New York may be home to the largest city in America, but the empire state is also home to a large variety of birds of prey. From the Adirondacks to the Great Lakes to the Hudson river and all the forests in between, it’s no wonder New York has an abundance of habitats that support many of north americas owls, hawks, falcons and eagles. Today, we’ll have a closer look at the hawks in New York.
8 Species of Hawks in New York
Many hawks migrate in the spring and fall. In New York, the autumn hawk migration draws many bird watchers.
Some great places to “hawkwatch” in New York during autumn are:
- John Boyd Thacher State Park
- Derby Hill Bird Observatory, Oswego County
- Chestnut Ridge Hawk Watch, Mt. Kisco
- Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch, Davenport
1. 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 a medium sized hawk that is known for flying with its wings held slightly upward in a V shape. Males tend to be a silvery gray to gray-brown while females and immatures are a warm cinnamon brown. One good field mark to look for is a bright white rump patch at the top of their tail. Up close, they have a distinctive face for a hawk, that many think looks more like an owl. Like owls, Northern Harriers may often rely on their hearing to locate their prey, such as mice and voles scurrying through vegetation in fields. They have a slightly disc shaped face that helps funnel sound to their ears.
With their beautiful plumage, owl-like face, flying fast and low over fields, male Northern Harriers have earned the nickname “the gray ghost”. Northern Harriers are mainly found in New York during the spring and summer, with some year round populations close to the great lakes.
2. Sharp shinned hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Sharp shinned hawks, or “sharpies” as they are known, are about the size of a large dove. They are a dark slate gray above with and orange banded chest. Immatures are mostly brown above with brown streaking along the chest. You are more likely to see these hawks in fall and winter, as they tend to stick to dense forests while nesting in the spring and summer. These small hawks are known for catching smaller birds in flight, and will often stalk backyard bird feeders. However they do not usually swallow feathers, and will bring their prey to a perch where they can pluck off the feathers. They are often frequently confused with the larger Coopers hawk, which looks extremely similar.
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
Both adult and juvenile Coopers hawks look very similar to Sharp Shinned hawks, although they are slightly bigger, about crow sized. They too are masters at catching small birds and will likely come prowling around your back yard bird feeder. While chasing after birds Coopers hawks can take quite a beating, diving into bushes and shrubs or skimming through tree branches on a high speed chase. Their population seems to be adapting to more suburban and urban areas, perhaps due to the availability of doves and pigeons. Coopers hawks can be found year round in southern New York, while moving to northern New York during the breeding season.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 15-24 inches
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Wingspan: 35-50 inches
Red-Shouldered hawks spend the breeding season in New York, with some found year round in the southern tip of New York boarding Connecticut and New Jersey. You will often be notified of their presence by their call, a loud “kee-aah” that they repeat several times in secession. These hawks really love the forest and can be found in any wooded area, even in suburbs if there are enough stretches of trees. They like to look for prey while perched on a tree branch in wooded areas or around the edge of ponds. They diet is mainly small mammals as well as snakes and amphibians. I got a great video of a Red-Shouldered hawk calling in my backyard, check it out!
5. 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 spend their summers up in the eastern United States but then migrate back down to South America for the winter. In fact they are perhaps best known for their migration displays. In the fall, they can collect in huge flocks called “kettles” on their way south. They are easiest to spot during the spring and fall migration, because they will spend the breeding season inside forests and are much less visible. They are on the small side with brown barring. In flight their wing undersides are light with a dark brown band along the edge, and a black and white barred tail.
6. 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
The Red-tailed Hawk is New York’s most common hawk. They can be found year round in most areas of the state, but may only be commonly seen during the summer in the far northern parts of New York. These are large and sturdy hawks, brown above and lighter below. Adults have a rusty red tail. You will often see them soaring over fields or perched in high places, always scanning the ground for prey.
They often like to sit on top of telephone poles or camp out in trees along the highway. They mainly feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. Their screaming call is often the sound used in television and movies to portray any hawk and even eagles.
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
Northern Goshawks are a year round, but uncommon visitor to New York. They typically live within large tracks of forest and do not like highly populated areas, therefore remain secretive and hidden. They have mostly gray coloring , a dark gray back with gray striped chest. Their face is striking with a noticeable white “eyebrow” and orange-red eyes. They will fiercely defend their nests and attack anything that comes too close, including people. Goshawks are excellent and fast hunters. Their name is derived from the Old English “goose hawk” for their ability to catch other birds, and they have historically been trained by falconers for their prowess.
8. 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 do not spend their breeding season in New York, but they can be found in the state during migration or soaring over open fields and marshes during the winter. They actually spend their summers further north, and breed only in the far northern tundra. Rough-legged hawks get their name because they have feathers on their legs that grow all the way down to their feet. They are one of only three American raptors who have fully feathered legs.
Ospreys in New York
Osprey’s aren’t technically hawks, but they are called “sea hawks” and we thought we’d include them in this article though since they were at one time classified as hawks. Ospreys are so unique they have been put in their own category. According to Audubon.org the ospreys were “formerly classified with other hawks but now placed in a separate family of its own”.
They can be found globally with almost no regional differences. Unlike hawks, Osprey’s toes are all the same length and their talons are rounded. they also have an outer toe that is reversible, which we will mention again below.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 21.3-22.8 in
Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz
Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in
Osprey are always found near bodies of water that have abundant fish, since this is their main diet. This can be both freshwater rivers and lakes or saltwater beaches. They dive towards the water with their feet stretched out in front of them to grab fish out of the water. Unlike other hawks they have a reversible outer toe that allows them to grip the front and back side of an object, giving them extra help when hanging onto slippery fish.
They build huge nests made of sticks at the tops of trees, rock outcroppings and sometimes utility poles. Often, state’s will put up several platforms designated for Osprey’s to aid in conservation and promoting good nesting sites. You can find Osprey’s in New York during the spring and summer.
According to the NY state department of environmental conservation you can find their large nests in trees or on platforms “on Long Island, in the Adirondacks, St. Lawrence Valley, with a few scattered in the central and southwestern parts of the state.”
You may also like:
- Falcons in New York
- Owls in New York
- Eagles in New York
- Birds of Prey in Connecticut
- Birds of Prey in Massachusetts