Eagles and Hawks are members of the Accipitridae family of the Accipitriformes order (diurnal birds of prey). Buzzards, harriers, kites, and Old World vultures are also members of this family, with the Osprey and New World vultures, are generally considered to belong to separate families within the same order. Like other members of the Accipitidae family, Eagles and Hawks are daytime hunters with broad wings, sharply hooked bills, large talons, and a variety of appearances that vary based on habitat and diet. Members of this family can be found nearly all over the world, with the exception of Antarctica.
What is the difference between an Eagle, Hawk and Falcon?
The simple answer is: size, shape, color, and method of flight, but there are many minor differences in behavior, habitat and feeding that can help with the differentiation. In the United States, we generally refer to most diurnal birds of prey as Hawks, but the groups within the Family can be outlined in greater detail. Here is a simple breakdown with some major points:
Eagles tend to be larger birds with powerful, robust bodies and large hooked beaks. The largest eagle, the Golden Eagle, has a wingspan reaching 7½ ft, while the largest of the hawks, have a mature wingspan of up to 5 ft.
Ospreys can be considered Eagles based on their size, and certainly have overlapping behavior and habitats with eagles, such as the Bald Eagle. Ospreys, specifically, are very well-adapted for living near shores and feeding on shallow-water fish.
Hawks are medium sized birds of prey, with adult sizes noticeably larger than falcons and smaller than eagles. They are generally woodland birds and their flight patterns are adapted for more flexible turning and swooping, with quicker flapping and shorter soaring for tighter maneuvering. The Cooper’s, Sharpie and Goshawk are all in the subfamily Accipitrinae (a.k.a. bird hawks). They are distinguished by their long tails and streamlined bodies (built for speed). The Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Broad-winged and Rough-legged are all in the subfamily Buteoninae, as are the eagles.
Harriers are hawks that have a distinct ability to hover with great ease over prey. They also have an adaptation very similar to Owls, in which they have a feathered facial disk that helps channel sound into the ears, which helps to better locate prey.
Falcons are smaller birds of prey, with adaptations (such as thin, pointed wings) for speed. They are some of the fastest animals on Earth, with the Peregrine Falcon being the absolute fastest at 200 mph.
Some interesting facts about Eagles and Hawks:
What do you call a group of eagles? Take your pick: Aerie, convocation, jubilee, kettle, soar, or tower.
What about a group of hawks? A boil, knot, spiraling, stream, or tower.
What about a group of goshawks? A flight, glare, or gross.
A group of harriers? A swarm or harassment.
Hawks, eagles and falcons share a lot of the same habitat and food sources as owls. What keeps them from directly competing? Owls are nocturnal (active at night), while hawks, eagles and falcons are diurnal (active during the day).
Why are raptors’ beaks hooked? It’s an adaptation to allow them to tear into and pick at the flesh of their prey.
Identification Guide for Eagles and Hawks of New York
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Identifying characteristics: A large raptor with brown body, characteristic white head and tail, yellow eyes, hooked yellow beak and large yellow talons. Juveniles (up to 5 years old) do not have the white feathers.
Size: From 28 to 40 inches in length with wingspans reaching 7½ ft (6½ ft average). Weighing from 10 to 14 pounds. Females are generally larger than males (by about 25%) and northern birds tend to be larger than southern birds.
Habitat: Natural, undisturbed forest bordering large bodies of water such as oceans, lakes, or rivers. In winter they may tend to stick to areas near bodies of water that remain free from icing.
Nesting: Nests are large and made of sizable sticks, usually in a tree bordering water. The nests can be as large as 15 ft across and 9 ft deep and can weigh hundreds of pounds. It is reused and continuously built upon each year.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on fish, which it snags from the surface of the water with its talons, but is an optimistic feeder and will also eat smaller birds and mammals or carrion. Video
Flight: In flight, the white head and tail make for easy identification. The Bald Eagle’s flight pattern is generally a series of strong wing beats and then intermittent soaring. The duration of the soaring depends on the availability of thermal currents in the air and the height of the flight (with more thermals and greater height leading to longer soaring times). Straight line, figure eight and double circle soaring patterns are common. Bald Eagles spread their wings straight when soaring. Video; Video
Reproduction: Mating season varies based on region, with New York breeding taking place from March to May. Pairs breeding with amazing aerial displays. The pair will fly to a great height, lock talons and tumble uncontrollably towards the ground. At the last moment they split apart. They produce 1-2 offspring each year, and it takes about 20 weeks for offspring to go off on their own and 5 years to become sexually mature. They are monogamous and mate for life.
