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Hawks in Maryland – Most Common Hawk Species of the State

Hawks in Maryland

Maryland entertains birders with wetlands, forest, open fields, and hawks! This state might be small, but there are plenty of hawks in Maryland.

In Maryland, we see hawks perched next to roads, soaring over towns, and even chasing small birds in the backyard.

How many hawks have you seen in Maryland? There’s a lot to look at! How many could you identify? This article will help! Read on to learn about and identify the hawks of Maryland.

 

Most Common Hawks in Maryland

According to eBird data, ten species of hawks have been seen in Maryland. Six of those are commonly seen, while the other four species are rare visitors.

We also used that information from eBird to make a reliable list of hawks in Maryland. We arranged the most common ones first and the least common ones last.

Since hawks can be a challenge to identify, our list also includes up-to-date information about their identification and behavior.

We hope it helps!

 

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk pair

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 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. They forage by waiting on a perch and then swooping down to catch the animal on the ground.

This species 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 USA, including Maryland, California, southeastern Oregon, and Baja California, Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • 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!

 

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed hawk (Juvenile)

Red-Tailed hawk (Juvenile) © Greg Lavaty.

Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis

Speed: 20-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
19 inches, 2.4 pounds
Wingspan: 49 inches
Call: 
keeeyah!

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 dark 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.

Key Identifications:

  • 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!”.

 

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

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. It usually catches them on the ground and frequently attacks birds at feeders.

Cooper’s Hawks build a bulky stick nest high in a tree and often nest in parks.

This species lives in a variety of wooded and semi-wooded habitats in southern Canada, most of the USA (including Maryland), and in parts of Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • 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!”

 

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk

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 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.

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.

Key Identifications:     

  • 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”.

 

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

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.

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, making it one of the most common hawks in Maryland. They winter in much of the USA, Mexico, and rarely to northern South America.

Key Identifications:

  • 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.
  • Builds.
  • Makes a repetitive, woodpecker-like call, “che che che che che che

 

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo platypterus

Speed: 20-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
15 inches, 14 ounces
Wingspan: 34 inches
Call: 
sipeeeeeeeee

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. Broad-winged Hawks are some of the most common hawks in Maryland.

Key Identifications:

  • 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

 

Rare Hawks in Maryland

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

© Andrey Gulivanov

Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus

Speed: 30-40 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
19 inches, 2 pounds
Wingspan: 40 inches
Call:
“kip kip kip”

The Northern Goshawk is a large, hefty hawk with a long, banded tail, and rounded wings. Adults look similar but females can be 25% larger. Both sexes are gray above and white below with fine gray barring. They also have a dark cap and cheek, red eyes, and a white eyebrow.

Young birds are dark brown above with some pale spotting, have a pale eyebrow, uneven dark bands on their tail, and heavily streaked underparts.

In flight, Northern Goshawks make a few deep flaps followed by long glides.

This powerful raptor preys on squirrels, other small mammals, and grouse, woodpeckers, and many other mid-sized birds. They catch prey on the ground or by quickly flying through vegetation to grasp the unlucky animal with their talons.

This species builds a bulky stick nest high in a tree.

In North America, Northern Goshawks live in coniferous and other wild wooded habitats in Alaska, Canada, parts of the northern and western USA, including Maryland and northern Mexico.

Key Identifications:

  • Hefty, long-tailed hawk with gray plumage or brown, streaked plumage, and a white eyebrow.
  • Preys on fair-sized birds and mammals in coniferous forest habitats.
  • Builds a bulky, stick nest high in a tree.
  • Makes a repeated call, “kip kip kip kip kip kip kip kip kip kip kip”.

 

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Photograph © Tom Grey

Scientific name: Buteo lagopus

Speed: 22-28 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
22 inches, 1.3 to 3.6 pounds
Wingspan: 53 inches
Call:
“reeaaaauh!”

The Rough-legged Hawk is a long-winged hawk with a black and white tail. There are two color morphs; both with broad white patches near dark wing tips, and a longish pale tail with a broad black tip.

Pale females and juveniles are pale gray-brown with a black belly and black “wrists” in their wings. Pale adult males are more cold gray, have less black on their belly, and heavily streaked breasts.

Dark females and juveniles are dark brown except for their tail and flight feathers. Dark adult males are black except for their flight feathers and tail.

In flight, this species holds its wings in a shallow “V”.

Rough-legged Hawks soar and hover over open fields where they prey on voles and other small animals.

It builds a bulky nest on a cliff or rocky outcropping.

The Rough-legged Hawk breeds in tundra in Alaska, northern Canada, and northern Eurasia, and winters in open fields in southern Canada, the northern, central, and western USA, including Maryland, and Europe and Asia.

Key Identifications:

  • Big hawk with a longish black and white tail, and long wings with broad white patches near the dark wing tips.
  • Preys on rodents and other small animals in wide open habitats.
  • Builds a big, bulky nest on cliffs and rocky outcroppings in tundra.
  • Makes a loud, clear descending call, “reeaaaauh!”.

 

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni

Speed: 15-60 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
19 inches, 1.9 pounds
Wingspan: 51 inches
Call:
 “eeeah!

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.

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, including Maryland. They migrate through the central USA and winter in grasslands in Argentina. A few also migrate through and winter in southern Florida.

Key Identifications:

  • 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!”.

 

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus

Speed: around 22 to 28 miles per hour
Length & Weight:
20 inches, 2 pounds
Wingspan: 50 inches
Call:
“reeeeyah!”

The Zone-tailed Hawk is a medium to large, slender, black hawk with long wings and a longish, black and white tail. Both sexes are similar, but females are larger. Their wings also have grayish, barred flight feathers and a dark trailing edge, and they have a black and yellow beak.

Young birds look like adults but have grayer flight feathers and fine black banding in their tail.

This raptor species soars on long wings held in a “V” shape and often flies with the similar Turkey Vulture.

Zone-tailed Hawks prey on small mammals, birds, and small reptiles. They forage by mimicking a Turkey Vulture so they can sneak up on and catch animals in vegetation and on the ground.

This species builds a stick nest high in a tree or on a cliff.

The Zone-tailed Hawk lives in shrubby and forested habitats in the American southwest south to Bolivia.

Key Identifications:

  • Black, slender raptor that flies like a Turkey Vulture and has long wings and a longish, black and white tail.
  • Catches birds and other small animals on the ground and in the tops of bushes and trees.
  • Builds a stick nest on a cliff or in a tall tree.
  • Makes a long, drawn out, somewhat hoarse, “reeeeyah!”.

 

Hawks in Maryland – Frequently Asked Questions

What type of hawks live in Maryland?

Six species of hawks are commonly seen in Maryland and four other species are rare visitors to the state. The three most common species are the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and the Cooper’s Hawk.

How big are the hawks in Maryland?

The hawks in Maryland can be as big as 19 inches long (the Red-tailed Hawk), or as small as an American Robin (the Sharp-shinned Hawk).

What is the biggest hawk in Maryland?

The biggest, commonly seen hawk in Maryland is the Red-tailed Hawk. This hawk species is 19 inches long and weighs 2.4 pounds.

Do Red-tailed Hawks live in Maryland?

Red-tailed Hawks do live in Maryland. In fact, this species is one of the most common hawk species in Maryland.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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