hawks in ohio – 10 Species Founded

Ohio, with its diverse landscapes ranging from rolling hills to sprawling forests, provides an ideal habitat for a variety of hawk species. Each species has its unique characteristics, behaviors, and roles in the ecosystem. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the different types of hawks found in Ohio, their identifying features, and their behaviors.

10 Types of Hawks In Ohio

1. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is a familiar sight in the Ohio skies, known for its distinctive reddish-brown tail. This bird of prey is one of the largest hawks in North America, with a wingspan that can reach up to 56 inches. The Red-tailed Hawk is a versatile hunter, feeding on a variety of prey including rodents, rabbits, and even other birds.

These hawks are known for their adaptability, able to thrive in diverse habitats ranging from forests to deserts, and even in urban areas. Their distinctive, piercing cry is often used in movies to represent any bird of prey. So, if you’ve ever heard a hawk’s cry in a movie, chances are it was the call of a Red-tailed Hawk!

2. Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is another common resident of Ohio. Smaller than the Red-tailed Hawk, it is nonetheless a formidable predator. Its name comes from the reddish-brown patches on its wings, visible when the bird is in flight. These hawks prefer wooded habitats near water bodies, where they hunt for small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

One interesting aspect of the Red-shouldered Hawk is its vocal nature. These birds are known for their loud, distinctive calls, often heard before the bird itself is spotted. If you’re walking through Ohio’s forests and hear a repeated ‘kee-rah’ sound, you might just be near a Red-shouldered Hawk!

3. Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species in Ohio, but don’t let its size fool you. These agile hunters are known for their acrobatic flight, darting through dense forests in pursuit of their prey, which primarily consists of small birds.

Sharp-shinned Hawks have a distinctive appearance with short wings and a long tail, which helps them navigate through dense vegetation during high-speed chases. They are elusive and can be a bit challenging to spot, but the sight of a Sharp-shinned Hawk in flight is a rewarding experience for any birdwatcher.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk, named after the naturalist William Cooper, is a medium-sized hawk commonly found in Ohio. These birds are known for their skillful hunting techniques, often swooping through dense forests with incredible agility to catch their prey, which primarily consists of smaller birds.

One of the distinguishing features of Cooper’s Hawk is its long, rounded tail with broad white bands. These hawks are also known for their deep, red eyes, a feature that adds to their intense gaze. Cooper’s Hawks are quite secretive, often hidden away in the dense foliage, but their presence is usually revealed by a sudden flurry of activity among smaller birds.

5. Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a smaller hawk species that calls Ohio home. These birds are known for their spectacular migratory flocks, known as “kettles”, which can often number in the thousands. The sight of these large flocks circling in the sky during migration season is truly a sight to behold.

Broad-winged Hawks are forest dwellers, often found in large, unbroken tracts of woodland. They feed on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Their distinctive high-pitched whistle is a common sound in Ohio’s forests during the breeding season.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk is a long-distance migrant that travels from South America to North America for the breeding season. While not as common in Ohio as some other hawk species, it can occasionally be spotted during migration.

Swainson’s Hawks have a distinctive flight pattern, soaring in wide circles with their wings held in a shallow V-shape. They are known for their varied diet, feeding on insects, small mammals, and birds. These hawks have a light belly and a dark chest, a color pattern known as “bicolored,” making them easily identifiable.

7. Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk, named for its rusty-colored feathers, is a rare sight in Ohio. This bird of prey is the largest hawk species in North America, known for its impressive size and powerful build. Ferruginous Hawks prefer open habitats like grasslands and deserts, where they hunt for small mammals like rabbits and ground squirrels.

These hawks have a unique hunting style. They often hover in the air before diving down to catch their prey, a technique that is as effective as it is spectacular to watch. Although they are not common in Ohio, birdwatchers consider spotting a Ferruginous Hawk a special treat due to their striking appearance and rarity.

8. Short-tailed Hawk

The Short-tailed Hawk is a small, tropical hawk that is occasionally seen in Ohio. These hawks are unique in their appearance, with a notably short tail and long, broad wings. They are agile flyers, often seen soaring high in the sky in search of prey, which primarily consists of other birds.

