The predators of hawks are impressive. Expert birds of prey are made up of everything from their keen hearing and vision to their keen beak and talons. Humans have benefited from hawks’ hunting skills throughout history, through training and falconry. Hawks may be found in almost every corner of the United States. But, in this article, we’ll be discussing the eight types of hawks found in West Virginia.
HAWKS IN WEST VIRGINIA
Broad-winged hawk, Cooper’s hawk, northern goshawk, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, rough-legged hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk are the eight species of hawks found in West Virginia.
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 West Virginia. Brown on the head and breast, barred underparts, and black-and-white stripes on the tail distinguish these smaller hawks. Their small tail and broad wings with pointed ends are visible in flight.
During the breeding season, these hawks prefer to remain alone. They’ll prefer to nest in secluded woodlands and near water. Little animals, insects, and amphibians like frogs and toads make up their diet.
During the fall migration on their way back to South America, you should see the broad-winged hawk if you are hoping to. 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 whistles, which are piercing.
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 West Virginia, and may be found across much of North America. Adults have a red eye, a squared-off head with a black cap, and a bluish-gray back with heavy orange barring on the chest. The eye of immature birds is yellow, the back and head are brown, and the underparts are white with deep brown streaks.
They seem to prefer woodland and woodlands, although they may be comfortable in the suburbs as well. Little birds are their primary food source, and they hunt them expertly in the tree canopy. Cooper’s hawks are common in people’s backyards, where they’ve been known to hunt after birds on a bird feeder, particularly starlings, doves, and pigeons.
After breaking through trees and foliage in a high-speed pursuit of birds, studies of Cooper’s hawk skeletons reveal that several of them had fractured bones in their chest while apprehending the birds.
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
Goshawks have a thick stripe across each eye and a gray back with gray barring on the chest that extends all the way down the belly. The sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawk are considered to be their larger and fiercer cousins. Goshawks, on the other hand, are quite reclusive and prefer to stay in the forest, avoiding human-populated areas.
In West Virginia, Northern goshawks are uncommon, although they can be found year-round along the state’s eastern border. Since they prefer to nest in old-growth forest with deep foliage, you may have a difficult time locating one.
Proximity to their nests has been known to make them aggressive towards humans. During the breeding season, keep a close eye on your search for these raptors.
Little hawks, birds, animals, reptiles, and even insects and carrion are among the foods of the northern goshawk. They are rare and difficult to count because of their secretive nature. Their population is poorly understood.
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, which looks like an owl, directs sound into the ears of these creatures, allowing them to hunt using both sight and hearing. Their long tail and white patch over the tail are two helpful identifying characteristics. Their wings are held in the shape of a “V” and have a distinctive flying style. These birds are described as “majestic” by nature.
This hawk is most active in the winter throughout West Virginia. The northeast corner and around the states border are where they are most commonly found. In marshes, fields, and other wide-open regions, they’re frequently spotted.
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 (or more) partners at a time, and the female and her 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 prevalent hawk on the North American continent is the red-tailed hawk, which lives in practically every state and breeds during virtually every season. During the winter, when birds that have spent their summer in Canada come down to join the others in the United States, their population grows even more.
Red-tailed hawks are frequently seen flying overhead hunting for prey with their exceptional sight, or perched along the road on telephone poles in the early morning or day. Mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels make up the majority of their meals. Birds and snakes are also possible prey.
While still juveniles, their tail is brown and white striped, and adults have a brick-red tail that is easy to identify. The underside of these hawks is usually pale, while the top is dark brown. Their breast is streaked with brown, and they have a stripe of darker brown streaks across their belly region, which can be another distinguishing characteristic. There are various color variations across the country due to the widespread occurrence of these hawks.
The red-tailed hawk’s scream has become a symbol for all raptors, and it lasts for a long time. Their cry is nearly invariably utilized as the sound for any hawk or eagle shown in a film or television show.
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 months, rough-legged hawks may be seen in West Virginia, although they are less widespread than most other species. They can be found near the Kanawha River, in the northeast corner, or near the river. They travel all the way to the northern Arctic when it comes time to migrate to their breeding grounds. They’ll make their nests on cliffs and rocky outcroppings there.
They’ll be perching on poles and fence posts in the winter, in the wide-open spaces of the American West. Mice, voles, and shrews are all hunted here. To get a hover-in-place view of the ground beneath them that they may employ to assess their 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 all the way down a bird’s legs are uncommon in America. The majority have a thick black belly patch and are heavily patterned dark brown and white. When you’re in the air, the “wrist” will stand out against a light backdrop. A dark morph looks two-toned from below and is practically black in color.
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
Sharp-shinned hawks, which stay in West Virginia throughout the year, are the country’s tiniest hawk. Little birds and rodents are prey for these hawks, which pursue them through the woods.
They hide in forests with dense canopies while nesting, making them difficult to locate. They may go to the backyards to hunt birds around feeding stations. During the fall migration, however, is when you’ll find them. They go south towards the United States. These may be found in large numbers at hawk watch sites from their summer range in Canada.
On their blue-gray backs, sharp-shinned hawks have reddish-orange stripes, and their tails have black rings. With a more rounded head and squared-off tail, they resemble cooper’s hawks.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
In their range, which includes the eastern United States, red-shouldered hawks are common. and the California coast to the west. They live throughout the year in West Virginia.
The heavy red coloring on the breast, which extends all the way down their belly with crimson banding, is a good identifying feature. Down their back and wings, they have dark, nearly black feathers. This will be combined with reddish feathers (hence the name) at the top of their back and shoulders. A lot of white barring will be seen down from the mid-back, with a heavily banded tail at the end.
Before you see it, you may hear this hawk. They emit a powerful “kee-aah” cry that is usually repeated many times in a row. It has been compared to a seagull by some listeners. When startled, they’ll bark to announce their presence.
These birds prefer flooded regions and wetlands and live in the woods where they hunt. Suburban areas with woods intermingled with buildings are also good places to look for them. Although they are often confused with red-tailed hawks, once you know the distinguishing features, it is simple to tell them apart.