Other info.: Despite having the advantage of not only being at the top of the food chain, but also the majestic symbol of a powerful nation, the bald eagle is recovering from being an endangered species. Dwindling habitat and accumulated toxins in its prey, have caused nesting and reproduction problems in the past. Considered the most popular success of the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
Vocalization: High-pitched chirps while in the nest and a high-pitched shrill during flight.
In NY State
Bald eagles can be found throughout the state in suitable habitats in the warmer months, and winter in the southern tier. Not usually found on Long Island.
Confined to North America and found in every state except Hawaii. Map.
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Parks in the Thousand Islands region; Bear Mountain State Park; Derby Hill
Status:Federally threatened Threatened in NY State
Bald Eagle signs
Look for massive nests made from large sticks at the tops of strong trees near water.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
Identifying characteristics: A small, stocky hawk with dark brown back and pale undersides with light to dark brown horizontal barring. (Juveniles have lighter chests and vertical banding rather than horizontal). The tail is a dark gray with white striping. They have yellow eyes, yellow talons and a hooked beak that is yellow at the base, but black at the tip. Video
Size: From 13.5 to 18 inches in length with wingspans reaching just over 3 ft. The average weight is just under a pound. Females are generally larger than males (by about 20%).
Habitat: Dense deciduous and mixed forests (for nesting), with nearby bodies of water or open areas like roads, fields, and wetlands (for hunting). They winter in the forests of Central and South America.
Nesting: Nests are bulky, made of sticks, usually low in mature deciduous trees. New nests are constructed each year.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds on small animals and insects, but not usually fish. During nesting season small mammals make up most of their diet. They perch atop high trees or utility poles and swoop down on prey.
Flight: In flight, the undersides are lightly colored, with dark brown outlines, horizontal barring on the chest and wings, and a broad white stripe across the middle of the tail. The wings are straight and the tips are pointed. Video
Predators: Eggs and young are vulnerable to other birds of prey, crows, raccoons, and porcupines. There are no known predators of adult Broad-winged Hawks.
Reproduction: Breeding season starts in the spring and can last well into August. Pairs are monogamous and may pair again in subsequent seasons. Aerial courtship displays are followed by joint nest building. They produce 1 offspring each year, and it takes about 6 weeks to fledge, and 1 to 2 years to become sexually mature.
Other info.: Broad-winged Hawks are generally solitary and territorial, but for migration they often congregate in huge flocks (kettles) of thousands. Often other raptor species will join the kettle. In order to conserve energy for their flight south, they take advantage of rising thermal air currents and soar with little effort.
Vocalization: High-pitched whistling pee-peeeee when territorial.
In NY State
Broad-winged hawks can be found across the state in the spring and summer months.
Breed throughout the northeast US and Canada. Winter in Central and South America. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Franklin Mountain; Derby Hill; Sterling Forest SP; Perched atop roadside utility poles.
Broad-winged Hawk signs
Listen for their characteristic territorial call. Check the tops of utility poles for perched hawks.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Identifying characteristics: A medium-sized raptor with a long slim body. A squarish head with dark (almost black) crown. Light underparts with reddish horizontal barring. The back sides are darker (almost a bluish black). The tail is white with heavy black stripes, and the tips of the tail features are rounded. The eyes are orange and the talons are yellow. The beak is hooked and is yellow at the base, but black at the tip. The Cooper’s Hawk looks similar to the sharp-shinned hawk, but has a squarer head, darker coloring, rounded tail feather tips, and is generally larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Video; Video
Size: From 14 to 19 inches in length with wingspans reaching just over 3 ft. The average weight is just over a pound. Females are generally larger than males (by about 50 to 70%).
Habitat: Deciduous and mixed forests with open areas for hunting. Spots of woodland near open lots or farmland.
