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Hawks in Massachusetts: 8 Fantastic Lords Of The Blue Skies

Hawk in Flight

Last Updated: May 31, 2022

I have always been a naturalist, and spend hours hiking trails on the weekend. One particular attraction I always look forward to is observing wild birds. The raptors and hawks pique my interest and awe as they soar in mid-air, swoop down, or perch gracefully on the tree branches.  

There’s an abundance of hawk species in Massachusetts if you look in the right place. To satisfy your curiosity, I will tackle the 8 species of hawks in Massachusetts and how to identify each of them.

8 Hawks of Massachusetts

Hawks are birds of prey belonging to the family, Accipitridae.

They are regarded as powerful birds. Hawks are widely distributed and differ in size. One distinguishing feature of hawks is their visual acuity — which famously earns people with a great vision the nickname, "Hawkeye". 

Without further ado, let's dive into the identification of hawks in Massachusetts.

1. Coopers Hawk

Coopers Hawk
Coopers Hawk

Cooper's hawks are classified as medium-sized Hawks with the classic accipiter shape. They have a larger head, broad shoulders, and a rounded tail.

Color Pattern

The Adult Cooper's Hawk has a blue-gray back with warm reddish bars on its underside. Their tails are covered with thick dark bands. 

Adults have orange to red-colored eyes while younger ones have yellow eyes.  The young Coopers have a brown back with brown streaks across their upper breast. 

Behavioral Pattern

The Coopers Hawk usually perches and watches for its prey when hunting. It waits until its victim looks away, then quickly swoops down for the kill. 

Male hawks raise their wings high above the back and fly in a wide arc with slow, rhythmic flapping while in the air.

Shape and Size

The male and female differ in size.

Male
  • Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
  • Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
Female
  • Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
  • Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)

Habitat

You are most likely to find Cooper's Hawk in wooded habitats, deep forests, and backyards.

2. Red Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk

They are medium-sized hawks with slim bodies and relatively long tails. Their wings are broad and rounded.

Color Pattern

Adults are colorful hawks with dark-and-white checkered wings and warm reddish barring on the breast. The tail is colored black with narrow white bands. Younger ones are brown on the back, white below streaked with brown. All ages show thin, pale crescents near the wingtips in flight.

Behavioral Pattern

The red shouldered Hawk soars less and prefers to perch hidden in the cover of trees. Their cries can be heard far and wide. This Hawk gives a quick series of whistles that are slurred together during the flight.

They are known as one of the noisiest raptors.

Shape and Size

Both males and females are of the same size. 

  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)

Habitat

They are secretive raptors, therefore, are primarily found in deciduous woodlands, often near rivers and swamps.

3. Red Tailed Hawk

 Red-Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk is one of the largest hawks of Massachusetts and a symbolic bird of prey — you must have heard their shrill “kee-eeeee-ar” around or in the movies. and there’s also their distinguishing short and red tail.

Most female red-tails grow so large you could mistake them for an eagle from afar.

Color Pattern

Most red tailed Hawks spot a rich rusty brown plumage and pale underside. They also have streaked bellies. The wing underside is colored a dark bar between shoulder and wrist. The tail is usually pale below and cinnamon-red above, though it's brown and banded in young birds.

Behavioral Pattern

Red-tailed hawks soar in wide circles high over a field with occasional heavy wingbeats. And they give a hoarse, rasping two to three-second scream during this flight. They are also vocal when defending their nest.

Shape and Size

The male and female differ in size.

Male
  • Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
  • Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
Female
  • Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
  • Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks can be found in open fields, grasslands, or marsh-shrub habitats. They are also commonly also found in urban areas, like parks and gardens.

4. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

Goshawks are sizable raptors — second largest Massachusetts hawks — with distinguishable slate gray and white plumage.

Color Pattern

Adult goshawks are dark slate gray on the back with pale gray barred underparts. They have a dark head with a white stripe that looks like long eyebrows and orange or red eyes.

Younger ones are brown and streaky, with narrow dark bands in the tail. They have a faint pale eyebrow stripe and yellow eyes. 

Behavioral Pattern 

They are predators that observe prey on high perches and then attack with quick, agile flight. They fly with a few relatively slow wingbeats interspersed with short glides.

Shape and Size

Northern Goshawk is regarded as the largest and bulkiest accipiter hawks. Their wings are round and broad and with a long tail. 

Both Sexes
  • Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)

Habitat

Northern Goshawks make a home in the thick woods. They mainly live in coniferous forests but also in deciduous hardwood forests.

5. Rough Legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk
Rough Legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks are the largest Massachusetts hawks. These hawks have fairly narrow wings and a tail longer than most buteo hawks. Their wingtips are broad and often hint at an M shape in flight.

