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14 Texas Hawk Species: Appearances & Local Habitats

Face of a hawk

Last Updated: May 30, 2022

Many bird watchers have a keen eye for a variety of birds as well as their defining characteristics.

You are probably familiar with the birds of your locality, even if it is not at the expert level.

That said…

The hawks in Texas are interesting species that offer a unique viewing experience. Texas has plenty of ideal environments for hawks to thrive in, and today, we’ll be discussing what exactly makes their species one of a kind.

A Brief Synopsis Of Texas Hawks

Although about 200 different hawk species are widespread globally, 25 species currently live in the United States of America. Of those 25 species, only 14 species are part of the official list of all hawks of Texas.

Hawks are birds of prey which means that they primarily hunt and feed on smaller vertebrates. With an area of 268,596 square miles, Texas covers plenty of lands that hawks fill find interesting to inhabit.

Texas is also conveniently located in the migratory path of various bird species, which could be the reason for having multiple types of hawks in Texas. With this in mind, some species are permanent residents while others stay in certain parts of Texas seasonally.

Let us discover all the characteristics of Texas hawks in the next section!

14 Species of Hawks In TX & Their Interesting Characteristics

1. Red-Shouldered Hawk

brown hawk with orange chest standing on a fence

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 37 - 44 inches
  • Weight: 17 - 27 ounces
  • Length: 16 - 24 inches

Appearance

The red-shouldered hawk has beautiful black-and-white checkered wings that complement its red chest and shoulders. These mighty birds have black tails laced with white tips.

Young red-shouldered hawks have a brownish upper half and whitish underbellies. However, regardless of age, this Texas hawk highlights crescent-shaped patches of white across its wingtips.

Temperament

Red-shouldered hawks love to fly high above forests and flaunt their massive wings. When they are not in flight, you can see red-shouldered hawks peacefully perching on wires and thick branches up in the air.

These hawks prey on small reptiles, mammals, and even amphibians wherever they go.

Habitat

You can spot these birds staying near swamps and rivers in various woodlands across Texas.

Red-shouldered hawks use sticks to make sturdy nests on large, tall trees.

2. Swainson’s Hawk

Hawk with dark brown chest and lighter tail

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 48 inches
  • Weight: 24 - 48 ounces
  • Length: 18 - 22 inches

Appearance

Although their exact color varies, many Swainson's hawks have white underbellies and brownish-gray chests and shoulders. They have unique brown wings that feature a scale-like pattern of brown and white.

Whenever in flight, you can observe the wavy combination of white, gray, and black on their tails and underwings.

Temperament

Swainson’s hawks are quite the social birds and love to stay in groups. It is common to see them soaring high in the sky as they migrate.

Having quite the appetite for insects, these hawks will catch grasshoppers on the ground and even grab dragonflies.

Habitat

While they do love flying, Swainson's hawks often spend their time in vast grasslands. They tend to perch on poles near agricultural land, observing the scenery.

These gentle giants place their nests in trees that are in the middle of nowhere.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk

reddish-brown and white hawk standing in the middle of field

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 45- 52 inches
  • Weight: 24 - 46 ounces
  • Length: 17 - 22 inches

Appearance

The red-tailed hawk displays primarily brown wings; its head displays hints of white. Living up to their name, these birds have brownish-red tails that have black bands on their ends.

On the other hand, red-tailed hawks have shiny white underbodies, necks, and wings. While they have patches of light brown and black, the snowy white color of their underparts is prominent when flying.

Temperament

If you see a hawk repeatedly flying in circles high above open fields, it is probably the red-tailed hawk.

These gigantic Texas hawks have powerful wingbeats that can endure strong winds.

Although they do not harm people spontaneously, you should be cautious of their agile dives when they attack.

Habitat

You name the place, and the red-tailed Hawk can probably live there. These birds of prey have no preference in habitat, and you can find them just about everywhere.


4. Broad-Winged Hawk

brown and light brown hawk

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 31- 39 inches
  • Weight: 9 - 20 ounces
  • Length: 13 - 17 inches

Appearance

Broad-winged hawks boast a signature wavy combination of brown and white on their bodies. Their tails are an alternating pattern of black and white.

Whenever these birds are in flight, you can see their brown colors fade into black around their wingtips.

Temperament

Bird enthusiasts will regularly spot this Texas hawk species swooping down to catch small animals in forests. If you are unable to spot a broad-winged hawk, you might recognize their whistle-like calls.

