We have found 8 hawk species that you might find in Florida. Some are resident, some migrate and one is just really rare. Florida is a great place to see hawks in its wide open spaces. We hope you enjoy our guide to hawks in Florida, so let’s get going.
Hawks that are not hawks!
Raptors, are birds of prey that exist in just about every corner of the world and have over 200 different species within the group. Hawks are are a family of raptors called Accipiter. You may be surprised to know that there are only 3 members of this family and they are known as ‘true’ hawks.
Lot of raptors are called hawks that actually belong to the Buteo family, which are known as buzzards elsewhere in the world. This is a common issue in the naming of birds and for our purposes we will be looking at true hawks any other birds named hawk, whichever family they belong to.
Hawks in Florida – True Hawks
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
The adult Cooper’s Hawk (photo on the left) has a dark, slate gray back rising up to the cap. The front of the bird is a bright orange with white barring (or the other way around – their plumage can be variable). It is easy to mix up with the Sharp-shinned Hawk. The juvenile pictured on the right is brown with a cream breast and dark streaks.
As the eBird range map shows below, the Cooper’s Hawk can be seen across the whole state, although it is not that common. While it breeds in thick forested areas, at other times it can be see in more urban areas hunting for its favorite prey – small birds.
Length: 14.6 – 15.3 inches
Wingspan: 24.4 – 35.4 inches
Weight: 7.8 – 14.5 ounces
Length: 16.5 – 17.7 inches
Wingspan – 29.5 – 35.4 inches
Weight: 11.6 – 24.0 ounces
Like many true hawks, the female is considerably larger than the male bird. He must approach her carefully so he doesn’t end up as lunch!
The Cooper’s Hawk is one of the most capable fliers in the bird world. It glides through thick forest in pursuit of prey and often catches small birds in the air. It crushes them with its strong talons before retiring to eat them.
As the Cooper’s Hawk moves into suburbia, it can sometimes be seen staking out bird feeders for its next meal.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
You can see from the photos below how similar this hawk looks to the Cooper’s Hawk. Even the size difference doesn’t really help if you are not an expert as they are not likely to be sitting next to each other. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is so named because that is what it has – no feathers on the legs all the way down to the toes.
The adult hawk (image on the left) shows a dark gray back and orange breast, maybe with more indistinct barring than the Cooper’s Hawk. The juvenile on the right is again brown with streaking on the breast.
As the eBird range map shows below, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is present throughout Florida, maybe less reported in the north. It spends summer further south breeding and so is seen here in winter. It inhabits dense forests where it hunts for small birds as well as mammals like mice.
Length: 9.1 – 11.8 inches
Wingspan – 16.9 – 23.0 inches
Weight: 2.9 – 4.1 ounces
Length: 11 – 15 inches
Wingspan: 23 – 27 inches
Weight: 5.3 – 7.7 ounces
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest of the true and false hawks across North America, with the female again being substantially larger than the male.
The best time to spot the Sharp-shinned Hawk is when they are on their migration. As well as the Floridian birds moving south, birds from states further north will pass through the area on their way. They may be in large groups as well.
The size difference of the sexes determines the care of young. As the male is smaller, it catches smaller prey and will feed that to the very young nestlings. As they get larger and are more demanding, the female takes over as she catches larger prey.
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern Goshawk is very distinctive and not likely to be mistaken for anything else. The very dark back is complemented with a beautiful white breast that is heavily barred. As can be seen in the pictures below, the dark head is accentuated by the severe looking white eyebrow that extends down the head.
As you can see by the Range Map, the Northern Goshawk rarely comes as far south as Florida with less than 5 sighting reports on eBird. We include it here as it is a true hawk. It is definitely a northern bird, being widespread across the north of the continent. It inhabits large, dense forests where it hunts larger mammals and birds.
Length: 18 – 24 inches
Wingspan – 35 – 41 inches
Weight: 12.6 – 42 ounces
Length: 23 – 27 inches
Wingspan: 43 – 50 inches
Weight: 26.7 – 77.6 ounces
While the Northern Goshawk is another true hawk, it is unlike the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk. Firstly, it is much bigger, with an almost eagle like appearance. It is also fiercer and more aggressive as it takes animals as large as hares and big game birds.
The term ‘goshawk’ is an old English word and comes from shortening the term ‘goose hawk’. This references its preference for hunting other birds.
This goshawk is a picky nester. A mating pair may have several nests in their territory given them different options each year.
Florida Buteo Hawks
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a stunning raptor with warm brown, red and orange tones. The red-shoulder doesn’t stand out at times making it tricky to identify. The back is darker, but may be grayer in Florida, and the front is barred.
