10 Species Of Hawks In Wisconsin [Images + Ids]

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Wisconsin is a state of remarkable natural beauty, with rolling hills, pristine lakes, and dense forests that provide a rich habitat for a wide variety of bird species. Among these birds are the majestic hawks, birds of prey that are known for their sharp talons, keen eyesight, and impressive hunting skills. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the different types of hawks that can be found in Wisconsin, their unique characteristics, and the best birding locations in the state to observe them in action. So whether you’re an experienced birdwatcher or simply curious about the natural world, join us as we explore the captivating world of hawks in Wisconsin.

List of Hawks In Wisconsin

Red-Tailed Hawk:

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 18-26 inches, wingspan 45-52 inches

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk species in Wisconsin and can be found throughout the state year-round.
Red-tailed Hawks have a recognizable short, broad red tail, as their name suggests. They have big, rounded wings and are huge. The majority of Red-tailed Hawks have a brown back and a light underside.
Since they circle slowly over vast areas in search of food including small animals, birds, and reptiles, they are also the most easily seen and are often seen from cars on the roads.
Red-tailed Hawks are still year-round residents of the US and Mexico, although they migrate south for the winter from Alaska, Canada, and the northern Great Plains.
They nest high on rock ledges, large trees, and sometimes on buildings and lay 2-3 pale, brown-spotted eggs.

Cooper’s Hawk:

Hawks In Wisconsin

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Lifespan: 7-12 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 14-20 inches, wingspan 24-35 inches

The medium-sized Cooper’s Hawk can be found in Wisconsin year-round. They are known for their distinctive long tails and short wings, and can often be seen flying quickly through wooded areas and gardens in pursuit of small birds and mammals.
The Cooper’s Hawk is larger, roughly the size of a crow, and has a striking resemblance to the Sharp-shinned Hawk in appearance. Given that they both have the same blue-gray back, red-orange breast, and black bands on the tail, it may be challenging to tell them apart.
Unlike the Sharp-shinned Hawk, they have a bigger head that extends far beyond the wings.
The majority of the US is still home to Cooper’s Hawks, although some of them move south for the winter all the way to Mexico and Honduras in the north of their range, which includes Canada.
Watch out for them at woodland edges, however, you may also find them at feeders in search of a quick meal.
They nest in big trees, often on top of an old nest of a large bird or cluster of mistletoe, and feed on medium-sized birds and small animals and lay 2 to 6 bluish-white to light blue eggs.

Northern Harrier:

Hawks In Wisconsin

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Lifespan: 7 years (on average)
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 18-24 inches, wingspan 40-48 inches

Also known as the Marsh Hawk, the Northern Harrier is typically seen in Wisconsin from March to November
Males have a white rump patch and are grey above and white below, while females are brown.
Before traveling south for the winter to southern states, Mexico, and Central America, Northern Harriers breed in Alaska, Canada, the northern Great Plains, and the Northeast.
You may spot this long-tailed, slender hawk soaring low over marshes or grasslands.
The primary prey of northern harriers is small animals and birds. In thick vegetation like reeds, willows, or brushtails, they build their nests on the ground and 4–5 white eggs.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

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  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
  • Lifespan: 4-5 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 9-13 inches, wingspan 16-22 inches

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small but agile hawk that can be found in Wisconsin year-round.
Sharp-shinned hawks have reddish-orange breasts and a blue-gray back. Their tails are covered with black bands.
The size of the females is one-third that of the males. They have tiny heads, short, rounded wings, and long, square-ended tails.
Sharp-shinned Hawks move south after breeding in Canada and certain northern states. These birds might spend the whole year in the Appalachians and Western Mountains.
While they are quite elusive, Sharp-shined Hawks can sometimes be observed flying through wide spaces at the margins of woodlands. They are incredibly swift and can move quickly through deep forests to capture their prey, which is mostly songbirds, as it flies.
Furthermore, Sharp-shined Hawks sometimes may be spotted grabbing small birds near feeders. They often prey on songbirds that are approximately a robin’s size.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk often builds its nests towards the tops of tall fir trees in areas with deep cover. With a circumference of 1-2 feet and a depth of 4-6 inches, the nest is large in size and they lay 3 to 8 speckled white or light blue eggs.

