Hawks have keen eyesight, sharp talons, and are excellent hunters. There are at least 16 species of hawks living across the United States. But in this article, we’re going to discuss the 13 species of hawks found in New Mexico. New Mexico’s location between central and northern parts of the U.S. and Mexico, plus its varied habitats of forests, deserts and canyons, make it an excellent place to see many species of hawk.
13 Hawks in New Mexico
The 13 species of Hawks you can see in New Mexico are the broad-winged hawk, common black hawk, cooper’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, gray hawk, Harris’s hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Swainson’s hawk and zone-tailed hawk.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Broad-winged Hawk
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, and that is about the only time you will see them in New Mexico. Technically this state is not within their standard range, however they have been spotted many times during the spring and fall migration season, so if you keep watch you might get lucky. These smaller hawks have a brown head and chest, barred underparts and black and white bands on their tail. In flight you can note their short tail and broad wings with pointed tips.
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.
If you are hoping to see the broad-winged hawk, your best bet is during fall migration on their way back South America. Flocks called “kettles”, that can contain thousands of birds, circle in the sky. If you are not in their migration line, you can catch sight of them in forests. Just listen for their piercing whistles.
2. Common Black Hawk
Scientific name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Length: 16.9 – 22.1 in
Weight: 27.9 oz
Wingspan: 46.1 in
The common black hawk is rare in the U.S. overall, living mostly in Mexico, Central America and northern parts of South America. However some of them do cross the border into the U.S. during the spring and summer months, including the southern half of New Mexico. The main areas to look for them would be the Gila National Forest and areas around the Mescalero Reservation.
These hawks are a sooty black color all over, with a thick white band in the middle of their tail, and a thinner white strip at the tail tip. Forested areas along streams or river, inside of canyon and desert habitats, is where you can find the common black hawk. They like to hunt along streams and rivers, sitting up in a perch and watching for prey down below. This can include fish, reptiles, small mammals, crayfish, frogs and snakes.
Interestingly, they have sometimes been observed wading into shallow water and waving their wings, herding fish into shallow water on the shore where they can more easily grab them.
3. Coopers Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6 – 17.7 in
Weight: 7.8 – 24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Cooper’s hawks can be found across most of North America, including New Mexico where they are year-round residents. Adults have a bluish-gray back, heavy orange barring on the chest, a red eye, and squared-off head with black cap. Immature birds have a yellow eye, brown back and head, and white underparts with heavy brown streaks.
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, and studies of Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that many of them had at one point broken bones in their chest.
4. Ferruginous Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
Ferruginous Hawks are year-round residents in parts of northern New Mexico, while in the south they are more often just visitors during the non-breeding months. They tend to stay in open spaces like fields and plains, soaring above looking for small mammals or hunting on the ground.
These hawks are the largest of all North American hawks. They have gray streaked heads, white underparts, and rusty red plumage on their backs, shoulders, underwings and legs that earned them their name. “Ferruginous” meaning rust-colored.
Ferruginous Hawks are known for gathering in groups of 5-10 to ambush prairie dogs. They perch and wait for prey to peek out their burrows before striking. This creates quite a scene as the hawks begin hopping and flapping their wings, often attracting other hawks and birds of prey.
5. Gray Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
The gray hawks is thought of as mainly a tropical species, at home in coastal Mexico and Central America. However some do cross the border during the breeding season into areas of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Look for them along rivers flanked with cottonwood and willow trees. They are hard to spot while perched in the tree canopy, but you can find them soaring during late morning and afternoon.
Gray hawks are medium-sized with long black and white banded tails. They have a solid gray head and back, while their underparts are barred gray and white. Reptiles such as spiny lizards, tree lizards, snakes and toads make up a lot of their diet. They perch near the tops of trees and watch the ground below for prey, then quickly swoop down and strike.
Sighting in New Mexico are fairly rare, and most likely to occur in the southwest corner.
6. Harris’s Hawk
Scientific name: Parabueto unicinctus
Length: 18.1 – 23.2 in
Weight: 18.2 – 31.0 oz
Wingspan: 40.5 – 46.9 in
Harris’s hawk are found from South America to Mexico, so those in the U.S. are at the very northernmost point of their range. The only places to see them in the United States are southern Texas, Arizona and parts of New Mexico. Look for them in the southern third of New Mexico, around areas such as Carlsbad and White Sands. They like high-up perches with a good open view of the landscape.
These large hawks have dark bodies with rusty red shoulders. There is bright white at the base of their tail as well as the tips, with a dark band in-between. These are hawks of desert lowlands, feeding on ground squirrels, rodents, rabbits, reptiles and birds. They can be social birds, hunting in cooperative groups or even nesting in social units of up to seven adults.
7. Northern Goshawk
Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Goshawks have a gray back, gray barring on the chest that extends all the way down the belly, and a thick what stripe over each eye. They are considered larger and fiercer relatives of the sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawk. But unlike those hawks that are common in backyards, goshawks are quite secretive and tend to remain in the forest, avoiding human populated areas.
