Types of Hawks in Ohio - Happiestbeaks

Hammad Tariq

· 11 min read
Types of Hawks in Ohio

Ohio, with its diverse habitats ranging from forests to grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural fields, is home to a variety of bird species, including several species of hawks. These majestic birds of prey play a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to control populations of rodents and other small animals.

Understanding the types of hawks present in Ohio provides valuable insight into the state's rich avian biodiversity and highlights the importance of conservation efforts to protect these magnificent raptors. From the iconic Red-tailed Hawk to the agile Cooper's Hawk, Ohio offers birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts ample opportunities to observe these fascinating predators in their natural habitats.

9 Types of Hawks in Ohio:

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common and recognizable raptors in Ohio. With its broad wingspan of up to four feet and characteristic rusty-red tail, it's easily identifiable in flight. These hawks inhabit a variety of habitats, including woodlands, open fields, and even urban areas, making them adaptable to diverse environments across Ohio.

Known for their keen hunting abilities, Red-tailed Hawks primarily feed on small mammals like rodents, rabbits, and squirrels, but they also consume birds, reptiles, and insects. They soar high in the sky, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from above before swooping down to capture it with their sharp talons.

Breeding season for Red-tailed Hawks typically begins in early spring, with pairs establishing territories and building nests in tall trees or on cliff ledges. Their nests are often large and made of sticks, lined with softer materials like grass and feathers.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawks are agile and skillful hunters found throughout Ohio, particularly in wooded areas and suburban neighborhoods. They are medium-sized raptors with a wingspan of about three feet, sporting a slate-gray back and finely barred underparts. These hawks are known for their remarkable speed and maneuverability, allowing them to chase prey through dense vegetation with ease.

Their diet mainly consists of small to medium-sized birds like robins, doves, and sparrows, making them proficient avian hunters. They often hunt by surprise, using trees and shrubs for cover before launching a swift attack on unsuspecting prey.

During breeding season, Cooper's Hawks construct nests made of sticks and lined with softer materials like bark and moss. They prefer to nest in the dense canopy of mature trees, where they can raise their young away from potential predators.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small but fierce predator commonly found across Ohio, especially during migration seasons. With a compact body and short wings, they are adept at maneuvering through dense forests and urban areas in search of prey. Despite their small size, these hawks are skilled hunters, preying mainly on small birds such as sparrows, finches, and thrushes.

Identifying Sharp-shinned Hawks can be challenging due to their similar appearance to Cooper's Hawks. However, they are smaller in size, with adults typically measuring around 9 to 13 inches in length. Their slate-gray back and finely barred underparts provide excellent camouflage among the foliage.

During the breeding season, Sharp-shinned Hawks construct nests made of twigs and lined with softer materials like moss and bark. They prefer to nest in coniferous forests or mixed woodlands, where they can find suitable cover for hunting and nesting.

Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized raptor known for its distinctive markings and migratory behavior in Ohio. These hawks are prevalent in forested areas, especially during the breeding season, where they build nests high up in the trees. They prefer deciduous or mixed forests with dense canopy cover, providing suitable habitat for nesting and hunting.

One of the most remarkable features of the Broad-winged Hawk is its migratory behavior. Every fall, thousands of these hawks gather in groups, known as kettles, to embark on their journey southward to Central and South America for the winter. During migration, they utilize thermal air currents to glide effortlessly across long distances, making use of their broad wings for soaring.

Identifying Broad-winged Hawks can be challenging, as they often blend into their surroundings with their cryptic plumage. However, they are distinguished by their relatively short, broad wings and bold, black-and-white tail bands. Adults typically measure around 13 to 17 inches in length, with a wingspan of approximately 32 to 39 inches.

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a common sight in the woodlands and forests of Ohio, recognized for its striking appearance and distinctive vocalizations. These medium-sized raptors are named for the reddish-brown patches on their shoulders, which contrast with their barred underparts and bold black-and-white tail bands.

