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8 Ohio Hawk Species: Favorite Types Plus ID Guide

Big black hawk on a tree branch

Include raptors to the list of birds as there are several hawks in Ohio. Some are resident species.


You can spot them any time of the year. Others migrate to this state some months of the year to breed.

When you know what to expect, you can plan one birding tour in a month when you can spot both resident and migratory species.

Let's first discuss the types of hawks in this state.

Ohio Hawks Types

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

red-tailed hawk in a tree

When you go looking for hawks in this state, the red-tailed hawk is probably the one you'll see first, as there are millions of them. Most of the red-tailed hawks in the world call North America home.

Plus, this Ohio hawk lives in this state all year round. So, how do you tell you're looking at one? When you see a hawk with rusty-red tail feathers.

Red-tailed hawks fly high, scanning the land for prey. When they spot rodents, they dive and pounce on them with their powerful feet. Their long talons are lethal.

The red-tailed hawk inhabits open areas, so you're likely to see it perched on telephone poles. It's not the kind of raptor that frequents bird feeders as it eats small mammals like rabbits.

Fun fact: This raptor can live for over 25 years.

2. Rough-Legged Hawk

rough-legged hawk on a tree branch hunting prey

It's a large bird as its wingspan is about 50 inches. The rough-legged hawk earned its names from the feathers on its legs that give it a rough appearance. In winter, you'll see it flying over farms or marshes, hoping to hunt small mammals like mice or reptiles.

The rough-legged hawks mainly hunt towards the evening hours. Their feather colors vary though brown is the predominant color. Therefore, you may spot raptors with dark and light shades of brown.

Nonetheless, you can tell it apart from other raptors because of its light brown tail with a dark band across close to the tip of its tail. It leaves the state to breed.

The breeding pair builds a nest on the ground or even on clifftops.

3. Northern Harrier

northern harrier gliding in the air

This harrier, the only type you'll spot in North America, prefers to breed in the northern states and spend winter south. That's how it ends up in Ohio.

To see it, you'll explore open fields and marshes where it flies about five to ten feet off the ground to see grasshoppers, frogs, and other animals.

The northern harrier uses sound and sight when hunting, and it's a ruthless predator.

It's not monogamous; therefore, a male has several partners simultaneously. You're looking at a male northern harrier if you see dark gray wings and a female raptor if it has dark brown wings.

Both birds have white underbellies, and when in flight, you'll notice they have long wings and long tails. On average, its length can reach 22 inches, while its wingspan may range between 40 and 47 inches.

The wings of northern harriers form a V-shape in flight. These raptors eat reptiles, insects, mammals, and amphibians; quite a rich diet.

4. Cooper's Hawk

young cooper's hawk in the wild stalking prey

It's smaller than a northern harrier, averaging 17 inches in length with a wingspan of about 35 inches. It's a resident raptor; thus, you can see it in woodlands, floodplains, and forests all year round.

It also hangs around bird feeders wrecking your structure with 24 ounces of weight if it perches on top to trap birds.

If it doesn't capture birds, which make up the largest percentage of its diet, it settles for reptiles and amphibians.

This raptor has a rounded tail, and its head appears bigger than the size of other raptors. It depends on its long tail to maneuver woods as it hunts.

You may confuse it with the sharp-shinned hawk because of its appearance. However, the sharp-shinned hawk is smaller than cooper's hawk.

Also, cooper's hawk has a more rounded tail because it has short outer feathers on the tail. Its back is blue grayish, while its underside is white with reddish bars. A cooper's hawk appears as if it's wearing a black cap, and when you look at its tail, you'll notice three black bands.

Lastly, it got its name from an ornithologist named Charles Cooper.

5. Northern Goshawk

northern goshawk looking behind for a prey

This large raptor has a wingspan of 50 inches and long legs. Its tail is broad, and its wings resemble those of falcons. Its back has bluish-gray or brownish-gray feathers, and the underbelly appears grayish with dark bands.

You'll see it in deciduous forests, in tall trees. It eats hares, kestrels, mice, shrews, woodpeckers, and raccoons. So diverse!

The northern goshawk builds a nest in mature forests, away from humans.

6. Red-Shouldered Hawk

two red-shouldered hawk standing behind bush

It's a resident of Ohio, and it eats birds, lizards, frogs, snakes, plus crayfish. The reddish-brown lines on its wings give it the name red-shouldered. When you see it, it'll probably be looking down to spot prey.

The red-shouldered hawk’s head is brown, and it also flaunts a brown underbelly. Its wings are black and white in a unique checkered style. It's a large bird reaching 24 inches long like a crow. This raptor has broad wings, a short tail, and excellent flying skills.

Further, it prefers moist habitats, so you'll spot it in riverside forests and wet woodlands. 

This bird migrates south in winter. Its breeding season in Ohio starts from April to June, and this species reuses the same next for years.

When a red-shouldered hawk finds an old nest around March, it rebuilds it with leaves and twigs.

7. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

sharp-shinned hawk perched on a tree

It's a small hawk that can grow to about 15 inches in length. One of the best times to see this Ohio hawk is during the migration between April and May or September to October. The sharp-shinned hawk is not very common in this state, but it's worth looking for when you go birding.

It soars high and dives through dense trees to catch prey.

The adult is gray on the upper part with a rust-red barred underbelly with black bands on the tail. Instead of building a new nest, it may occupy a crow's nest.

Nonetheless, when it builds one, the sharp-shinned hawk prefers doing so in dense conifers.

8. Broad-winged Hawk

broad-winged hawk on its captivity perched

This migratory raptor loves forests, and it feeds on birds, insects, and amphibians. It can live between one to 14 years in the wild.

The broad-winged hawk lives in deciduous forests, and it nests away from human settlements. However, it forages in canopies near roads, wetlands, and trails. It's a small hawk that grows 16 inches long.

You'll know an adult raptor by looking for a dark brown upperpart, a white and gray-colored tail, and a pale underbelly with chestnut barring. The female is in charge of building a nest, so for about 3-5 weeks, it undertakes this task using twigs, foliage, and tree backs.

When the female is nesting, the male raptor brings reptiles or insects to feed the chicks and their mother.

Here are some basic things to remember to easily identify them:

What About This: You might have come across several articles detailing hawks, their lifespans, habitats, and feeding habits. How about reading on falcon vs hawk and finding out which is the better raptor?

Now you know what to see when looking for Ohio hawks. Let's turn to:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Own A Hawk In Ohio?

Yes, with a falconry permit. You sit for a written exam before you get a falconry permit, and you must be 16 years old. They ask about raptor biology, protection laws, pathology, among other topics.

What Kind Of Hawks Live In Ohio?

You'll see the red-tailed hawk, Cooper's Hawk, the broad-winged hawk, and more. In total, you have eight species to ID, as we've discussed above.

Are Red-Tailed Hawks In Ohio?

Yes, you can spot these raptors in Ohio all year round in their dozens.

Is It Legal To Kill A Hawk In Ohio?

Yes, it's illegal to kill a hawk unless in permitted cases of public health or safety. To get such a permit, you must exhaust all other methods of controlling them.

What Is The Biggest Hawk In Ohio?

The red-tailed hawk is the biggest as it can have a wingspan of about 50 inches and about 25 inches in length. It's followed closely by the rough-legged hawk with a wingspan of about 50 inches and 20 inches long.

Final Thoughts

Hawks of Ohio include native and migratory raptors. The red-tailed hawk is a common sighting for birders.

Ways to make your birding adventure more enjoyable include learning identification methods like using pictures and Ohio hawk sounds. Why? Some species, such as the sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk, may confuse you because of their grayish back and reddish underbellies.

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