Michigan is home to a diverse range of hawks, with at least nine species being regular breeders or visitors to the state, and two more being rare migrants. These birds of prey can be found in various habitats, including forests, open fields, and even backyards.
Each hawk species has its own unique physical characteristics, making them easily identifiable with a little knowledge and practice. In this article, we will explore the different types of hawks found in Michigan, including their physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviors, to help you identify these beautiful birds of prey.
9 Types Of Hawks In Michigan
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small, long-tailed hawk with short, rounded wings. It is the smallest accipiter (bird hawk) in North America, with males measuring 24 to 27 cm in length and weighing 87 to 114 g, and females being larger, measuring 29 to 34 cm in length and weighing 150 to 218 g.
The wingspan of males is 53 to 56 cm, while females have a wingspan of 58 to 65 cm.
Sharp-shinned hawks are primarily forest birds, found in various types of forests, including pine, fir, and aspen forests. They can be found hunting in forest interiors and edges, from sea level to near alpine areas.
These hawks are also known to frequent rural, suburban, and agricultural areas, where they often hunt at bird feeders.
During courtship, pairs of Sharp-shinned Hawks may circle above the forest, calling, and the male may fly high and dive steeply into the woods.
The nest site is very well concealed, usually in a dense conifer (such as spruce or fir) within a forest or thick grove, and it is typically 20-60 feet above the ground, although it can be lower or higher in suitably dense cover. Sometimes, the hawks will build their nests on top of old squirrel or crow nests.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are migratory, with some individuals in the northwest being permanent residents. During migration, large numbers of these hawks may concentrate at certain points along coasts or ridges, especially in certain weather conditions.
They are the most plentiful raptors seen at hawkwatch sites during fall migration. Female Sharp-shinned Hawks are about a third bigger and heavier than males, which is a typical pattern for many hawks and owls, but otherwise rare in the bird world.
These hawks are important members of their ecosystem, influencing small bird populations and serving as an important food source for their predators.
Known predators of Sharp-shinned Hawks include bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and northern goshawks. They are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are listed as Appendix II by CITES.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey that breeds throughout most of North America, from the interior of Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies. It is one of the most common members within the genus of Buteo in North America or worldwide.
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo, typically weighing from 690 to 1,600 g (1.5 to 3.5 lb) and measuring 45–65 cm (18–26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in). This species displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25% heavier than males.
Red-tailed Hawks are large hawks with typical Buteo proportions, featuring very broad, rounded wings, and a short, wide tail. They are the second-largest Buteo hawk in North America, after the Ferruginous Hawk.
The species is primarily a sit-and-wait predator and generally requires elevated perch sites for hunting. They are often seen perching atop telephone poles, light posts, and edges of trees, making them the most common roadside raptor across much of North America.
The Red-tailed Hawk has a thrilling, raspy scream that sounds exactly like a raptor should sound, which is often used in movies and TV shows to represent various bird of prey species.
The species is known for its incredible variation in plumages, including less common dark morphs and various regional differences. Eastern adults have a brilliant reddish-orange tail and pale underparts with an obvious band of dark marks across the belly, while western birds are typically darker. Immature Red-tailed Hawks do not have a red tail.
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)
The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a medium-large bird of prey found in Arctic and Subarctic regions of North America, Europe, and Russia during the breeding season, and it migrates south for the winter. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Rough-legged Hawk:
Size and Appearance:
– Fairly large hawk with broad wings that are long and narrow compared to other Buteo hawks.
– Tail is longer than in many other buteos.
– Wingtips are broad and often swept back slightly from the wrist, giving a hint of an M shape to the wing.
– Bill is fairly small.
– Legs are feathered all the way to the toes, a unique feature shared only with the Ferruginous Hawk and the Golden Eagle among American raptors.
– Breeds mostly on tundra, in areas with cliffs for nest sites, and some breed along the northern edge of the coniferous forest zone.
– In winter, it can be found in open fields, plains, marshes, grasslands, coastal prairies and marshes, farmland, and dunes.
– Often hunts by hovering over fields, watching for movement below.
– Also hunts by watching from a perch or patrolling low over the ground.
– Has a strong affinity for rodents and is a skilled hunter in open habitats.
– Nest site is usually on a narrow ledge or niche in a high cliff, but it can also nest on slopes, atop large rocks, and even on level ground.
– The nest is a bulky structure of sticks, bones, debris, lined with grasses and twigs.
– A single pair will usually nest on a quarter-mile-long cliff, and they may nest within 100 feet of Gyrfalcons, Peregrine Falcons, or Common Ravens.
– Migrates relatively late in the fall and early in the spring.
– Numbers appearing south of Canada are quite variable from one winter to the next.
