Sunny and beautiful Florida is a haven for herons, songbirds, and, most of all, hawks! Anyone who has visited the Sunshine State knows that hawks in Florida are wonderfully common.
We see those impressive raptors perched on roadside poles, in neighborhood trees, soaring over marshes, and pretty much everywhere else we look!
Do you see hawks in your Florida backyard? Visiting Florida soon? Learn all about hawks of Florida in this article!
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Most Common Hawks in Florida
According to eBird data in 2022-2023, these eight species of hawks in Florida were seen. Fortunately, most are common in Florida’s tropical habitats. Even so, anyone who has watched hawks knows that they aren’t the easiest of birds to identify!
Hawks can fly away quicker than you think, it can be tough to see colors and details when they soar high overhead, and most look kind of similar.
To cut through the confusion and help you recognize the hawks of Florida, we made a list with up-to-date information for each species.
Based on eBird sightings, we arranged the most common ones first and the least common ones last.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Speed: 18-34 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 17 inches, 1.4 pounds
Wingspan: 40 inches
Call: “keer keer keer keer keer!”
The Red-shouldered Hawk is most common hawk in Florida. It is a medium-sized hawk with reddish-orange underparts and shoulder, and black and white on its wings and tail.
Both sexes are similar but as with most raptors, females are larger than males. Young birds are brown above and have dark streaks on pale underparts.
In flight, all ages of this hawk species are best recognized by their longish, black and white tail and long wings with a pale crescent-shaped mark near the tip of the wing.
Red-shouldered Hawks prey on snakes, frogs, and other small animals (no bigger than rabbits). They forage by waiting on a perch and then swooping down to catch the animal on the ground.
This bird of prey builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree in wooded and semi-wooded areas, often near wetlands.
The Red-shouldered Hawk lives in a variety of woodland habitats in southeastern Canada, the eastern United States, California, southeastern Oregon, and Baja California, Mexico.
- Medium-sized, colorful hawk with reddish-orange underparts and shoulder, and black and white upperparts and tail.
- Forages for snakes and other small animals on the ground in woodland habitats.
- Builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
- Makes loud, jay-like, ringing calls, “keer keer keer keer keer!”
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with reddish underparts and shoulder, and a black and white tail. This raptor lives in a variety of wooded areas and even wooded neighborhoods in California and Florida. This species can join American Crows to harass and chase away Great-horned Owls.
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Speed: 21-55 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 16.5 inches, 1 pound
Wingspan: 31 inches
Call: “kek kek kek kek kek!”
The Cooper’s Hawk is a fair-sized hawk with a long, rounded tail and a blocky, square-shaped head. Adults are blue-gray above and have orange barring below.
Both sexes look similar although females are larger. They also often show a dark cap, have pale grayish on their face and side of the neck, and dark banding on their tail.
Young birds are shaped like adults but are dark brown above, have paler brown on the head, and fine dark streaking on pale underparts.
In flight, this species uses its rounded wings to make a few deep flaps followed by a brief glide.
The Cooper’s Hawk preys on doves and other medium-sized birds, and small mammals such as mice. It usually catches them on the ground and frequently attacks birds at feeders.
This species lives in a variety of wooded and semi-wooded habitats in southern Canada, most of the USA, and in parts of Mexico. They are found in Florida year-round.
- Fair-sized hawk with orange barring below, blue gray above, and a long rounded tail.
- Preys on small mammals and starlings and dove-sized birds in woodlands, parks, and towns.
- Builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
- Usually quiet but when breeding, it makes a loud barking call, “kek kek kek kek kek!”
In many areas, it has become adapted to people and catches birds and small mammals in woodlands and towns. The pesticide DDT caused large declines in Cooper’s Hawk populations in the 1950s and 60s but, since then, this species has regained its numbers and become a common bird.
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Speed: 21-38 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 18 inches, 15 ounces
Wingspan: 43 inches
Call: “che che che che che che”
The Northern Harrier is a fair-sized, unique hawk with long wings, a long tail, and a white rump. Adult males have gray upperparts, head, and breast. They also have some pale brown spotting on their underparts and black tips on their wings.
Females are dark brown above and have dark brown streaks on pale underparts. Young birds are also dark brown above but have deep orange-buff underparts.
All Northern Harriers have a white rump and glide low over the ground on long wings held in a “V” shape.
This species preys on small animals caught on the ground, sometimes after hovering over open areas.
It uses grass and other vegetation to make a shallow, platform nest on the ground, in thick wetland or grassland areas.
Northern Harriers breed in grasslands and other open habitats in Alaska, Canada, California, and the northern and central USA. They winter in much of the USA, Mexico, and rarely to northern South America.
