18 Species of Hawks in Texas – Picture and ID Guide

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

There are 13 species of hawks recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring in Texas, and 5 additional species are considered rare or accidental.

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

This guide will help you identify the species of hawks in Texas according to avibase and ordered by the number of sighting recorded on ebird. Some of these birds migrate, and some remain all year, and this information is included for each species.

In Texas, Swainson’s Hawks are more common in summer, and Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers are more common in winter.

There are 18 species of Hawk in Texas:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. Red-shouldered Hawk
  3. Northern Harrier
  4. Cooper’s Hawk
  5. Swainson’s Hawk
  6. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  7. White-tailed Hawk
  8. Broad-winged Hawk
  9. Gray Hawk
  10. Zone-tailed Hawk
  11. Ferruginous Hawk
  12. Common Black Hawk
  13. Rough-legged Hawk
  14. Roadside Hawk
  15. Short-tailed Hawk
  16. Crane Hawk
  17. Northern Goshawk
  18. Great Black Hawk

The 18 Species of Hawk in Texas:

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

In winter, Red-tailed Hawks are the most frequently spotted hawks in Texas, and they appear in 20% of checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state. While in summer, they are the second most frequently spotted and recorded in 8% of checklists.

Their numbers increase during winter, from October to March, due to birds flying in from breeding grounds further north and increasing the population of resident birds.

As their name suggests, Red-tailed Hawks have a distinctive short, wide red tail. They are large, with broad, rounded wings. Most Red-tailed Hawks are brown on the back and pale underneath.

They are also the easiest to spot, often on long car journeys, as they circle slowly over open fields looking for prey such as small mammals, birds, and reptiles. 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)

Red-tailed Hawk Call:

Credit: Phoenix Birder, XC493105. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/493105.

The high-pitched descending raspy-screech sound of the Red-tailed Hawk is often used in movies for all birds of prey.

Red-tailed Hawks remain resident in the US and Mexico, but those birds in Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains fly south for winter.

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

2. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk for identification

In summer, Red-shouldered Hawks are the most frequently spotted hawks in Texas and appear in 9% of checklists.

Their numbers increase during winter, from September to March, because of the hawks flying in from the north. They are recorded in 11% of the winter checklists, and they are seen mainly in the east of the state.

Red-shouldered Hawks are distinctly marked, with dark and white checkered wings and reddish barring on the breast. They are medium-sized, between the size of a crow and a swan with a strongly banded tail. They make a loud cack-cack-cack-cack call.

  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)

Red-shouldered Hawk Call:

Credit: Phoenix Birder, XC498625. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/498625.

Red-shouldered Hawks are resident in eastern states, but those in the Northeast may migrate further south for winter. These hawks are also residents on the West Coast.

They tend to be seen near wet forests hunting along a stream or pond. Their prey is mammals and frogs or snakes.

Nests are often reused each year in a broad-leaved tree near water. They lay 2-5 white or bluish eggs.

3. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier Hawk for identification

In winter, Northern Harriers are the third most frequently spotted hawks in Texas and are recorded in 10% of checklists. They are mostly spotted during winter, from October to March, but some remain in the state all year.

Northern Harriers are slender with long broad wings and are between the size of a crow and a 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.

  • 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)
Credit: James Bradley, XC326879. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/326879.

Northern Harriers that breed in Alaska, Canada, the northern Great Plains, and the Northeast before migrating south for the winter to southern states, Mexico and Central America. Those in the middle of the range remain all year.

This slim, longed-tailed hawk can be seen gliding low over grassland or marshes. 

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.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are the fourth most frequently spotted hawks in Texas. They are recorded in 2% of summer checklists and 6% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers.

They are more commonly spotted during winter, from September to March, due to birds migrating in from breeding grounds in northern states and Canada.

The Cooper’s Hawk looks very similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawk but is bigger at about the size of a crow. They can be hard to identify between them as they have the same blue-gray back and red-orange breast and also with dark bands on the tail.

They have a larger head that projects well beyond the wings, unlike the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Male

  • Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
  • Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)

Female

  • Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
  • Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)
Credit: Manuel Grosselet, XC619260. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/619260.

Cooper’s Hawks remain resident over most of the US, but some in the north of the range, including Canada, migrate south for the winter down as far as Mexico and Honduras.

Look out for them at the edge of forests, but they can also be seen at feeders looking for an easy meal.

