10 Types of Hawks in Illinois

Types of Hawks in Illinois
Photo by Bhupendra Singh Bhandari on Unsplash

Hawks are an essential part of Illinois wildlife, providing a valuable service by consuming smaller animals and keeping them in check.

Illinois has several types of hawks, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Northern Goshawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Each of these types of hawks in Illinois differs in characteristics such as wing shape and coloration. 

Their habitats vary; some prefer wooded areas while others opt for tall grasses and open comes.

By taking note of these differences and observing these types of hawks in Illinois in their natural environment, individuals can appreciate the diversity within this group of raptorial birds.

1. Cooper’s Hawk

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

Cooper’s Hawks are starting our list of types of hawks in Illinois. They are medium-sized, agile predators with sharp talons and keen eyesight.

They have a dark brown body with light-colored undersides, and they are named after ornithologist William Cooper who first described them as early as 1828. 

Cooper’s hawks prefer wooded areas near open fields, making Illinois an ideal habitat.

These types of hawks in Illinois feed mainly on small mammals such as rodents, reptiles, small birds, and insects.

They will also eat carrion or scavenge scraps from people’s backyard bird feeders

While hunting, these raptors fly at a remarkable speed of 40 miles per hour and can make tight turns to chase their prey.

The breeding season for Cooper’s hawks normally starts in mid-April when they lay three to five eggs in a nest made of twigs and grasses, usually built high up in an evergreen or semi-deciduous tree. 

Both parents tend for the nests during incubation until the young fledglings hatch about 30 days later.

The young types of hawks in Illinois stay in the nest for another 4 weeks before venturing into their new home environment.

Cooper’s Hawks gather in large flocks of up to twenty birds or more during fall migration.

They can be seen flying southward across Lake Michigan or over the Grand Prairie region of central Illinois before eventually dispersing throughout the United States and northern Mexico by late November through December. 

Cooper’s hawk is an impressive species becoming increasingly popular among birdwatchers due to its beauty and ability to survive changing environmental conditions across North America each year.

Whether dashing between trees while chasing prey or soaring gracefully above lakes and meadows during migration, this raptor provides many moments of wonder here in Illinois all year round!

2. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Hawks are some of the most majestic and powerful birds of prey found in nearly every corner of our planet.

Of all the different species, the ferruginous hawk stands out due to its impressive size and rarity in some parts of North America.

This hawk type is commonly seen throughout Illinois and is quite a sight! 

The ferruginous hawk (Buteo ) is a large prey bird inhabiting open fields and grasslands throughout the United States, including Illinois.

Its distinctive pale underparts can identify it with dark streaks on its wings, body, and tail. It has a white head with darker sideburns on either side and yellow eyes. 

The ferruginous hawk typically grows to a length between 20-28 inches, with an average wingspan reaching about 4 feet across.

When foraging for food, the hawks in Illinois prefer small rodents such as voles or pocket gophers and ground squirrels or young rabbits when larger prey items are available.

Unlike other types of hawks in Illinois who prefer to hunt from the sky, this type usually relies on surprise attacks from low tree branches or standing still in tall grassy areas until it spots its prey.

The ferruginous hawk makes its nest entirely out of sticks and twigs towards the end of wintertime in Illinois during late March or April, then lays 2-6 eggs all through May before they hatch in early June after just over a month incubation period.

Chicago region’s northern regions are known to offer cooler weather, so these hawks reside mostly near Lake Michigan rather than elsewhere in Central or Southern Illinois, where temperatures become too hot during summertime.

3. Rough-Legged Hawk

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

The Rough-Legged Hawk is a unique breed of hawk that can only be found in certain climates.

In Illinois, the Rough-Legged Hawk can be seen during its migration season between October through December and from February to March.

These hawks stay in more extreme climates, such as northern Canada or Alaska, for the rest of the year. 

The Rough-Legged Hawk is slightly larger than other types of hawks native to Illinois, with an average wingspan of four feet measured from tip to tip.

The body is usually dark brown with lighter segments on its underbelly, legs, and head feathers.

The most distinct characteristic of this hawk is its feathered legs and feet, which are yellowish or tan in color for better insulation when it’s extremely cold outside.

To survive the winter months, Rough-Legged Hawks often migrate south towards places with milder climates where they can find food easily.

While hunting prey, these types of hawks in Illinois have an amazing vision that helps them spot potential meals before they even take off from the ground.

They specialize in capturing small mammals such as mice or voles while flying at altitudes over 500 feet high, with their long wingspan providing a great slice of air resistance against strong winds.

Once evening arrives and prey becomes harder to catch, rough-legged hawks typically roost on trees until morning, when they search fresh ground again for possible meals while soaring through the sky above us!

4. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by wanderinggrrl is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of Illinois’s most commonly seen types of hawks is the Sharp-shinned hawk.

Ideally suited to dense woodlands and thickets, this small ‘accipiter’ type of hawk can often be spotted hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles amongst vegetation. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a medium-sized and relatively short-tailed hawk measuring approximately 11” long with a wingspan of up to 20” across.

The adult types of hawks in Illinois have slate-gray upper parts, broken streaks on the underwings and tail, and two narrow rusty bars on their white chest, which can typically only be seen when perched at rest.

Females are larger than males, often twice their size when fully grown. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an incredible hunter that prefers urban areas or woodlands with dense trees and those tall enough to provide sheltering cover when hunting small prey items such as sparrows, finches, or robins.

This nimble flier will soar through thickets chasing smaller prey before quickly swooping down to greet them with its sharp claws, giving it its namesake.

As well as being great for hunting for food, this type of hawk provides essential pest control.

It helps keep insect populations under control by preying upon them regularly throughout their life cycle. 

Living mostly solitary lives during all but the breeding season, Sharp-shinned Hawks begin pairing in February or March to breed.