Northern Goshawks can be found in New Mexico year-round in the north and west, but are mostly absent from the eastern and southern areas of the state. The Gila National Forest, Santa Fe National Forest and Albuquerque are some of the good places to spot them. However you likely won’t have an easy time finding one, since they prefer to nest in old-growth forest with dense canopy. They have been known to attack humans who get too close to their nests. So when searching for these raptors during the breeding season, be careful.
The northern goshawk has 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.
8. 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”. Majestic is an excellent word to describe these birds.
You can find this hawk throughout New Mexico during the non-breeding season, so look for them in the fall and winter months. You’re 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.
9. 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 hawk found on the North American continent, living year-round in almost every state, including New Mexico. Their population increases even more during the winter, when birds that have spent their summer in Canada come down to join the others in the U.S.
Red-tailed hawks are most active during the day or early morning and are commonly seen soaring 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. They may also eat birds and snakes.
Adults have a brick-red tail that is easy to identify, however while still juveniles their tail is brown and white striped. In general these hawks are pale below and dark brown above. They have brown streaking on their breast, often with a band of darker brown streaks going across their belly area that can be another good identifying factor. Because these hawks are so widespread, there are many color variations across the country.
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.
10. Rough-legged Hawk
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 can be seen in New Mexico during the fall and winter months. When it’s time to move to their breeding grounds, they travel all the way to the northern Arctic! There, they will nest on cliffs and rocky outcroppings.
In the winter, you’ll find them in the states in wide-open spaces, perching on poles and fence posts. Here they hunt for mice, voles and shrews. Rough-legged hawks are known to turn into the wind and flap their wings to achieve a hover-in-place vantage point they can use to scan the ground below them for their prey.
Rough-legged hawks get their names from the feathers on their legs. Very few American raptors have feathers that run all the way down their legs. Most have heavily mottled dark brown and white, sometimes with a thick black belly patch. In flight, you’ll see a dark patch as the “wrist” against a pale background. There is also a dark-morph that appears almost black, and looks two-toned from below.
11. Sharp-shinned Hawks
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawk in the United States, and they remain in most New Mexico year-round. Along the eastern and southern border, you are more likely to find them during the fall, winter, and early spring. These hawks prey on small birds and rodents they chase through the forest.
While nesting, they are hard to find as they stick to forests with dense canopies. They do sometimes visit backyards to hunt birds at feeders. The best time to spot them though is during fall migration. They travel south into the U.S. from their summer range in Canada, and are seen in large numbers at hawk watch sites.
Sharp-shinned Hawks have a blue-gray back with reddish-orange barring on their cream colored chests and dark banding on their tails. They look very similar to the cooper’s hawk, but with a more rounded head and squared-off tail.
12. Swainsons Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 45-55 in
Swainson’s Hawks can be found across New Mexico during breeding season. You are likely to find them during the summer, over large areas of open country. They’ll perch on telephone poles, wires, and secluded trees.
Migrating hawks are called kettles, and these Hawks have kettles as large as tens of thousands. If you thought Broad-winged hawks were something to see, you should view these raptors during their migration.
Swainson’s Hawks have converted well to agricultural settings as their habitat has changed over the years. You can find them foraging for prey in crops and fields.
They have a gray head, with white on the chin, a brown bib, and a white belly streaked with rust. When viewed from below look for the brown chest, and wings that appear extra long with dark edges.
13. Zone-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
Length: 17.7 – 22.1 in
Weight: 21.4 – 23.5 oz
Wingspan: 46.9 – 55.1 in
The zone-tailed hawk only comes to the U.S. southwest during the spring and summer months. In New Mexico, look for them in the southwest up through Albuquerque and Santa Fe. They like rocky canyons and cliffs, as well as hunting in desert scrub and along rivers. Aside from small mammals and reptiles, they are known to eat many types of birds including quail, woodpeckers, jays, nightjars, and members of the thrush family like bluebirds and robins.
The way they arch their wings while soaring and tip from side to side, plus their coloring, often makes them resemble a turkey vulture from afar. Upon closer inspection you can see the large white band on the tail, and barring on their white wing feathers with a dark trailing edge.
Bonus Bird – The Osprey
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 21.3-22.8 in
Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz
Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in
They certainly look like a hawk, and are indeed closely related, but osprey’s are genetically different enough that they get their own classification. You’ll only spot this raptor if you are near water, as osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish. They have an outer toe that can shift to grip forward or backward. This adaptation allows them a much better grip on the slippery fish they catch.
Osprey’s stop over in New Mexico during spring and fall migration. Find them near any shallow, fish-laden waters such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs and marshes. Their coloring makes them fairly easy to distinguish from hawks. They have a white head with a large dark brown stripe across each eye, and a very hooked beak. Their back and wings are a dark brown from above, with a pure white underparts. When flying, the underside of their wings appear speckled, with a dark brown patch at the “wrist”.
Osprey build their nests in treetops or on cliffs, but will also use human-built platforms. Many states put up osprey platforms near rivers and lakes to aid in conservation of the species.
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