10 Types of Hawks in Idaho

Types of Hawks in Idaho
Photo by Harshit Suryawanshi on Unsplash

There are many types of hawks in Idaho, including the red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, Swainson’s hawk, and broad-winged hawk.

Idaho’s different types of hawks have distinct behaviors and habitats that can be observed throughout the state. 

The Red-tailed Hawk typically nest and are spotted in open fields or farming lands; the Ferruginous Hawk is generally found among wetlands; and both the Swainson’s Hawk and Broad-winged Hawk prefer woody habitats such as fir or pine forests.

One can appreciate their unique characteristics and adapted lifestyles by observing the different types of hawks in Idaho.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk 
by AcrylicArtist is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Red-tailed hawks are first on our list of types of hawks in Idaho.

It is a common sight in Idaho, and their majestic flight has captivated observers for centuries.

These large raptors have long wingspans and often soar gracefully in the sky through thermals, making them easy to spot. 

Red-tailed hawks can nest higher than most other birds of prey, creating an ideal environment to raise their young.

Their diet primarily comprises small prey such as rodents, insects, and carrion.

These predators watch carefully from tall trees or phone lines, then swoop down when they spot potential prey below.

They tend to migrate southwards as winter approaches, but some remain in the state year-round. In all seasons, red-tailed hawks fly overhead in Idaho’s skies!

2. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk
by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a small hawk of the family Accipitridae that is native to North America and lives in Idaho.

It is known for its agility, rapid flight, hunting of game birds, and occasional rodents.

They are one of the few types of hawks in Idaho, although they are not very common in this area. 

Sharp-Shinned Hawks breed during late spring throughout much of Canada and portions of the United States, including Idaho. These types of hawks in Idaho migrate south in winter. 

In Idaho, most sightings are from April to August when they are breeding or migrating through during fall migration season.

This species prefers dense lowland forests or thickets near open fields and wood edges, ideal for hunting rodents and other small prey animals and resting while they migrate.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks have relatively short wings compared to their body size, allowing them to move through dense vegetation quickly and make tight turns while pursuing prey.

Their wingspan can range between 14 – 18 inches depending on sex, with males typically having longer wings than females. 

These types of hawks in Idaho have a wide variety of color morphs ranging from light gray to brownish red with a few patches of white feathers usually visible on the top side of their wings, underbelly, or feet; they also contain a lighter-colored band across each eye giving them an intense look when viewed head-on.

During mating season, Sharp-Shinned Hawks often perform elaborate aerial courtship displays like chasing each other, particularly during midair dives known as “stoops,” twirling together several times before continuing with sharp turns or barrel rolls that can last for several minutes before parting ways.

Some distance away from each other or occasionally engaging in an aerial battle consisting mostly of sparring talons, which people can observe at ground level near where breeding pairs were seen preening earlier, indicating courtship activity has already begun above them

3. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
by USFWS Mountain Prairie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rough-Legged Hawks are a type of bird of prey found in Idaho. Also named “boreal” or “ferruginous” hawks, they can often be seen soaring overhead in the state’s open fields and grassy areas.

These hawks in Idaho have characteristic broad white tail bands and rust-colored feathers on their upper backs and shoulders. 

They normally hunt animals such as voles, mice, and occasionally small birds.

Current estimates have Idaho populations at several hundred pairs, making them a relatively common sight in many parts of the state during different times of the year.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk
by Charles Patrick Ewing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cooper’s hawks are a common type of hawk found in Idaho. While their population may be small, they play an important role in the overall ecosystem of the state.

In our article, we’ll explore some of the characteristics that make the types of hawks in Idaho so unique. 

Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized raptors with a body length of 15 to 25 inches and a wingspan of 27 to 35 inches.

They have thick, dark brown plumage on their back and wings with streaking down their breasts and white underside feathers. 

These hawks in Idaho have rounded tail feathers, giving them greater control when gliding through the air.

They can be found in wooded areas near rivers and wetlands, where they hunt for small birds and mammals such as rabbits and squirrels. 

When not searching for food, Cooper’s Hawks prefer to remain well camouflaged in trees, so they’re more difficult to find while they roost during the day.

The male hawk takes primary responsibility for hunting. At the same time, the female will build nests with sticks, grasses, twigs, and other material sourced from surrounding vegetation before laying eggs in mid-late May through July each year when conditions are optimal. 

In addition to helping keep rodent populations in check by preying upon them, Cooper’s Hawks also consume snakes that could otherwise harm local ecosystems by eating smaller animals or birds’ eggs, providing many benefits to its surroundings without drawing too much attention itself.

Its scavenging habits also help recycle organic matter into soil nutrients through its diet of dead animals, making it even more beneficial for environmental protection overall.

5. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Ferruginous Hawk is also one of the types of hawks in Idaho and can be seen during the summer months.

It has the largest wingspan of any Raptor in North America, ranging from 4’ to 6’ across.

These hawks are dark brown and white with a red-brown chest and orange-to-yellow legs. Its diet comprises small mammals, snakes, lizards, insects, and grasshoppers. 

During the breeding season, they use large open fields or salt flats where they can spot prey easily from high perches like tree branches or poles.

Although they can be found in larger towns in Idaho, they are very sensitive to human disturbance, so try to watch from a distance if you are lucky enough to spot one!

6. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
by qmnonic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is the next on our list of types of hawks in Idaho. The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a hawk found in the mountains and foothills of Idaho.

They can also be found in other areas throughout the western United States.