Habitat

As you may have guessed from their behavior,  broad-winged hawks spend their time perched under canopies in dense forests.


5. Rough-Legged Hawk

Flying hawk with gray, white, and brown color

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 52 - 54 inches
  • Weight: 25 - 49 ounces
  • Length: 18 - 20 inches

Appearance

These elegant-looking hawks have very neatly patterned colors of white, brown, grey, and black. They also have yellowish-white necks, faces, and lower halves.

Moreover, rough-legged hawks feature black wingtips, tail tips, and scaly patches of brown on their underbellies and underwings.

Temperament

The rough-legged hawk uses its sharp eyes to scan the ground for small mammals to hunt. They can perch on tree branches, poles, and even benches.

In contrast, these birds also soar high up in the air with their mighty wings.

Habitat

Like many hawks in North Texas, red-legged hawks commonly breed in arctic regions. However, they do still migrate to open fields and deserts when winter rolls in.


6. Ferruginous Hawk

brown hawk with opened wings

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 52 - 56 inches
  • Weight: 34 - 73 ounces
  • Length: 22 - 27 inches

Appearance

These giant hawks are as majestic as they sound with their white underparts and streaks of brown. You can see the prominent patches of gray and brown on their backs and underwings.

Temperament

Ferruginous hawks keep their wings raised whenever they take into flight. Their massive wings allow them to hover and glide over prey easily.

Conveniently enough, their large bodies become compact when they land.

Habitat

Ferruginous hawks live in habitats such as grasslands, prairies, woodlands, and steppes.


7. Harris’s Hawk

dark brown and red colored hawk

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 40 - 47 inches
  • Weight: 18 - 31 ounces
  • Length: 18 - 23 inches

Appearance

The Harris’ hawk features different shades of brown almost everywhere on its body. These slim birds have white tail tips and have a white section at the end of their underbellies. Harris hawks also have reddish-brown patches all over their wings and legs.

Temperament

Harris’s hawks carry themselves in an upright posture when they perch on poles, branches, and even cactuses at times.

These hawks love to travel in groups when hunting.

Habitat

Harris’s hawks frequent all sorts of desserts in Texas. However, they also visit urban places when looking for water and pigeons to hunt.


8. Gray Hawk

white and gray hawk flying

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 35 inches
  • Weight: 13 - 16 ounces
  • Length: 15 inches

Appearance

Just as their name implies, gray hawks are primarily light gray with thinly barred white chests. Like most hawks, these beautiful birds have alternating black-and-white bands on their tails. Gray hawks also highlight a vivid color black near their wingtips.

Temperament

Gray hawks love to scan for prey while they perch below forest canopies. With their agile and sudden movements, these birds can easily hunt small reptiles.

Gray hawks also enjoy stretching their wings with a pleasant afternoon flight.

Habitat

Gray hawks live in rather rough environments such as thorny woodlands, forest clearings, and savannahs. You can observe these silent hawks nest near rivers.


9. Cooper’s Hawk

hawk with dark gray wings and red streaks on chest

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 24 - 35 inches
  • Weight: 8 - 14 ounces
  • Length: 14 - 17 inches

Appearance

These hawks have dark gray wings with red bars on their chests and underbellies. Although young cooper hawks have brownish upper halves, these fierce hawks all have black bands on their tails.

Temperament

Cooper hawks tend to glide more than they soar in the air.

These hawks can travel long distances without consistently flapping their wings.

Habitat

Gentle as they are, cooper hawks stay deep into forests but also in populated areas and backyards.


10. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

brown hawk with white chest

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 16 - 22 inches 
  • Weight: 3 - 8 ounces
  • Length: 9 - 13 inches

Appearance

Adults of this species have grayish-blue wings and backs. These hawks boast white and red barred bellies. During the flight, you can see the sharp-shinned hawk’s unique wavy pattern on its underparts.

Naturally, they have black bands along with their pale tails. 

Temperament

Sharp-shinned hawks are swift birds that can easily traverse through woodlands just to catch their prey. These predators can pounce from low-hanging branches when hunting.

Habitat

Sharp-shinned hawks live and breed deep into forests. They also love to hunt near forest edges, where many smaller birds and mammals live.

If you are lucky enough, this Texas hawk can even be seen visiting backyard feeders.

