Whether you’re a bird enthusiast, resident to the state, or just simply curious, you may be wondering what types of hawks live in Washington State. In this article we’ll answer that very question and show you the 8 different hawks in Washington State, as well as learn a little bit about each species!
Let’s take a look at these amazing birds of prey!
8 species of hawks in Washington State
The 8 species of hawks found in Washington State are the Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.
1. Northern Goshawk
Scientific name:Accipiter gentilis
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
Northern Goshawks can be found throughout all of Washington State, at various times of the year. Like Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks are also accipiters, and have rounded wings and long tails. However, Northern Goshawks are much bigger than these other accipiters, and are in fact the largest accipiters in North America.
Northern Goshawks are secretive birds. Though they are the most widespread accipiter in the world, they live in large, dense forests and tend to remain out of sight, so finding them is not easy. Northern Goshawks have mostly gray plumage, with bright red eyes and bold white stripes that give them the appearance of having eyebrows. They are often considered to be symbols of strength, and even Attila the Hun had the image of one adorned on his helmet.
Northern Goshawks have been popular to use in hunting by falconers for over 2000 years. They were once known as “cooks hawks” because of their excellent ability to bring in meat to cook.
2. 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 have a non-breeding range throughout all of Washington State. For most of the year they’re found in the open Arctic tundra, where they also breed. However, during the fall they migrate south to spend the winter in the much of the United States and southern Canada.
It’s during the winter they’re found in Washington State, though they tend to be harder to spot than other species. Their populations are pretty variable from year to year and often depend on how abundant lemmings, a major food source, are in the Arctic.
Rough-legged Hawksget their name from their feathered legs that help them stay warm in the frigid north. Along with Golden Eagles, these hawks are the only raptors in America that feature feathers along their legs and all the way down to their talons. Rough-legged Hawks are large buteo hawks, with stocky bodies and long, broad wings. Their tails are longer than most buteos, though, and their feet and beaks are small.
When in flight they hold their wings in a “V” shape, and their tails fan out. In North America there are many color variations in plumage, including light and dark morphs. Adult light-morph males feature white underparts and gray-brown uppers, while dark-morphs are typically dark brown all over with the exception of their underwings.
3. 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 are very similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawks in looks with a steely blue back and wings and reddish barring on the belly, but Cooper’s are larger overall. It’s not uncommon for there to be discrepancies between large female sharpies and small male Cooper’s, since female hawks are larger than males. Cooper’s Hawks have a flatter head and rounded tail, which can help distinguish the two.
Cooper’s hawks are some of the most able and skilled fliers in the bird world. Their power, paired with agility and stealth, make them formidable predators and they can shoot through the treetops, chasing prey at super speeds.
Don’t be surprised if a Cooper’s hawk swoops down onto your backyard feeders. Little birds out in the open, focused on stuffing their bills? The hawks are practically being fed on a silver platter! Although they aren’t opposed to eating smaller birds, their favorites are larger species, such as doves, starlings, robins, jays, grouse, quail, and chickens.
Cooper’s Hawks can be found throughout much of Washington State year-round, though in the northern parts of the state they are only around to breed in the warmer months.
These hawks can be ruthless. As with most hawks, they kill their prey by squeezing it, but Cooper’s have been seen taking it a step farther and even drowning their prey.
4. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name:Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
Red-tailed Hawks are the most common hawks in North America and can be found in most parts of the country. These large hawks live in all of Washington State throughout the entire year.They can easily be recognized by their large size, red tails and shrill screams. Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen perched high up on telephone wires or in treetops waiting for their next meal to appear.
They feed mostly on small to medium-sized mammals and aren’t regularly seen stalking bird feeders like a cooper’s or sharpie. A truly magnificent raptor and even though they are very common, they’re still a treat to spot.
Red-tailed Hawks have that classic, raspy cry that people associate with raptors. In fact, it’s usually the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk that’s used in movies to portray the fierce birds of prey. I bet you can even hear it in your head now as you read this!
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 is the only harrier variety of hawks indigenous to North America. Its breeding grounds range as far north as Canada, but it winters in more southern climates. The Northern Harrier can be found throughout Washington State, though portions of Central and Western Washington may contain non-breeding populations of this species.
Like owls, Northern Harriers rely on their hearing as well as their vision to hunt, and they sometimes subdue their larger prey by drowning them. Males can have up to five female partners at once, although it’s more common for them to have just one or two. These hawks like living and hunting in fields and marshes, so if you’re trying to spot one look in places like this!
Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks in Washington State and North America. They rely heavily on their acute hearing as well as their excellent vision to hunt for prey.
6. Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz
Wingspan: 48 in
The Swainson’s Hawk is a common species to see soaring on narrow wings across the open country of the Great Plains and the West, and all the way north into most of Washington State during the summer. They have one of the longest migrations of any American raptor, and will form flocks that contain more than ten thousand individual birds.