In Ohio, Red-shouldered Hawks prefer wooded habitats near water sources, such as rivers, streams, and swamps. They build nests high up in the trees, constructing sturdy platforms of sticks and lining them with softer materials like moss and bark. Their nests are often situated in the forks of large trees, providing a safe haven for raising their young.

During the breeding season, which typically begins in early spring, Red-shouldered Hawks perform elaborate courtship displays, including soaring flights and vocal calls. Their piercing, whistled cries are a familiar sound in the forested areas of Ohio, serving as territorial markers and communication signals.

Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, also known as the rough-legged buzzard, is a majestic bird of prey found in Ohio during the winter months. It's named for its feathered legs, a feature that sets it apart from other hawks. These birds are often seen perched on utility poles, fence posts, or soaring high above open fields, marshes, and grasslands.

In Ohio, Rough-legged Hawks migrate from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra to spend the winter in more temperate regions. They are well-adapted to cold climates, with thick plumage that provides insulation against harsh winter conditions. Their wings are broad and rounded, allowing for effortless gliding and soaring as they search for prey.

Rough-legged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, such as voles, mice, and ground squirrels, which they hunt by hovering in the air or watching from elevated perches before diving down to catch their prey with their sharp talons. They are also known to eat birds, reptiles, and insects when available.

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier, often referred to as the "marsh hawk," is a distinctive bird of prey commonly spotted in Ohio's wetland habitats and open fields. With a wingspan of around three to four feet, these hawks have long, narrow wings and a distinctive white rump patch that aids in identification while in flight.

One of the most unique features of the Northern Harrier is its hunting behavior. Unlike other hawks that primarily hunt from perches or soar high in the sky, Northern Harriers glide low over marshes and grasslands, using their keen eyesight and hearing to detect prey such as rodents, small birds, and insects. They have a distinctive facial disk similar to that of owls, which helps funnel sound to their ears, allowing them to locate prey accurately.

During the breeding season, Northern Harriers construct nests on the ground in marshy areas or dense vegetation. The female typically lays 4-6 eggs, which are incubated for about a month. Both parents participate in feeding and caring for the young until they are ready to leave the nest.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk, known for its elegant flight and striking appearance, is a migratory bird of prey that visits Ohio during its breeding season. These hawks are recognized for their distinctive white throat and underparts, contrasted by dark brown plumage on their wings and back. They have broad wings and a wingspan of around four feet, allowing them to soar effortlessly across open landscapes.

During the summer months, Swainson's Hawks breed in Ohio's grasslands, agricultural fields, and open habitats. They construct nests made of sticks and twigs in trees or on man-made structures, where the female typically lays 2-4 eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the young after hatching.

Swainson's Hawks are highly skilled hunters, preying primarily on small mammals, birds, and insects. They are often seen hunting in open fields, where they use their keen eyesight to spot prey from above before swooping down to capture it.

Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk is a large and powerful bird of prey that can be found in Ohio during its migration and wintering periods. Recognized for its striking appearance, this hawk has a distinctive rusty or reddish-brown coloration on its plumage, particularly on its legs and underparts, giving it its name "ferruginous," which means rust-colored.

In Ohio, Ferruginous Hawks are often spotted in open grasslands, agricultural fields, and prairies, where they hunt for rodents, birds, and other small mammals. They have keen eyesight and sharp talons, which they use to capture their prey with precision.

During the breeding season, Ferruginous Hawks typically inhabit open habitats in the western United States and Canada, where they build nests on cliffs or in trees. They lay 2-5 eggs, and both parents take part in incubating the eggs and caring for the young.


In conclusion, Ohio is home to a diverse range of hawk species, each with its own unique characteristics and habitat preferences.

From the majestic Red-tailed Hawk to the agile Cooper's Hawk and the elegant Northern Harrier, these birds of prey play vital roles in maintaining ecological balance. Understanding and appreciating the importance of hawks in Ohio's ecosystem is crucial for their conservation and preservation.

By protecting their habitats, reducing human disturbances, and promoting awareness, we can ensure the continued presence of these magnificent birds in Ohio's skies 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.