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9 Majestic Hawks in Minnesota (Pictures)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 01-30-2024

There are around 16 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 its own collection of hawks that live there at various times of the year.

In this article we’ll discuss the many species of hawks that can be found in just one U.S. state, Minnesota. We’ll learn some interesting facts and see some pictures for each one.

There are 9 different species of hawks that you may encounter in Minnesota; the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier and the Swainson’s Hawk.

To learn a bit about these magnificent Minnesota hawks and what they look like, read on. 

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7-25.6 in  
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz 
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in  

Red-tailed Hawks are probably the most common hawks in the U.S. 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 Minnesota and most of North America all year long. The northern parts of Minnesota have a breeding population of Red-tailed Hawks and those birds may fly further south in the winter.

hawk red tailed young tree
red-tailed hawk in tree

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. They aren’t often seen in backyards lurking around feeders because they prey on larger animals that just songbirds.

Here’s a quick video we got of a Red-tailed Hawk who had a squirrel trapped under a sign post. Very clever Mr Hawk…

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 in  

The Red-shouldered Hawk has a breeding range in central Minnesota, and can be found in much of the eastern half of the United States. Their range doesn’t go much further west than Minnesota, but they can be found along the coast in California and south into Baja. They eat mostly small mammals, other birds, as well as reptiles and amphibians.

red shouldered hawk dead branch
red-shouldered hawk | credit: Susan Young

The population of Red-shouldered hawks has increased over the last 50 years in their range. Red-shouldered Hawks are known for living and nesting in wooded areas and forests.

The biggest threat to this species is the clearing of wooded areas where they nest and breed. Red-shouldered Hawks will commonly re-use the same nest year after year.

3. 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. They can be found all over North America, including Minnesota. Sharpies migrate north to Canada and Alaska to breed each year, and south to Central America in the winter time.

image: Dennis Murphy | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

According to, Sharpies have all 3 ranges in the state of Minnesota; non-breeding in southern Minnesota, migration in central Minnesota, and a breeding only range in the northern third of the state.

They are highly migratory birds, but you do have a couple of optimal times to see them each year as they are passing through the state. These small hawks are notorious for stalking backyard feeders. If you see one, consider taking down your feeders for a week or two and allowing the hawk to move on.

4. 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

These hawks are medium-sized raptors, known for their agility and speed, especially in wooded environments. Adult Cooper’s hawks typically have slate gray backs with reddish-orange bars on their chests and wings. Their long, rounded tails and short, rounded wings make them adept at maneuvering through trees during flight.

coopers hawk tree
Cooper’s Hawk in tree

Cooper’s Hawks can sometimes appear to be just a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, but they are in fact a different species. They can be found year-round near the southern border of Minnesota with a breeding range in the rest of the state. Their range covers all of the United States.

They are also notorious for stalking feeders and feed almost exclusively on other birds. Their preferred habitat is forests and wooded areas but will also nest in suburban wooded areas and backyards too. Females tend to be larger and more dominant over the males of this species.

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

The Broad-winged Hawk has a breeding-only range throughout the entire state of Minnesota. Look for them along the shores of Lake Superior and forests in both the Spring and Fall each year.

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

Broad-winged Hawks migrate each year by the thousands, these large flocks are called “kettles”. Another way to spot a Broad-winged Hawk while they’re in Minnesota is to simply 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

photo by: Iosto Doneddu | CC 2.0

Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
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 found in most of the state, with a year-round population in northeast Minnesota.

northern goshawk
Northern Goshawk | image by Andrey Gulivanov via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

They live in large forests and may be difficult 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

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.

ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous Hawk | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

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 are migratory birds. They have a non-breeding range and spend their winters in Minnesota and most of the U.S. making this the best time to see one in your state or the rest of the United States. They migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each season to breed.

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 long wings, short tails, light underbellies, reddish-brown chests, and typically have brown and gray upper parts. They have a breeding range in southern and western regions of Minnesota.

swainsons haw perched
credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

April and September is the best time to see them as they are flying into or out of their North American breeding grounds. However, they will stick around all summer long if you live within their range. 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. 

9. 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 is distinguished by its owlish face and V-shaped gliding, with a prominent white patch on its tail. These birds thrive in Minnesota’s varied landscapes, breeding in central and northern areas, residing year-round in the southwest, and primarily in the southeast during winter.

Adapted for hunting in open areas like marshes and fields, Northern Harriers combine their excellent vision with a unique sense of hearing, thanks to their owl-like facial structure. This enables them to track small mammals concealed in vegetation or beneath snow.

Additionally, Northern Harriers are known for their ground-nesting habits, a rare trait among birds of prey. They build their nests on the ground in dense vegetation, providing them with cover and strategic hunting advantage. This ground-nesting behavior, coupled with their distinctive hunting technique, makes the Northern Harrier a truly unique raptor in North America.

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