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9 Hawk Species in Washington State (Photos)

 Last Reviewed by Jesse Foutch on 04-17-2024

Hawks are a member of the family of hunting birds we call birds-of-prey. Everything from their keen hearing and eyesight 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 species of hawks in Washington, plus one bonus bird.

The 9 species of hawks that can be found in Washington 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.

The below list will take a close look at each one.


In this article, we primarily refer to 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 eating in tree
cooper’s hawk eating in tree

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 Washington. They remain year-round in the southern part of the state, but are typically only found in the northern half of Washington during the spring and summer breeding season.

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. 

coopers hawk tree
Cooper’s Hawk in tree

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 

Ferruginous hawk flying

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

Ferruginous hawks come to Washington to breed in the spring and summer, but only in the southeastern corner of the state, east of Mt. Rainier National Park. They are mostly absent from the western and northern portions 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
Ferruginous Hawk | image by Alan Schmierer via Flickr

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

Northern Goshawk (Image: Jevgenijs Slihto | CC BY 2.0 | flickr)

Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
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 white 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.

photo by: Iosto Doneddu | CC BY-SA 2.0 | wikicommons

American Goshawks are found throughout Washington, with a notable presence in large sections of mature forest across the state. While many think of these raptors as elusive and rarely seen, they are actually more commonly spotted throughout Washington, including both coastal and eastern regions.

Many bird watchers do find Goshawks challenging to spot due to their secretive nature and preference for less populated areas. It’s important to exercise caution during the breeding season, as they are known to defend their nests vigorously against intrusions.

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.

4. 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 has an elegant face that resembles that of an owl. 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. 

northern harrier face
northern harrier

You can find this hawk year-round in eastern Washington, 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 Washington.

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. Red-tailed hawks are opportunistic eaters and will also eat reptiles, amphibians, and even other birds.

hawk red tailed young tree
red-tailed hawk in tree

Adult red-tails have a brick-red tail that is easy to identify. While they are 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 everywhere throughout Washington during the fall and winter months, especially in the eastern half of the state. 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 name 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 |

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 hawks in the United States. Along the coast and parts of central Washington 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. 

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

Swainson’s 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 Washington 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. 

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.

Bonus Bird – The Seahawk (not a true 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’re sometimes referred to as sea hawks and certainly look like hawks, but osprey’s are genetically different enough that they get their own classification outside of the hawk family. You’ll only spot this raptor if you are near water, as osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish.

Ospreys 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 western and northern parts of Washington 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. 

Osprey carrying fish
Osprey carrying fish | image by Becky Matsubara via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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.

The osprey’s 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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