Seen all year round, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a resident of Florida and common statewide. It hunts from a perching position in forest areas or open spaces from utility poles. It is an opportunistic feeder, taking small and medium sized mammals as well as birds, snakes and amphibians.
Length: 16.9 – 24.0 inches
Wingspan – 37.0 – 43.7 inches
Weight: 17.1 – 27.3 ounces
When in flight, look for bright crescent shapes on the wingtips to help identify this hawk.
There are 5 sub-species of the Red-shouldered Hawk which means there are a lot of variations in their plumage.
You may well hear the Red-shouldered Hawk before you see it. With a distinctive whistling call, it pierces the air when it is singing.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
The Red-tailed Hawk plumage varies from a dull brown to rich red with rough streaks on a pale breast. The red tail is the clear identifier.
While the Red-tailed Hawk is an all round resident of Florida, and reported across the state, it is not seen in great numbers. It is mostly spotted in open country, sitting on poles and trees from where it hunts small mammals, mainly rodents.
Length: 17.7 – 22.1 inches
Wingspan – 44.9 – 52.4 inches
Weight: 24.3 – 45.9 ounces
Length: 19.7 – 25.6 inches
Wingspan – 44.9 – 52.4 inches
Weight: 31.8 – 51.5 ounces
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawks of North America. It is a great bird to look for on any road trip as it usually hunts along the roadside.
The Red-tailed Hawk has a piercing scream that is often used for sound effects.
When the Red-tailed Hawks are breeding, they put on aerial displays of courtship involving diving and swooping.
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
The Short-tailed Hawk is a stocky looking raptor with a dark and light morph. Both morphs have a dark gray back with the light morph showing a clean white front (as in photo below) and the dark morph all dark. Both morphs have pale wing tips with barring. The dark morph is more evident in Florida.
The Short-tailed Hawk is seen more in the south of Florida and also more frequently in winter. It inhabits woodlands near water, where it hunts small mammals and birds.
Length: 15.3 – 17.3 inches
Wingspan – 32.7 – 40.5 inches
Weight: 13.6 – 16.9 ounces
The Short-tailed Hawk is another raptor that specializes hunting birds in the air.
This hawk is somewhat misnamed as other Buteo hawks have similarly short tails.
The main populations of Short-tailed Hawks are in Mexico and Central America. The Florida population is the only one in continental U.S.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
The Swainson’s Hawk has very variable plumage with a dark back but the breast can be pale to dark. The bib gives the light morph away as in this photo.
The Swainson’s Hawk is a rare winter visitor and can turn up anywhere across the state, although more likely on the coast. It prefers open country and can be seen on posts and utility poles where it waits, ready to chase its prey.
Length: 17 – 22 inches
Wingspan – 46 – 54 inches
Weight: 17.6 – 59.2 ounces
When it is not breeding, the Swainson’s Hawk feeds predominately on insects. For chicks, it will find rabbits, rodents and reptiles.
The best time to see this hawk is during their migration when they can number in the thousands in swirling masses called kettles. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be seen in Florida.
When hunting, the Swainson’s Hawk will perch and wait or soar and look. Then it will either dive on some poor unsuspecting animal or chase insects on the wing, close to the ground.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
The Broad-winged Hawk is brown on the back with a cream front that has brown bars. As the name suggests, the wings are broad. However, this may not be distinctive enough to identify by.
The Broad-winged Hawk is an uncommon raptor across Florida, possibly under reported because of mistaken identification. It is more often seen during spring and fall as it forms large kettles on migration. It inhabits forests and hunts within them.
Length: 13.4 – 17.3 inches
Wingspan: 31.9 – 39.4 inches
Weight: 9.3 – 19.8 ounces
The Broad-winged Hawk is an opportunistic carnivore. It will eat whatever is available and it can hunt. That might include insects, snakes, rabbits and birds.
The Broad-winged Hawk is migratory and they fly South America. During that journey, they can fly over 4,000 miles.
Fossils of the Broad-winged Hawk dating back nearly half a million years have been found in the U.S. and South America.
So, there are our hawks of Florida. There is a total of 8 hawks, with 5 of them regularly seen in the state. We have an honorable mention to the Northern Harrier, which is commonly classed as a hawk but is not in our true hawk family and doesn’t have hawk in the name.
We hope you learned something and enjoyed our article.
What is the most common hawk in Florida?
The Red-shouldered Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawk are probably the most commonly reported hawks in Florida.
What birds are mistaken for hawks?
Circling vultures look at lot like hawks and are often mistaken for them. The Turkey and American Black Vultures are resident and common in Florida. However, they fly with their wings in a deep V shape and so with a bit of practice, can be distinguished from hawks.
Are there falcons in Florida?
Yes there are. See our post on how to distinguish between falcons and hawks for more information.