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Pennsylvania Hawks: 8 Types Of Hawks In PA To Look For

Bird watching can be a very fun and relaxing pastime. You spend some time out in the fresh air and get to see some of the most beautiful animals that nature has to offer. One place in the United States that is an amazing place for bird watching is Pennsylvania.

All the hawks in PA can make for some truly breathtaking and memorable bird-watching experiences. So what types of hawks can you expect to see? Well, simply read below to find 8 types.


Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest breeds of hawks in the world. In fact, the male of this breed is the smallest hawk in all of the United States and Canada. They are characterized by their slender bodies, short and rounded wings, and tails that are long and square-tipped.

Their bodies have evolved this way to help them navigate through the dense forests they call home very quickly. The Sharp-shinned hawk has a coloration that is almost identical to Cooper’s Hawks (another species of hawk in PA). This can make it rather difficult to tell the difference between the two birds, even for some experienced bird watchers.

Both types of hawks have a bluish-gray plumage on their upper body and on their undersides have a light-orange barring. Because of how small they are, Sharp-shinned hawks can be rather hard to find, even though they live in Pennsylvania all year. As a species they are also rather stealthy which only makes it harder to spot them.

Although, if you go deep into woodlands and forests, you might just be lucky enough to spot one. You have the best chance of spotting one during their migration season, as they will be traveling in large groups, making them much easier to see.

Expert Tip: The length of the Sharp-shinned hawk averages between 9.4 and 13.4 inches, their weight averages between 3.1 and 7.7 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 16.9 and 22.1 inches.


Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a medium to the large-sized bird of prey in the hawk family. They can be found all year-round in most of Pennsylvania. However, in some southern parts of the state, you will only see them in the winter.

Just like the Sharp-shinned Hawks mentioned above, the Northern Goshawks are recognized for their long tails and rounded wings. The difference is that the Northern Goshawks, as a species, are much larger.

As a matter of fact, the Northern Goshawk is the largest accipiter, accipiter is a genus of hawk that also includes the sharp-shinned hawk, in all of North America. Like most hawks in the accipiter genus, the Northern Goshawk, as a species, is very secretive and stealthy.

They tend to live in forests that are large and dense, attempting to keep themselves out of sight at all times. So, one can imagine that spotting one on a bird-watching trip can be a difficult and rare occurrence. The Northern Goshawk has a plumage that is mostly gray.

They also have eyes that are bright red with bold white stripes over them that make it look as though the bird has eyebrows. Famously, this species of hawk has been used as a symbol to represent strength most notably Attila the Hun used the bird’s image for this reason.

The length of the Northern Goshawk averages between 20.9 and 25.2 inches, their weight averages between 22.3 and 48.1 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 40.5 and 46.1 inches.


Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawks are a medium-sized hawk in the accipiter genus. As mentioned above, they look rather similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawks. Although, Cooper’s Hawk has a slightly larger head, longer tail, and longer frame.

But both birds do have upperparts that are grayish and undersides that are mostly pale but with rufous barring, as well as red-orange eyes in the adults.

The biggest and most easily noticed the difference between the two species of hawks is that if you look at their tails you will see that Cooper’s Hawks’ tails are rounded at the tip, while Sharp-shinned Hawks’ have tails that are square at the tip.

Just like the other hawks mentioned so far, Cooper’s Hawks can be found in Pennsylvania all year-round. They tend to live in either the woodlands near open clearings or in the thick forests.

A large part of Cooper’s hawk’s diet is other birds that live in the area. Commonly these hawks will eat other birds such as Blue Jays, Robins, and Starlings. They will also eat other small animals like rodents and reptiles.

Expert Tip: Cooper’s Hawks tend to act very stealthily and secretively. So the best time to go looking for them is during their migrations seasons when they travel in big groups.

The length of Cooper’s Hawks averages between 14.6 and 17.7 inches, their weight averages between 7.8 and 24.0 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 24.4 and 35.4 inches.


