Hawks In West Virginia - Happiestbeaks

Hammad Tariq

· 10 min read
Hawks In West Virginia

West Virginia's diverse landscapes provide a rich habitat for various hawk species, making the state an excellent destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

Among the hawks that can be found in West Virginia are the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Northern Harrier. These majestic birds of prey inhabit forests, fields, and open areas throughout the state, where they hunt for small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

The Red-tailed Hawk, with its distinctive red tail and broad wingspan, is one of the most commonly observed hawks in the region, often soaring high above open fields and woodlands. Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks, known for their agile flight and sharp talons, frequent wooded areas where they hunt for small birds and mammals.

8 Types Hawks in West Virginia

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of North America's most widespread and recognizable raptors. With a wingspan of up to four feet, it boasts broad, rounded wings and a characteristic rusty-red tail, giving it its name. These birds of prey are found in a variety of habitats, from open fields and deserts to forests and urban areas.

They primarily feed on small mammals like rodents, but they also hunt birds, reptiles, and even carrion. Red-tailed Hawks are skilled hunters, often seen soaring high in the sky or perched on utility poles and trees, scanning the ground for prey.

They mate for life and build large stick nests high in trees, where they raise their young. Despite their widespread distribution, they face threats such as habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and buildings, and poisoning from pesticides.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, a small but agile bird of prey, is known for its remarkable hunting skills and distinctive features. With a wingspan of around 20 inches and a length of about 10 inches, it is one of the smallest hawks in North America.

Its long, slender legs and short, rounded wings enable it to navigate through dense vegetation with ease, making it an adept hunter of small birds and mammals. This hawk is often found in forested areas, where it uses its stealth and agility to surprise its prey.

Its name comes from the sharp, notched shape of its shin feathers, a distinguishing characteristic. Sharp-shinned Hawks are migratory birds, with populations breeding in North America and wintering in Central and South America.

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper's Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey renowned for its remarkable hunting abilities and distinctive physical features. With a wingspan that typically ranges from 24 to 35 inches and a length of about 14 to 20 inches, it falls into the category of medium-sized hawks.

Known for its sleek, slender build and long tail, the Cooper's Hawk possesses exceptional agility and manoeuvrability, making it a formidable hunter in wooded areas and urban environments alike. These hawks primarily feed on smaller birds, such as sparrows and pigeons, which they catch by surprise using stealth and sudden bursts of speed.

Their hunting strategy often involves swift, low-level flights through dense vegetation to ambush their prey. Cooper's Hawks are commonly found in forests, woodlands, and suburban areas across North America. They are known for their adaptability and can frequently be observed soaring gracefully overhead or perched in trees, scanning their surroundings for potential prey.

Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a bird of prey characterised by its medium size and distinctive features, predominantly found in forested regions of North and South America. Measuring approximately 13 to 17 inches in length with a wingspan of around 31 to 39 inches, it falls into the category of medium-sized hawks.

This species is named for its broad wings, which are notable during flight, displaying a rounded shape and distinctive patterns when soaring. Broad-winged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and occasionally insects, employing their keen eyesight and sharp talons to capture prey. During the breeding season, they build nests in dense forest areas, often constructing them with sticks and lined with softer materials.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey known for its distinctive reddish-brown shoulders and barred plumage. Found primarily in wooded habitats across North America, from southern Canada to Mexico, these hawks prefer forests near water bodies such as rivers, swamps, and marshes.

They measure around 16 to 24 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 37 to 43 inches, making them slightly smaller than their close relative, the Red-tailed Hawk. Red-shouldered Hawks are skilled hunters, preying on small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally birds, which they capture using their sharp talons.

They often perch on branches or utility poles, scanning the ground for potential prey. During the breeding season, they construct nests using sticks, twigs, and other plant materials, typically placed in the fork of a tree. Their vocalisations include high-pitched whistles and calls, often heard during territorial displays and courtship rituals.

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a large, powerful raptor known for its robust build and keen hunting abilities. Found across North America, Europe, and Asia, these birds inhabit dense forests, especially coniferous and mixed woodlands, where they can find ample prey.

They measure around 20 to 27 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 40 to 46 inches, making them slightly larger than a Red-tailed Hawk. Their plumage varies between dark grey and brown, often mottled with lighter markings, providing effective camouflage in forested environments.

Northern Goshawks primarily prey on medium-sized birds and mammals, such as grouse, rabbits, and squirrels, which they capture using their sharp talons and powerful beaks.

They are known for their agile flight and quick manoeuvring through dense vegetation while hunting. During the breeding season, they construct large stick nests in the branches of tall trees, where they raise their young. These hawks are territorial and will fiercely defend their nesting sites from intruders.

Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk is a majestic bird of prey that inhabits the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. Known for its characteristic feathered legs, which provide insulation against cold climates, this hawk is often spotted in open landscapes such as tundra, marshes, and grasslands, particularly during the winter months.

Rough-legged Hawks have a wingspan that can reach up to 55 inches, making them impressive gliders as they soar through the sky in search of prey. Their plumage varies, but they typically have a mottled brown appearance with lighter underparts and a distinctive dark belly band. These hawks primarily feed on small mammals like voles and lemmings, which they hunt by hovering and scanning the ground below for movement.

During the breeding season, they construct nests on cliffs or in trees, where they raise their young. Conservation efforts for Rough-legged Hawks focus on preserving their natural habitats and protecting their nesting sites.

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey commonly found in North America, known for its distinctive hunting behaviour and appearance. These birds are often recognized by their long wings, slender body, and owl-like facial disc.

Northern Harriers are skilled hunters, primarily targeting small mammals, birds, and insects. They have a unique hunting technique called "quartering," where they fly low over open fields or marshlands, scanning the ground for prey. Their keen eyesight and sharp talons make them formidable predators in their natural habitat.

Northern Harriers are also known for their distinctive vocalisations, including high-pitched calls and whistling noises during flight. These birds play an essential role in controlling rodent populations and maintaining ecosystem balance.


In conclusion, the Northern Harrier is a fascinating bird of prey with unique hunting behaviours and characteristics. With its long wings and keen eyesight, it efficiently hunts small mammals, birds, and insects, playing a crucial role in ecosystem balance. Despite facing challenges like habitat loss and pesticide exposure, conservation efforts strive to safeguard Northern Harrier populations.

By preserving their natural habitats and raising awareness about their importance, we can ensure these magnificent birds continue to thrive in the wild. Let us appreciate and protect the Northern Harrier and its contribution to the rich biodiversity of North America.

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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.