With an area of 268,820 square miles, Texas is far and away the largest state in the continental United States. Positioned just north of Mexico, Texas is also right in the migratory path of many different species of birds. So it would make sense that there are quite a few different species of hawks in Texas.
Hawks are birds of prey and in the same family as eagles and kites, the family Accipitridae. There are over 200 species of hawks in the world with up to 25 of those species living in the United States. We’ve found that at least 14 of these hawks can be found in Texas.
This article contains the species of hawks I was able to verify as having at least a limited range in some part of Texas through allaboutbirds.org and other sources. Each hawk on the list has a picture, some measurements, and a little bit about each. Enjoy!
14 Types of Hawks in Texas
Below is a list of the 14 species of hawks in Texas. Some are year long residents while others are rare and only in the southern most tip of the state. A few species like the Common Black Hawk, Great Black Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Crane Hawk, and the Roadside Hawk were left off of this list as they are rare vagrants in Texas that really don’t belong on the list.
One thing all of these birds do have in common is that they are all part of the hawk family and they have all been known to live in Texas in some capacity.
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Harris’s Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Gray Hawk
- White-tailed Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Zone-tailed Hawk
- Northern Harrier
*All measurements are based on averages of males and females of the species
1. Red-tailed Hawk
First up is definitely one of the most common hawks in Texas and North America, the Red-tailed Hawk. They are year-round resident to the entire state of Texas and most of the United States aside from a portion of the mid-west where they migrate for breeding only. Red-tails are one of the largest birds of prey in North America.
They can easily be recognized by their large size, red tails and shrill screams that are commonly heard in movies and on TV to represent all raptors. Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen perched high up on telephone wires or in treetops waiting for their next meal to appear.
They feed mostly on small to medium-sized mammals and aren’t regularly seen stalking bird feeders like a cooper’s or sharpie. A truly magnificent raptor and even though they are very common, they’re still a treat to spot.
2. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk has a range in southern and eastern Texas, as well as most of the eastern half of the United States. They are considered medium sized hawks and are a bit smaller than red-tails. Red-shouldered Hawks can be identified by their reddish-brown breast and dark/white checkered wings.
They also like to stay perched up high on wires and in treetops looking for small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and occasionally other birds. The great horned owl is known for stealing baby Red-shouldered Hawks out of their nest and eating them. Red-shouldered Hawks typically return to the same nesting site each year.
3. Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Hawks are medium to large hawks and can be found in eastern, northern, and portions of southern Texas. Their range goes north into Canada and Alaska and their migration path also takes them south through Mexico, Central America, and into the southern parts of South America. They’re very common in Texas and if you’re lucky you may see a large flock of these raptors soaring overhead in April or September each year.
Swainson’s Hawks are very opportunistic eaters so their diet depends on the region they are living in at the time. When not in the breeding season they are known for eating a wide variety of insects like dragonflies, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, or beetles. Otherwise the typical raptor diet of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and other birds is normal.
4. Broad-winged Hawk
The Broad-winged Hawk has a migration range in the eastern half of Texas and a small breeding range only in the eastern regions of the state, including the city of Houston north to the border. Broad-winged Hawks migrate each year by the thousands, these large flocks are called “kettles”. These massive flocks are commonly seen in southern Texas and passing through large cities such as San Antonio and Austin, which runs right along their migration path each season.
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 seperation from other birds of prey. Their diet is consistent with that of most other birds of prey.
5. Harris’s Hawk
Found in most of southern Texas as well as portions of central and eastern Texas, Harris’s Hawks are known as the most social raptors in North America. Unlike most other hawks, Harris’s Hawks actually hunt in groups of up to 7 birds. It is believed that the larger the group that the hawk is a part of, the longer the lifespan that hawk is likely to have.
They can be identified by their dark brown plumage, red feathers on their wings and legs, and white-tipped tail. They live in desert lowlands with plenty of high perches for perching, feeding, and nesting. Another thing that makes this species unique is the fact they don’t seem to have any strict breeding guidelines. They will have up to 3 clutches of eggs per year and have been reported breeding in every single month of the year.
