The predatory abilities of hawks are quite impressive. Their acute hearing and vision, as well as their razor-sharp beak and talons, contribute to their proficiency as raptors. In the United States, there are roughly 16 distinct species of hawks. Nonetheless, the six species of hawks found in South Carolina will be discussed in this article.
HAWKS IN SOUTH CAROLINA
The broad-winged hawk, Cooper’s hawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk are the six species of hawks that may be found in South Carolina.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. BROAD-WINGED HAWK
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
During the spring-summer breeding season, broad-winged hawks migrate north to South Carolina. The brown head and breast, barred underparts, and black and white stripes on the tail distinguish these tiny hawks. Their small tail and large wings with pointed tips are visible in flight.
During the breeding season, these hawks prefer to be alone. Far from humans, they will breed in woodlands and near water bodies. Little animals, insects, and amphibians like frogs and toads are among the foods they consume.
Your best bet is to see the broad-winged hawk in the fall on their way back to South America if you’re hoping to see them. Thousands of birds circle in the sky in flocks known as “kettles.” You can see them in the woods if you aren’t in their migration path. Just listen for their shrill whistles in the distance.
2. 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 may be found year-round in South Carolina, and they can be found across most of North America. The back of adults is blue-gray, with red eyes and a squared-off head that has a black hat. Adults have heavy orange chest stripes. A yellow eye, brown back and head, and white underparts with thick brown streaks characterize immature birds.
They prefer woodlands and woodlands, but they seem to be OK in the suburbs as well. Little birds are their primary food source, and they hunt them expertly in the tree canopy. The Cooper’s hawk has been observed at a birdfeeder, particularly starlings, doves, and pigeons, at many residences in the neighborhood.
During a high-speed chase after birds, breaking through trees and foliage takes its toll, as do studies of Cooper’s hawk skeletons, which reveal that many of them had shattered bones in their chest.
3. 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 in its elegance. This disc-shaped face, which resembles an owl and directs sound into their ears for aid in hunting by both sight and hearing, is similar to one. Their long tail and white patch above the tail are two helpful identifying features. Their flying style is characterized by their wings being held in a “V” shape. These birds are described as majestic by the experts.
This hawk is mainly seen in South Carolina during the winter. They’re most commonly seen along the shore, but they may be seen anywhere. They’re often found in marshes, fields, and other open spaces.
This hawk creates a platform in thick vegetation, such as reeds, willows, sedges, and cattails, unlike many hawks that nest in trees. Males may have two (sometimes more) lovers at the same time, and the females and their offspring will be fed by them.
4. 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 on the continent of North America, red-tailed hawks live throughout the year in almost every state, including South Carolina. When birds that have spent the summer in Canada come down to join the others in the United States during the winter, their population grows even more.
Red-tailed hawks are frequently seen soaring along the roadside, peering for prey with their sharp vision, or perched on telephone poles during the day or early morning. Mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels make up the majority of their diet. Birds and snakes are also possible food sources.
The tail of an adult is brick-red, making it easy to see, but their tail is brown and white striped while they are still juveniles. These hawks have a pale bottom and a dark brown top in general. Their breast is streaked with brown, and a stripe of deeper brown streaks goes over their belly region, which is another distinguishing feature. There are numerous color variations across the country because these hawks are so common.
The red-tailed hawk’s cry has become a symbol for all raptors, and it is a long scream. Their scream is typically employed as the sound for any hawk or eagle seen on film, both in cinema and television.
5. 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
The smallest hawk in the United States is a sharp-shinned hawk. They can be found year-round in western South Carolina, although they are more likely to winter along the east coast as you get closer. Small birds and rodents are prey for these hawks, which pursue them through the woods.
They’re difficult to spot while nesting because they prefer dense-canopied woods. They occasionally hunt birds at feeders in people’s backyards. During fall migration, though, is the best time to see them. They head south towards the United States. They are frequently seen at hawk watch sites from their summer habitat in Canada.
Sharp-shinned hawks have a blue-gray back with cream colored chests and black tail bands. They have crimson-orange markings on their chests and tails. With a more rounded head and squared-off tail, they resemble cooper’s hawks quite closely.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
In their range, which extends from eastern North America to Mexico, red-shouldered hawks are abundant. California’s western shore and the Mexican coast. They are still present throughout the year in South Carolina.
The heavy red coloring on the breast, which extends all the way down their belly with crimson barring, is a helpful identifying feature. Down their back and wings, they have dark, almost black feathers. This will be combined with reddish feathers at the peak of their back and “shoulders,” thus their name. There will be a lot of white barring mixed in with the dark feathers, which will culminate in a strongly banded tail from the mid-back down.
Before you see this hawk, listen to it. They produce a piercing “kee-aah” cry that is typically repeated many times in a row. Others believe it sounds like a seagull. When startled, they will scream to stake their claim.
These birds prefer flooded areas and wetlands, where they live and hunt in the forest. In addition, wherever woods are mixed with structures, they may be found in suburbs. They’re occasionally mistaken with red-tailed hawks, so learn the differences to spot them immediately.
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
Although they resemble a hawk, osprey are genetically distinct enough to be classified as their own species. Because ospreys eat almost entirely fish, you may only observe this raptor if you are near water. They have a forward/backward-gripping outer toe. They have a much better grip on the slippery fish they capture as a result of this adaptation.
In most of South Carolina, ospreys are year-round. They may be found near lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and marshes in shallow fish-laden waters. They may be found all along the coast of South Carolina, as well as in large lakes such Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, Lake Murray, and Lake Wateree.
They’re quite easy to tell apart from hawks because of their coloring. Their beak is very hooked, and their head is white with a large dark brown stripe across each eye. From the top, their back and wings are dark brown, with a pure white underbelly. Their wings look speckled while flying, with a black brown patch at the wrist.
Treetops or cliffs are used by ospreys, but human-erected platforms are also used. To help conserve the species, many states have erected osprey platforms along rivers and lakes.