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Hawks, Ospreys and Kites

Hawks provide many identification challenges. Several species have juvenile and adult plumages and sometimes a dark and light phase.

A good approach in identifying hawks is to start by determining what it is not. Begin by checking its seasonal range and start narrowing down the possibilities form there.


Accipiters are also known as bird hawks. They prey on other birds. They have short wings and long tails for rapid maneuvering through trees.

sharp-shinned hawk Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawks have a slate gray back, dark head, and red barring on the chest. Long barred tail with white, rounded tip.

Young Cooper's Hawk has a brown back, long banded tail and brown streaks on a light chest.

One of the toughest identification challenges involves separating Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks.

The females of both species are significantly larger than the males of the same species. Female Sharp-shinned is about the same size as male Cooper's. Male Sharp-shinned is about the size of a Blue Jay.


cooper's hawkCooper's Hawk
The Cooper's Hawk is larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk, although female Sharp-shinned Hawks are about the same size as the male Cooper's.

Cooper's Hawks have a slate gray back, dark head, and red barring on the chest. Long barred tail with white, rounded tip.

Young Cooper's Hawk has a brown back, long banded tail and brown streaks on a light chest.


northern goshawkNorthern Goshawk
The Northern Goshawk is the largest of the three Accipiters and easier to identify. It is not as common as the other two species and not commonly found in backyard or park habitats.

Adult has slate gray back, with finely streaked gray breast. Eyeline over eye extends back and broadens.
Juvenile has brown back, pale underparts with heavy streaks. Tail rounded and banded.


Buteos generally have broad wings and relatively short tails. They are often observed soaring. They typically feed on rodents, snakes, insects, rabbits, and less commonly on other birds.

common blackhawkCommon Black Hawk
Rare hawk, found in west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Adult all black with black and white banded tail.

Juvenile has spotted brown back and heavily streaked underparts, finely banded tail.



harris's hawkHarris's Hawk
This beautiful hawk will hunt in packs. Range in the U.S. limited to south and west Texas, parts of New Mexico and Arizona.

Dark back with chestnut shoulders, legs and wing linings. In flight, white at base of tail, black band with white tip.


Zone-tailed Hawk
Another hawk with range limited to south and west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Overall black appearance, wing linings streaked black and white. Black and white tail bands. When soaring, this species looks very much like a Turkey Vulture.

Short-tailed Hawk
Range normally limited to south and central Florida. Brown back, pale underparts and short, banded tail.

broad-winged hawkBroad-winged Hawk
A small, highly migratory buteo of the eastern half of the United States.

Adult has brown back, reddish-brown horizontal streaks and banded tail. Wings often appear more pointed in flight than in other buteo species, trailing edge and tips of wings dark (underneath).



red-shouldered hawkRed-shouldered Hawk
A common hawk of the forests of the eastern United States.

Adult has rusty barred chest and rusty red patch on the shoulder, black and white banded tail.
Juveniles are browner, with lighter underside and brown streaks.


red-tailed hawkRed-tailed Hawk
Wide-spread, common and highly variable in appearance. Learning this species well will help you with the identification of other hawks.

If you see a large buteo and are not quite sure what it is, call out Red-tailed Hawk. Most of the time you will be correct!

Typical adult has a dark brown on back (sometimes shows a pale "w" shape on the back), belly band on white underparts and red tail

Juvenile has finely banded tail.

"Krider's" Red-tailed Hawk is very pale, "Harlans" Red-tailed Hawk is very dark, almost totally black.


swainson's hawkSwainson's Hawk
A hawk of the western United States. Variable plumage. Dark brown contrasts with pale underparts , dark neck and upper chest. Light morph in flight has tow-toned wings, with dark on the trailing half.

Wings are longer, narrower and more pointed than on most buteos.


rough-legged hawkRough-legged Hawk
This large hawk nests in Northern Canada and Alaska, so if you are in the lower 48, you can be sure that you will not find this hawk in the winter.

Wide -spread across the northern 2/3rds of the U.S. in the winter, but not common.

Light phase has a distinctive black belly band. Tail white with terminal black band, narrow sub-terminal band.

Often observed hovering like a giant kestrel.


ferrugionious haswkFerruginous Hawk
A colorful, western species. Very pale underparts with reddish legs that create a "V" when seen in flight (underneath). Nearly white tail has red wash. Reddish shoulders and back.




There is only one species of Osprey in the United States and Canada.


The Osprey is also known as the Fish Hawk, and has specially adapted feet for capturing slippery fish.

Dark back with white underparts. Top of head white, dark behind the eye. Wings long and bent back at "wrist." Easy to identify.



Kites are generally slim birds with long, pointed wings.

mississippi kiteMississippi Kite
A summer resident in the southern U.S. from Texas to the East coast.

Adults beautiful dark gray back with lighter gray head and underparts. Hint of salmon in wings. Like all kites, wings ling and pointed.


white-tailed kiteWhite-tailed Kite
A beautiful kite with widely-separated populations in Florida, Texas and California (and parts of Oregon, near the coast).

Gray back with black shoulders, light head and white underparts. Often observed hovering.



swallow-tailed kiteSwallow-tailed Kite
An amazingly beautiful black and white bird. Range limited to southern coastal areas from Texas to south Carolina, and throughout Florida.

Black back with white head and white underparts. Long, black deeply forked tail.



northern harrierNorthern Harrier
Wide spread. Long wings and tail. Males gray, females brown, both with white rump.

Distinctive flight pattern, flying close to the grown with upraised wings, as it searches for mice and other prey. White rump often visible in flight.

Once you see the Northern Harrier's flight pattern, you will be able to immediately identify it