Nesting: Nests made of sticks and twigs and lined with bark, green twigs or conifer needles. They are constructed in a tree 20 ft or more from the ground. The male starts building the nest and does most of the work completing it.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. This hawk hunts primarily in the air, snatching up songbirds while in flight. Occasionally they will also consume squirrels, reptiles, or amphibians. Once it captures prey, it flies to a “plucking post” or back to its nest to feed.
Flight: In flight, the black and white striping on the lower portion of the wings and undersides of the tail are apparent. The wings are held straight when gliding (which is usually for short periods of time), and the wing beats are stiffer and less pronounced than the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Predators: Eggs and young are vulnerable to other birds of prey (like Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, and Goshawks), crows, and also tree-climbing predators such as raccoons and porcupines.
Reproduction: Breeding season starts in the spring (sometimes as early as March). They are monogamous and pairs meet again each year. Pairs begin with courtship flights where they fly with their wings in a v-shape. 3 to 6 bluish-white (often spotted) eggs are laid each year and the color often stains the nest. Eggs hatch roughly 35 days later and the young are independent after about a year.
Other info.: Since the Cooper’s Hawk hunts agile songbirds while in flight, they have to be quick, nimble and powerful to navigate dense forest and be able to snag its prey. Cooper’s hawks, like many birds of prey in the new world, were once thought to be the cause for domestic poultry kills and were often hunted or shot as pests for this reason.
Vocalization: keay keay keay often repeated rapidly. Video; Video
= Year round
In NY State
Cooper’s Hawks are year-round residents of most of New York State, extending their range north to the Adirondack region for the breeding season. For winter, they shift southward, but not far distances.
Throughout the continental United States extending into Canada and Central America. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Franklin Mountain; Derby Hill; Suburban backyards and parks.
Status:Special Concern in NY
Cooper’s Hawk signs
Look for them stalking or chasing songbirds around neighborhood feeders, baths and birdhouses. Once they catch a bird, they often fly off to perch and feed, often tearing the prey’s feathers out, leaving them scattered about.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Identifying characteristics: A very large raptor with a long and broad wingspan. Its body is primarily dark-brown with a golden sheen to the head and neck. The eyes are brown. The beak is large, hooked and yellow at the base/black at the tip. The talons are yellow. The legs are feathered all the way to the toes. The long and broad tail has white banding.
Size: Large. Reaching 3½ ft in length with wingspans up to 7½ ft . The average weight is about 10 lbs.
Habitat: Open or semi-open grasslands, wetlands, or woodlands at various elevations. They stick to high cliffs and trees for migration and nesting.
Nesting: Does not nest in New York.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on medium-sized mammals, primarily rabbits and ground squirrels. But they are capable, and on occasion, of taking large prey such as foxes, coyotes, and cranes. They can often be seen feeding on carrion. Video
Flight: In flight, the golden eagle’s head appears small with a short neck. The tail, with white barring, appears long. The Flight pattern consists of steady and powerful wing beats with short to long glides. They often glide on thermals with rectangular wings held in a slight V. Video; Video
Predators: Eggs and juveniles are susceptible to a variety of tree climbing predators. There are no known predators of adult Golden Eagles.
Reproduction: Golden Eagles are monogamous, staying paired for several years. Mating season starts in early spring and lasts through out the summer. They breed once a year and produce 1-4 eggs (avg. 2). The eggs hatch on different days and older siblings often kill the younger or smaller ones. Juveniles become independent after roughly 160 days, and take from 4 to 7 years to become sexually mature.
Other info.: The golden eagle can be identified in flight by its size alone. No wonder many pioneers thought it could prey on livestock (especially sheep). What did they do about it? They shot every one they could find. At one time there were breeding populations in the Adirondacks, but human hunting, pesticide use, and other unknown factors wiped out that population long ago. Although there have been proposals to reintroduce the species into New York, as has been done (successfully) with the Bald Eagle, nothing is official.
In NY State
Golden eagles are a rare sight in New York. Migrants from Canada often pass through New York on their way to the Appalachian Mountains. They do not nest here. Look for them migrating through here in March and also October and November.
Throughout North America, with year-long residents on the west coast. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Chestnut Ridge; Derby Hill; Franklin Mountain;
Status:Endangered in NY Federally Protected
Golden Eagle signs
See a huge bird flying in the air, a chill down your spine?