This type of hawk is relatively large, with impressive hunting skills and hunting swiftness, making them great predators for local habitats. 

Northern Goshawks are some of the most common hawks in Idaho, living primarily in higher altitudes but easily descending into lower areas.

They have a wide wingspan spanning 24 ins to 29 ins, with a diverse diet of birds and small animals like squirrels, rabbits, and voles. 

These hawks in Idaho hunt during the daytime and have an excellent nocturnal vision.

Almost immediately identifiable due to their light to dark gray coloring on the head and upper parts of their body combined with white spots on their bellies, they usually weigh anywhere from 18 oz to 36oz, with females slightly larger than males. 

They also stand out because of their long tail feathers for steering when flying at high speeds.

Northern Goshawks can live up to 13 years in captivity and the wild, making them an important avian addition to many landscapes across Idaho, particularly those heavily forested areas.

7. Swanson’s Hawk

Swanson's Hawk
by sandlpics is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Swainson’s Hawk is a large species of hawk found in Idaho and the surrounding areas.

Its chest, wings, and tail feathers have distinctive white patches.

This hawk type is particularly noteworthy for its soaring flight as it hunts for small prey, including voles and mice. 

Swainson’s Hawks have a relatively small range in North America, with nesting populations primarily located west of the Appalachian Mountain Range from southern Canada to Mexico and throughout parts of south-central Idaho.

They can often be seen migrating through the state in late spring and early summer when they return to breeding grounds in Canadian prairie regions or sagebrush areas of Montana. 

While migrating northward, Swainson’s Hawks frequently stop over in Idaho, where they hunt or rest until continuing their journey northward or westward.

This mid-large hawk prefers open terrain such as grassland, shrubland, agricultural fields, and desert. 

During the nesting season, they build stick nests high up on perches such as telephone poles or trees commonly sighted near wheat fields.

During winter, these hawks in Idaho will migrate in large flocks going south into Mexico or Central America, looking for more temperate climates and abundant food sources to feed during the winter months.

Swainson’s Hawks can reach speeds approaching forty miles per hour when diving after prey, making them one of the fastest members of their Genus Buteo family.

8. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk 
by Andy Morffew is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is also on the list of types of hawks in Idaho. The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a raptor native to North America and one of the most common types of hawk in Idaho.

As part of the Accipitridae family, it’s also one of the larger hawks known for its distinctive red shoulder patch and ear tufts.

While Red-Shouldered Hawks are seen throughout the state, they tend to be most abundant near water sources. 

Red-shouldered Hawks feed mainly on small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and large insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies.

They also have a penchant for birds and occasionally take larger prey, such as skunks or baby rabbits, if an opportunity presents itself. 

These nimble hunters prefer to hunt from perches or hover over likely prey spots before diving down toward their victims with lightning speed.

Red-shouldered Hawks have adapted well to urban areas where they can be seen roosting at treetops beside wooded streams and backyard ponds. 

During nesting season, these hawks in Idaho can become even more visible as they fly through the air carrying food back to their nestlings high up in nearby trees.

The distinct call of Red-shouldered Hawks can usually be heard echoing through open spaces during this time.

9. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier 
by RS2Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Northern Harriers are a type of hawks that inhabit the state of Idaho.

These hawks in Idaho hunt primarily small rodents and other small animals, with their preferred habitat consisting of open meadows and wetlands. 

Northern Harriers typically reside in grasslands or swamplands but can also be found perching atop trees to get a better view for spotting prey.

Their wingspan can range from 39-56 inches, making them one of the larger species of hawks. 

When hunting, they typically fly low to the ground, around 6-18 feet above it.

They use a variety of aerial tactics to hunt prey, such as hovering in one spot while searching for prey, quartering back and forth over an area while searching, or slinking along just above the ground while remaining very close to vegetation cover.

During courtship displays, males will soar high around their mate performing loops, dives, and roller coaster flights to attract a mate and impress her.

10. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
by Allan Hopkins is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is the last on our list of types of hawks in Idaho. The Broad-Winged Hawk is one of the most common hawks in Idaho.

This medium-sized raptor has a brown head and a white tail with narrow brown bands.

They have also been seen in some wintering areas further east in Idaho and can generally be seen perched on high points overlooking skyward for their prey. 

With patience, an observer can watch these majestic types of hawks in Idaho soar through the skies in search of food from high vantage points.

The Broad-winged Hawk has a wide wingspan typically deeper than average and pointed at the tips.

Their coloration differs between males and females; males have more range in color, including shades of gray, white, black, and brown, while females display darker feathers with less contrast than their male counterparts. 

These hawks usually weigh about 18 inches tall and 2 pounds during flight.

They will also sometimes soar on the sights of drafts, making them difficult to see above the treeline while hunting small animals like rabbits, rodents, and insects near or within wooded areas of Idaho. 

Broad-Winged Hawks tend to nest on wooded edges along rivers or lakes, where you often hear loud shrieks announcing their arrival or territorial claims to the area.

During mating season, they usually hunt alone instead of flying together in pairs like other raptors do.


Idaho has many types of hawks, ranging from small to large species. Depending on where you live in the state, you may encounter any of these species.

Red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks are the most commonly seen throughout the state. 

Ferruginous Hawks can be found primarily in eastern and southern Idaho, while Rough-legged Hawks can be found mainly in northern Idaho.

Goshawks and Sparrowhawks can also be spotted around certain areas of the state.

Whether you’re an experienced birder or just starting, observing these types of hawks in Idaho can provide you with hours of entertainment each year as they gracefully soar through the skies above.

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