They feed on medium-sized birds and small mammals and nest in tall trees, often on top of an old nest of a large bird or clump of mistletoe. They lay 2-6 pale blue to bluish-white eggs.

5. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are seen in Texas during summer for breeding, and they appear in 3% of checklists. They can be seen from April to October, and then they migrate south for winter.

Swainson’s Hawks are long-winged hawks with short tails and pointed wingtips. They are usually brown or gray mottled on the back and with lighter bellies and brown or red chests.

When in flight, you can see the contrast between the black flight feathers on the lower edges of the wings and tips and the white upper part of the wing (called the linings).

  • Length: 18.9-22.1 in (48-56 cm)
  • Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz (693-1367 g)
Credit: Bruce Lagerquist, XC468974. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/468974.

Swainson’s Hawks can be found in open country in the West and over the Great Plains in the summer before heading to South America for winter in large flocks, reaching into the thousands. They breed as far as British Columbia and Alaska and in the West from the Pacific to the Midwest.

May and September are the best times to see these hawks as they migrate long distances and are famous for providing spectacular displays in the tens of thousands of birds during the day.

Swainson’s Hawks hunt for rodents by perching on any high points, such as utility poles or fences, making them easier to spot in the relatively flat lands where they hunt. If no high points are available, they may be found on the ground in grassland and fields, hunting for insects.

They may also eat Burrowing Owls in areas where they are abundant, but they are not fussy and eat anything from snakes and lizards to bats, mice, and rabbits or crickets and dragonflies.

There are not many nest sites in the open country for Swainson’s Hawks, so they use any trees near fields or low mesquite bushes and power poles. The nests are a large collection of twigs and sticks and can be up to 2 feet wide and up to a foot high. The inside of the nest is lined with softer material, such as dung, bark, wool, and grass.

6. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk for identification

Sharp-shinned Hawks are most likely to be seen wintering in Texas from September to April. Then they fly north for the breeding season. They appear in 3% of winter checklists.

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks are small hawks with blue-gray across the back and red-orange breasts. They have dark bands across their tails.

The females are a third larger than the male. They have long square-ended tails, short rounded wings, and 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)
Credit: Thiago Augusto Mendes Pinheiro, XC600402. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/600402.

Sharp-shined Hawks that breed in Canada and some northern states migrate south. Those birds in the Appalachians and Western Mountains may remain all year.

Sharp-shined Hawks 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.

7. White-tailed Hawk

White-tailed Hawks are residents of Texas all year and are most likely to be seen in the south of the state. They are more commonly spotted from October to April and appear in 2% of winter checklists.

White-tailed Hawks are distinctive hawks with dark coloring on the back, with red shoulders and a flash of white underneath. Their tails also stand out, being white on the top and underneath and with a dark band running around the edge.

Immatures are speckled across the chest and belly, and some birds can be an all-dark morph. Females are larger than males.

  • Male
    • Length: 18.1-20.5 in (46-52 cm)
    • Weight: 31.0-43.6 oz (880-1235 g)
    • Wingspan: 50.4-51.6 in (128-131 cm)
  • Female
    • Length: 18.9-22.8 in (48-58 cm)

White-tailed Hawks do not migrate and are more common in South America, with some birds reaching up as far as Texas.

Grasslands and savannahs are the usual hunting grounds for White-tailed Hawks. Rodents, rabbits, lizards, and other birds make up their diet.

They are especially easy to spot after fires when they take advantage of the fleeing animals for a quick meal.

8. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk for identification

In Texas, Broad-winged Hawks can be seen mainly during the spring and fall migration, from March to May and from August to October. However, some do breed in the state in the summer in the east.

The Broad-winged Hawk is a compact, stocky bird between the size of a crow and goose. They have reddish-brown heads, barred breasts, and narrowly banded short square tails.

  • Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
Credit: Guillermo Funes, XC198375. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/198375.

Broad-winged Hawks breed in the Eastern US and Canada before migrating in large numbers to Central and South America in a swirling flock called a kettle. As a result, the migration in the fall is often the best chance to see them.

Hunting from a perch, often on the edge of woods or water, these hawks eat small mammals, frogs, snakes, and even young turtles.

The Broad-winged Hawk often reuses the nest of another animal, such as a crow or squirrel, and lays 2-3 whitish eggs.

9. Gray Hawk

Gray Hawks can be seen in the south of Texas all year.