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
Identifying characteristics: A medium-large raptor with broad, rounded wings that are a bit short. They are gray with a dark cap, dark eye stripe and light brow stripe. Their backs are dark gray, while the undersides are lighter with very fine barring. The tail is long and has 3-4 dark horizontal bands. The hooked beak is small. The eyes are red. Juveniles are mottled brown rather than gray and have bright yellow eyes and no eye stripe. Video
Size: From 21 to 25 inches in length with wingspans from 3-4 ft across. Weighing an average of 2½ pounds. Females are slightly larger than males (by about 10%).
Habitat: Coniferous and deciduous forests, especially mature forests. They tend to nest near small open areas for hunting.
Nesting: The male begins constructing the nest high in a mature tree. The nest is a platform made of large sticks and lined with green leafy twigs, conifer needles, feathers, grass, and bark. Once paired, the female joins in construction or maintaining the nest. They aggressively defend their nests and will swoop down on anything or anyone they think is a threat.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds on large songbirds, squirrels, rodents and rabbits. They tend to go after larger prey, more than they can fly off with. Flies low throughout the forest and swoops down on prey. Once caught, most feeding occurs on the ground.
Flight: The typical flight pattern is multiple rapid flaps and then a straight glide, but this species is also highly adapted for high speed and tight maneuvering within heavily wooded areas, which they often do when chasing prey. Video
Reproduction: Mating season begins in April and lasts to the middle of June. Males will put on aerial displays and calls to attract a mate. Females will lay an average of 3 rough bluish-white eggs that will hatch 4-5 weeks later. It takes about 70 days for juveniles to become independent and 1-2 years to sexually mature. Mating pairs are monogamous and usually stick together for life. Video
Other info.: The name is pronounced like the two separate words: “Goose Hawk.”
Where to spot them in Upstate NY:
Bashakil WMA; Braddock Bay WMA; Derby Hill; Franklin Mountain; any dense and undisturbed mature forest.
Look for a large hawk swooping down and giving chase to medium-sized prey (rabbits, groundhogs, etc).
Large platform nests made of large dead branches, high in mature trees, no more than 3 ft across.
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
AKA: Hen harrier, Marsh hawk
Identifying characteristics: A mid-size raptor with long wings and tail. The rump is bright white and a good way to identify this bird. Eyes are yellow. The curved beak is small and predominantly grayish-black. Males have a light gray head, back, and breast. The belly is white with small brown markings. The wingtips and outer edges of wings are black. The underwings are white. The tail is darkish gray above and whitish below with faint stripes. Females have a brown overall tint, white and brown mottled underparts, prominent facial disk (similar to owls) and striped underwings. Juveniles are similar to Adult females, but have smooth cinnamon underparts. Video
Size: From 16 to 24 inches in length with wingspans from 3-4 ft across. Weighing an average of 1 pound. Females are slightly larger than males (by about 5-10%).
Habitat: Open areas, such as marshes, fields, cropland, meadows, and bogs.
Nesting: Nests are built on the ground, slightly raised, usually within grass or cattails. It is constructed primarily by the female, out of sticks and then lined with grass. They sometimes nest in spread out colonies. The harrier will call at, and even attack, those that get close to its nest.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. It flies over fields scanning grass and cattails for movement. Although it has sharp vision, its facial disk helps channel sound waves for better hearing too. Primarily hunts field mice, but also squirrels, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Occasionally they will snag a decent sized waterfowl.
Flight: They glide very close to the ground when hunting. With excellent maneuverability they can dive on prey abruptly and give a good chase if they need to. Typical flight pattern starts with deep wing beats followed by long glides. The tail is squared. Video; Video
Reproduction: Mating season begins in April and lasts through September, with dominant females actively mating for the first half of this period, while secondary females wait for the latter half. Males will put on aerial displays of climbing and diving. Females will lay an average of 4 bluish-white eggs that will incubate for 30-32 days, while the male hunts. Males reach sexual maturity after 2 years. Females, 3. Many are monogamous.
Other info.: The harrier’s facial disk is very similar to the owl’s. They both use it as a dish to help gather and direct sound waves to the ears for better hearing and better location of their prey.
Vocalization: Mostly silent. Rapid, repetitive squeaking or keee keee keee, usually around the nest.
