In the vast skies of Oklahoma, there are nine magnificent species of hawks that grace the landscape with their presence. These majestic creatures, including Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Rough-legged Hawks, each possess their own unique characteristics and habitats. It is the Red-tailed Hawk, with its widespread distribution across North America, that proudly claims its territory in Oklahoma year-round. The medium-sized Red-shouldered Hawk, adorned with a captivating red plumage, resides in the eastern half of the state throughout the year. Often mistaken for their smaller counterparts, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk can be distinguished by its larger size and distinctive flight pattern. While Swainson’s Hawks embark on their South American migration during the fall, they make a temporary stop in Oklahoma during their breeding season. With their striking blue-gray plumage, the Sharp-shinned Hawks choose to visit Oklahoma solely during the non-breeding season. The Broad-winged Hawks leave their mark on the state during their fall migration, gracing both open spaces and forested areas. As for the Ferruginous Hawks, these impressive birds call the vast expanses of western Oklahoma their home during the winter months, favoring fields and plains. Although rarely seen in Oklahoma, the Northern Goshawks occasionally make their presence known during the winter after migrating. Finally, the Rough-legged Hawks, true lovers of open grasslands, find solace in Oklahoma’s winter landscapes. Together, these nine species of hawks contribute to the captivating avian diversity of Oklahoma.
Red-tailed Hawks are the most widespread hawks in North America. They are large birds with a wingspan ranging from 3.5 to 4.8 feet. These hawks have distinctive red tails, which give them their name. Their plumage varies between individuals, but most have brown upperparts and pale underparts with a belly band. Red-tailed Hawks have sharp, hooked beaks and powerful talons for catching their prey.
Red-tailed Hawks can be found year-round in Oklahoma. They are adaptable birds and can be seen in a variety of habitats, including open country, grasslands, forests, and even urban areas. They often perch on high tree branches, poles, or telephone wires, using their keen eyesight to spot their prey.
Red-tailed Hawks are primarily solitary birds, except during the breeding season when they form monogamous pairs. They are known for their impressive soaring ability, utilizing thermals to effortlessly glide through the sky. These hawks are skilled hunters and mainly feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They often perch and watch for prey from a high vantage point before swooping down to catch it.
The population of Red-tailed Hawks in Oklahoma is thriving, thanks to their adaptability and wide range of suitable habitats. While accurate population estimates are difficult to determine, their presence is consistently observed throughout the state. Their ability to thrive in diverse environments and their large range contribute to their healthy population numbers.
Red-shouldered Hawks are medium-sized hawks with a wingspan ranging from 3.5 to 4.4 feet. They have reddish plumage on their chests, which gives them their name. Additionally, they have black and white checkered wings and a barred tail. Their eyes are bright yellow, and they have hooked beaks and sharp talons.
Red-shouldered Hawks can be found year-round in the eastern half of Oklahoma. They prefer forested areas near bodies of water such as rivers, swamps, or wetlands. These hawks rely on mature trees for nesting and hunting.
Red-shouldered Hawks are skilled hunters and primarily feed on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They use their sharp eyesight to scan the ground and swoop down to catch their prey. These hawks are also known for their distinctive vocalization, a clear, piercing whistle that they use to communicate.
Red-shouldered Hawks have a limited distribution within Oklahoma, primarily residing in the eastern half of the state. They are not as widespread as Red-tailed Hawks but can still be observed in suitable habitats within their range.
Cooper’s Hawks are often mistaken for Sharp-shinned Hawks due to their similar appearance, but they can be distinguished by their larger size and flight pattern. These hawks have a wingspan ranging from 2.8 to 3.5 feet. They have short, rounded wings and a long, rounded tail with dark bands. Their plumage is predominantly dark gray on the back and pale with reddish bars on the chest.
Cooper’s Hawks can be found year-round in Oklahoma. They are adaptable birds and can be seen in various habitats, including woodlands, forests, suburban areas, and parks. They use their agility to navigate through dense vegetation and trees while hunting.
Cooper’s Hawks are agile hunters and primarily feed on small to medium-sized birds. They are known for their impressive flight skills, using quick bursts of speed and maneuverability to catch their prey by surprise. Like other hawks, they perch in high trees to observe their surroundings before diving down to capture their prey.
Cooper’s Hawks can be identified by their larger size compared to Sharp-shinned Hawks. They also have a rounded tail with dark bands, while Sharp-shinned Hawks have a squared tail. When in flight, Cooper’s Hawks display long, labored wingbeats followed by short glides, in contrast to the more rapid and flapping flight of Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Swainson’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks with a wingspan ranging from 4.9 to 5.6 feet. They have a slender body and long, broad wings. Their plumage varies between individuals, but most adults have dark brown upperparts, a pale chest, and a white belly. They also have a distinctive cinnamon-colored patch on their shoulders.
Swainson’s Hawks are migratory birds and can be found in Oklahoma during the breeding season. They prefer open habitats such as grasslands, prairies, and farmland for nesting. These hawks build nests on the ground or in trees, using sticks, grass, and other materials.
Swainson’s Hawks are primarily aerial hunters, relying on their excellent eyesight to spot prey while in flight. They feed mainly on small mammals, rodents, birds, and insects. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs and engage in elaborate courtship displays, including impressive aerial acrobatics.
