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8 Species of Hawks in Ontario (Pictures, Facts)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 03-15-2024

Depending on who you ask, there are as many as 25 different species of hawks in North America. Due to different regions having different climates and food sources for the various species, each Canadian Province may have it’s own collection of hawks that live there at various times of the year. In this article we’ll cover some of the birds of prey found in Ontario, namely hawks in Ontario. We’ll talk about where you might be able to spot them, look at some pictures, and look at some fun facts for each species.

There are 8 different species that you may be lucky enough to encounter in Ontario. Those species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, and the Northern Harrier. 

Below is a list of hawks in Ontario along with some pictures you help you identify them should you spot one!

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 probably the most common hawks in North America numbering close to 2 million nesting hawks. This number accounts for about 90% of the global Red-tailed Hawk population. These large hawks live in Southern Ontario and most of North America all year long. The rest of Ontario have a breeding population of Red-tailed Hawks and those birds my fly further south in the winter.

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. Learn more about the Red-tailed Hawk here.

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

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 only in Southern Ontario, but can be found in much of the eastern half of the United States all year long. Look for them in the Spring and Summer months between Toronto and Detroit, between Lake Huron and Lake Eerie. They eat mostly small mammals, other birds, as well as reptiles and amphibians.

red shouldered hawk
red shouldered hawk | credit: ALAN SCHMIERER

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

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 Ontario as well as North America. They can be found all over North America, with a breeding range in most of Ontario. Though in Southern Ontario they can be found year-round. Sharpies migrate north to Canada and Alaska to breed each year, and south to Central America in the winter time. 

As you can tell, they are migratory birds but you do have a couple of optimal times to see them each year as they are passing through your area.  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

Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Cooper’s Hawks can sometimes appear to be just a larger version of the Sharp-shinned Hawk (see video below to tell the difference between Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks).

coopers hawk eating in tree
cooper’s hawk eating in tree

They can be found in the breeding months in southern Ontario. Cooper’s Hawks are fairly common throughout most of Southern Canada in the Spring and Summer and throughout most of the United States all year long.

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

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 in Southern Ontario. Look for them along the shores of The Great Lakes and forests in both the Spring and Fall each year. 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 Ontario is to simply try walking through a forest during the summer and listening for their piercing whistle.

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

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. American Goshawk

american goshawk
American Goshawk | image by psweet via iNaturalist | CC BY 2.0

Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

American Goshawks are large birds of prey, similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks. The Northern Goshawk is found year-round throughout most of the province of Ontario. 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. American 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

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

Rough-legged Hawks are migratory birds. They have a non-breeding range and spend their winters in Southern Ontario and have a migratory range in the rest of the province. Making the winter, or times of migration, the best time to see a Rough-legged Hawk in most of Canada or the U.S. They migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each season to breed.

8. 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 easy to spot with their owlish faces, a white patch on their tail, and their signature gliding style, with their wings in the shape of a V. Majestic is an excellent word to describe these birds.

You can find the Harrier in most of Ontario during the breeding season and in far southern Ontario year-round. You’re likely to see them over marshes, fields, and other wide-open areas. 

The Northern Harrier, aka the marsh hawk, eats primarily small mammals. Unlike other species of hawks, Harriers rely a great deal on their sense of hearing to capture their prey.