Broad-winged Hawk

Hawks In Wisconsin

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
  • Lifespan: 4-5 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 13-17 inches, wingspan 31-34 inches

The Broad-winged Hawk is a common summer resident in Wisconsin, arriving in early April and departing in late September.
The Broad-winged Hawk is a small, stocky bird that is between a crow and a goose in size. They have barred breasts, short, square tails, and reddish-brown heads.
Prior to migrating in huge numbers to Central and South America in a whirling flock known as a kettle, broad-winged hawks breed in the Eastern States and Canada. So, the autumn migration is often the greatest opportunity to watch them.
These hawks hunt from perches, often near water or wooded areas, and they prey on small animals, frogs, snakes, and even hatchling turtles.
The Broad-winged Hawk often lays two to three pale eggs in the nest of another species, such as a crow.

Northern Goshawk:

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Origin: Native to North America, found in parts of the United States, Canada, and Mexico
  • Size: Length 18-24 inches, wingspan 40-48 inches

The Northern Goshawk is a rare but occasionally seen species in Wisconsin.
The Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks’ larger and more aggressive cousin is the Northern Goshawk. They have a long tail, short, wide wings, and a white stripe covering their yellow eyes. They are generally grey in color and are residents of Alaska, Canada, and the rugged west. Throughout the winter, some juvenile birds may migrate to the Central States.
They are difficult to locate since they reside in vast woodlands and are wary of anybody who approaches their nests too closely.
Large tracts of predominantly coniferous or mixed woods are the habitat of northern goshawks. They typically consume medium-sized birds and small animals, keeping watch for prey from high perches.
The Northern Goshawk constructs up to eight nests and lays two to four bluish-white eggs in each one.

Red-Shouldered Hawk:

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Lifespan: 4-8 years
  • Origin: Native to North America, found in parts of the United States and Mexico
  • Size: Length 17-24 inches, wingspan 37-43 inches

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a resident species in Wisconsin, but can also be seen during migration.
The black and white checkered wings and reddish banding on the breast give Red-shouldered Hawks their distinctive markings. They have a tail that is heavily banded and are medium-sized, falling in between crow and swan in size.
The eastern states are home to Red-shouldered Hawks, however, those in the Northeast may go further south for the winter. The West Coast is also home to these hawks.
They often sneak around a stream or pond close to moist woodlands and eat frogs, snakes, and animals.
Red-shouldered Hawks make their nests under a broad-leaved tree close to the water and lay 2 to 5 white or blue eggs.

Rough-legged Hawk

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
  • Lifespan: 16-20 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 18-24 inches, wingspan 52-58 inches

The Rough-legged Hawk is a winter visitor to Wisconsin, arriving in late fall and departing in early spring.
The Rough-legged Hawks get their name from their feathery legs, which also keep them warm in the cold. These are huge hawks, around the size of a goose or a crow.
This mostly dark-drown species may be seen in both light and dark versions, with black spots on the belly, tails, and wing bends. Compared to other hawks, they have wide wings that are rather long and slender.
Before wintering in the US, Rough-legged Hawks migrate to Alaska and northern Canada to breed. They are often seen perched on a pole or hovering over marshes and open fields.
The majority of the prey for rough-legged hawks comes from lemmings and voles. In places like West Virginia, tiny animals like voles, mice, ground squirrels, and others serve as winter prey. They often build their nests on a steep rock ledge and deposit three to five light bluish-white eggs.