They’ll travel down to winter grounds in Argentina in the fall, not traveling along ridges or lake shores nearly as much as other hawks, preferring to soar over open country.
This hawk will actually change its diet depending on if they’re breeding or not. They’ll feed their chicks the typical “buteo” diet of rodents, rabbits, and reptiles, but when they aren’t currently breeding they’ll switch to a diet made up almost exclusively of insects. Grasshoppers and dragonflies are their preferred protein, and will even run after them when on the ground.
When catching larger prey like rodents, they’ll chase them down in flight with their wings held in a shallow V formation for maximum speed.
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7. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name:Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of hawks in Washington State, as well as Canada and the rest of the United States. Though in some parts of Washington State, Swainson’s Hawks migrate to warmer climates in the winter. These little hawks are very widespread and can be found throughout North America. You can see their range map here to see what I mean.
They have copper barring on their white underparts and blue grey feathering on their backs, nape, and crown, giving it a hooded look. Their eyes are distinctly red.Sharpies are known for stalking backyard feeders. If you see one consider taking down your feeders for a week or two and allowing the hawk to move on.
Songbirds make up roughly 90% of the Sharpie’s diet. This allows them to serve the important function of keeping wild bird populations healthy and manageable.
8. Ferruginous Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
The Ferruginous Hawk is found in Central and Southeast Washington State, and only during the breeding season. It’s found flying over prairies, deserts, and the open range of the West, and is the largest of hawks in Washington and in North America. It gets its name “ferruginous” for its rusty shoulders and legs that are contrasted with bright white underparts. They have extreme patience, as they’ve been seen standing above prairie dog or ground squirrel burrows while waiting for prey to emerge.
An interesting way for conservationists to try and maintain this bird’s population is by providing artificial nests for the hawk to build up. Naturally, they’ll choose to build on the remains of other pre-existing hawk or crow nests, as the bulky sticks of their nests aren’t easily woven together for tree nesting. These nests would frequently hold bison bones and hair when the animal still roamed the West, potentially indicating it played a role in their diet in the past.
The 8 species of hawks found in Washington State are the Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.What is the biggest hawk in Washington State? ›
Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks found in Washington State and most of the United States. They're often found in great concentrations around Franklin and Benton Counties. Compared to Swainson's Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks are mostly observed in dry, open plains, grasslands, and deserts.What is the most common species of hawk? ›
The red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk in North America.How many varieties of hawks are there? ›
Hawks and eagles are among the more than 200 species of the family Accipitridae, a group of swift, strong raptors that kill other animals for food and are diurnal, or active during the day.What is the rarest type of hawk? ›
Introduction. The Short-tailed Hawk is one of the rarest and least-studied birds in the United States. Although restricted as a breeder in this country to peninsular Florida, it is otherwise a widely distributed species, occurring from northern Mexico southward to northern Argentina, Paraguay, and southern Brazil.What is the largest Hawk in the Pacific Northwest? ›
Ferruginous Hawks are quite rare in Washington, but they are seen in the southeast of the state, especially during the breeding season. Then they fly south for the winter. Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks in North America. They have large heads and long wings.What type of hawks live in Washington State? ›
The 8 species of hawks found in Washington State are the Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk.What is the largest bird of prey in Washington State? ›
The Ferruginous Hawk, generally seen in eastern Washington, is the largest of Washington's hawks. This hawk can be seen soaring with its wings in a shallow dihedral. The Ferruginous Hawk has a light and a dark color phase. The dark phase is less common; 25% of the birds nesting near Hanford are the dark phase.Do hawks eat cats? ›
The answer to the question 'Do hawks eat cats' is yes they can and they do, but on rare occasions. Because of their mobility, their gliding and hovering skills, it is unlikely that a wild hawk will target your backyard or your cat as food source.Do hawks eat dogs? ›
Hawks and their cousins are opportunistic animals, so dogs, puppies, cats, kittens, ferrets, guinea pigs, ducks, rabbits, and chickens are all at stake.