Gray Hawks are light gray in color with solid gray on the upper parts, barred on the chest and belly. Their tails are long and have three white bands against black. They have short, broad wings and are smaller hawks in this family.

  • Length: 18–24 in (46–61 cm)
  • Weight: 13.8-16.6 oz (391-470 g)
Credit: Scott Crabtree, XC577789. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/577789.

Gray Hawks migrate and spend the summer breeding in Central America, Mexico, and Southern Texas, and Arizona.

Try looking for Gray hawks in cottonwood and willow woods, with streams or rivers nearby. They can be spotted soaring over open areas or perched on branches waiting patiently for lizards.

10. Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawks are mostly spotted in Texas during summer for breeding from April to September. Most fly south for the winter, but some remain all year in the state.

Zone-tailed Hawks are dark, almost black hawks with barring on the flight feathers’ underside and white bands across the tail.

  • Male
    • Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
    • Weight: 21.4-23.5 oz (607-667 g)
    • Wingspan: 46.9-55.1 in (119-140 cm)
  • Female
    • Weight: 29.8-33.0 oz (845-937 g)
    • Wingspan: 46.9-55.1 in (119-140 cm)
Credit: Vicki Dern, XC380718. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/380718.

Zone-tailed Hawks are another Hawk that can only be spotted in a few states along the border during the breeding season. In winter, they migrate further south into Mexico. In South America, Zone-tailed Hawks remain all year.

They hunt along canyons and cliffs, often in high elevations, and can be spotted soaring over desert and scrub. They will also hunt down to coastal plains.

Mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians make up the diet of Zone-tailed Hawks. They hunt by flying low and using the landscape as a screen to hide them until it’s too late.

11. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawks are seen wintering in Texas from November to February. Then they fly north for the breeding season.

Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks in North America. They have large heads and long wings. To make identification harder, they come in a light and a dark morph, which can vary quite considerably in the color pattern.

The more common light morph Ferruginous Hawks are white underneath on the wings, belly, and head. Their backs and the upper side of the wings are a rusty brown, and they have darker legs. Immature light morphs have more brown spotting on the belly and legs.

Dark morphs are much rarer, and they have brown bellies and under the wings, except for white flight feathers on the wingtips and tail.

  • Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
  • Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz (977-2074 g)
  • Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in (133-142 cm)
Credit: Paul Marvin, XC419204. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/419204.

Ferruginous Hawks are another species of hawk that lives in the open country of the West. They breed as far north as Southern Canada and down to Nevada and Utah. In winter, they move short distances to Southern States and Mexico. Some birds may remain residents all year in the middle of their range.

You can spot Ferruginous Hawks in grassland and shrublands in the low country. They do not cross the Rockies, even when migrating. Small mammals make up the majority of their diet, and depending on what is available, they eat jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits in the West and ground squirrels and prairie dogs in the East.

They are daytime hunters and hunt both on the wing and by perching or even hunting on the ground.

Their nests are very large and can measure 3 feet high and 3 feet across, and they can lay up to 8 eggs.

12. Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawks are actually not very common in Texas, but they can be spotted in the south of the state in Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains.

Common Black Hawks have broad wings, short tails, long legs, and large bodies. They are black, except for a white band across the tail.

  • Length: 17 – 21 in (43 – 53)
  • Weight: 33oz (930g)
Credit: Kent Livezey, XC559226. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/559226.

They can be spotted along the southern border from California to Texas, mostly in summer. However, they usually remain resident all year in their range in Mexico and Central America.

Although called ‘common’, they are not very common in the United States, and only about 250 pairs are thought to exist here.

They hunt along streams near woods, looking for crabs, fish, frogs, and lizards, but they will also hunt birds and small mammals.

13. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk

Although not very common, Rough-legged Hawks are seen in Texas during winter, from November to March, mainly in the north of the state. Then in April, they start migrating to arctic breeding grounds.

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 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 relatively long and narrow compared to other hawks.

  • 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)
Credit: Tayler Brooks, XC113497. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/113497.

Rough-legged Hawks breed in Alaska and northern Canada before migrating to the US for winter. They are usually sighted hovering over marshes and open fields or perched on a pole.

Lemmings and voles provide most of the prey for Rough-legged Hawks. Voles, mice, ground squirrels, and other small mammals provide winter prey in states such as West Virginia. Nests are usually on a high cliff ledge, and they lay 3-5 pale bluish-white eggs.