– Rough-legged Hawks perch on fence posts, utility poles, and the ground, as well as on the slenderest treetops, where other large raptors rarely chance sitting.
– In flight, the dark carpal patches of light-morph birds serve as good field marks for identifying the species.
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
The Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) is a medium-sized hawk of the genus Buteo, found in eastern North America, as far west as British Columbia and Texas, during the summer. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Broad-winged Hawk:
Size and Appearance:
– Broad-winged Hawks are small, compact raptors with chunky bodies and large heads.
– In flight, their broad wings come to a distinct point, and the tail is short and square.
– Females are slightly larger than males.
– Broad-winged Hawks are birds of the forest interior and can be hard to see during the nesting season.
– They are most easily seen during migration at hawkwatches such as Hawk Ridge, Minnesota, and Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania.
– They form sometimes enormous aerial flocks, especially in southern Texas, in Mexico along the Gulf coast in Veracruz, and along the shores of the Great Lakes.
– Broad-winged Hawks hunt by watching for prey from a perch, usually located along the edge of woods or near water.
– When prey is spotted, the hawk swoops down rapidly to capture the creature in its talons.
– Occasionally, they hunt by flying through the woods or along watercourses, actively searching for prey.
– Early in the breeding season, pairs circle high in the air, calling.
– The nest site is usually in the lower part of a large tree (either deciduous or coniferous), typically 25-40′ above ground.
– The nest (built by both sexes) is a rather small platform of sticks, lined with softer materials such as bark and moss.
– Broad-winged Hawks are long-distance migrants, most going to South America for the winter.
– They are known for forming massive flocks called “kettles” during migration, when they travel from the U.S. and Canada all the way to winter in Central and South America.
Broad-winged Hawks are important members of their ecosystem, controlling populations of small mammals and serving as an important food source for their predators. They are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act and are listed as Appendix II by CITES.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium-sized hawk native to the North American continent, found from southern Canada to Mexico. This species is a member of the genus Accipiter, known for its agility and relatively small size, and is the most diverse of all diurnal raptor genera. The male Cooper’s Hawk is smaller than the female, a common characteristic in birds of prey.
– Medium-sized hawk with a classic accipiter shape, characterized by broad, rounded wings, and a very long tail.
– The head often appears large, the shoulders broad, and the tail rounded.
– Size: Larger than a Sharp-shinned Hawk and about crow-sized, but males can be much smaller.
– 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).
Habitat and Behavior:
– Cooper’s Hawks are primarily found in mature forests, open woodlands, wood edges, and river groves.
– They nest in coniferous, deciduous, and mixed woods, typically those with tall trees and openings or edge habitat nearby.
– In winter, they may be found in fairly open country, especially in the west.
– Their diet consists mostly of birds and small mammals, and they hunt by stealth, approaching their prey through dense cover and then pouncing.
– During courtship and occasionally at other times, both sexes may fly over their territory with slow, exaggerated wingbeats.
– The nest is usually built in a tree, either deciduous or coniferous, and placed 25-50′ above the ground, often on top of a pre-existing foundation such as an old nest of a large bird or squirrel, or a clump of mistletoe.
– The numbers of Cooper’s Hawks declined in the mid-20th century, possibly due to the effects of DDT and other pesticides.
– However, there has been some recovery since then, and their numbers are probably stable in most areas.
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
The Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius), also known as the Marsh Hawk or Ring-tailed Hawk, is a bird of prey that breeds throughout the northern parts of the northern hemisphere in Canada and the northernmost USA. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Northern Harrier:
– Northern Harriers are slender, medium-sized raptors with long, fairly broad wings and a long, rounded tail.
– They have a flat, owl-like face and a small, sharply hooked bill.
– Males and females have different plumage, with males being gray above and white below, and females being brown above and streaked below.
Habitat and Behavior:
– Northern Harriers are found in open habitats such as marshes, grasslands, and fields.
– They hunt by flying low over fields, scanning the ground, and may find some prey by sound.
– On locating prey in dense cover, they may hover low over the site or attempt to drive prey out into the open.
– During courtship, males perform aerial displays, including undulating flights and sky-dancing.
– The nest is usually built on the ground, in a depression or on a mound, and is made of sticks, grasses, and other plant material.
– The Northern Harrier has disappeared from many former nesting areas, especially in southern parts of its range, and surveys suggest that populations are declining in some areas.
– However, the species is still widespread and common in many areas, and is not currently considered to be globally threatened.
– The Northern Harrier is protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a large and powerful forest-dwelling hawk, known for its fierce nature and impressive hunting abilities. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Northern Goshawk:
– The Northern Goshawk is the largest and bulkiest of the accipiters, with broad, rounded wings and a long tail.
