawk perched snowy day
sharp-shinned hawk

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 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 

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • 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 or a pileated woodpecker. 

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 

Image: 272447 |
  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • 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 hawk chest up
credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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 

Image: peteyp8 |
  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • 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.

red shouldered hawks
red-shouldered hawks | source: ALAN SCHMIERER

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. 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 

photo by: DickDaniels | CC 3.0 | wikicommons
  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
  • 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
Rough-legged Hawk | image by Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

Rough-legged Hawks are large buteos with wings and tails that are long compared to other buteos. 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 

A 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 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.

broad-winged hawk perched
Broad-winged hawk | image by Courtney Celley/USFWS via Flickr

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. 

8. 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 face that resembles that of an owl. 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”. Majestic is an excellent word to describe these birds. 

northern harrier face
northern harrier

You can find this hawk in Maine during the breeding season. You’re most likely to see them over marshes, fields, and other wide-open areas. 

Unlike many hawks that nest in trees, this hawk builds a platform on the ground in dense vegetation like reeds, willows, sedges and cattails. Males can have two (sometimes more) mates at once, and they will provide food for the female and offspring.