In NY State
Northern Harriers can be found across the state. They are year-round residents of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence-bordering regions as well as the Lower Hudson and Long Island. Many harriers migrate south for the winter, leaving a band of just summer breeding range across the middle of the state.
Across most of the northern hemisphere. They are called Hen harriers across the pond. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Derby Hill; Hook Mountain; Chestnut Ridge; wetland parks of Long Island;
Status: Threatened in NY State
Due to loss of habitat (wetlands).
Northern Harrier signs
Look for nests in raised ground vegetation in fields or cattail marshes.
Hunting harriers will be flying over fields and marshes very close the ground.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
AKA: Sea hawk
Identifying characteristics: A large raptor with dark brown and white underparts. The head is small, topped with a white cap, and dark stripe that runs across the eyes and to the back. The hooked beak is dark gray and the talons are light gray. The legs are not feathered. The eyes are yellow. Females have a light brown spotted band across the breast.
Size: From 21 to 24 inches in length with wingspans reaching 5½ ft. Weighing an average of 3½ pounds. Females are generally larger than males (by about 15%).
Habitat: Pretty much anywhere with suitable nest sites and access to shallow water containing large populations of fish, such as lakeshores, seashores, ponds, and wetlands. In winter they may migrate to larger, more open bodies of water.
Nesting: Nests are commonly built high in large sturdy trees, but sometimes on man-made structures, such as utility poles, radio towers, billboards, and buildings. Close to water and occasionally over water, like on a buoy, downed tree, or on a small island. The nests are bulky and made of large sticks and often trash picked up along the shore. They are reused for several years.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on fish. It will fly over water and once it spots a fish below the surface, it dramatically dives head-first towards it. Just before hitting the water it rights itself and grasps fish with its talons. Sometimes the Osprey will completely submerge. It has specially adapted talons with 2 forward and 2 back-facing scaly claws to securely snag and hold onto slippery fish. Its white underside helps camouflage it against the bright sky so prey can’t see it coming. Caught prey is then carried to a perching spot. Video; Video
Flight: In flight, the white underparts and dark forewings and upperparts make it easy to identify. As the wings spread out, barring on the undersides of the wings become more apparent. The wings are held in a loose M-shape. The Flight pattern consists of deep, strong wingbeats, followed by gliding. Video; Video
Predators: Bald Eagles and Great horned owls are known predators of osprey hatchlings. Climbing predators, such as raccoons and snakes also feed on eggs and hatchlings.
Reproduction: Mating season, for resident New York State Ospreys, begins in April or May and lasts into the summer. Females choose males based on a combination of aerial displays and chosen nest sites. They mate once per year and produce an average of three brown-spotted cream-colored eggs, which are incubated for 38 days. Eggs in a clutch hatch on different days with older hatchlings often bullying younger ones to death. Both parents feed the young.
Other info.: The Osprey, before it dive-bombs food, occasionally hovers over it. You can see why several military helicopters have been named after this agile, yet ferocious raptor.
Vocalization: Short repetitive chirping whistle, almost gull-like.
In NY State
There are large breeding populations in the Adirondacks and Long Island, most other locations see migrants.
Found on every continent except Antarctica. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY:
Braddock Bay WMA; Derby Hill; Lakeshores in the Adirondacks; Shoreline parks on Long Island.
Status:Special Concern in NY
Look for Ospreys flying low over shorelines hunting for food.
Bulky nests atop utility polls, radio towers or other man-made structures near the shore.
Dead hatchlings below the nest, probably pushed out by an older hatchling.
Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Identifying characteristics: A large raptor with red shoulders (visible when perched), mottled brown upperparts and head. Underparts are white with rust-colored barring. The arms of the wings, underneath, are rust-colored, while the outer feathers are finely barred black and white. The tail is long and barred black and white. The hooked beak is small, yellow and black. The bare legs and talons are yellow. The eyes are dark brown. Video
Size: From 17 to 24 inches in length with wingspans from 3 to 4 ft (average 3½ ft). They weigh from 1 to 1½ pounds. Females are generally larger than males (by about 20%).
Habitat: Mature deciduous or mixed deciduous-conifer forests, with close proximity to water (swamps especially).
