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9 Species of Hawks in Oklahoma (Pictures)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 02-22-2024

Hawks are majestic birds of prey known for their sharp eyesight and adept hunting abilities. The wide open prairies, mesas, and forests of Oklahoma offer a diverse range of habitats for hawks to reside in. Because of this, you can find several types of hawks in Oklahoma – and in this article we’re going to learn about all of them. 

In North America, most hawks can be placed in one of two categories (genus); accipiters or buteos. We refer to both of these genera 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.

Discover 9 Species of Hawks Found in Oklahoma

There are nine species of hawks in Oklahoma; Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk and the Ferruginous Hawk. Though only some live in Oklahoma year-round, all spend a consistent amount of time here at some point during the year.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Image: sdc140 |
  • 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 the most widespread hawks in North America and can be found year-round in Oklahoma. They’re large birds with classic buteo proportions; long, rounded wings and a short, fan-shaped tail.

Like many other hawks, Red-tailed hawks have creamy underparts and darker brown upper-parts. The backside of their tails feature warm, cinnamon-red feathers for which they got their name.

We were out on a hike and were able to catch this Red-tailed Hawk trying to catch a squirrel, pretty cool!

red tailed hawk in a tree
red-tailed hawk in a tree | credit: Jason Gillman

Chances are you’ve probably seen a Red-tailed hawk on a long car ride, hovering above roadside woods or fields, or perched high atop light fixtures and poles.

They are even more prominent in the winter, when birds from far up north migrate south. Listen for their iconic raptor screech to tell when one’s nearby.

2. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Image: pixabay
  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in

Red-shouldered Hawks are found year-round in the eastern half of Oklahoma. They’re medium sized, buteo-shaped hawks with broad, dark-brown checked wings and beautiful red plumage on their chests. In flight their medium-length tails fan out to show white banding. The translucent crescents near their wingtips help identify them.

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

Red-shouldered Hawks mostly occupy deciduous forests and are also found near swamplands and rivers. A popular way of finding this bird is by listening for their distinct whistle of a call.

Look for their nests in large forks of trees. They’re made of sticks and often lined with moss and bark. Red-shouldered Hawks will often use these nests for multiple seasons, offering you a good chance of seeing one nearby.

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

Cooper’s Hawks are often mistaken for smaller Sharp-shinned Hawks, as they both share grey-blue plumage and reddish-orange striped underparts. Both birds also have dark banding on their tails. However, you’ll be more likely to spot a Cooper’s Hawk in Oklahoma as they live here year-round.

juvenile coppers hawk tree
juvenile Cooper’s hawk

Check wooded areas and forests and keep a close look out for their signature flight pattern — flap, flap, glide. These accipiters often hunt on the edges of these areas, stealthily creeping up on small birds and rodents before ambushing them in a quick burst.

Their preference for small birds often leads them to backyard bird feeders, where they take advantage of congregating robins, jays, and other birds around this size. If you notice Cooper’s Hawks stalking your backyard, you might want to consider taking the feeders down for a few days and putting them back up once the hawks leave.

4. Swainson’s Hawk

Image: 272447 |
  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Length: 18.9-22.1 in
  • Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 46-54 in

During the fall, Swainson’s Hawks migrate to South America to overwinter, but in the spring and summer breeding populations can be found in Oklahoma. They’re social birds and are often spotted in groups — sometimes sitting on the ground in plains and wide-open fields where there are plenty of insects to eat.

swainsons hawk flying
Swainson’s Hawk | image by NPS / Jacob W. Frank via Flickr

Swainson’s Hawks have a buteo shape with short tails and broad wings, but they tend to be slimmer than average buteos, with longer wingspans too.

Their plumage is brownish-gray on their backsides and wings and light colored on their undersides and bellies. Hawks that live closer to the Great Plains usually appear darker than those that occupy the eastern portion of their range, like Oklahoma.

