When most people see a hawk, they can identify it. Their hooked beaks, huge talons, fierce looks, and obvious presence when perched on a telephone pole or dead tree limb are simple to identify. Hawks in North Carolina are the subject of this article, and we’ll discuss which species may be found there.
To help you identify the species, here are some photos to look at.
THE 6 SPECIES OF HAWKS IN NORTH CAROLINA
The Accipitridae family of birds includes hawks. The genus Accipiter (Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk) is home to two of North Carolina’s six species of Hawks, both of which are ambush hunters. They zip through the woods on swift feet, snatching birds with their long legs.
The remaining four species on this list (Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed Hawk) are all members of the genus Buteo and fly high in the sky before swooping down on prey. Buteos, unlike accipiters, favor non-bird items.
1. SHARP-SHINNED HAWK
Length: 9.4 – 13.4 in
Weight: 3.1 – 7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9 – 22.1 in
Sharp-shinned hawks, sometimes known as “sharpies,” are the smallest accipiters.
They have a hooded appearance due to their blue grey feathering on the back, nape, and crown, which has copper barring on their white underparts. Their eyes are a vibrant scarlet color.
These swift hawks are tiny and quick enough to dart through woodlands to approach their victim or burst from a tree limb to pursue them, unlike some larger hawks that swoop down upon them from high above. As a result, they are referred to as “pursuit hunters.”
Sharpies will carry their victim back to a perch and de-feather it after acrobatically leaping through the trees and catching a meal with their catlike talons. They will frequently remove and devour the head first before giving the rest away if the catch is for their mate or nestlings.
Western North Carolina is home to Sharpies all year. Wintering migrants make up the majority of the state’s population.
2. COOPER’S HAWK
Length: 14.6 – 15.3 in
Weight: 7.8 – 14.5 oz
Wingspan: 24.4 – 35.4 in
Cooper’s look a lot like Sharpies, but they are bigger in size. Yet, because female hawks are bigger than males, there are likely to be differences between big female sharpies and little male Cooper’s.
The hawk species Cooper is perhaps the most outstanding and accomplished fliers in the animal kingdom. They are formidable predators, capable of shooting through the treetops while pursuing prey at super speeds. Their power, coupled with agility and stealth.
A Cooper’s hawk (or Sharpie) might swoop down on your yard feeders if you’re not expecting it. Little birds, intent on stuffing their bills, are out in the open. The hawks are practically being fed silver!
Cooper’s Hawks can be found in all of North Carolina year-round.
Facts about hawk vision
Hawks have four different kinds of color receptors in their eyes. They can see light on the visible spectrum, as well as ultraviolet rays, thanks to these features. Furthermore, they can sense polarized light and magnetic fields thanks to further adaptations. It’s no surprise that these raptors are skilled hunters given all of their adaptations!
3. RED-SHOULDERED HAWK
Length: 16.9 – 24.0 in
Weight: 17.1 – 27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0 – 43.7 in
The marbled bars on the wings of these hawks are deep, reddish chestnut in color, and they have a long, slender beak. The tail has strong bars and the eyes are pitch black.
Wet deciduous woodlands are home to the Red-shouldered Hawk. When you see this bird out and about, you can anticipate to see water, maybe even nearby marshes or swamps.
Red-shoulders, unlike their predecessors, feed on non-feathered animals instead of birds. Small mammals, snakes, lizards, and amphibians are among the foods they eat.
Great Horned Owls are frequently seen eating Red-shouldered Hawk nestlings. Great Horned Owls are occasionally mobbed and chased away by these hawks and crows (who are likewise owl victims).
Throughout North Carolina, Red-shouldered Hawks may be found year-round.
4. BROAD-WINGED HAWK
Length: 13.4 – 17.3 in
Weight: 9.3 – 19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9 – 39.4 in
The underbellies of these stocky birds are light in color with almond stripes. Their backs are black, and their tails have slender white bars.
Broad-winged hawks eat a variety of animals, including frogs, toads, and small rodents. Insects, reptiles, and other amphibians and mammals round out the remainder of their diets.
Before migrating back to South America for the winter, broad-wings spend the breeding season in North Carolina. The popularity of hawk-watching is thanks in large part to this species.
These birds, also known as “kettles,” are enormous flocks of birds that migrate immense distances. They’re a magnificent sight to behold. The birds in the kettle circle are akin to a cauldron being stirred with an invisible spoon in the sky.
5. RED-TAILED HAWK
Length: 17.7 – 25.6 in
Weight: 24.3 – 51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9 – 52.4 in
With its contrasting red tail against their brown bodies above and white bellies below, this large hawk is quite conspicuous. This species has several morphs, each with varying degrees of streaking on the belly and head markings. A clear belly band and a white throat characterize the Eastern morph, which is prevalent in North Carolina.
The ideal couple is represented by red-tailed hawk pairs. When courting, they do a chilly sky dance, clasping talons and spiraling to the ground. The nest is then built by Red-tailed Hawks and they marry for life. They’ve also been seen working together to catch squirrels from a tree, where they’ve been spotted hunting together. Until one of them passes away, the pair will stay together.
The distinctive, raspy scream associated with raptors is heard in red-tailed Hawks. (Ahem, I’m referring to you, Bald Eagle.) It’s true that not all raptors have the menacing cries used in film to signify the deadly birds of prey. Red-tailed Hawks are one example of a raptor with a different cry. Do you think you might hear it now as you read this?
Throughout the year, red-tailed hawks may be seen in North Carolina. As migrants from Canada descend and mingle with the year-round population, sightings typically rise during the winter.
6. NORTHERN HARRIER
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
The only North American harrier species is the Northern Harrier. It winters in warmer climes, such as North Carolina, and has breeding grounds that stretch all the way north to Canada. In fields and marshes, they like to live and hunt.
Northern Harriers, like owls, hunt by listening as well as seeing, and they occasionally drown their bigger prey because of this. While it is more widespread for males to have only one or two female partners at a time, they may have up to five.
In North Carolina and throughout North America, Northern Harriers are the most owl-like hawks. To hunt for prey, they rely heavily on their acute hearing and vision.