Hawks In California (The 9 Species With Pictures)

Palms and sunny beaches are most likely the first things that come to mind when one thinks of California. Yet, in the north, there are vast open deserts, mountains, and dense enormous forests that add to the complexity of this huge state. This state is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including several types of birds of prey. We’ll check out the kinds of hawks found in California and when to search for them in this piece.


Hawks are found in California, and there are nine of them: year-round or year-long residents or more. Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Cooper’s Hawks are three of the year-round hawks found in California. Swainson’s Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harriers, Northern Goshawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks are some of the other hawks species that frequent the state.


Length: 17.7-25.6 in

Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz

Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in

The most prevalent and widely distributed hawks in North America are Red-tailed Hawks. Look for them in California year-round, in woods, open woodlands, prairie grasses, and anyplace else with trees and tall perches.

These hawks are frequently observed perched on traffic lights or poles, or slowly circling above overpasses in the sky. They may take advantage of the wind and fly without flapping, scouting out the region for tiny rodents and other prey if it is sufficiently strong.

They are large buteos with short, wide tails that fan out in flight and long, broad wings with rounded edges. Their upper feathers have a warm red coloration, while the lower feathers are pale. They have tails with this characteristic. Birds west of the Mississippi are commonly changed in overall color, ranging from very dark morphs to light, cream-colored morphs, so you may encounter Californian Red-tailed Hawks with various colors.


Length: 16.9-24.0 in

Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz

Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in

While there are year-round populations along the western coast of California, Red-shouldered Hawks are less common than Red-tailed Hawks. In places near bodies of water, such as riverside woodlands and marshes, these hawks may be found. Being familiar with their unique, “kee-ah” cries and whistles — which are frequently heard before they’re seen — makes finding them easier.

These hawks stand out like sore thumb. The buteos have a Red-tailed Hawk-like figure, despite being medium-sized. Their underside is adorned with lovely red and white striping, and their wings are covered in splotches of dark-brown and white. The thin, transparent crescents towards the tips of their wings are easily visible while in flight.


Length: 14.6-17.7 in

Weight: 7.8- 24.0 oz

Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in

Another frequent year-round hawk in California is Cooper’s Hawks. They are, nonetheless, difficult to see because of their sneaky demeanor. They’re also smaller than other red-tailed hawks, making them harder to see.

Cooper’s Hawks are accipiter hawks with longer tails and shorter wings than buteo hawks, as opposed to Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. Some birds are also a major part of their diet, along with other birds. The top parts of these crow-sized hawks are gray, while the underside is white with orangey barring.

Dense woods and woodlands, as well as open areas for hunting, are where these hawks prefer to stay. They approach their victim from ambush, quietly shifting from branch to branch under the guise of foliage and branches. They then take off in a burst of speed once they have obtained an opening. Cooper’s Hawks are famous for chasing little birds swiftly through the woods, demonstrating their exceptional flying skills.


Length: 18.9-22.1 in

Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz

Swainson’s Hawks are only seen during breeding season, and their numbers have suffered significant decreases in California. Finding one is challenging — if you do, congrats! The best place to look for one is in open terrain. Dry grasslands, plains, and other large open areas with sparse trees are home to Swainson’s Hawks for breeding. They’re often found high up, soaring above these areas. They occasionally pursue prey on the ground or simply sit and wait. Flocks of hawks may sit together to enjoy their meals in places where there are a lot of crickets and grasshoppers.

Swainson’s Hawks are large-bodied, broad-winged, and short-tailed buteos that look a lot like Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. Swainson’s Hawks, on the other hand, have thinner bodies and longer wings than other buteos. These hawks come in a variety of colors, with darker-colored birds being more frequent in the west.

The upperparts are dark brown, and the undersides are pale. Gray heads are more common in men, whereas brown is more common in women. Bright white plumage towards the body, and contrasting black feathers near the edges, distinguish their underwings from those of other birds.