11. Zone-Tailed Hawk

black hawk standing on a tree

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 30 - 34 inches
  • Weight: 20 - 33 ounces
  • Length: 17 - 22 inches

Appearance

Zoned-tailed hawks have delicately built hawks with broad wings. These intimidating hawks are deep black all over their bodies. You can also see a pale-gray barred pattern on their underwings when in flight.

Temperament

Zone-tailed hawks are forager birds that fly close to treetops. These slick hawks can quickly drop onto prey from short heights.

While they look fierce, these hawks perform a beautiful aerial display when courting.

Habitat

You can see many zone-tailed hawks living in the pine forest, upland desert, and foothills. They love to stay in environments with rough terrains like canyons and cliffs.


12. White-tailed Hawk

white hawk

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 50 - 52 inches
  • Weight: 31 - 44 ounces
  • Length: 18 - 21 inches

Appearance

Bird enthusiasts will enjoy the rich dark gray backs of white-tailed hawks.

They have shoulders that feature a reddish-brown that curves inwards. In contrast, however, their underparts are mainly pale white that fades into black toward their wingtips.

These pleasant creatures’ highlight is their dark heads and black tail bands.

Temperament

White-tailed hawks commonly sit atop poles and slightly elevated places to scan for prey. They demonstrate agile movements, which allow them to catch small birds, reptiles, and mammals quickly.

Habitat

The white-tailed hawk is one of the many Central Texas hawks that thrive in savannas and grasslands.


13. Northern Harrier

big brown hawk with open wings

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 40 - 46 inches
  • Weight: 10 - 26 ounces
  • Length: 18 - 20 inches

Appearance

A typical male northern harrier is whitish below but gray above with dark wingtips. They also have black bands on their pale tails.

On the other hand, female northern harriers are brownish with white underparts and brown streaks barring their bodies.

When they're in flight, you can prominently see their pure white rumps and large builds.

Temperament

Northern harriers are brave hawks that regularly fly very close to the ground. They normally glide right above open fields when hunting animals.

Otherwise, they stay in low-elevated places such as small posts and trees.

Habitats

Although they avoid heavily snowed areas, Northern harriers breed in Arctic tundras similar to many North Texas hawks. They primarily live in open habitats and nest in vast grasslands.


14. Northern Goshawk

brown hawk in snowy forest

Measurements

  • Wingspan: 40 - 46 inches
  • Weight: 22 - 48 ounces
  • Length: 20 - 25 inches

Appearance

Northern goshawks have a cement-like gray color scheme and barred white bodies. These hawks feature a dark head and a white streak that sits atop their eyes.

With their thinly banded gray tails, Northern goshawks have a pleasant and minimalistic appearance.

Temperament

Northern goshawks are masters of stealth. They use their silent, agile movements to catch prey, even in dense environments quickly.

With this in mind, they also have slow and discrete flight patterns that are barely noticeable.

Habitat

Northern goshawks dwell inside plenty of wild forests in Texas. Although they prefer coniferous forests, they also settle in deciduous, hardwood, and other kinds of woodlands in the state.

Fun Fact: Check out our other article about hawks, "Hawks In Indiana" and try identifying some of them by sight!


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I shoot a hawk in Texas if it tries to attack humans or animals?

The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty act of 1918 protects all the hawks in the United States. This law includes harming, caging, and especially killing these birds of prey. However, the next best thing to do is watch your pets and stay away from these predator birds.

How often do you see hawks around neighborhoods in Texas?

Texas officially lists 14 Hawk species that reside in the state all year. Species such as the Great Black Hawk, Crane Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Common Black Hawk, and Short-tailed Hawk are rare visitors.

What do Texas hawks eat?

Texas hawks are not picky eaters. They eat anything from smaller birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and even insects.

Watch as a cooper's hawk hunt for its prey:

How big are hawks in Texas?

The most prominent Texas hawk is the ferruginous hawk. This massive bird of prey can measure up to 56 inches in wingspan and 27 inches in length.

Final Thoughts

Hawks are some of the most beautiful and powerful birds that rule the sky. Luckily, Texas caters to 14 species of these birds of prey year-round. The key to Texas hawk identification is to understand their various behaviors and unique appearances.

Read also: Falcon vs Hawk

Birders can easily find Texas hawks if you know where to look. Who knows? You might even see a hawk flying around in your neighborhood.

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