6. Ferruginous Hawk
The Ferruginous Hawk has a winter range only in most of Texas except for the far eastern and far southern portions of the state. These large hawks are similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks and are commonly seen in 2 variations; light morphs and the more rare dark morphs.
The more common light morph variation have very light colored underparts with a more rusty colored top parts. The dark morphs are mostly dark brown with a light tail. The word Ferruginous actually means “rust-colored”. Similar to the Harris’s Hawk above, these raptors also hunt or roost in groups of 5-10 birds.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
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. Also like the Ferruginous Hawk, 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. 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 have a non-breeding range throughout most of the state of Texas, making winter the best time to see one in Texas and the U.S. They migrate far north to the arctic regions of Alaska and northern Canada each season to breed.
8. Cooper’s Hawk
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Copper’s Hawks are very common hawks in the U.S. that are known for hanging out in urban areas, backyards, and stalking bird feeders. This raptor has a year-round range throughout most of Texas. Many of the hawks along the border of Texas are migratory and fly north to the northern states and southern Canada fro breeding.
These medium sized birds can be identified by their bluish-gray head and topside, reddish striped patterns on their breast, and dark bands on their tails. The Cooper’s Hawk’s main diet is other birds, which is why they are so common in backyards that have bird feeders. Should you notice a Cooper’s Hawk perched in your backyard, it’s best to take down your feeders for a few days to let him move on.
9. 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, aka “sharpie”, is a small to medium sized raptor that looks very similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, just smaller. However with the difference between sizes in males, females, and juveniles, sometimes you can have one of each species side by side and find it hard to tell the difference.
They have a non-breeding range in the entire state of Texas and migrate north to breed in Canada, Alaska, and only the northernmost regions of the lower 48 states. Your best chance to see one of these guys is during fall migration. Like Cooper’s Hawks, sharpies will sometimes be seen in backyards around bird feeders their primary food source is also other birds.
10. Gray Hawk
Gray Hawks are a tropical species somewhere in between the size of a Red-tailed and a Cooper’s Hawk. They are most common in central America but their range does go into southern areas of both Texas and Arizona. As the name suggests they are gray in color and have striped underparts and a light/dark banded tail.
They feed on all types of small animals including small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles but especially lizards. Gray Hawks resemble accipiters like the Northern Goshawk and were once called the Mexican Goshawk.
11. White-tailed Hawk
This neotropical raptor is common in Central and South America, but not at all in North America. In fact, Texas may be the only state in North America where you’ll find the White-tailed Hawk and only in the southern tip of the state. Random sightings have been reported in neighboring states but they were likely vagrants and very uncommon.
This bird is not migratory but may make regional movements in search of food. They are typically gray on top and white below, but like a couple of the others on this list there is a dark and light morph of this species of hawk. Their diet mainly consists of rats, mice, pocket gophers, rabbits, birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, crayfish, crabs, insects.
12. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
The Northern Goshawk is actually considered scarce with only a non-breeding population in Texas. This limited range in Texas is mainly in the northern part of the state near cities like Amarillo. Northern Goshawks are large birds of prey, similar in size to Red-tailed Hawks.
Adults are dark slate gray on top with barred light gray underparts, and have a light stripe over their eyes. Northern Goshawks live and nest in forests high up in the trees, making them rather difficult to find. They are mostly opportunistic eaters with a wide range of prey including other birds, mammals, carrion, and insects.
13. Zone-tailed Hawk
The Zone-tailed Hawk migrates north from parts of Southern Mexico and Central America into areas of Eastern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona each year to breed. These medium-sized hawks are grayish-black in color and commonly mistaken for Turkey Vultures, and they take advantage of this when hunting since much of their prey sees Turkey Vultures as mostly harmless.
They have a white band on their tail and a two-toned color on the underside of their wings. Their range has slowly been expanding north into the United States since the 1990s.
14. Northern Harrier
Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
The Northern Harrier is the only harrier variety of hawks indigenous to North America. Its breeding grounds range as far north as Canada, but it winters in more southern climates, including Texas. They like living and hunting in fields and marshes.
Like owls, Northern Harriers rely on their hearing as well as their vision to hunt, and they sometimes subdue their larger prey by drowning them. Males can have up to five female partners at once, although it’s more common for them to have just one or two.