Nesting: Nests are built 20 to 60 ft high in a tree, out of twigs and sticks, and lined with finer materials like conifer needles and grasses. Usually large and deep. They are usually built in live trees adjacent to dead trees (which are used for perching). Both the male and female construct the nest. Often reused each year.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and large insects. They spot prey from a high perch and swoop down to grab it.
Flight: Their flight pattern is a series of rapid beats followed by long gliding, often on thermals. The barred white and black tail, rust-colored breast, forearms, and pale underwings with fine black barring are easy to identify. Video
Reproduction: Mating season begins in April and lasts through July. Males put on aerial displays but also participate in joint soaring and diving maneuvers during courtship. Both sexes are very vocal during this time. The pair builds a nest and the female incubates 3-4 blotched bluish-whitish eggs for about 33 days. It takes 6 weeks for juveniles to learn to fly, and become independent at 17-19 weeks.
Other info.: The Red-shouldered Hawk occupies a very similar habitat and region as the Barred Owl and feed on very similar prey. What keeps them from directly competing? The owl is nocturnal, while the hawk is active during the day.
Vocalization: A very vocal hawk. Short and repetitive Keyah, almost whistle-like. Video; Video
= Year round
In NY State
Red-shouldered Hawks breed throughout most of the state and migrate south, often as far as Mexico, for the winter. They tend to stick around year-long in the southern tier and Long Island.
Across the Eastern parts of the USA, some parts of Canada, and west of the Rocky Mountains. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Montezuma WMA; Franklin Mountain; Mount Peter
Status: Special Concern in NY
Red-shouldered Hawk signs
Whitewash (droppings) will be dripped generously down tree trunks and other objects below nests.
Perched atop fence posts, utility poles or on dead tree branches hunting. Most frequently seen during the spring and fall migration seasons.
Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Identifying characteristics: A large raptor that is highly variable in appearance. The upperparts, head and throat are brown to brownish-red, sometimes with white mottling. The underparts are lightly colored usually with dark bands across the belly. Adults have a red tail with black terminal band. The talons are yellow. Adult eyes are brown. Juveniles have red eyes, lack the red tail, and have darker colors. Video
Size: From 18 to 25 inches in length with wingspans from 4 to 5 ft. They weigh an average of 3 pounds. Females are generally larger than males (by about 25%).
Habitat: Open country, sparse woodlands, fields, farmland, country roadsides, urban parks.
Nesting: Nests are built high in a deciduous tree, and constructed out of sticks, lined with softer materials. They are roughly 3 ft across and added to every year.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on small mammals (mostly rodents), but also small birds (particularly red-winged blackbirds) and reptiles. They scan open fields from perches or when soaring, and swoop down on prey.
Flight: Their flight pattern is a series of rapid beats followed by long gliding, often on thermals. They will often soar over fields, scanning for food. Their wings are broad and short, with lightly colored underwings and darker lining around the edges. The tail is rusty-red, fan-shaped. Belly mottling may be visible. Video; Video
Reproduction: Mating season begins in the spring and can last into the summer. Like the Bald Eagle, the Red-tailed Hawk has daring courtship flights where the mating pairs fly high and lock talons while tumbling to the ground–only to fly off at the last moment. Females lay an average of 3 eggs and both parents take turns incubating. Eggs hatch 28-32 days later and juveniles become independent after about 14 weeks. They mature and develop their red tails at about 3 years of age.
Other info.: The classic cry of a raptor, often heard in movies, video games and on TV is usually a dubbed-in Red-tail, known for its spine-chilling scream
Vocalization:Loud scream-like Keeyaaaaaaw, very loud and recognizable. Video; Video
= Year round
In NY State
Red-tailed Hawks can be found hunting open fields throughout the state, year-round.
Throughout most of Canada, United States and Mexico. Northern populations tend to migrate south for the winter. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Franklin Mountain; Derby Hill; open cropland; sparsely wooded parks
Red-tailed Hawk signs
Look for them perched atop utility poles near open fields.
Listen for their characteristic call.
Look for them soaring in the thermals above open fields.
