Hawks are a member of the family of hunting birds we call birds-of-prey. Everything from their keen hearing and eye sight to their sharp beak and talons comes together to make them expert predators. There are approximately 16 species of hawks living across the United States. But in this article, we’re going to discuss the 10 species of hawks in Utah, plus one bonus hawk-like bird.
10 Hawks in Utah
The 10 species of hawks that can be found in Utah are the common black hawk, Cooper’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, Swainson’s hawk and zone-tailed hawk.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Common Black Hawk
Scientific name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Length: 16.9 – 22.1 in
Weight: 27.9 oz
Wingspan: 46.1 in
The common black hawk is rare in the U.S. overall, living mostly in Mexico, Central America and northern parts of South America. However some of them do cross the border into the U.S. during the spring and summer months. While Utah is not part of their typical range, they have been sighted in the far southwestern corner from Beaver dam Wash National Conservation Area east to Zion National Park.
These hawks are a sooty black color all over, with a thick white band in the middle of their tail, and a thinner white strip at the tail tip. Forested areas along streams or river, inside of canyon and desert habitats, is where you can find the common black hawk. They like to hunt along streams and rivers, sitting up in a perch and watching for prey down below. This can include fish, reptiles, small mammals, crayfish, frogs and snakes.
Interestingly, they have sometimes been observed wading into shallow water and waving their wings, herding fish into shallow water on the shore where they can more easily grab them.
2. 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 can be found across most of North America, including Utah where they are year-round residents. 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.
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.
3. Ferruginous Hawk
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
Ferruginous Hawks can be found year-round in the northeast and southwest corners of Utah, and during the summer breeding season throughout the rest 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.
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.
4. Northern Goshawk
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.
Northern Goshawks can be found year-round in Utah. But you likely won’t have an easy time finding one, since they prefer to nest in old-growth forest with dense canopy. 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 northern 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.
5. 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 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. 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 Utah. 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.
6. Red Tailed Hawk
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 Utah.
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. They may also eat birds and snakes.
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.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
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 in Utah during the fall and winter months. 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.
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.
8. Sharp-shinned Hawk
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, and can be found throughout Utah all year. These hawks prey on small birds and rodents they chase through the forest.
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.
9. Swainsons Hawk
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 Utah during breeding season. 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.
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.
10. Zone-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
Length: 17.7 – 22.1 in
Weight: 21.4 – 23.5 oz
Wingspan: 46.9 – 55.1 in
The zone-tailed hawk only comes to the U.S. southwest during the spring and summer months. They mainly spend their time in Arizona and New Mexico, but some spill over into southern parts of Utah. They like rocky canyons and cliffs, as well as hunting in desert scrub and along rivers. Aside from small mammals and reptiles, they are known to eat many types of birds including quail, woodpeckers, jays, nightjars, and members of the thrush family like bluebirds and robins.
The way they arch their wings while soaring and tip from side to side, plus their coloring, often makes them resemble a turkey vulture from afar. Upon closer inspection you can see the large white band on the tail, and barring on their white wing feathers with a dark trailing edge.
Bonus Bird – The Osprey
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 indeed closely related, but osprey’s are genetically different enough that they get their own classification. 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’s breed in parts of Utah during the summer months, but you can also see them throughout the state 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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