Short-tailed Hawks are known for their dramatic color variations. They can be either dark or light morph, with the dark morph being more common. Spotting a Short-tailed Hawk in Ohio is a rare and exciting event for any birdwatcher.

9. White-tailed Hawk

The White-tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey that is seldom seen in Ohio. These hawks are known for their distinctive white tail and gray body, a contrast that makes them easily identifiable. They are typically found in open habitats, where they hunt for a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, and reptiles.

White-tailed Hawks are known for their soaring flight, often seen circling high in the sky. Although they are not common in Ohio, their striking appearance and graceful flight make them a coveted sight for birdwatchers.

10. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier, often referred to as the “Gray Ghost,” is a distinctive bird of prey that can be spotted in Ohio. This medium-sized hawk is known for its unique hunting style, often seen flying low over open fields and marshes in search of small mammals and birds.

One of the distinguishing features of the Northern Harrier is its owl-like face. This facial structure helps direct sound to their ears, enhancing their ability to hear prey. They also have a distinctive white rump, which is easily visible when they are in flight.

Popular Hawks Spotting Places In Ohio

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area

Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is a haven for birdwatchers. The diverse habitats, including marshes, forests, and open water, attract a variety of hawk species. During migration seasons, you can spot Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and even the occasional Northern Harrier soaring above.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, nestled between Cleveland and Akron, is a hotspot for hawk watching. The park’s vast forests and open meadows provide ideal hunting grounds for Red-shouldered Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks. The Towpath Trail is a particularly good spot for birdwatching.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Situated along the Lake Erie coast, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is a paradise for bird enthusiasts. The refuge’s mix of wetlands, forests, and grasslands attract a variety of hawk species. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive Short-tailed Hawk or the majestic Ferruginous Hawk.

Shawnee State Park

Located in the Appalachian foothills, Shawnee State Park is a great place to spot hawks in Ohio. The park’s dense forests and open meadows are ideal for Sharp-shinned Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks. The park’s hiking trails offer excellent birdwatching opportunities.

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area

Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, located in north-central Ohio, is a renowned birdwatching site. The area’s expansive grasslands are perfect for spotting soaring hawks, including the Northern Harrier and the Red-tailed Hawk. Visit during the winter months for the best hawk-watching experience.

Hocking Hills State Park

Hocking Hills State Park, with its rugged cliffs and deep gorges, is a unique place to spot hawks in Ohio. The park’s diverse terrain attracts a variety of hawk species, including the Broad-winged Hawk and the Cooper’s Hawk. The park’s numerous hiking trails offer plenty of birdwatching opportunities.

Mohican State Park

Mohican State Park, located in northeastern Ohio, is a fantastic place for hawk watching. The park’s large tracts of forest and the Clear Fork River valley attract a variety of hawk species. Look for the distinctive white tail of the White-tailed Hawk or the short tail of the aptly named Short-tailed Hawk.


What is the most common hawk in Ohio?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in Ohio. These birds of prey are easily identifiable by their reddish-brown tail, from which they get their name. They are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats across the state, from forests and fields to urban areas.

What is the biggest hawk in Ohio?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the largest hawk species found in Ohio, though it is not a common sight. Named for its rusty-colored feathers, this bird of prey is the largest hawk species in North America.

What is the population of the hawks in Ohio?

The estimated population of hawks in Ohio is around 10 million. Between 1-2 million of these hawks are part of the annual migration where they enter the State in the fall and winter. The most common hawk species in Ohio is the red-tailed hawk, followed by the Cooper’s hawk and the sharp-shinned hawk. These three species make up about 98% of the state’s hawk population.

Are hawks protected in Ohio?

Yes, hawks are protected in Ohio under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This federal law makes it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, or sell hawks, and it also applies to their eggs and nests. Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources also has regulations in place to protect these magnificent birds of prey and their habitats.

What is the smallest hawk in Ohio?

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species in Ohio. Despite their small size, these hawks are agile hunters, known for their acrobatic flights through dense forests as they pursue their prey.

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