The carnivorous family of hunting birds, known as birds-of-prey, includes hawks. Their acute hearing and vision, as well as their razor-sharp beak and claws, combine to make them exceptional predators. In the United States, there are roughly 16 species of hawks. However, we’ll look at the eight species of hawks found in Montana, as well as one more hawk-like bird, in this article.
8 HAWKS IN MONTANA
Cooper’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and Swainson’s hawk are the eight different species of hawks that may be found in Montana.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. 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 widespread across North America, with the majority of them dying off during the summer. Adults have a blue-gray back, crimson eyes, and a black hat with squared-off head and orange barring on the chest. The eye of immature birds is yellow, the back is brown, and the underparts are white with heavy brown streaks.
They seem to be comfortable in both the suburbs and forests and woodlands. Little birds are their primary food source, and they hunt them in the tree canopy with incredible precision. The Cooper’s hawk is a common sight in people’s backyards, where it has been spotted eating birds at bird feeders, particularly starlings, doves, and pigeons.
Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that many of them had at one point broken bones in their chest after crashing through trees and foliage at high speed while pursuing birds.
2. FERRUGINOUS HAWK
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
Throughout the spring and summer, Ferruginous Hawks visit Montana to breed. They are indigenous to central and eastern Montana, but are mostly missing from the western part of the state. They soar above fields and plains, hunting on the ground, and prefer to stay in open areas like plains and fields.
The biggest of all North American hawks are these hawks. They got their name because of their rusty red plumage on the back, shoulders, underwings, and legs. They have gray streaked heads and white underparts.
The ferruginoushawks are famous for attacking prairie dogs in groups of 5-10. Before striking, they perch and wait for prey to emerge from their burrows. Since the birds of prey start hopping and flapping their wings, this attracts other birds and raptors, creating a spectacle.
3. NORTHERN GOSHAWK
Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
The back of a goshawk is gray, and the chest has a lengthy black stripe that runs the length of the belly. The sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawk are considered bigger and more aggressive relatives of these birds. Goshawks, on the other hand, are very secretive and prefer to stay in the woods, avoiding human populated regions.
Western and southern Montana are home to Northern Goshawks all year, however they are only seen in the northeast during the non-breeding season. However, since they prefer to nest in old-growth forest with a dense canopy, you may have a difficult time locating one. Humans who get too close to their nests have been known to be attacked by them. During the breeding season, be cautious when looking for these raptors.
Little hawks, birds, mammals, reptiles, and even insects and carrion make up the northern goshawk’s varied diet. Because of their secretive nature, they are considered uncommon, and their population is difficult to estimate.
4. 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 face of the northern harrier is almost owl-like. This disc-shaped face, like that of an owl, directs sound into the ears of these creatures to assist them track down their prey by sound and vision. Their long tail and white patch above the tail are two helpful identifying features. Their wings are held in the shape of a “V” and they have a unique flying style. These birds are described as majestic by the American Heritage Dictionary.
This hawk may be found throughout the year in Montana. They’re frequently seen in marshes, fields, and other large open areas.
This hawk creates a platform on the ground in thick vegetation, such as reeds, willows, sedges, and cattails, unlike many hawks that nest in trees. Males may have two (and in rare cases, more) lovers at once, and the female and offspring will be fed by them.
5. RED TAILED HAWK
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7 – 25.6 in
Weight: 24.3oz – 51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
The most frequent hawk in North America, red-tailed hawks may be found in practically every state throughout the year. Many who do not dwell in the west’s woodlands migrate south during the winter months, however in Montana.
Red-tailed hawks, which are most active during the day or early in the morning, may often be seen flying around seeking prey with their exceptional vision or perched on telephone poles along the roadway. Mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels are the main sources of food for these animals. Birds and snakes are also on the menu for these animals.
The tail of an adult is brick-red, which is simple to recognize, while a juvenile’s tail is brown and white striped. These hawks are generally light below and dark brown above. Their breast is streaked with brown, and they have a band of deeper brown streaks across their belly region, which is another distinguishing feature. There are several color variations across the country because these hawks are so widespread.
The red-tailed hawk’s shrill has become a iconic sound for all raptors, and it is a long one. The sound of any hawk or eagle shown on screen is nearly usually replaced with their shrill in movies and TV.
6. 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
Throughout the autumn and winter, rough-legged hawks may be seen in Montana. They travel all the way to the northern Arctic when it’s time to breed! Cliff and rocky outcroppings will be used to nest there.
They perch on poles and fence posts in the winter, where you may find them in wide-open spaces. Mice, voles, and shrews are all hunted here. To get a hover-in-place position from which to survey the ground beneath them for prey, rough-legged hawks are known to turn into the wind and flap their wings.
The feathers on the legs of rough-legged hawks give them their name. Feathers that extend from the legs of very few American raptors are long. Most are dark brown with white streaks, and have a thick black belly patch. A black patch against a light backdrop will be visible in the air. A dark-morph looks two-toned from below and appears almost black.
7. SHARP-SHINNED HAWK
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
In Montana’s western half, sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest of the hawk species. Little birds and rodents are prey for these hawks, which pursue them through the woods.
In the western portion of Montana, sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest of the US’s many hawk species. Little birds and rodents are prey for these hawks, who pursue them through the woods.
They hide amid thick canopy of woods while nesting, making them difficult to locate. They’ll go hunting birds at feeders in the backyards on occasion. During fall migration, though, is the best time to see them. They go south into the United States. They are frequently seen at hawk watch sites from their summer range in Canada.
8. SWAINSONS HAWK
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
Length: 18.9-22.1 in
Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz (
Wingspan: 45-55 in
During the breeding season, Swainson’s Hawks may be found across Montana. During the summer, they’re common across broad swaths of open land. Telephone poles, wires, and quiet trees will be their perches.
Kettles, or migrating hawks, are named for their enormous size. Migratory hawks may have tens of thousands of kettles. You should witness these raptors while they’re migrating if you thought Broad-winged hawks were something to observe.
As their environment has altered throughout time, Swainson’s Hawks have adapted well to agricultural settings. Foraging for food in crops and fields is a good way to find them.
Their head is gray, and their chin is white. Their bib is brown, and their belly is streaked with rust. The brown chest and wings, which appear to be unusually lengthy with black borders, can be seen from below.
BONUS BIRD – THE OSPREY
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 21.3-22.8 in
Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz
Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in
These birds really do appear to be a hawk, and they are closely related genetically, although osprey are genetically distinct enough to be separated. Osprey’s diet is almost totally fish, so you’ll only see it if you’re near water. Their toes may grip ahead or backward thanks to their outer toe. The slick fish they capture is gripped much better with this modification.
During the summer months, Osprey is found in western and central Montana. They can be found around lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and marshes if you’re near any shallow fish-laden waters. Near the Yellowstone River, Missouri River, and Flathead Lake are some of the most common places to see them in Montana.
They’re easy to distinguish from hawks because of their coloring. They have a long hooked beak, a white head with a big black stripe running through each eye. From above, their back and wings are dark brown, with a flawless white underbelly. The underside of their wings has a dark brown patch at the wrist while flying, which looks speckled.