Rough-Legged Hawk
Rough-Legged Hawk

Unfortunately, the Rough-legged Hawk is not all that common in the state of Pennsylvania. For the most part, they tend to live out in the Arctic tundra. But, in the fall they start their migration. In the winter they are sometimes found in Pennsylvania, although it can be rare.

This hawk gets their name from the fact that they have feathered legs that are designed to help keep them warm. Interestingly, the Rough­legged hawk is one of only two species of birds of prey in America that has feathers that go all the way down their legs to their talons, the other is the Golden Eagle.

Rough-legged Hawks are a large type of hawk that has a stocky body and wings that are long and broad. Their tails tend to be longer than the tails of most other hawks of a similar size. Alternatively, their feet and beaks are comparatively small.

There are many different color variations when it comes to this bird’s plumage, most notably light and dark morphs. Adult light-morphs will have underparts that are white and upperparts that are gray-brown. Meanwhile, dark-morphs will have dark brown all over most of their body.

The length of Rough-legged Hawks averages between 18.5 and 20.5 inches, their weight averages between 25.2 and 49.4 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 52.0 and 54.3 inches.


Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is unique in the fact that it is the only kind of Harrier that is found in North America. These birds have faces that look like owls. Like owls, the Nothern Harrier has round facial discs, that are used to aid in hunting by helping improve their hearing.

They can most often be spotted flying very low close to the ground, in open areas as they search for prey like rodents. Unlike most of the other hawks in the area. Northern Harriers do not perch while hunting, and instead, they tend to catch prey while on the move.

You will be able to spot them year-round in Pennsylvania inside marshes, prairies, and fields. Northern Harriers, as a species, tend to have bodies that are slender, long, broad wings, and a long tail that is rounded at the end. They have a white patch at the base of the tail that actually makes them very easy to identify at a long distance.

Expert Tip: Adult male Northern Harriers mostly have light, grayish-brown feathers throughout their body with undersides that are white. Adult females have mostly light brown feathers.

The length of Northern Harriers averages between 18.1 and 19.7 inches, their weight averages between 10.6 and 26.5 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 40.2 and 46.5 inches.


Broad-Winged Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is one of the most migratory hawks in all of North America. They migrate all the way down to Central and South America for the winters. The best time to be able to spot them is in the fall when they begin to migrate south by the thousands.

Avid bird watchers will gather from all over to witness this feat of nature. The Broad-winged hawk can also be spotted in Pennsylvania during its breeding season but it is rare as they tend to stay inside the forests during this time. Broad-winged Hawks are relatively small hawks that have broad wings, which is where they get their name.

These broad wings come to a point at the end. These hawks also have short tails. They have dark brown tails that have a very thick and white band going down them. The undersides of Broad-Winged Hawks’ wings and bellies tend to be rather pale, but their chests tend to have a light orange baring.

There is also an extremely rare variety of the Broad-winged hawk that is a dark-morph, that has plumage that is almost completely black. Getting to see one is a rare but spectacular sight.

The length of Broad-winged Hawks averages between 13.4 and 17.3 inches, their weight averages between 9.3 and 19.8 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 31.9 and 39.4 inches.


Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the biggest species of hawk in North America. They are also one of the most common and can be found all throughout the country and specifically can be found in Pennsylvania all year-round. They can be frequently seen next to highways and interstates.

You probably have seen them without even knowing as they are often flying above or are perched in trees or tall light posts next to the road. The Red-tailed Hawk is able to adapt to a variety of different habitats and is relatively not afraid of humans, especially when compared to other birds.

This makes them a great bird for beginner bird watchers to look for and observe before looking for rarer birds. Try looking for this bird in any area that has open clearing and woodlands. The Red-tailed Hawk has very large and broad wings that are rounded on the sides, as well as a stocky body.

