The carnivorous family of hunting birds known as birds-of-prey includes hawks. These animals are skilled predators because to their keen hearing and sight, as well as their razor-sharp beak and talons. Hawks may be found in over 16 different species across the United States. However, we’ll focus on the nine different types of hawks found in South Dakota, as well as one more hawk-like bird.
9 HAWKS IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Broad-winged hawk, Cooper’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and Swainson’s hawks are the nine species of hawks that may be found in South Dakota.
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
Broad-winged hawks migrate from Central and South America to the eastern United States during the winter. In the spring and summer, their stock is bred in Canada. They travel across most of the state during migration, but do not stay in South Dakota to breed (except near the far eastern border). So, in the east, or the Black Hills Forest region of the west, keep an eye out for them passing through in spring and autumn.
The brown head and chest, barred underparts, and black and white bands on its tail distinguish these smaller hawks. Their small tail and broad wings with pointed ends stand out in the air.
Your finest bet is to observe the broad-winged hawk on their way back to South America during fall migration. Flocks of birds known as “kettles” fly around in the sky, each containing hundreds of birds. You may glimpse them in the woods if you aren’t in their migration line. Listen for their piercing whistles.
2. COOPERS 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 located across much of North America, especially in South Dakota, where they spend the summer breeding season. In the southeast corner, some hang around all year.
Adults have a red eye, squared-off head, and black cap. Their back is blue-gray, with large orange barring on the chest. The eye of immature birds is yellow, and the back and head are brown. The underparts are white with deep brown streaks.
They appear to be at home in both the woods and the suburbs, although they prefer forests and woodlands. Little birds are their primary food source, and they hunt them successfully in the tree canopy.
The Cooper’s hawk has been known to attack birds at a bird feeder, especially starlings, doves, and pigeons, and many people have seen them in their backyard.
Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that many of them had at one point broken bones in their chest, and when a Cooper’s hawk crashes through trees and foliage on a high-speed pursuit after birds, it takes its toll.
3. FERRUGINOUS HAWK
Length: 22.1-27.2 in
Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz
Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in
During the spring and summer, Ferruginous Hawks visit South Dakota to breed, although they are less common in the southeast. They soar above marshy areas, looking for tiny creatures or hunting on the ground, and prefer to dwell in open areas such as fields and plains.
The largest of all North American hawks is this one. Their backs, shoulders, underwings, and legs are covered in rusty red feathers, which earned them the name “ferruginous.” It means “rust-colored.”
Pandemic Hawks are known for catching prairie dogs in bunches of five to ten. Before striking, they perched and waited for prey to emerge from their burrows. As the hawks jump and flap their wings, attracting other hawks and birds of prey, this creates quite a spectacle.
4. 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, with a thick stripe across each eye that extends all the way down the belly. The sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawk are their larger, fiercer cousins. Goshawks, on the other hand, are very reclusive and prefer to stay in the woods, avoiding human inhabited areas. They are not like those common backyard hawks.
During the autumn and winter seasons, Northern Goshawks may be found in South Dakota. However, since they prefer to stay in vast areas of mature forest and avoid inhabited regions, you will have a difficult time locating one.
Little hawks, birds, mammals, reptiles, and even insects and carrion are eaten by the northern goshawk. They’re considered unusual, and their secretive nature makes it difficult to know how many there are.
5. 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 rather owl-like. This disc-shaped head, which resembles an owl, directs sound into the ears of these creatures to aid them track down prey by sound and sight. The long tail and white patch above the tail are two helpful identifying characteristics. They hold their wings in the form of a “V” when they fly, which is their hallmark style. These birds are described as majestic by the experts.
This hawk can be seen throughout the spring and summer breeding season in South Dakota, as well as during the southern half of the state throughout all year. South Dakota is at the bottom of its summer range, and these hawks breed across Canada and Alaska. In marshlands, farmland, and other large open spaces, you’re likely to spot them.
This hawk creates a platform on the ground in thick vegetation, such as reeds, willows, sedges, and cattails, unlike many other hawks that nest in trees. Males may have two (sometimes more) spouses at the same time, with both partners feeding the female and offspring.
6. 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 almost every state year-round. They can be found in the southeast of South Dakota at all times of the year, but they may be more frequent in the northwest during summer.
Red-tailed hawks, with their superb vision and perched along the roadside on telephone poles, are most active during the day or early morning. Mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels make up the majority of their diet. Birds and snakes are also on the menu for these creatures.
Adults have a brick-red tail, but their juvenile tail is brown and white striped. It’s simple to recognize if you’re an adult. These hawks have a light below and dark brown above, in general.
Their breast is streaked with brown, and they have a brown band running through their belly region that’s another helpful distinguishing feature. There are numerous color variations across the country since these hawks are so common.
7. 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
During the autumn and winter months, rough-legged hawks may be observed in South Dakota. They travel all the way to the northern Arctic as soon as it’s time to breed! They’ll nest on cliffs and rocky outcroppings there.
They can be found perching on poles and fence posts throughout the winter in open areas throughout the country. Mice, voles, and shrews are all hunted here. To get a hover-in-place perspective they can use to survey the ground below them, 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 the length of a raptor’s legs are extremely uncommon in the United States. The majority of them are covered in a thick black belly patch and have heavily mottled dark brown and white. As the “wrist” against a light backdrop, you’ll notice a black patch in the air. A dark-morph occurs that seems to be black on the bottom and two-toned on top.
8. SHARP SHINNED HAWKS
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. Their official range does not include the entire state, only the northeastern corner. They have, however, been observed across much of South Dakota. When they come north to breed in the spring and summer, look for them. Little birds and rodents are prey for these hawks, who pursue them through the woods.
They’re difficult to locate while nesting because they prefer woods with thick canopies. They’ll go out to hunt birds at feeders on occasion in backyards. During autumn migration, however, is the best time to see them. They head south towards the United States. They are frequently seen at hawk watch locations from their summer range in Canada.
Sharp-shinned Hawks have crimson-orange stripes on their chests and black marking on their tails, with a blue-gray back and reddish-orange edgings. They have a more rounded skull and squared-off tail than the cooper’s hawk, which makes them look quite similar.
9. 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 South Dakota. During the summer, they are most likely to be found in large swaths of open land. Telephone poles, wires, and secret trees will be their temporary homes.
Kettles, which are as big as tens of thousands of birds, are used to migrate hawks. You should check out these raptors during migration if you thought Broad-winged hawks were something to see.
Swainson’s Hawks, which had adapted well to agricultural settings as their environment has altered, have changed with it. They’re foraging for prey in fields and crops.
They have a white chin, a brown bib, and a white belly striped with rust. They have a gray head. The brown chest and wings that seem to be unusually long with black edges are visible when the bird is viewed from below.