The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Connecticut is a haven for bird enthusiasts, particularly those captivated by the majestic and awe-inspiring hawks that grace the skies. With a whopping 8 different species to marvel at, the state offers a diverse array of these mesmerizing creatures. From the elegant and soaring broad-winged hawk to the minute and nimble sharp-shinned hawk, each species possesses its own unique characteristics and habitat preferences. Some hawks choose Connecticut as their year-round residence while others are migratory, making this state an exciting destination for bird-watchers all year long. Being expert predators armed with sharp beaks and talons, these birds of prey feast upon a range of prey including small mammals, insects, and even other birds. Amongst this esteemed group, the red-tailed hawk is the most commonly encountered species in Connecticut. However, the elusive and secretive northern goshawks favor the seclusion of old-growth forests, while the sharp-shinned hawks reign supreme as the smallest hawk species in the entire United States.

The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Broad-winged Hawk

Characteristics

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a length of 13-17 inches and a wingspan of 31-39 inches. It has a distinctive black and white banded tail and broad wings. The adults have a reddish-brown chest with a white belly, while the juveniles have a streaked belly. They have sharp, curved beaks and powerful talons, which they use for catching their prey.

Habitat

Broad-winged Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and open areas near water sources. They prefer dense vegetation and require large areas of undisturbed forest for breeding. During migration, they can be seen in large flocks soaring in thermals, or high columns of rising warm air, as they travel south to Central and South America.

Behavior

These hawks are primarily solitary birds, but during migration, they form large flocks known as “kettles” as they travel in groups and soar together. Broad-winged Hawks are known for their distinctive high-pitched whistling call, which can often be heard during their migration. They are agile in flight and can perform acrobatic maneuvers like soaring and hovering. They primarily feed on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Cooper’s Hawk

Characteristics

Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized birds with a length of 14-20 inches and a wingspan of 24-35 inches. They have short, rounded wings and a long tail, which allows them to maneuver through dense vegetation while hunting. Adult Cooper’s Hawks have blue-gray backs and rusty-colored chests with dark vertical stripes, while juveniles have a brown back and streaked chest.

Habitat

These hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. They are adaptable birds and can even be seen in urban environments. Cooper’s Hawks prefer areas with a mix of dense vegetation for cover and open spaces for hunting. They are year-round residents in most of their range, although some populations may migrate short distances during the winter.

Behavior

Cooper’s Hawks are known for their stealthy hunting behavior. They patiently wait in a concealed perch, such as a tree or shrub, and ambush their prey by surprise. They primarily feed on birds, although they may also consume small mammals and insects. Cooper’s Hawks are capable of quick, agile flight and can maneuver through dense vegetation with ease. They are also known for their distinctive high-pitched call.

Northern Goshawk

Characteristics

The Northern Goshawk is a large hawk with a length of 20-26 inches and a wingspan of 40-46 inches. It has a stocky build, short wings, and a long tail. Adult Goshawks have dark gray or black feathers on their back and wings, with a white underside and a distinctive white stripe above their eyes. Juveniles have brown feathers with streaks, which help with camouflage.

Habitat

Northern Goshawks prefer mature, old-growth forests with dense vegetation for nesting and hunting. They can be found in various types of forests, including coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests. These hawks require large territories, and their populations are relatively low due to the loss of suitable habitat. They are year-round residents in most of their range.

Behavior

Goshawks are known for their secretive nature and are often difficult to observe in the wild. They are highly territorial and aggressively defend their nesting sites. These hawks are skilled hunters and use their powerful wings and sharp talons to catch their prey mid-flight. They primarily feed on medium-sized birds and small mammals. Northern Goshawks have a variety of vocalizations, including high-pitched calls and chattering sounds.

Northern Harrier

Characteristics

The Northern Harrier is a medium-sized hawk with a length of 18-22 inches and a wingspan of 40-48 inches. It has a slim body, long wings, and a long tail. Adult males have gray feathers on their back and wings, with a white underside and a distinctive white rump. Females and juveniles have brown feathers with streaks. They have a unique facial disc, which helps with sound location.

Habitat

Northern Harriers can be found in a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, marshes, and fields. They prefer areas with low vegetation for hunting, as they rely heavily on their sense of hearing to locate prey. These hawks are year-round residents in some parts of their range but can migrate short distances during the winter in other areas.

Behavior

The Northern Harrier is one of the few hawk species that regularly hunts during the day and at dusk. They have a distinctive hunting behavior known as “quartering,” where they fly low over the ground in a back-and-forth pattern, searching for prey. They primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice and voles, but they may also consume birds and insects. Northern Harriers have a variety of calls, including a high-pitched whistle.

The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Red-tailed Hawk

Characteristics

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large hawk with a length of 18-25 inches and a wingspan of 43-57 inches. It has broad wings and a red-colored tail, which gives it its name. Adult Red-tailed Hawks have a brown back and wings, with a white belly and a distinctive dark belly band. Juveniles have brown feathers with streaks. They have sharp, curved beaks and strong talons.