Length: 18.5- 20.5 in

Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz

Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in

During the winter, non-breeding groups of Rough-legged Hawks may be found in northern California and along its eastern border. They’re nesting in the Arctic during the summer, mostly north of the boreal forest, but they’re frequently seen perched atop a tall pole or tree or flying over open fields and marshes during the winter. While hovering, facing into the wind, they like to look for rats and small creatures down below.

The feathers that run down the legs of Rough-legged Hawks gave them their name. When they go back north, these feathers help them stay warm. The Golden Eagle is the only other North American raptor with feathered legs. As compared to other hawks, Rough-legged Hawks have lengthy tails and long, thin wings.

Their bills are likewise quite modest. They have brown upperparts and pale undersides, and they come in a variety of color variations. Their tails’ undersides are lighter near the body and darker near their edges.


Length: 22.1-27.2 in

Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz

Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in

The biggest hawks in North America are Ferruginous Hawks. They resemble buteos with long, slender wings and huge heads. The undersides of the majority of Ferruginous Hawks are light, and their wings and back are covered in rusty-red plumage. The name “ferruginous” comes from their unique rusty color, which is even deeper than the dark morph Ferruginous Hawks.

The condition of these birds, as well as their numbers, has deteriorated. They may have fewer than 4,000 pairs in their current population, according to Audubon. During the winter in California, however, non-breeding Ferruginous Hawks may be found. They perch up high, or soar above with their wings held in a distinct raised v-shape, on open areas such as grasslands, plains, and prairies.


Length: 18.1-19.7 in

Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz

Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in

Northern Harriers may be found throughout California during the non-breeding season. Look for them in marshes, meadows, farmland, and grasslands where they like to glide near the ground in search of rodents like mice and voles. They have owl-like flat faces and small, keen beaks. These birds are likewise thought to hunt for prey with their superior sense of hearing, similar to how an owl does.

In North America, Northern Harriers are the only harrier species. Slim bodies with long tails and broad wings, they’re a breed of hawk with a distinct look. Northern Harriers, like Ferruginous Hawks, hold their wings in a v-shape while flying.

Males are gray with white undersides, while female hawks are brown on their uppers and white below with brown streaking. The tail of both sexes is striped, and both sexes have a white patch on their backs that aids them in identification while in flight.


Length: 20.9-25.2 in

Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz

Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in

While year-round populations of Northern Goshawks may be found in northern California, for the most part only non-breeding hawks may be seen during the winter, and these birds are exceedingly uncommon in variety. Northern Goshawks are secretive in nature and prefer to stay hidden among thick, typically coniferous woods, making locating them even more difficult.

Prey are mostly medium-sized birds like crows and small mammals, which they ambush here using stealth and highvantage positions. Even Attila the Hun had a Northern Goshawk depicted on his helmet, demonstrating how effective predators they are.

The largest accipiter hawks are Northern Goshawks. They have huge bodies, accipiter-like wings, and lengthy tails. They have white stripes that run over their red-orange eyes, giving them the appearance of having eyebrows, and their heads are a dark gay. Their plumage above is gray, while their plumage below is light, with abundant fine, dark gray barring.


Length: 9.4-13.4 in

Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz

Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are North America’s smallest accipiter hawk and the world’s tiniest accipiter hawk, followed by Northern Goshawks. During the winter, non-breeding populations may be seen in most of California, with year-round inhabitants occupying certain parts in the north.

Even birding experts find it difficult to tell Sharp-shinned Hawks apart from Cooper’s Hawks. Their coloring is almost identical, with gray upper parts and pale undersides with orange bordering.

Sharp-shinned hawks have a commanding presence despite their modest size. Birds are a significant part of the diet of accipiters, as they are with other accipiters. When they pursue after songbirds, they use their quick wings and long tails to zip through dense forests. They’re also well-known for invading tiny bird feeders in backyards and taking advantage of the naive gatherings of little birds.

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