5. 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

Sharp-shinned Hawks have beautiful blue-gray plumage with light reddish-orange striping on their cream colored chests and dark banding on their tails. They are found in dense forests and in large open areas or soaring high up during migration.

sharp shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile) | image by NPS Photo/ Tim Rains via Flickr

To find these hawks in Oklahoma, be sure to check during the winter, as they’re only here during the non-breeding season. During breeding, Sharp-shinned Hawks are found farther north, mostly in Canada.

Though these accipiter hawks may be among the smallest, their reputation is something quite fierce. Like Cooper’s Hawks, they’re infamous for visiting backyard bird feeders in pursuit of the song birds that gather there. If you hear high-pitched distress calls and a sudden burst of birds and feathers, a Sharp-shinned Hawk may be the culprit.

6. 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

Spot Broad-winged Hawks during their fall migration across the state Oklahoma. During this time large, swirling flocks known as “kettles” of up to thousands of hawks make their way to South America to flee the cold.

broad winged hawk flight
Broad-winged Hawk | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

In small eastern portions of the state, Broad-winged Hawks can be found in forests during the breeding season — though they are not as easily spotted as when they are migrating. Listen for their sharp, piercing whistle for a better chance at seeing one.

These hawks are small raptors with large heads and stocky bodies. They have reddish-brown heads and barring on their creamy colored chests and undersides. Their tails also feature narrow dark grey and white banding.

7. Ferruginous Hawk

Image: reitz27 |
  • 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 pretty challenging to spot in Oklahoma, as only scarce non-breeding populations reside in the western part of the state during the winter.

They tend to stay in open spaces like fields and plains, soaring above looking for small mammals or hunting on the ground. Look for the v-shape of their wings to tell them apart from other hawks.

ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous Hawk | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

These hawks are the largest of all North American hawks. They have gray heads, white underparts, and rusty red plumage on their backs and shoulders that earned them their name.

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.

8. American Goshawk

Northern Goshawk | photo by: Iosto Doneddu | CC BY-SA 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 are only scarcely seen in Oklahoma during the winter after they’ve migrated, typically around the panhandle. Their secretive nature makes finding them even more of a challenge.

Adults have mostly dark grey plumage on their heads and backsides, with very fine barring on their paler undersides. Thick white stripes over their red eyes give them the impression of having eyebrows.

These hawks inhabit woodlands and primarily coniferous forests, though they’ve also been spotted in hardwood deciduous forests. When hunting they perch high up in the treetops before they take off, navigating through branches and foliage, chasing after small birds and mammals.

american goshawk
juvenile American goshawk | image: ALAN SCHMIERER

In 2023, the American Ornithological Society recognized the American Goshawk (Accipiter atricapillus) and the Eurasian Goshawk as separate species, a significant taxonomic update.

This split highlights the distinction between North American and Eurasian populations of goshawks, which were previously grouped as one. Although they are closely related, subtle physical differences exist between the two new species, reflecting their adaptation to different environments.

9. Rough-Legged Hawk

photo by: DickDaniels | CC BY-SA 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

Some non-breeding populations of Rough-legged Hawks are found in Oklahoma during the winter. During the summer breeding season these birds spend their time far up north in the Arctic.

They prefer to occupy open areas such as grasslands, and fields — often hovering in the wind, scanning the ground for small mammals.

rough legged hawks
Rough-legged Hawk | image by Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

Rough-legged hawks are buteos with chunky bodies and large wings, though their tails tend to be a bit longer than other buteos. They have dark brown mottling on their lower belly with pale creamy plumage on their chests. Black patches on the wrists of their wings is a good marker for identifying them.

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3 thoughts on “9 Species of Hawks in Oklahoma (Pictures)”

  1. I live on se 59th St an eastern in OKC just south of valley brook by the dump an I keep seeing these Hawks with dark grey belly’s an chest an black tails an wings or almost black what are they they have a cresent shaped wing span

    • Some possibilities in your area are Swainsons Hawk, Northern Harrier and Mississippi Kite. But dumps can attract a lot of larger birds such as crows, ravens, gulls and vultures.

  2. I have a nest in the top of my bald cypress tree- I hope they don’t eat the cardinals or the bunnies!

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