Swainson’s Hawk:

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Lifespan: 5-7 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 18-22 inches, wingspan 47-56 inches

The Swainson’s Hawk has occasionally been seen species in Wisconsin.
Long-winged hawks with pointed wingtips, Swainson’s Hawks have short tails. They often have paler bellies, brown or red chests, and a back that is mottled brown or grey.
While flying, you can see the contrast between the white top wing and the black flight feathers on the bottom margins and tips of the wings
Before migrating to South America for the winter in huge flocks numbering in the thousands, Swainson’s Hawks may be seen throughout the summer in open territory in the West and over the Great Plains. They reproduce throughout the West from the Pacific to the Midwest and as far away as British Columbia and Alaska.
Since they travel great distances and are known for putting on magnificent displays with tens of thousands of birds throughout the day, May and September are the ideal months to watch these hawks.
Swainson’s Hawks search for rodents by perching on any high points, such as utility poles or fences, making them easier to notice. They may be seen on the ground in grasslands and fields, searching for insects if there are no high places accessible.
In places where burrowing owls are common, they may also eat them. Nevertheless, they are not picky eaters and will consume everything, including bats, lizards, mice, and rabbits as well as crickets and dragonflies.
Swainson’s Hawks use any trees close to fields, low mesquite shrubs, and power poles since there aren’t many places for them to nest in the open countryside. The nests, which are made up of several twigs and branches, may be up to two feet wide and one foot tall. Softer materials like dung, bark, wool and grass are used to line the nest’s interior.

Ferruginous Hawk:

Image: Source

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years
  • Origin: Native to North America
  • Size: Length 22-27 inches, wingspan 53-56 inches

The Ferruginous Hawk is a rare but occasional visitor to Wisconsin, typically seen during migration.
Ferruginous hawks are the biggest hawks in America. They have lengthy wings and huge heads. Moreover, the underside of the wings, belly, and head of the light morph Ferruginous Hawks are all white. They have darker legs, and their backs and upper wings are a reddish-brown color. The abdomen and legs of immature light morphs have more brown spots.
They have brown bellies and underparts, with the exception of white flying feathers on the wingtips and tail, and dark variants are far more uncommon.
Ferruginous hawks can breed all the way south to Nevada and Utah and as far north as Southern Canada. They relocate to Mexico and the Southern States throughout the winter. In the midst of their range, some birds may live there all year long.
Ferruginous Hawks may be seen in low country grasslands and shrub areas. Even while migrating, they avoid crossing the Rocky Mountains. Tiny animals make up the bulk of their food, and depending on what is available, they consume ground squirrels and prairie dogs in the East and jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits in the West.
They are active throughout the day and may hunt while flying, perched, or even on the ground. Furthermore, they can lay up to 8 eggs in their enormous nests, which may be up to 3 feet high and 3 feet wide.

Final Thoughts

Hawks are a vital and fascinating part of Wisconsin’s ecosystem. These skilled hunters play an important role in maintaining the balance of the food chain by controlling populations of rodents and other small animals. While they are sometimes seen as a threat to small pets or backyard birds, it is important to understand that hawks are a protected species and should be appreciated for their remarkable abilities and contributions to the environment. As human development continues to encroach on natural habitats, it is essential that we take steps to protect and preserve the habitats that hawks and other wildlife depend on.

Reference: “Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/birds/birding.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where are the best places to go birdwatching for hawks in Wisconsin?

Some popular places to go birdwatching for hawks in Wisconsin include the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

What are some common characteristics of hawks found in Wisconsin?

Hawks found in Wisconsin are generally medium-sized birds with sharp talons and beaks, and broad wings for soaring and gliding. They have keen eyesight and are skilled hunters.

Are there any conservation efforts in place to protect hawks in Wisconsin?

Yes, there are several conservation efforts in place to protect hawks in Wisconsin. The state’s Department of Natural Resources works to preserve the habitat for hawks and other wildlife, and there are several organizations such as the Raptor Education Group, Inc. and the International Crane Foundation that work to educate the public about hawks and provide medical care to injured birds. Additionally, there are laws in place to regulate hunting and protect hawks from harm.

I'm Nauman Afridi, the bird enthusiast behind Birdsology.com. My lifelong passion for birds has led me to create a space where fellow bird lovers can find valuable insights and tips on caring for our feathered friends.Professionally, I'm a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant, bringing a unique perspective to the world of bird care. Whether you're a novice or an experienced bird owner, Birdsology.com is designed to be a welcoming community for all.Feel free to explore, and reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat about birds.
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