Hawks are majestic birds of prey known for their sharp eyesight and adept hunting abilities. They’re generally differentiated into two categories; accipiters and buetos. Luckily, you can find both types of hawks in Oklahoma and in this article we’re going to cover all of them.
9 Species of Hawks in Oklahoma
The wide open prairies, mesas, and forests of Oklahoma offer a diverse range of habitats for hawks to reside in. There are nine species of hawks in Oklahoma; Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and Ferruginous Hawks. 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
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!
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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
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. 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
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.
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
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.
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. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks are only scarcely seen in Oklahoma during the winter after they’ve migrated. 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.
9. Rough-Legged Hawk
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 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 pumage on their chests. Black patches on the wrists of their wings is a good marker for identifying them.
Other articles you might be interested in:
Want to increase your chances of spotting one of these raptors?
Consider some binoculars or a spotting scope!The 5 Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
The 5 Best Spotting Scopes