14. Roadside Hawk

Roadside Hawks are considered an accidental species in Texas, and they have only been spotted in the extreme south of the state. They were last seen in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in 2018.

Roadside Hawks are small brown or gray birds of prey with barred bellies. Their tails also have 5 gray bars.

  • Length: 12 – 16 in (31 – 41 cm)
  • Weight: 8.8 – 10.6 oz (250 – 300g)

Roadside Hawks usually live in Mexico, Central America, and South America, but some have ventured as far as Southern US states.

They eat small mammals, lizards, and insects and can often be spotted on wires and posts.

15. Short-tailed Hawk

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alejobayer/

Short-tailed Hawks are considered an accidental species in Texas, but there were a couple of recorded sightings in the state in 2021.

Short-tailed Hawks are small hawks that can either be light or dark in color. Dark morphs are very dark brown, but with lighter flight feathers underneath. Light morphs are white below and brown on the back. As the name would suggest, they have short tails compared to other hawks.

  • Length: 15 – 17 in (38 – 43)
  • Weight: 0.8 – 1.1 lb (362 – 500 g )

They live in Mexico, Central and South America, and Florida. Short-tailed Hawks can be hard to spot as they hunt small birds from high up in the sky.

16. Crane Hawk

Crane Hawks are considered an accidental species in Texas, and according to records, they have only been seen in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge way back in 1987-1988.

Crane Hawks are slightly odd-looking, with small heads and long legs. They can range in color from solid black to banded gray, have white stripes on their tails, and have red legs.

Birds in the north of the range have red eyes, and those in the south have yellow eyes.

  • Length: 15 – 21 in (38 – 54 cm)
  • Weight: 8 – 18 oz (225 – 519g)

Crane Hawks are residents in Central and South America and along the coasts of Mexico. They sometimes move north into southern US states depending on conditions.

They eat small mammals, lizards, snakes, and birds and are found in wooded areas hunting in the trees for hiding spaces as they have double-jointed legs and can get in places that other birds of prey cannot.

17. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks are considered an accidental species in Texas, and they were last spotted back in 2019 in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Northern Goshawks are the bigger and fiercer relative of the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. They are mostly gray with short, broad wings and a long tail and have a white stripe over their 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)
Credit: Tim Spahr, XC183577. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/183577.

Northern Goshawks are residents in Alaska, Canada, and the mountainous west. Some younger birds may migrate to Central States during the winter.

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

Northern 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.

18. Great black Hawk

Great Black Hawks are considered rare or accidental species in Texas. They are extremely rare, but they were spotted in South Padre Island in 2018.

Great Black Hawks are similar in appearance to Common Black Hawks but are larger and have two white tail bands.

  • Length: 22 – 25 in (56 – 64)
  • Weight: 2lb 7oz (1.2kg)

Great Black Hawks are usually resident in Central and South America, but some have flown into southern US states and Florida.

They feed on reptiles, small vertebrates, large insects, and eggs or chicks from nests.

How Frequently Hawks are Spotted in Texas in Summer and Winter

Checklists for the state are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted. These lists show which Hawks are most commonly recorded on checklists for Texas on ebird in summer and winter.

Hawks in Texas in Summer:

Red-shouldered Hawk 9.1%
Red-tailed Hawk 8.0%
Swainson’s Hawk 3.4%
Cooper’s Hawk 2.9%
Broad-winged Hawk 1.0%
White-tailed Hawk 0.6%
Zone-tailed Hawk 0.5%
Gray Hawk 0.4%
Northern Harrier 0.3%
Common Black Hawk 0.2%
Sharp-shinned Hawk 0.2%
Short-tailed Hawk <0.1%
Ferruginous Hawk <0.1%

Hawks in Texas in Winter:

Red-tailed Hawk 20.6%
Red-shouldered Hawk 11.7%
Northern Harrier 10.6%
Cooper’s Hawk 6.0%
Sharp-shinned Hawk 3.0%
White-tailed Hawk 2.3%
Gray Hawk 1.1%
Ferruginous Hawk 0.6%
Zone-tailed Hawk 0.3%
Rough-legged Hawk 0.2%
Broad-winged Hawk 0.1%
Common Black Hawk <0.1%
Swainson’s Hawk <0.1%
Roadside Hawk <0.1%
Crane Hawk <0.1%
Northern Goshawk <0.1%