– Adult birds are overall gray, paler below, with a blackish crown and cheek, a white eyebrow, and a red eye.
– Immature birds are similar to the Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Cooper’s Hawk, but larger and broader-winged, with a more prominent white eyebrow and heavier streaking below.
Habitat and Behavior:
– Northern Goshawks are secretive birds that typically inhabit large tracts of forest, making them difficult to find.
– They are vocal near their nests and fiercely defensive, known to attack people who come too close.
– The species is well-known for its fierce defense of its nest, commonly attacking people and other animals.
– They feed on large prey such as hares and grouse, and are capable of hunting inside the forest or along its edge, using short bursts of speed to capture their prey.
Distribution and Conservation Status:
– The Northern Goshawk is found across northern America and Eurasia, with some variations in plumage between the two regions.
– The species is uncommon across much of its range and requires extensive mature forest for its habitat.
– While not currently considered globally threatened, the Northern Goshawk faces some challenges due to habitat loss and disturbance.
Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized hawk found in eastern North America and along the coast of California and northern to northeastern-central Mexico. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Red-shouldered Hawk:
– Red-shouldered Hawks are medium-sized hawks with broad, rounded wings and medium-length tails that they fan out when soaring.
– In flight, they often glide or soar with their wingtips pushed slightly forward, imparting a distinctive, “reaching” posture.
– They are noticeably smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk but larger than a Broad-winged Hawk, measuring between crow and goose in size.
– Both Sexes
– 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).
Habitat and Behavior:
– Red-shouldered Hawks are found in wooded streamsides, swamps, and bottomland woods.
– They usually hunt by watching from a perch, either within forest or in open, swooping down when it locates prey.
– They may also fly very low in open areas, taking creatures by surprise.
– Their diet includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and large insects, and varies with region and season.
– They usually lay 3-4 pale bluish-white eggs, which are incubated mostly by the female for roughly 33 days.
– The young leave the nest at about 5-7 weeks after hatching and are fed by parents for another 8-10 weeks.
– The Red-shouldered Hawk is not currently considered globally threatened, but the main conservation threat to the widespread species is deforestation.
– The species is protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is a large bird species in the Accipitriformes order, named after William Swainson, a British naturalist. Here are some key characteristics and behaviors of the Swainson’s Hawk:
– Swainson’s Hawks are buteos, meaning they are large hawks with fairly broad wings and short tails.
– They are slimmer and longer-winged than many other buteos, with their wings typically held in a shallow V when soaring.
– Relative Size: Larger than a Cooper’s Hawk; smaller than a Ferruginous Hawk.
– Both Sexes
– Length: 18.9-22.1 in (48-56 cm)
– Weight: 24.4-48.2 oz (693-1367 g).
Habitat and Behavior:
– Swainson’s Hawks are classic species of the open country of the Great Plains and the West, soaring on narrow wings or perching on fence posts and irrigation spouts.
– They perch conspicuously on utility poles, fence posts, and isolated trees in areas that otherwise lack such elevated perches.
– In perch-deprived areas, they stand on the ground in grassland or tilled agricultural fields.
– They feed on large insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies, during non-breeding season, and rodents, rabbits, and reptiles during breeding season.
– During courtship, members of a pair engage in display flights, with circling and steep dives.
– The nest site is usually in a tree or large shrub in open country, usually 15-30′ above ground, but may be lower or higher, generally well hidden within foliage.
– Swainson’s Hawks have declined seriously in much of their nesting range, especially in California, but the causes of decline are not well understood.
– The species is listed as a threatened species in California.
– The Swainson’s Hawk breeds in the western United States and Canada and winters in South America as far south as Argentina.
– The species has become increasingly dependent on agriculture, especially alfalfa crops, as native communities are converted to agricultural lands.
1. How many types of hawks are found in Michigan?
There are 9 types of hawks that are found in Michigan, according to various sources.
2. What are the different types of hawks found in Michigan?
The 9 types of hawks found in Michigan are Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Swainson’s Hawk.
3. Where can I find hawks in Michigan?
Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats in Michigan, including forests, open fields, marshes, grasslands, and wetlands. Some species are only found in Michigan during the breeding season, while others are migratory and only spend the winter in the state.
4. What do hawks eat in Michigan?
Hawks in Michigan eat a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Their diet varies depending on the species and the season.
5. Are hawks in Michigan endangered?
Some species of hawks in Michigan, such as the Northern Harrier and Red-shouldered Hawk, have experienced declines in their populations due to habitat loss and other factors. However, most species are not currently considered to be globally threatened.
6. Can I see hawks in my backyard in Michigan?
Yes, some species of hawks, such as the Cooper’s Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk, are known to visit backyards in Michigan. However, it is important to note that hawks are protected under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it is illegal to harm or disturb them.