- Distinctive long-winged, long-tailed hawk with a white rump.
- Glides low over the ground to catch rodents and other small animals in marshes and other open grassy habitats.
- Makes a repetitive, woodpecker-like call, “che che che che che che”
Northern Harriers are long-tailed, long-winged hawks with white rumps. They glide low over the ground of grasslands and marshes to hunt for small animals. This bird and the Hen Harrier of northern Eurasia used to be considered the same species but despite their similar appearance, studies have shown that the Northern Harrier is a distinct species.
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Speed: 20-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 19 inches, 2.4 pounds
Wingspan: 49 inches
The Red-tailed Hawk is a big and bulky hawk with dark brown upperparts and long, broad wings. Adults have a broad reddish tail and both sexes are similar (although females are larger than males).
In the east, adults have pale underparts with dark marks on their belly but western birds can be dark brown, buff, or reddish-brown below. Young birds have brown tails with darks barring.
In flight, all Red-tailed Hawks show a large, somewhat square-shaped, pale area near the tips of their wings.
This species preys on a variety of small animals including squirrels, rats, snakes, and birds. It catches prey by swooping down from a perch or from soaring flight.
Red-tailed Hawks build a messy stick nest high in a tree or on the ledge of a building.
They use a wide range of habitats in Alaska and the USA, much of Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of Central America.
- Large, hefty hawk with a reddish tail and dark marks on its pale belly.
- Preys on small mammals, snakes, and birds.
- Builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
- Makes loud, jay-like, ringing calls, “keeeyah!”.
The Red-tailed Hawk is a hefty hawk with long broad wings, a broad reddish tail, and dark marks on its pale belly. In most places, this is the big hawk seen perched next to and soaring over roads and fields. The “raptor scream” often heard in movies and television shows is the call of the Red-tailed Hawk.
Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
Speed: 20-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 16 inches, 15 ounces
Wingspan: 37 inches
The Short-tailed Hawk is a small soaring raptor with two color morphs. It can have a hooded appearance and be dark above and pale below, or be mostly black. Both sexes look similar although females are larger than males.
In flight, it has a squared tail with some fine dark bands, and long wings with dark barring on the flight feathers and a thick dark trailing edge.
Young birds resemble adults but have a few marks on their breast or pale spotting below.
This species feeds on small birds, reptiles, and large insects. It catches prey by flying high in the air and then quickly dropping down to snatch the animal in vegetation or on the ground.
Short-tailed Hawks build a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
This tropical species uses forest and semi-open habitats from Mexico to Brazil. However, in North America, it is resident in Florida and a rare vagrant to southern Texas.
- Small soaring hawk that is dark above and pale below or mostly black.
- Preys on small birds, lizards, and other small animals in various subtropical habitats of Florida.
- Builds a bulky stick next high in a tree.
- Makes a drawn out clear call, “reeeeeee!”, usually while soaring high overhead.
The Short-tailed Hawk is a small soaring raptor with two color morphs; birds that are pale below and dark above or mostly black. They swoop down on small birds and other small animals in treetops in a variety of tropical habitats in Florida. In the USA, this species is restricted to Florida where 500 or so birds occur and migrate to the southern part of the state for the winter.
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Speed: 16-60 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 11 inches, 5 ounces
Wingspan: 23 inches
Call: “kew kew kew kew kew kew kew kew”
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small hawk with a long, rectangular tail and rounded wings. Adults have blue-gray upperparts, orange barring on their underparts, and dark bands on their tail.
Females are larger than males and young birds are dark brown above with thick brown streaks on pale underparts.
This species flies with several quick wing beats followed by brief glides. When flying, its head doesn’t stick out as much as a Cooper’s Hawk and it shows a square-tipped tail.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk preys on small birds up to the size of an American Robin. It mostly catches birds around the same size as sparrows, warblers, and vireos by quickly flying and catching them in vegetation. They also come to prey near bird feeders.
This hawk builds a bulky stick nest high in a conifer.
Sharp-shinned Hawks live in wooded habitats in Alaska, much of Canada and the USA, Mexico, parts of Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. For the breeding season, this species migrates all the way to the northern side of North America.
- Small hawk with rounded wings and a long, rectangular tail.
- Preys on small birds in woodland habitats.
- Builds bulky stick nest high in a conifer.
- Usually quiet but on breeding grounds makes falcon-like, repeated ringing calls “kew kew kew kew kew kew kew kew”.
