Hawks in Rhode Island - Happiestbeaks

Hammad Tariq

· 11 min read
Hawks in Rhode Island

Despite its small size, Rhode Island is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including various species of hawks. These majestic birds of prey play a vital role in the state's ecosystem, helping to regulate populations of small mammals and birds. Hawks can be found all over Rhode Island, from the coast to the woods. Their aerial tricks and sharp hunting skills amaze both residents and tourists.

10 Hawks in Rhode Island

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common and recognizable raptors in North America, including Rhode Island. Named for its striking rust-colored tail, this bird of prey is often seen soaring high above open fields and woodlands, searching for its next meal. With a wingspan of up to four feet, the Red-tailed Hawk is an impressive sight as it glides effortlessly on thermal updrafts.

These hawks primarily feed on small mammals like mice, voles, and rabbits, but they are also known to hunt birds, reptiles, and even large insects. They use their keen eyesight to spot prey from great distances and then swoop down with remarkable speed and agility to capture it.

In Rhode Island, Red-tailed Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, including farmlands, marshes, and suburban areas. They build their nests high in trees or on cliff ledges, often reusing the same nest year after year.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey commonly found in Rhode Island. Named after William Cooper, an American naturalist, this hawk is known for its agility and stealthy hunting techniques. With a wingspan of around two to three feet, Cooper's Hawks are adept at navigating through dense forests and urban areas in search of prey.

These hawks primarily feed on smaller birds, such as robins, sparrows, and pigeons, which they capture with swift and precise aerial maneuvers. They are also known to hunt squirrels, mice, and other small mammals when the opportunity arises. Cooper's Hawks are characterized by their slate-gray backs, reddish-brown barring on the chest, and striking yellow eyes.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs from March to July, Cooper's Hawks build nests high in trees, often using sticks and twigs. They are monogamous birds and may mate for life, returning to the same nesting territory year after year.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small but agile bird of prey commonly found in Rhode Island. With a wingspan of around 9 to 13 inches and a length of 10 to 14 inches, it is one of the smallest hawks in North America. Despite its small size, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is an adept hunter known for its swift flight and sharp talons.

These hawks primarily feed on small birds, such as sparrows, finches, and warblers, which they capture with remarkable speed and precision. They are often observed hunting near bird feeders and in wooded areas where their prey congregates. Sharp-shinned Hawks are characterized by their short, rounded wings and long, narrow tails, which aid in their quick and agile flight.

Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a fascinating bird of prey found in Rhode Island, particularly during its migration period. It's known for its distinctive broad wings and a rounded tail. This hawk typically measures around 13 to 17 inches in length with a wingspan of about 31 to 37 inches.

During the breeding season, which spans from May to August, Broad-winged Hawks construct nests in dense forests, often in the vicinity of water bodies. They prefer nesting in deciduous or mixed woodlands where they can find suitable perches for hunting and nesting.

Broad-winged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals like mice, voles, and chipmunks, as well as insects and occasionally small birds. They are skilled hunters, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from high perches before swooping down to capture it with their talons.

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk, a formidable bird of prey found in Rhode Island, is renowned for its stealth and hunting prowess. With a wingspan ranging from 40 to 46 inches and a length of about 20 to 26 inches, this hawk is a formidable predator in the forested landscapes it inhabits.

Preferring mature forests with dense vegetation, the Northern Goshawk is skilled at maneuvering through the thick canopy in pursuit of its prey. It primarily feeds on birds and mammals, including pigeons, grouse, rabbits, and squirrels. Its sharp talons and powerful beak enable it to swiftly capture and dispatch its quarry.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs from April to July, Northern Goshawks construct large stick nests high in the trees, often in coniferous forests. They fiercely defend their nesting territories from intruders, including other raptors.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk, a striking bird of prey found in Rhode Island, is notable for its vibrant plumage and distinctive call. With a wingspan averaging around 37 to 43 inches and a length of approximately 17 to 24 inches, this medium-sized hawk is a common sight in wooded habitats across the state.

