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9 Types of Hawks in Oregon (Photos, Facts)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 03-14-2024

Hawks are skilled predators due to their acute hearing, keen vision, sharp beaks, and talons. In the United States, there are about 16 species of hawks, with 9 of those residing in Oregon. This article will explore these specific species, offering insights into their habits and characteristics.

The hawks that can be found in Oregon are the Cooper’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Swainson’s hawk, and the red-shouldered hawk.

We refer to both accipiters and buteos 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.

1. Cooper’s Hawk

coopers hawk on deck railing
Cooper’s Hawk | image by S0MEBODY 3LSE via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific nameAccipiter 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 Oregon, where they remain year-round. 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. 

juvenile coppers hawk tree
juvenile Cooper’s hawk

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. 


2. Ferruginous Hawk 

Image: pixabay.com

Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in

Ferruginous Hawks come to Oregon to breed in the spring and summer, but only in the eastern half of the state. They tend to stay in open spaces like fields and plains, soaring above looking for small mammals or hunting on the ground. 

ferruginous hawk flying
Ferruginous Hawk Flying (light-morph)

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.


3. American Goshawk

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

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.

american goshawk
juvenile American goshawk | image: ALAN SCHMIERER

American Goshawks can be found year-round in many parts of Oregon, while in some places they are more common during the winter. But you likely won’t have an easy time finding one, since they prefer to stay in large sections of mature forest and avoid populated areas. 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 American 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.

In 2023 the northern goshawk was officially split into two distinct species; the American goshawk and the Eurasian goshawk. 


4. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier | Pixabay.com

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.

northern harrier face
northern harrier

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 year-round in eastern Oregon, and during the winter along the coast. 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. 


5. Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawk perched with wings spread
Red-tailed Hawk | image by Pawsitive Candie_N via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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 Oregon.

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.  

hawk red tailed young tree
red-tailed hawk in tree

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. 


6. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawk (Image: Tom Koerner/USFWS | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

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 throughout Oregon during the fall and winter, although they tend to be absent from the coast. 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.

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

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.


7. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Image: dbadry | pixabay.com

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. Along the coast and parts of central Oregon they tend to be seen during the winter, while they remain as year-round residents in other parts of the state. These hawks prey on small birds and rodents they chase through the forest. 

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

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. 


8. Swainsons Hawk

Swainsons Hawk, Image: 272447 | pixabay.com

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 Oregon during breeding season, although they are less common along the coast. 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. 

swainsons hawk
Swainson’s Hawk | image by NPS/Patrick Myers via Flickr

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. 

9. Red-shouldered hawk

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

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

The Red-shouldered Hawk, while less common in Washington State compared to other hawks, can occasionally be spotted, particularly along the coastal regions in the west of the state.

These hawks are expanding their range northward from Oregon, and though they are rare in the lowlands of southwestern Washington, they have been annually reported for the last decade at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Clark County.

red shouldered hawk fence
red shouldered hawk on a fence

Additionally, there have been scattered records of their presence both north and east from this area, suggesting a possible increase in their numbers along the lower Columbia River.

In Washington, the Red-shouldered Hawk is not recognized as having a stable or official breeding population. However, the reports of their presence, especially in extreme southwestern areas of the state, indicate that they might be gradually establishing themselves in this region.

The species is known for inhabiting woodlands and forested areas, often near water sources, and they are distinguished by their reddish-brown shoulders and barred chest.

 


Osprey (sea hawk)

Osprey perched
Osprey | image by Glacier National Park via Flickr

 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 often called sea hawks, but ospreys are genetically different enough that they got their own classification and aren’t actually not hawks.

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 with a fish
Osprey with a fish | Image by Iain Poole from Pixabay

Osprey’s breed in many areas of Oregon during the summer months. Other parts of the state may also see them 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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