Color Pattern

These are boldly patterned, dark-brown hawks with dark tail tips and pale bases. Like many hawks, they occur in light and dark morphs. Light morphs have pale underwings with dark patches at the end of the wing. Dark morphs are primarily dark brown but usually show pale trailing edges to the underwing.

Behavioral Pattern

Rough legged hawks often face the wind and hover, scanning the ground below for small mammal prey when hunting. They have also been observed to soar with their wings raised in a slight V-shape.

They make cat-like meow calls for communication.

Shape and Size

They are slightly smaller than red tailed hawks.

Both Sexes
  • Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
  • Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
  • Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)

Habitat

These raptors are tenacious and adaptive. Rough Legged Hawks can be found in prairies, shrub steppes, semi-deserts, grasslands, marshes, bogs, and dunes during the winter.

6. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp shinned hawks are small, long-tailed hawks with small heads. They also have short rounded wings with square-tipped tails.

Color Pattern

Adults are slate blue-gray colored on the back with narrow, horizontal red-orange bars on the breast. Younger birds are primarily brown, with coarse vertical streaks on white underparts. Adults and young both have broad dark bands across their long tails.

Behavioral Pattern

They are agile fliers that speed through dense woods to surprise their prey, typically songbirds. They may also pounce on their prey from low perches. When flying across open areas, they have a distinctive flap-and-glide flight style.

Shape and Size

The female sharp shinned hawks are larger than the male. 

Both Sexes
  • Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)

Habitat

You can find sharp-shinned hawks in places such as deep forests during the breeding period. In non-breeding seasons, you can spot them on forest edges and sometimes at backyard bird feeders.

7. Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Broad Winged Hawk

These are small, stocky hawks with broad wings and pointy tips. They have a chunky body, large head, and short tail.

Color Pattern

Adults have reddish-brown heads, barred underparts, and broad black and white bands on the tail. The pale undersides of the wings are bordered in dark brown. Younger ones are lighter brown with coarse streaking on the underparts, particularly on the sides of the breast; the tail is narrowly banded.

Behavioral Pattern

Broad Winged hawks hunt for small mammals from perches under the forest canopy. They also soar above the canopy or across gaps such as roadcuts.

Their call is a piercing whistle on a single pitch.

Shape and Size

These birds are smaller than red shouldered hawks.

Both Sexes
  • Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)

Habitat

Broad winged hawks can be found in forests, majorly under the canopy. They also soar along coastlines and mountain ridges, often in large flocks.

8. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

They are classified as medium-sized raptors with long broad wings. Their tail is long with a peculiar white rump patch.

They also have an owl-like face and a small, sharply hooked bill.

Color Pattern

Males are gray on the back and whitish below with black wingtips, a dark trailing edge to the wing, and a black-banded tail. Females and younger ones are brown, with black bands on the tail. Adult females have whitish undersides with brown streaks, whereas the younger ones are buffy, with less streaking. 

Behavioral Pattern

They fly low over the ground weaving back and forth over fields and marshes as they watch and hunt for small mammals. They eat on the ground and perch on low posts or trees. The males court the females by flying barrel rolls.

Shape and Size

They are relatively larger than sharp shinned hawks.

Both Sexes

  • Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)

Habitat

Northern Harriers can be found in wide-open habitats, where they breed. Habitats like Arctic tundra, prairie grasslands, fields, and marshes.

Fun Fact: Experience hawk watching like never before with a binocular for safari and other wildlife! Nothing beats an up-close adventure while being at a safe distance.


Frequently Asked Questions

What Do Hawks Found in Massachusetts eat?

Hawks native to Massachusetts are carnivorous predators that feed on small mammals, smaller birds, reptiles, and even carrions. The exact species of prey are usually specific to the region.

How Common is the Red-Tailed Hawk in Massachusetts?

Red-tailed hawks are the most common and one of the largest Massachusetts hawks. 

Also one of North America’s commonest hawks, these raptors live in many habitats, from forests, and grasslands to urban areas. They are mostly seen during the winter near highways.

What are the Biggest Types of Hawks in Massachusetts?

The Rough Legged Hawks are the biggest hawks native to Massachusetts weighing up to 1400 grams with a 54-inch wingspan. That’s more than double the size of the Sharp-shinned hawks — the smallest hawk species in Massachusetts. 

What Kind of Sounds do Hawks Make?

Red-tail hawks make a screaming hoarse “Kee-eeee-arr” sound.

This sound is commonly heard when they are soaring and can last for 2-3 seconds. Most hawks also make a shrill call during courtship.

Are Hawks Friendly to Humans?

I have heard people ask if these raptors are friendly to humans. Hawks are usually not hostile to people. When their nests are threatened, however, they become aggressive and you might find yourself a victim of a hawk attack.


Conclusion

And that's it, guys! If you live in Massachusetts and have once spotted Hawk, you should be able to identify its species. I guess it's time you start observing the others. This article should help you identify new species in your area or old ones overlooked.  

Which hawks have you spotted and where?

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