role in falconry
…the female—is known as a tiercel. Indoor housing for hawks is called a mews. The falconer's equipment is known as items of furniture. Examples include leather gloves, worn to protect the falconer from the hawk's talons, and hoods, used to cover the eyes of the hawk. (Longwings are trained to…
The striping on the belly goes all the way to the base on falcons whereas hawks have a white band at the base. One of the easiest way to tell the two species apart is when they're in full flight and you can see their wingspan. Hawks have 'fingers' on the tip of their wings whereas falcon wings are slender and pointed.Can hawks pick up dogs? ›
In fact, hawks can pick up small dogs and carry them away, just like other prey. Black-tailed rabbits, which are popular prey of red-tailed hawks, can weigh as much as 6 pounds, more than your average Chihuahua. So, it's totally possible for a hawk to pick up and carry off a small dog.Can a hawk pick up a cat? ›
Conclusion. While hawks typically don't attack cats, there are a few species of hawks that are large enough to attack pets. Most hawks are too small to pick up an adult cat, but they may target kittens or old and weak cats. Hawks are opportunistic feeders and will prey on pets if they get the opportunity.What does it mean when a hawk visits you? ›
What does it mean when a hawk comes to you? It means you are getting an important message from the Divine! Hawks encourage people for being observant, clear-sightedness, guardship, and our far memory.Do hawks eat small dogs? ›
Even very small dogs may be too heavy for a hawk or owl to carry, although it's still possible that large raptors might attack them. For instance, black-tailed jackrabbits can reach the weight of a small dog (6 pounds) and are a fairly common prey item for Red-tailed Hawks in the western United States.What is the biggest hawk alive? ›
As the 'royal' Latin name suggests, this is the largest and heaviest hawk in North America. The Ferruginous Hawk is about midway in size between other buteo hawks and the Golden Eagle, which it resembles in body shape, diet, flight, and nesting habits.Is there a hawk that looks like a Golden Eagle? ›
Ferruginous Hawks are paler under the wing and tail than Golden Eagles with more chestnut color in the wings.
What hawk has the largest wingspan? Ferruginous hawks have the largest wingspan of any hawk. The hawk with the largest wingspan in the world is the ferruginous hawk (its name means rust-colored). The ferruginous hawk lives in the western United States, mostly in deserts and prairies.Whats bigger a Hawk or a falcon? ›
Size. Falcons are smaller birds than hawks which are generally large but with shorter wings compared to falcons. Hence why it is common to hear of a falcon referred to as a 'long wing'. As with other birds of prey, falcons and hawks also show sexual dimorphism.
Raptors commonly found in western Washington cities are Merlins, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Cooper's Hawks, Ospreys, Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and Owls.What kind of falcons live in Washington State? ›
Two subspecies breed in Washington. Peale's Peregrine Falcon is found along the coast and in Puget Sound. The Continental Peregrine Falcon, or Anatum Peregrine, inhabits eastern Washington. It was extirpated from the state but has been reintroduced in a number of locations and seems to be recovering.Are there Osprey in Washington state? ›
Ospreys are common near large bodies of water at lower elevations throughout Washington. They generally return to Washington in late March or early April; most of the population leaves in August or September. They rarely nest in the Columbia Basin, but are found along the Yakima and Walla Walla Rivers.What's the real name for a chicken hawk? ›
In the United States, chickenhawk or chicken hawk is an unofficial designation for three species of North American hawks in the family Accipitridae: Cooper's hawk, also called a quail hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk, and the Buteo species red-tailed hawk.What do Cooper's hawks eat? ›
Cooper's hawkIs there Golden Eagles in Washington? ›
Golden eagles have a broad distribution throughout the mountainous areas of the state, especially in eastern Washington. Outside of Washington, golden eagles breed over much of the west from Alaska to northern Mexico and east into the Atlantic Provinces.What is the largest bird in the Pacific Northwest? ›
The California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, is the largest soaring land bird on the continent, stretching 2.8 m (9.5 ft) from wing to wing, and weighing about 8.5–10 kg (18–22 lbs).Are there golden eagles in the PNW? ›
Golden Eagles are common to see in Washington.
You can also spot these birds in grasslands, farmlands, shrublands, arctic tundra, and coniferous woodlands.
Federal laws actually protect birds of prey, so it's illegal to kill or keep them without a permit. If you're worried about protecting your pets, the easiest thing to do is keep an eye on them outside.Can an owl pick up a 20 pound dog? ›
Due to its size and strength, the great horned owl is the only owl species that would be able to pick up a small dog consistently. Great horned owls can carry as much as 9 pounds, which means they could snatch a Chihuahua or a Yorkshire Terrier.
Hawks are diurnal, which means they are active throughout the day rather than at night. Therefore, hawks don't hunt at night, though some like to wait until dusk begins to fall before hunting for prey. Because of their exceptionally excellent vision, these birds are mostly seen during the day.What is the largest hawk? ›
As the 'royal' Latin name suggests, this is the largest and heaviest hawk in North America. The Ferruginous Hawk is about midway in size between other buteo hawks and the Golden Eagle, which it resembles in body shape, diet, flight, and nesting habits.What is the fastest hawk in the world? ›
Sixteen subspecies are recognized. The peregrine falcon is best known for its diving speed during flight—which can reach more than 300 km (186 miles) per hour—making it not only the world's fastest bird but also the world's fastest animal.What is the difference between a hawk and a falcon? ›
It depends on the species, but a hawk measures (minus the sparrow-hawk species) 18-30 inches long and is generally larger in spite of its shorter wingspan, whereas a falcon measures 8-26 inches long and with a generally longer wingspan.What is a small hawk called? ›
The sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small hawk, with males being the smallest hawks in the United States and Canada, but with the species averaging larger than some Neotropical species, such as the tiny hawk.