Types of Hawks in Maryland - Complete Guide

Hammad Tariq

· 11 min read
Types of Hawks in Maryland

Maryland, known for its diverse ecosystems ranging from coastal marshlands to wooded mountain ranges, provides a habitat for various bird species, including several types of hawks. These majestic birds of prey play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of local ecosystems by controlling rodent populations and contributing to the intricate web of predator-prey interactions.

From the open fields of the eastern shore to the dense forests of western Maryland, hawks can be found soaring overhead or perched on treetops, showcasing their keen hunting skills and remarkable aerial agility. Let's explore the different types of hawks that call Maryland home and learn more about their unique characteristics and habitats.

10 Types of Hawks in Maryland

Red-tailed Hawk

One of the most common and recognizable hawks in Maryland is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). These birds are known for their broad wings, reddish-brown tails, and piercing gaze. They can often be spotted perched on telephone poles or soaring high above open fields and woodlands, where they hunt for small mammals like mice, voles, and rabbits.

Red-tailed Hawks are skilled hunters, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from great distances. They then swoop down with incredible speed and accuracy to capture their meal. Despite their name, not all Red-tailed Hawks have red tails; juveniles typically have brown tails that develop the characteristic red coloration as they mature.

These hawks are year-round residents in Maryland, although their numbers may increase during the winter months as individuals from northern regions migrate south. They are also known for their distinctive vocalizations, including high-pitched screams and whistles.

Cooper's Hawk

In Maryland, the Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a stealthy predator that inhabits wooded areas and suburban neighborhoods. These medium-sized hawks have slender bodies, long tails, and short, rounded wings, making them agile hunters in dense vegetation.

Cooper's Hawks primarily feed on smaller birds, such as sparrows, robins, and pigeons, which they capture with swift and precise movements. They are known for their characteristic hunting technique of ambushing prey from concealed perches or launching surprise attacks from cover.

Identifying Cooper's Hawks can be challenging, as they closely resemble the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk. However, Cooper's Hawks have larger heads, thicker legs, and rounded tails, while Sharp-shinned Hawks have smaller heads and square-tipped tails.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs from March to July, Cooper's Hawks build nests in tall trees, where they lay clutches of eggs and raise their young.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

In Maryland, the Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small but fierce predator commonly found in wooded areas, suburban neighborhoods, and sometimes even urban parks. These agile hunters have short, rounded wings and long tails, making them adept at navigating through dense vegetation in pursuit of prey.

Sharp-shinned Hawks primarily feed on small birds, including sparrows, finches, and chickadees, which they capture with quick and precise strikes. They are known for their stealthy hunting techniques, often ambushing unsuspecting prey from concealed perches or darting through trees to surprise their targets.

Identifying Sharp-shinned Hawks can be challenging, as they closely resemble the larger Cooper's Hawk. However, Sharp-shinned Hawks have smaller heads, thinner legs, and square-tipped tails, distinguishing them from their larger counterparts.

Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) is a migratory raptor that visits Maryland during the warmer months. Named for its broad wings, this species is known for its remarkable annual migration, during which it travels thousands of miles from its breeding grounds in North America to its wintering grounds in Central and South America.

In Maryland, Broad-winged Hawks can be spotted in forests, woodlands, and along waterways, where they hunt for small mammals, amphibians, and insects. They have keen eyesight and use their sharp talons to capture prey while in flight or perched on branches.

Identifying Broad-winged Hawks is relatively straightforward due to their distinctive features. They have broad, rounded wings and a compact body, with a barred pattern on their underparts and a banded tail. During flight, they often soar in circles or glide effortlessly on thermal air currents.

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) is a slender, medium-sized hawk commonly found in Maryland's marshes, grasslands, and open habitats. Known for its distinctive flight style, this raptor has long, narrow wings and a long tail, giving it a buoyant, gliding appearance as it hunts low over the ground.

Northern Harriers are skilled hunters, primarily preying on small mammals, birds, and insects. They use their keen eyesight and sharp talons to capture prey, often flying low to the ground or hovering briefly before pouncing.