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks are versatile birds and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and deserts. They are one of the most common hawk species in North America and are year-round residents in most of their range. These hawks require tall trees or other elevated structures for nesting and hunting.

Behavior

These hawks are known for their soaring flight, where they use thermal updrafts to glide effortlessly. Red-tailed Hawks are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their nesting sites. They primarily feed on small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents, but they may also consume birds and reptiles. Red-tailed Hawks have a variety of calls, including high-pitched screams.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Characteristics

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a length of 17-24 inches and a wingspan of 37-43 inches. It has broad wings and a reddish-brown chest with distinct dark barring. Adult Red-shouldered Hawks have dark feathers on their back and wings, with a white underside and reddish-colored shoulders. Juveniles have brown feathers with streaks.

Habitat

Red-shouldered Hawks can be found in various habitats, including forests, woodlands, and wetlands. They require tall trees for nesting and prefer areas with water sources for hunting. These hawks are year-round residents in most of their range. They are more commonly found in the eastern parts of North America.

Behavior

Red-shouldered Hawks are skilled hunters and have a diverse diet, which includes small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. They are known for their distinctive vocalizations, including a rising whistle and a series of clear notes. These hawks are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their nesting sites. They are agile in flight and can perform acrobatic maneuvers like soaring and hovering.

The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Rough-legged Hawk

Characteristics

The Rough-legged Hawk is a large hawk with a length of 18-24 inches and a wingspan of 50-56 inches. It has a stocky build, long wings, and a long tail. Adult Rough-legged Hawks have dark feathers on their back and wings, with a white underside. They have distinctive feathered legs, which provide insulation in cold climates. Juveniles have brown feathers with streaks.

Habitat

Rough-legged Hawks breed in the Arctic region and migrate south during the winter. They can be found in a variety of open habitats, including tundra, grasslands, and marshes. These hawks require perches for hunting and nesting, such as trees or elevated rocks. Rough-legged Hawks are migratory and can be seen in various parts of North America during the winter.

Behavior

These hawks are highly adapted to cold climates and have dense feathers and leg plumage to keep warm. Rough-legged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as voles and lemmings, but they may also consume birds and insects. They have a variety of calls, including a high-pitched whistle and a harsh screech. These hawks are skilled hunters and can hover in mid-air while searching for prey.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Characteristics

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small hawk with a length of 9-14 inches and a wingspan of 17-22 inches. It has short, rounded wings and a long tail. Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks have blue-gray feathers on their back and wings, with a white underside and fine vertical barring. Juveniles have brown feathers with streaks. They are the smallest hawk species in the United States.

Habitat

Sharp-shinned Hawks can be found in various habitats, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. They are adaptable birds and can even be seen in urban environments. These hawks require areas with a mix of dense vegetation for cover and open spaces for hunting. They are year-round residents in most of their range.

Behavior

These hawks are agile hunters and are known for their maneuverability in flight. They can perform quick, darting flight patterns to catch small birds in mid-air. Sharp-shinned Hawks primarily feed on birds, although they may also consume small mammals and insects. They have a variety of vocalizations, including a series of high-pitched calls. These hawks are territorial and will defend their nesting sites.

The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Hawk Predatory Abilities

Beaks and Talons

Hawks are expert predators with highly specialized beaks and talons. Their sharp, curved beaks are designed for tearing and consuming prey. The upper beak is hooked, allowing them to grip and tear flesh, while the lower beak is sharp and pointed. Hawks also have strong, sharp talons on their feet, which they use to catch and kill their prey. These talons are capable of piercing through flesh and gripping tightly.

Prey of Hawks

Small Mammals

Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, which include rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. They use their keen eyesight to spot their prey from a distance and then swoop down to catch it. Hawks are skilled hunters and can locate small mammals even in dense vegetation. They use their sharp beaks and talons to capture and kill their prey before consuming it.

Insects

Although hawks are primarily known for hunting mammals and birds, they also feed on insects. Insects, such as grasshoppers, beetles, and dragonflies, are an important food source for hawks, especially during the breeding season when they need to provide food for their young. Hawks can catch insects in mid-air with their agile flight and precision.

Birds

Hawks are formidable predators and will sometimes prey on other bird species. They are known for their aerial hunting skills and can catch smaller birds in mid-flight. Hawks rely on their speed, agility, and surprise attacks to capture their avian prey. They will use their sharp talons to grasp the bird and their beaks to deliver a fatal blow.

In conclusion, hawks are fascinating birds of prey with different characteristics, habitats, and behaviors. From the versatile Red-tailed Hawk, the secretive Northern Goshawk, to the agile Sharp-shinned Hawk, each species has its unique adaptations for survival. Hawks are skilled hunters with sharp beaks and talons, allowing them to effectively capture and kill their prey. Whether it’s small mammals, insects, or even other birds, hawks play a vital role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems. So next time you spot a hawk soaring through the skies, take a moment to appreciate their beauty and the important role they play in our natural world.

The 8 Species of Hawks Found in Connecticut

Nature Blog Network

NatureBlogNetwork.com is the leading birding research and information website. Serving the birding community since 2010.

Recent Posts