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Birds Of Prey Louisiana: 11 Species Of Hawks To Look Out For In Louisiana

Louisiana has always been known for its food, music festivals, and diverse cultures. It is also home to almost two dozen state parks and 550,000 acres of wildlife refuge where over 400 species of birds reside, making this state one of the best to bird watch.

The biggest among them are hawks, some of which are known as the most dangerous bird of prey. There are 11 different species of hawks in Louisiana each distinctive in its traits.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

You can easily identify this bird by its long tail, blue-tinted back, and russet-colored breast that is horizontally lined with white. Juveniles are often colored brown with a white breast. This hawk is the smallest in the USA and Canada, ranging from 4-8 ounces in weight, with females tending to be larger.

They are highly common and spotted mostly during the winter migration, where they have been seen traveling both in flocks and individually. This hawk has been seen nesting in coniferous trees and hunting in woodlands.

Expert Tip: They are extremely fast hunters and can be difficult to spot, but once they have caught a meal can be observed plucking the feathers or head off.

They can also be seen teaching their fledglings to hunt in mid-air by dropping prey. Typically has a ‘Kik-Kik-Kik’ call or cry. Hawks typically call or cry during mating season, or if an offending hawk or animal has invaded their territory.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk
Rough-Legged Hawk

The rough-legged name comes from the fact that these hawks are feathered all the way to their toes. They are mostly white but identifiable by large black patches on the wrist of their wings and a white tail with a black band on the tip. Females and juveniles tend to have a large dark patch on their bellies.

They weigh anywhere from 25-50 ounces. Some studies have shown that this species might be able to see ultraviolet light, which they use to track urine and excretion from prey. This hawk is most likely to be found in winter hunting over grasslands. You aren’t likely to find any nests, as they breed on cliffs in the Arctic and migrate with the winter.

You are most likely to find this breed in the colder months. This bird has a unique cat-like mewl for a cry, like ‘kyaaah’ or ‘keee-eer’.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk is one of the larger species found in America and the second-largest found in Louisiana, ranging from 33-75 ounces in weight. Their bellies and head are characteristically white or gray, with chestnut or rust-colored wings and legs, which are feathered to the toes much like the Rough-Legged Hawk. This is a unique trait.

Its name “Ferruginous” means “containing rust”, which refers to its unique coloration. Ferruginous hawks are often seen perched just outside of burrows, waiting for prey to emerge. You can typically find these birds in grass or shrublands but they have also been observed around the edges of forests.

Expert Tip: They are known to be bad nest-makers and often resort to stealing other hawk and crow nests for their own.

Conservationists take advantage of this by placing fake nests around areas these hawks prefer, so they don’t disturb other species. This hawks’ call has been compared to a herring gull, or in some cases eagle-like, with a strong ‘kaah’ sound.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

Harrier hawks are characterized by their low-flying hunting habits, they are most commonly spotted skimming the ground for small prey animals. They generally weigh around 14 ounces. These hawks are identifiable by their long wings and broad tail, which sports a white band where the tail meets its body.

Females are commonly more pale in the breast area with more streaking, while males are lighter on their backs with brown stomachs. Juveniles are a solid cinnamon color, with white and brown-banded wings. Northern Harriers are the most owl-like of hawks, although there is no relation.

They rely mostly on their sensitive hearing (which allows them to track movement under vegetation) and their eyesight to capture prey. They are commonly spotted making nests on the ground in fields or grasslands where they hunt. Males are known to have up to five clutches with different mates that they care for, but most only have two.

These harriers tend to make short ‘kek’ sounds. lasting several seconds.

White-tailed Hawk

White-tailed Hawk

As the name suggests, this species is quite easily identifiable by its solid white tail tipped with a black band. Its wings, body, and head are dark brown with a white underbelly. Juveniles are mostly grey and brown with darker markings on their stomachs. Their weight generally ranges from 30-40 ounces.

They are known for “kiting” which is best described as hovering like a kite, rather than soaring. They often hunt in fields or grassland. They are highly likely to be spotted around brush fires, hunting the small mammals that flee the flames. This species often nests in trees along the edges of prairies and fields.

Expert Tip: The White-tailed hawk is known to decorate their nests with long protruding sticks, for which there is no discernable reason.

While rare in Louisiana, they do visit occasionally.
This species has an interesting call. It starts as a rising whining noise, followed by two-parted notes in a series. Juveniles make a distinctive ‘peeeee-up’ sound.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-Tailed Hawk is easily the most common in America, but far from ordinary looking. These are the largest of hawks found in Louisiana, weighing around 25-46 ounces on average, and are identifiable as they are flying above by their white bellies and distinctive red tail.

Their backs are dark brown, with a lighter-colored head and white throat. Eastern species tend to have a black band at the tip of their tail. Juveniles commonly have heavily streaked breasts. They hunt and breed in open woodlands.

If you’re lucky, you might witness a mating ritual, which consists of the male Red-Tailed Hawk diving and shooting up at impressive angles to grab onto their prospective mate in mid-air. Impressively, the oldest known hawk of this species was at least 30 years old, found and tagged in the state of Michigan.