While the color can vary, most red-tailed hawks will have a pale or whitish underside and brown plumage that covers their upper parts and back.

Expert Tip: Obviously, the red-tailed hawk gets its name from the color of its tail where it is reddish on upper sides with banding on the tip that is often dark brown.

The length of Red-Tailed Hawks averages between 17.7 and 25.6 inches, their weight averages between 24.3 and 51.5 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 44.9 and 52.4 inches.


Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk can be found in eastern parts of Pennsylvania all year-round and in the western parts during the bird’s breeding season. These hawks tend to live in woodlands near swamps and rivers as well as in wet forests. The Red-shouldered Hawk is similar to the Red-tailed hawk but is a bit smaller in size and typically has a longer tail.

They also have slimmer bodies than other, similar, species of hawks. The Red-shouldered Hawk has a rather distinctive call that most avid bird watchers will recognize. This distinct call will make finding them in the wild easier compared to some other birds.

They make a loud “kee-ah” sound, be sure to listen to a recording of it before going out so that you can recognize it. The Red-Shouldered hawk also has a colorful plumage that is a reddish-brown color. On their wings, they also have a dark brown pattern. On their tails, they have a barring that is a very bold black and white.

If you see one in flight, be sure to look for its unique crescent pattern on the tips of the underwings. The length of Red-Shouldered Hawks averages between 16.9 and 24.0 inches, their weight averages between 17.1 and 27.3 ounces, and their wingspan averages between 37.0 and 43.7 inches.

Are all hawks protected in PA?

Hawks are diurnal birds of prey which means they actively hunt for food during the day using their sharp talons and strong hooked beaks. You can find 8 species of hawks in Pennsylvania namely Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and Rough-legged Hawks.

Hawks are protected both by federal and state laws
Hawks are protected both by federal and state laws

Are all hawks protected in PA? Yes, according to an article on Hawks and Falcons written on the Pennsylvanian government website.

Expert Tip: Hawks are protected both by federal and state laws. Under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to hunt, cage, shoot, poison, and kill hawks. Violation can result in imprisonment and heavy fines.

It is required to secure a permit from the Wildlife Services to legally shoot a hawk but there are rules that would come along with this. Also, a valid reason is needed to get that permit approved. Frightening devices are advised, instead, to get rid of hawks in the property.

What is the most common hawk in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania is a state where there is plenty of hawk and hawk activities as well since the State of Pennsylvania features a large array of different geographic regions, a mountain in the middle, a lake on the north, and a river at the east, it is a great home to many species of bird most especially of the hawks.

The most common hawk in Pennsylvania is the red-tailed hawk
The most common hawk in Pennsylvania is the red-tailed hawk

And there are 8 species of hawks that you will be found in Pennsylvania, either you can find the whole year through or during a specific season of the year. Below are the species of hawk you might be seen in Pennsylvania:

  1. Northern Harriers
  2. Red-tailed Hawks
  3. Sharp-shinned Hawks
  4. Cooper’s Hawks
  5. Northern Goshawks
  6. Red-shouldered Hawks
  7. Broad-winged Hawks
  8. Rough-legged Hawks

There might be different varieties of a hawk but the most common hawk in Pennsylvania is the red-tailed hawk. It is the most abundant and the most recognized hawk in Pennsylvania. An adult red-tails are about 19-25 inches in length and with a wingspan of about 46-58 inches.

Though the female red-tailed hawk is slightly larger than its male counterpart both have very similar markings and colorings. Though they might be a slight light variation in their red-tail shading, they have an impressive call that is easily identified.


Surprisingly, there is a very wide variety of hawks in PA Enough to keep any avid bird watcher busy for a while. Whether you see the common Red-tailed hawk or the elusive Sharp-shinned hawk, you are sure to have an incredible time. There is no time like the present to start looking.

Hawks are a beautiful part of nature, getting to see one in person is spectacular, and Pennsylvania is a great place to look for them.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments!

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