5 Species of Hawk in Alaska

Northern Goshawk

Do you want to know what the birds of prey are that you can see soaring above you?

Do you know your Sharp-shinned Hawk from your Coopers Hawk or what hawks you can see in Alaska well read on to find out all that and more?

There are 5 species of Hawk in Alaska:

  1. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  2. Red-tailed Hawk
  3. Rough-legged Hawk
  4. Northern Harrier
  5. Northern Goshawk
Hawks in Alaska with pictures and information for identification

Do you want to know what the birds of prey are that you can see soaring above you? Do you know your Sharp-shinned Hawk from your Coopers Hawk or what hawks you can see in Alaska well read on to find out all that and more?

Did you know the largest hawks in Alaska are the Rough-legged Hawk and the smallest hawks in Alaska are the Sharp-shinned Hawk?

Hawks are birds of prey and hunt and eat birds and small mammals as well as snakes and frogs.  Hawks can see in ultraviolet, which helps them hunt down their prey.

To find Hawks in Alaska head to woodland for the smaller hawks such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk or open grassland, marshes, or high ridges for the larger species.

Why don’t you also check out the backyard birds in Alaska and get a free ID printable checklist?

The 5 Species of Hawk in Alaska

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk for identification

The Sharp-shinned Hawk breeds in Alaska before migrating south. They are not very common and are in less than 2% of bird sightings in Alaska.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Alaska. They are smaller than a crow but slightly larger than a Jay. 

The females are a third bigger than the male. They have long tails, with a square end, and short, rounded wings and have small heads.

  • Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks are blue-gray across the back and have a red-orange breast. They have dark bands across their tails.

They are very secretive but can be seen as they fly across open areas at the edges of forests. They are very agile and can speed through dense woods to catch their prey in flight, usually songbirds. 

They can sometimes be seen near feeders catching small birds, but if you have problems with them in your backyard remove the feeder for a few weeks.

Sharp-shinned Hawks pluck their prey on a stump or low branch before eating it. They usually eat songbirds about the size of a robin.

Nests of the Sharp-shinned Hawk are often in conifer trees in dense cover, usually towards the top of tall trees. The nest is quite large being 1-2 feet in diameter and 4-6 inches deep. They lay 3-8 white or pale-blue mottled eggs.

2. Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks breed in southern areas of Alaska before migrating south for winter. They are also the easiest to spot, often on long car journeys, as they circle slowly over open fields looking for prey. You can also see them perched on telephone poles.

Male

  • Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
  • Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

Female

  • Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
  • Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

As their name suggests, the Red-tailed Hawk has a distinctive short, wide red tail. They are large, with broad, rounded wings, between the size of a crow and goose. Most Red-tailed Hawks are brown on the back and pale underneath.

The high-pitched descending raspy-screech sound of the Red-tailed Hawk is often used in movies for all raptors. They eat small mammals, birds, and reptiles. 

Nests are high in very tall trees or on cliff ledges and sometimes on tall buildings or towers. They lay 2-3 whitish, brown blotched eggs.

3. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks breed in Alaska and are more common in the north of the state. They are only seen in less than 2% of sightings. Rough-legged Hawks are usually sighted hovering over marshes and open fields or perched on a pole.

  • Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
  • Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
  • Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)

The feathered legs give the Rough-legged Hawks their name and help to keep them warm in the arctic. They are fairly large hawks, between the size of a crow and a goose. 

This predominantly dark-drown species occurs in both light and dark forms, with dark patches at the bend of the wing, end of their tails, and across the belly. They have broad wings that are fairly long and narrow, compared to other hawks.

Lemmings and voles provide most of the prey for Rough-legged Hawks. Nests are usually on a high cliff ledge and they lay 3-5 pale bluish-white eggs.

4. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier Hawk for identification

The Northern Harrier breeds in Alaska before heading south for the winter. This slim, longed-tailed Hawk can be seen gliding low over grassland or marshes.  They are spotted in 4% of recorded bird checklists.

  • Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)

These hawks are slender with long broad wings and are between the size of a crow and goose.  They often fly with the tips of their wings higher than their bodies in a v-shape.  Females are brown and males are gray above and white below and they have a white rump patch.

Northern Harriers mostly eat small mammals and small birds. They nest on the ground in dense vegetation such as reeds, willows, or brushtails. They lay 4-5 dull white eggs

5. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is found in Alaska all year.  They are not seen very often and are only in 1% of sightings recorded on ebird.org.

They live in large forests so are hard to find, especially as they are very secretive and can be aggressive if you get too close to a nest.

They are the bigger and fiercer relative of the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. These hawks are between the size of a crow and a goose. They are mostly gray with short, broad wings and a long tail. They have a white stripe over the eye and yellow eyes.

  • Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)

Goshawks live in large tracks of mostly coniferous or mixed forests. They watch for prey on high perches and mostly eat medium-sized birds and small mammals.

Northern Goshawks prepare up to eight nests and lay between 2-4 bluish-white eggs.