7 Fearsome Species of Hawks in Virginia: You Must Know

Hawks in Virginia

The name “hawk” is used to refer to a group of predatory birds that are diurnal (active during the day).

The order Falconiformes has around 270 species of carnivorous birds worldwide. All of them are categorized as raptors, or birds of prey.

Although all hawks have certain fundamental characteristics in common, such as sharp eyesight, hooked beaks, and taloned feet, they come in a broad range of shapes and sizes. 

Hawks are highly effective predators. To live, they catch, kill, and devour a vast variety of different animals. This predation is neither harsh nor malicious.

It has been going on for millions of years and has a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature.

Hawks in VirginiaLengthWeightIdentification(Color)Diet/Favorite Food
Sharp-Shinned Hawk9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)This hawk has a slaty blue-gray upper body, with narrow, horizontal red-orange bars on the breast.Mostly small birds and animals.
Cooper’s Hawk14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm) to 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g) to 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)This hawk has a steely blue-gray upper body with warm reddish bars on the underparts and thick dark bands on the tail.Mostly small to medium birds and animals.
Northern Goshawk20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)This hawk has pale gray barred underparts and dark slate gray upper body. The color of the head is dark with a wide white stripe over the eye. Mostly small to medium birds and animals.
Red-Shouldered Hawk16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)These hawks are very colorful with warm reddish barring on the breast and dark-and-white checkered wings.Mostly small birds, animals, and reptiles.
Red-Tailed Hawk 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm) to 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g) to 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)This hawk has a rich brown upper body and pale below, with a streaked belly and, and a dark bar between shoulder and wrist.Mostly small mammals, birds, reptiles
Rough-Legged Hawk18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)These hawks are dark-brown in color with tails that are dark at the tip and pale at the base.Mostly feeds on small animals such as lemmings and voles.
Broad-Winged Hawk 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)This hawk has a reddish-brown head, barred underbody, and broad black and white bands on the tail.Mostly small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds

Hawks in Virginia

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawks may be seen non-breeding over the bulk of Virginia in the winter. They do, however, live year-round in a small area of the state in the southwestern corner.

The greatest time to see these accipiter hawks is during their migration in the fall. They migrate south in great numbers during migration, giving you a higher chance of viewing them.

They spend most of their time breeding in dense forests, only venturing out onto open plains to hunt for food.

If you have bird feeders in your yard, be aware that these creatures are infamous for snatching up innocent songbirds.

Remove your birdfeeder and replace it after a few weeks if you find them sitting in your yard.

Cooper’s Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks have very similar appearances, making it difficult to tell them apart.

The flap-flap-glide flying method is shared by both species. Cooper’s hawks, on the other hand, are bigger and have slightly wider wings.

They’re approximately the size of a crow, with broad, rounded wings and a long tail, and they have an accipiter form.

Cooper’s hawks are amazing fliers, able to cross deep woodlands fast in pursuit of smaller birds.

They can be found all year in Virginia, mostly on the outskirts of woodlands but sometimes in backyards.

These hawks, which used to avoid inhabited regions, are becoming increasingly widespread in towns, suburbs, and other urban areas, where they hunt on the many pigeons and doves that reside there.

Northern Goshawk

Northern goshawks are more reclusive than other hawks, making them difficult to locate. To make matters worse, they’re only ever sighted in Virginia during the winter following migration.

Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks are near relatives, although they’re bigger and more ferocious. Their eyes are reddish-orange in hue and have white stripes above them.

They have an accipiter shape, with short, wide wings and a long tail that aids in swift maneuvering while going after their primary food, tiny birds.

Humans are not immune to their ferocity. Northern goshawks have been known to attack anyone who approaches their nests too closely.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks have mild reddish barring on their pale undersides and white banding on their tails, as their name suggests.

These hawks are easy to see because of their bright plumage. The transparent crescents on their wingtips, which are visible during flight, are another distinguishing feature.

Virginia’s year-round hawks reside in damp woodlands, frequently along streams and creeks.

They’re frequently seen hovering above their breeding place in the spring. It’s easy to spot them because of the transparent crescents near their wingtips.

Crows and red-shouldered hawks don’t get along. They frequently battle and try to steal food from one another, yet they do occasionally team up to defeat a shared foe.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most frequent hawks in North America, so you’ve undoubtedly seen them before.

They can be seen all year in the Virginia mountains, typically sitting on high viewing spots or hovering overhead. During your regular commute, you’re likely to see them on roadside telephone poles.

They have a white, creamy bottom with faint, reddish-brown patterns, as well as their characteristic red-feather tail.

Their large, rounded wings and short tail, a trademark buteo hawk appearance, may be seen in flight.

Listen for their distinctive raptor shriek – it’s the same cry utilized in most movies and television shows for hawks and other birds of prey. 

Rough-Legged Hawk

Only the non-breeding population of Rough-legged hawks may be seen in Virginia during the winter.

These hawks spend the summer hunting and rearing their young on the northern tundra before moving south to avoid the cold.

When hunting, they frequently fly up and face the wind, hovering and examining the ground for prey. They have the same buteo form as the Red-tailed hawk, but their wings are longer and narrower.

Rough-legged hawks have dark-brown markings, although light and dark variants are occasionally found. The term “rough-legged” comes from their completely feathered legs.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged hawks are only seen in Virginia during the nesting season, which runs from April through August.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch their fall migration, when hundreds of thousands of birds migrate to South America.

With stocky bodies and broad, crimson heads, these hawks are on the smaller side.

They feature red-shouldered hawk-like barring, but their coloring is brown rather than red. Their tails are similarly boldly banded in white and black.

Listen for the piercing, single-pitched whistle that a Broad-winged hawk emits when hunting to locate one. They frequently circle far above the treetops, looking for tiny creatures on the ground.

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