Preferring dense forests, swamps, and wooded areas near water sources, the Red-shouldered Hawk hunts for a variety of prey, including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Its sharp talons and hooked beak make it a formidable predator capable of capturing prey both on the ground and in the air.

One of the most recognizable features of the Red-shouldered Hawk is its piercing call, often described as a series of clear, high-pitched whistles that can be heard echoing through the forest canopy. This vocalization is used for communication between mates and to establish territory boundaries.

Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, a majestic raptor commonly found in Rhode Island, is named for its feathered legs that extend down to its talons. With a wingspan reaching up to 55 inches and a length of about 18 to 22 inches, it's distinguishable by its plumage, which varies from light to dark morphs.

These hawks prefer open areas like marshes, fields, and tundra during the breeding season, but they migrate southward to warmer climates during the winter months. While in Rhode Island, they hunt small mammals like voles, mice, and lemmings, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from high perches or while soaring.

Their unique adaptation of feathered legs helps them withstand cold temperatures, making them well-suited to the chilly winters of Rhode Island. This feature distinguishes them from other hawks commonly found in the region.

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel, often referred to as a "sparrow hawk," is a small and colorful falcon commonly found in Rhode Island. With a wingspan of about 20-24 inches and a length of around 9-12 inches, it's one of the smallest birds of prey in North America.

Easily recognizable by its distinctive plumage, the male American Kestrel showcases vibrant hues of blue-gray on its wings and tail, while its head and back display rusty-red tones. The female is slightly duller in coloration, with more brownish streaks on her wings and back.

These agile hunters prefer open habitats such as grasslands, agricultural fields, and urban areas where they can perch on telephone wires or fence posts to scan for prey. Their diet primarily consists of insects like grasshoppers, dragonflies, and beetles, but they also feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.


The Merlin, also known as the "pigeon hawk," is a compact and swift falcon that can be spotted in Rhode Island. Measuring around 10-13 inches in length with a wingspan of about 20-26 inches, Merlins are slightly larger than American Kestrels but smaller than Peregrine Falcons.

Merlins display a range of plumage variations depending on age and sex. Adult males typically exhibit bluish-gray upperparts and reddish-brown underparts with streaks, while females and juveniles have brownish-gray upperparts and buffy underparts with streaks.

These skilled predators are adept at hunting small birds, often catching them mid-flight or ambushing them from concealed perches. They are also known to prey on insects, small mammals, and occasionally bats.

Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon, renowned for its speed and agility, is a remarkable bird of prey found in Rhode Island. With a wingspan ranging from 39 to 43 inches and a length of 14 to 19 inches, Peregrine Falcons are medium-sized raptors characterized by their pointed wings and swift flight.

These falcons exhibit striking plumage, featuring blue-gray upperparts and pale underparts with black barring. They also have distinctive black "sideburns" on their faces, which contribute to their recognizable appearance.

Peregrine Falcons are famous for their incredible hunting prowess, capable of reaching speeds of over 240 miles per hour during high-speed dives, known as stoops, to catch prey mid-air. Their diet primarily consists of birds, including pigeons, doves, and shorebirds, although they occasionally hunt bats and small mammals.

Final Words

In conclusion, Rhode Island hosts a diverse array of hawks, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. From the majestic Peregrine Falcon to the stealthy Cooper's Hawk, these birds of prey play vital roles in maintaining ecological balance and serve as indicators of ecosystem health.

Conservation efforts have contributed to the recovery of many hawk species, highlighting the importance of habitat preservation and wildlife protection. As stewards of the environment, it is crucial to continue supporting initiatives that safeguard these magnificent raptors and their habitats for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions

About Hammad Tariq

Hammad Tariq, the passionate founder and author of HappiestBeaks, is a dedicated bird enthusiast, caretaker, and lover. With a deep-seated affection for avian companions, he channels his expertise into crafting insightful and informative blogs on bird care and behavior.