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
AKA: Rough-legged buzzard
Identifying characteristics: A large raptor that has multiple morphs depending on age, sex and region. The common “light” morph has brown upperparts, a pale head streaked with dark feathers. White and brown mottled underparts with dark band across the belly. The wing edges are dark. The upper half of the tail is white, while the lower half is banded (females and juveniles have a single bold terminal band). The legs are feathered to the toes. Dark brown eyes. The “dark” morph is overall dark brown with sparse white streaks. Juveniles have less apparent streaking on the breast and a darker band across the belly. Video
Size: From 19 to 24 inches in length with wingspans from 4 to 4½ ft. Weighing an average of 2¼ pounds. Females are generally larger than males (by about 20%).
Habitat: Open country, meadows, plains, cropland, bogs, and upland tundra.
Nesting: Does not nest in New York.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on small mammals (mostly rodents), but also small birds or carrion if available. They scan open fields when perched or soaring and swoop down on prey.
Flight: Their flight pattern is a series of powerful beats followed by gliding. They often hover in one spot, scanning for prey. Their wings are broad, long and straight, with lightly colored underwings and darker lining around the edges. The dark band across the belly and dark coloring of the forewings and chest are usually visible. The tail is fan-shaped usually with a banded terminal end. Video; Video
Predators: None in New York State.
Reproduction: Mating season begins in April and can last through July. They do not mate or nest in New York.
Other info.: The name Rough-legged Hawk refers to the bird’s feathered legs, an adaptation to its cold habitat. In New York, the Rough-legged Hawk and the Golden and Bald Eagles are the only large raptors that have feathered legs.
In NY State
Rough-legged Hawks pass through here for the winter migration (November) and some even stay if food is abundant.
These tundra birds inhabit Canada and the Northern United States as well as northern Eurasia. They breed in their northern range and migrate south for the winter. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Franklin Mountain; Derby Hill; open cropland; open fields, roadside fields with utility poles.
Rough-legged Hawk signs
Hovers in the wind over one spot.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus velox)
Identifying characteristics: A small, slender hawk (smallest in North America), with brown to bluish-gray upperparts, and light underparts with rust-colored barring. The tail is long, squared, and heavily barred. The eyes are dark red. The hooked beak is small and darkly colored. The legs and talons are yellow. It looks similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, but the Cooper’s Hawk is much larger and has a rounded tail. Video; Video
Size: From 10 to 14 inches in length, with wingspans from 22-28 inches. Weighing an average of 6 ounces. Females are generally larger than males (by about 15%).
Habitat: Deciduous, coniferous, or mixed forests (dense or semi-open), wooded plots in urban areas, bogs.
Nesting: Nests are built in mature trees, close to the trunks, out of sticks and lined with bark. Nests are often reused each year. Sometimes they use abandoned Cooper’s Hawk or crow nests.
Food/Feeding: Carnivore. Feeds primarily on small forest birds. In urban areas will stalk birdfeeders for prey. Rarely they will go after small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They use the cover of the forest (or man-made structures in urban areas) to sneak up on unsuspecting birds. Then they give chase.
Flight: Their flight pattern is a series of rapid beats followed by gliding. Their wings are broad and rounded, with fine rust-colored barring on the chest and forward wing parts, bolder, darker barring on the rear-facing ends of the wings and on the squared tail.
Predators: Known predators include Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Northern Goshawks. Hatchlings and eggs are susceptible to a variety of climbing and flying predators.
Reproduction: Mating season begins in late March and lasts through June. After courtship flights, couples pair and begin building nests, most of which is done by the female. 4 to 7 pale blue, spotted eggs are incubated for 28-35 days. Juveniles become independent after about 7 weeks. Sharp-shins are generally monogamous.
Other info.: Although generally solitary, they often group by the thousands for migration. The name Sharp-shinned is based on the exposed slender legs of the hawk.
Vocalization:Repetitive, whistle-like Kiik kiik kiik. Video; Video
= Migration range
In NY State
Sharp-shins can be found in densely wooded areas in the warmer months and back yards all over the state all year round.
More of a northern-bird, they inhabit the northern US and Canada in the spring and summer and migrate as far as Central America in the winter. Map
Where to spot them in Upstate NY: Braddock Bay WMA; Franklin Mountain; Derby Hill; Fall and spring Hawk watching locations; backyard bird feeders.
Sharp-shinned Hawk signs
Look for them stalking bird feeders/birdbaths.
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