Identifying Northern Harriers is relatively easy due to their unique features. Adult males are gray above and white below, with black wingtips and a distinctive white rump. Adult females and juveniles have brown plumage with streaks and spots, providing camouflage in their habitat.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a striking bird of prey commonly sighted in Maryland's forests, woodlands, and wetlands. Recognizable by its vibrant plumage and distinctive calls, this hawk is a familiar sight to many birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

These hawks are medium-sized with broad wings and a long, rounded tail. Their plumage varies, but they typically have reddish-brown shoulders and underparts streaked with white, contrasting with dark wings and a banded tail.

Red-shouldered Hawks are skilled hunters, preying on small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally birds. They often hunt from perches in the forest canopy, swooping down to catch their prey with precision and agility.

During the breeding season, which typically occurs from late winter to early summer, Red-shouldered Hawks build nests in tall trees using sticks, twigs, and other materials.

Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a migratory raptor that occasionally visits Maryland during the winter months. Although not as commonly seen as some other hawks in the state, it is a distinctive bird with unique characteristics.

One of the most striking features of the Rough-legged Hawk is its feathered legs, which are covered in dense plumage all the way down to the toes, providing insulation against cold temperatures in its Arctic breeding grounds. This adaptation allows it to withstand harsh winter conditions.

In terms of appearance, the Rough-legged Hawk typically exhibits dark plumage on its upperparts, with lighter plumage on the underside, often featuring a dark belly band. Its tail is also marked with dark bands. Additionally, this hawk has a distinct white patch at the base of its tail, visible in flight.

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest and most colorful falcon found in North America, including Maryland. This petite raptor is known for its vibrant plumage and distinctive hunting behavior.

Measuring around 8 to 12 inches in length, the American Kestrel displays striking plumage with rusty red and blue-gray hues on its wings and back, complemented by bold black markings. The male kestrel sports slate-blue wings and a rusty back, while the female has a more subdued coloration.

One of the unique features of the American Kestrel is its hunting strategy. Unlike larger hawks that rely on soaring and gliding, kestrels are often seen perched on wires, poles, or tree branches, scanning the ground for prey.


The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a magnificent bird of prey commonly found in Maryland, particularly along coastal areas and near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Often referred to as the "fish hawk," the Osprey is highly specialized in catching fish from the water.

With a wingspan of around 5 to 6 feet, the Osprey is easily recognizable by its distinctive appearance. It has dark brown upperparts, white underparts, and a prominent white head with a dark eye stripe. Its long, narrow wings and hooked beak are adapted for hunting fish.

Ospreys exhibit remarkable hunting skills, hovering over the water before plunging feet-first to snatch fish with their sharp talons. They can dive up to 3 feet below the surface to capture their prey. Ospreys primarily feed on fish such as trout, mullet, and flounder, which they carry in their talons while flying.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is a striking raptor species that can occasionally be spotted in Maryland during its migration. These hawks breed in the western United States and Canada, often nesting in open habitats like prairies, grasslands, and agricultural fields. During the winter months, they undertake an impressive journey to South America, where they spend the non-breeding season.

Identifying features of Swainson's Hawks include their medium-sized build, broad wings, and long, slender tails. Adult Swainson's Hawks typically display a light underside with dark plumage on their wings and back. In flight, they often exhibit a distinctive "V" shape.

One fascinating aspect of Swainson's Hawk behavior is their propensity to migrate in large groups called kettles, where hundreds or even thousands of birds soar together on thermal currents.


In summary, Maryland is home to a diverse array of hawk species, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors. From the iconic Red-tailed Hawk to the agile American Kestrel, these raptors play vital roles in the state's ecosystems.

Whether soaring high in the sky or perched on a tree branch, hawks capture the imagination of bird enthusiasts and serve as important indicators of environmental health. By understanding and appreciating the variety of hawk species in Maryland, we can work towards their conservation and ensure their continued presence in the state's natural landscapes for generations to come.

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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.