The cries of this bird are used extensively in film-making due to its peculiar raspy quality. Most shows use this birds’ call no matter what species is actually shown on film. This hawk sounds similar to ‘keeee-ee-arr’ when it calls from the air, lasting 2-3 seconds.

During their mating season, they are also known to repeat a ‘shiwrk’ sound several times in a row.

Harris’s Hawk

Harris's Hawk
Harris’s Hawk

These hawks are identified by their black wings with reddish-brown shoulders and a black tail with a white base and tip. They also tend to have reddish-brown feathers on their thighs. From below, their wings come off as more of a brown color which can make identifying them in flight rather difficult.

Their average weight ranges from 18-31 ounces. Juveniles have white horizontal streaks on their breasts and wingtips. While not a native hawk to Louisiana, they are frequent visitors in the spring and summer months. Unlike most species, this hawk is very social commonly observed hunting in flocks of two to seven.

Due to its social nature and relative ease around humans, this hawk is popular with Falconers (a sport involving hunting small game with birds of prey) and educational programs. Harris’s Hawks can be observed nesting year-round in shrubs and brush, laying multiple clutches when food is plentiful.

Expert Tip: This bird will screech angrily if approached or intruded upon and can screech for up to 3 seconds. Their calls are best described as shrieks.

Red-shouldered Hawk

This unique species is characterized by its light reddish-brown underbelly and dark black flight feathers striped horizontally with white. Juveniles lack these stripes and are lighter colored with a pale stomach. Their weight ranges from 17-27 ounces. While in flight these birds’ wings show narrow, pale crescents near the wingtips.

These hawks reside in tall trees in heavily wooded areas, often staying near bodies of water. You’re most likely to see them returning to their nesting site (which never changes) during the spring.

Red-Shouldered Hawks are often seen in rivalry with Great Horned Owls and American Crows, chasing each other out of territories and stealing offspring straight from nests. This hawk will repeat a ‘kee-ahh’ sound, with the second part lowering in pitch. Females will sometimes ‘kee’ while nesting most likely to warn off intruders.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

This bird is easily identified by its gray-blue back and long tail. It has a distinctive black “cap” on its head. The underbelly is most often white with a reddish horizontal barring. Their backs are slate grey with no noticeable features. Juveniles often have paler barring with more streaking on their backs.

Their eyes are a pale yellow before darkening to red. Adults of this species have a unique red eye color with dark pupils. They can weigh between 11-24 ounces. It is often confused for the Sharp-Shinned Hawk. They are highly skilled fliers, most commonly seen hunting smaller bird species.

Many skeletons of Cooper’s Hawks have been found with healed fractures, most likely obtained from crashing through the tree canopy to chase prey. While most hawks kill their prey with razor-sharp beaks, this species is mostly known to drown or squeeze their prey until death.

Expert Tip: Mating is particularly hard for this species as the female is much larger than the male, and specializes in eating smaller birds.

Despite this, you have the most luck of seeing this breed in the spring, when their breeding season arrives. This species has a ‘cak-cak-cak’ cry that lasts 2-5 seconds, usually in defense of a nest but also for mating purposes. Otherwise, this hawk is mostly silent.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk

This species of hawk is harder to identify, with a strongly banded tail and stomach that can blend in with other species if you’re observing from below. Its most distinctive feature is its solid dark brown head. Adults can range anywhere from 9-20 ounces in weight.

Juveniles are identifiable by multiple dark bands on their tails and similar colored barring on their breasts. You’re highly likely to spot the Broad-Winged Hawk in the fall when they travel in flocks by the thousands in a popular bird-watching event. Once they settle for winter, you might have a hard time spotting one, so take advantage of this time.

They are often spotted hunting around heavily forested areas, where they make their nests. Once they’ve made their home, they don’t stray very far keeping within a square mile on average.

These hawks give a high-pitched whistle with a short first note and a long second, similar to ‘ke-eee’, lasting typically 2-4 seconds. Females tend to sound an octave lower than their counterparts.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk

This hawk weighs around 24-48 ounces, with males often being smaller than their counterparts, as with most hawks. Their coloring is highly varied, but most have a hooded appearance, with a white body and dark head with a band that reaches around the breast. Their flight feathers are mostly black or dark brown.

Juveniles are often mottled with white and black on the stomach with dark backs. The tail of this species is short compared to its body size. They used to be a rare sight in Louisiana, but are becoming more common during the summer, their breeding season.

Interestingly, this breed only eats small mammals and rodents during this season, otherwise exclusively dining on insects like dragonflies and grasshoppers.

Expert Tip: You can easily find these birds by following their migratory patterns in the fall, where they are witnessed forming a “kettle” (which is a large group of migrating hawks) with Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged Hawks.

This species makes a shrill ‘kreeee’ call, tapering off at the end. They cry while perched or in flight Oddly, females tend to coo the same noise in a lower pitch when their mate brings food back to the nest. This isn’t observed in many hawk species. These birds of prey are sometimes easily spotted, sometimes elusive.

Coming across one can be exciting, and there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to distinguish it on sight.

Please leave any questions you may have in the comment section.

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About Grace Hocker

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