Swainson’s Hawks have one of the longest migration routes of any North American hawk. They undertake a remarkable journey to South America during the fall, where they spend the winter. These hawks utilize thermals and updrafts to soar effortlessly, covering thousands of miles during their migration. They return to their breeding grounds in Oklahoma during the spring.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are small birds of prey with a wingspan ranging from 1.9 to 2.9 feet. They have short, rounded wings and a long, squared tail with dark bands. Their plumage is predominantly blue-gray on the back, with a white chest and belly. Juveniles have brown upperparts and streaked underparts.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are only found in Oklahoma during the non-breeding season. They prefer forested areas, particularly coniferous forests, where they can blend in with the trees and stealthily hunt their prey. These hawks are well-camouflaged and agile flyers, allowing them to navigate through dense vegetation.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are skilled hunters and primarily prey on small birds. They use their quick and agile flight to pursue their prey through trees and shrubs. These hawks are known for their stealthy hunting techniques, utilizing surprise attacks to catch their prey off-guard.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are present in Oklahoma during the non-breeding season, typically from September to April. They migrate to more northern regions to breed during the summer months. Their presence in the state varies throughout this period, with some individuals passing through during migration and others overwintering in suitable habitats.
Broad-winged Hawks are medium-sized hawks with a wingspan ranging from 2.4 to 3.1 feet. They have broad wings and a relatively short, square-shaped tail. Their plumage is predominantly brown on the upperparts, with pale underparts featuring narrow, dark bars. Juveniles have a similar appearance but with a buffy throat and breast.
Broad-winged Hawks can be spotted during their fall migration across Oklahoma. While they are primarily a migratory species, they can also be found in forests during the breeding season. These hawks rely on forested areas with tall trees for nesting and perching.
Broad-winged Hawks are skilled hunters and primarily feed on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They often perch in trees, scanning the ground for prey. During migration, these hawks form large groups called kettles, where they circle in thermals before continuing their journey.
Broad-winged Hawks are known for their spectacular migration patterns. Large numbers of these hawks gather and form kettles, taking advantage of thermals to ascend to great heights. They glide southward in large flocks, utilizing this energy-efficient method of travel. Oklahoma serves as an important stopover site during their fall migration.
Ferruginous Hawks are large hawks with a wingspan ranging from 4.6 to 5.6 feet, making them one of the largest hawk species in North America. They have broad wings and a long, squared tail. Their plumage can vary, but they are generally pale with a rusty or reddish-brown coloration on their backs and thighs.
Ferruginous Hawks reside in open spaces like fields and plains in western Oklahoma during the winter. They require extensive grasslands or prairies for hunting and nesting. These hawks build large nests on the ground or in trees using sticks, grass, and other materials.
Ferruginous Hawks are skilled hunters and primarily feed on small mammals, including ground squirrels and prairie dogs. They utilize their sharp vision and powerful flight to search for prey while soaring above their habitat. These hawks are known for their impressive stooping dives to catch their prey.
Ferruginous Hawks prefer open spaces with minimal tree cover, such as grasslands, shrublands, and agricultural fields. In Oklahoma, they are often found in the western regions of the state, where large expanses of suitable habitat exist.
Northern Goshawks are large hawks with a wingspan ranging from 3.1 to 3.7 feet. They have broad wings and a long, barred tail. Their plumage varies, but most adults have dark gray or blackish upperparts and pale underparts with fine barring. They also have piercing red eyes and a distinctive white stripe over their eyes.
Northern Goshawks are rarely seen in Oklahoma but can be found during the winter after migrating from their breeding grounds. They typically inhabit mature forests, particularly coniferous forests, where they can find suitable prey and nesting sites.
Northern Goshawks are powerful hunters and primarily feed on medium-sized birds and mammals. They are known for their agility and speed in flight, navigating through dense forests with ease. These hawks build large nests on tall trees using sticks and lined with softer materials.
Northern Goshawks occur sporadically in Oklahoma during the winter months. Their presence depends on various factors such as prey availability and weather conditions. Observing these elusive hawks in the state requires careful searching within their preferred forested habitats.
Rough-legged Hawks are medium-sized hawks with a wingspan ranging from 4.9 to 5.7 feet. They have broad wings and a long, slim tail. Their plumage varies, but most adults have dark brown upperparts, with a pattern of light-colored feathers on the underparts and distinctive dark wrist patches.
Rough-legged Hawks can be found in Oklahoma during the winter months. They prefer open areas such as grasslands, prairies, and agricultural fields. These hawks rely on open spaces to hunt their preferred prey, which includes small mammals like mice and voles.
Rough-legged Hawks are skilled hunters and spend much of their time flying low over open areas in search of prey. They have excellent vision and use their hover-hunting technique to spot small mammals scurrying in the grass. These hawks are also known for their soaring displays and acrobatic flight.
Rough-legged Hawks are primarily a winter presence in Oklahoma, arriving from their breeding grounds in the far north. Their migration brings them to the state in search of more favorable wintering habitats. While they may not be as numerous as other hawk species, careful observation in suitable habitats can lead to sightings of these impressive aerial hunters.
Oklahoma is home to a diverse array of hawk species, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors. From the widespread Red-tailed Hawks to the elusive Northern Goshawks, these birds of prey play vital roles in maintaining ecological balance. Understanding their habitat preferences, behaviors, and migration patterns enhances our appreciation for their role in the natural world. Whether soaring above open prairies, navigating dense forests, or passing through during migration, hawks are a fascinating part of Oklahoma’s avian diversity.