This small hawk with a long, rectangular tail breeds in coniferous forests and winters in a range of wooded habitats. It often attacks small birds at feeders. The Sharp-shinned Hawk gets its name from its thin legs that have angled, “sharp” shins.
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Speed: 20-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 15 inches, 14 ounces
Wingspan: 34 inches
The Broad-winged Hawk is a smallish raptor around the same size as a crow. Adults are dark brown above, have dark, reddish-brown barring below, and a broad tail with a few wide, white bands.
Both sexes look the same and also have a thick dark mark on each side of their throat although females are larger. Young birds have dark brown streaks on pale underparts.
In flight, this species often soars, shows a broad black and white tail, and has long wings shaped like a “paring knife” that also have a dark trailing edge.
This raptor preys on voles, frogs, insects, and other small animals. It catches food by waiting on a perch and then quickly swooping down to the ground.
Broad-winged Hawks make a bulky stick nest high in a tree.
This small hawk breeds in forest habitats in central and southeastern Canada and much of the eastern USA. It winters in southern Florida and Mexico south to Bolivia.
- Chunky, smallish, crow-sized hawk with a few white bands on its tail and underparts with brown barring or streaks.
- Preys on insects and small animals in woodland habitats.
- Builds a bulky nest high in a tree.
- Makes a high-pitched call, “sipeeeeeeeee”
This chunky, crow-sized hawk has a few prominent white bands on its broad tail and either dark barring below or dark streaks. It often soars above and near woodland habitats. In southern Texas and some other places, large flocks of Broad-winged Hawks can be seen as they migrate between breeding and tropical wintering grounds. These flocks are called kettles.
Swainson’s Hawk (Very Rare)
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Speed: 15-60 miles per hour
Length & Weight: 19 inches, 1.9 pounds
Wingspan: 51 inches
The Swainson’s Hawk is a big hawk with dark-brown upperparts, long, pointed wings with dark flight feathers, and a broad tail with fine dark barring and a dark tip. Males and females are similar, although females are larger. Swainson’s Hawks are known for their white underparts.
Adults can have a white throat, front, wing linings, and underparts with a red-brown breast. They can also have a white throat and front, and reddish brown underparts and wing linings, or be entirely dark brown.
Young birds can have dark markings on pale underparts or be mostly dark below.
This species catches grasshoppers and small animals on the ground. It forages by soaring and then swooping down or walking on the ground.
It builds a bulky stick nest in a tree.
Swainson’s Hawks breed in grasslands, meadows, and other open habitats in central and western Canada and the USA. They migrate through the central USA and winter in grasslands in Argentina. A few also migrate through and winter in southern Florida.
- Large, long-winged hawk with dark flight feathers and a broad tail with fine dark banding and a dark tip.
- Feeds on insects and small animals in prairies and other open habitats.
- Builds a bulky stick nest in a tree.
- Makes a loud, descending, single note, “eeeah!”.
The Swainson’s Hawk is a large, long-winged raptor with dark flight feathers and some white on the rump. It soars above and perches in trees, and on the ground in prairies and other open habitats. This species migrates from western North America all the way to grasslands in Argentina.
How To Identify Hawks?
Hawks are easy to see but can be tough to identify! Don’t give up! With practice and knowing what to look for, recognizing hawks becomes easier than you think.
The first step is knowing how to recognize the four main groups of hawks. In flight, each of these types of hawks has a certain shape and way of flying. They are:
- Buteos and Buteo-like Hawks – Long, broad wings and a broad tail.
- Accipiters – Shorter, rounded wings and a long tail. They fly with quick flaps followed by brief glides.
- Harriers – Long wings, a long tail, and a white rump. They glide near the ground with their wings held in a “V”.
- Black-Hawks – Chunky, dark, tropical hawks with broad wings and a short, broad tail.
After we categorize a raptor in one of these groups, we can focus on other details like:
- The pattern on the tail and underparts.
- More details about its shape.
- The pattern in the wings.
- The habitat and location of the bird.
For example, if we see a hawk with a long tail and rounded wings, we know it’s an Accipiter. If it has a rounded tail, orange underparts, and blocky-head, we can call it a Cooper’s Hawk.
How many hawk species can be spotted in Florida?
8 hawk species can be spotted in Florida. Including rare vagrants, 12 hawk species have been seen in Florida.
Are hawks protected in Florida?
Yes, all hawks are protected in Florida. They are protected by Florida state law and the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
What is the largest hawk in Florida?
The Red-tailed Hawk is the largest hawk in Florida. This big raptor can have a wingspan of 49 inches and weigh 2.4 pounds.
What do hawks eat in Florida?
In Florida, hawks eat rodents, small birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, and large insects.