They will choose tree cavities within which they lay their eggs from April onwards; once hatched, chicks stay close to their parents until adulthood, usually around late summertime.

They have learned to fly strongly enough to venture out on solo hunts and seek individual territory elsewhere.

5. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
by qmnonic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Northern Goshawk is a unique species of hawk found throughout Illinois.

Known for its impressive hunting skills and majestic silhouette, the Northern Goshawk has become a major point of interest to birders, naturalists, and conservationists alike.

Our article will discuss the characteristics of the Northern Goshawk and its importance in the Illinois landscape. 

The Northern Goshawk is a large species of hawk with a wingspan ranging from 38 to 44 inches.

The adult types of hawks in Illinois plumage consist of a grayish body and tail feathers with white underparts and darker gray crown and upper back feathers.

Juvenile birds are distinctly lighter in coloration than adults, with brown and cream barring along their bodies.

Males are also typically smaller than females by around 20%. 

Regarding habitat preferences, the Northern Goshawks mostly occupy open woodlands and forested areas near lakes or rivers in Illinois.

When hunting, they prefer wildlife such as small mammals, rabbits, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects found within those habitats.

These types of hawks in Illinois have an excellent vision which helps them locate potential prey quickly.

They also fly swiftly between trees on steady wings while searching for food beneath the canopy of vegetation below them. 

For birders across Illinois looking to add this species to their life list, it’s best to pay attention during migration seasons as you may be able to spot a Northern Goshawk flying high up in the sky above you! It’s important to note that due to persecution from hunters centuries ago and habitat loss throughout the twentieth century, much of this species’ populations have been significantly reduced throughout some parts of North America, including Illinois, making any opportunity for observation quite special!

6. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier - Types of Hawks in Pennsylvania
by RS2Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) is one of the most fascinating and impressive types of hawks in Illinois.

This large hawk can often be seen gliding slowly over wetland habitats near Chicago or soaring on wings held in a shallow “V” shape as it searches for its rodent prey.

And while they thrive here in the Prairie State, they are also found across much of North America, from coast to coast.

Northern Harriers are graceful fliers with elongated wingspans and use long tail feathers to help them steer.

They dive quickly when chasing prey and then float back up again with the aid of their buoyant wings.

To increase their visibility, Northern Harriers sometimes soar with their wings held up in a shallow ‘V’ shape that appears white due to the pale underparts of this species. 

In Illinois, these hawks inhabit wetlands, including marshes and flooded meadows, where dense vegetation provides cover for nesting grounds and foraging opportunities.

As its name suggests, the diet of these raptors consists mostly of rodents like voles and mice which they spot while flying low to scan their surroundings by radar vision.

They rarely need to venture far from nourishing wetlands since they keep such an open habitat nearby their dwellings. 

In addition to being able to hover vertically above their prey at heights greater than 100 feet, these hawks rely upon stealth while hunting since they cannot fly silently as owls do; yet this means that once you hear a Northern Harrier, there’s a pretty good chance you will see it too! Binoculars or even powerful telephoto lenses make these stunning creatures appear even closer when seen through the careful observer’s gaze, so why not take the time today to seek out some Northern Harriers?

7. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk
by Becky Matsubara is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Swainson’s hawks are unique types of hawks in Illinois.

These birds of prey visit the state during their long-distance migrations each year, while a few individuals have become permanent residents.

Read on to learn more about the Swainson’s hawk and its role in Illinois.  

Swainson’s hawk is an iconic species of North American raptors that breed in the grasslands and shrublands of the western United States and Canada but migrate south for the winter to Central America and South America.

During this migration, it passes through Illinois in large numbers yearly, making it one of Illinois’s most common types of hawks from May through August.

Apart from these migratory populations, a few individuals also make their homes here for at least part of the year. 

These types of hawks in Illinois distinguish themselves with their distinct appearance.

They have a wingspan averaging around two and a half feet with bright rusty red-colored feathers below and a barred pattern from brown to white above.

Their tails are broad with pale tips that they often spread while soaring or gliding over open spaces with powerful wings with black primaries tipped with white patches near their rounded wingtips – creating striking visuals when seen against clear blue sky or soaring atop clouds against white fluffy ones.

Swainson’s hawks prefer habitats such as agricultural fields where they can find plentiful large insects such as grasshoppers and small mammals like mice or voles – all of which provide sufficient food to survive throughout the year.

In addition, they nest on poles or other tall structures where they can gain some higher vantage point allowing them easier access to hunt efficiently without compromising their safety from predators such as snakes and foxes. 

With their distinctive habits, look, and behavior – Swainson’s hawks are truly one-of-a-kind species whose presence adds much value to the conservation efforts for birds-of-prey species in Illinois by providing invaluable research information regarding avian behavioral patterns from breeding sites all over North America.

8. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
by Moschell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Broad-Winged Hawk is a beautiful large hawk found in Illinois.

As one of the types of hawks in Illinois, this species has many interesting characteristics that make it easily identifiable. 

The Broad-Winged Hawk is about 18 inches in size, with a wingspan of almost four feet.

It is brown above and buff below and has a white ‘V’ on its chest.

Because these hawks are so magnificent, they often attract birdwatchers and professional photographers from all over the state who come to get an up-close glimpse. 

This type of hawk feeds mainly on small mammals, birds, and reptiles that it hunts from its perch or flies low over fields looking for prey.

They hunt for food day and night, though they are most active when the sun is out.

When not actively hunting, they can be found perched atop high trees, where they watch for danger or potential prey with their amazing vision. 

In Illinois, the Broad-Winged Hawk can usually be seen between April through November as they migrate southward after breeding during springtime in more northern areas.

Many people find observing these magnificent creatures rewarding as their beauty radiates even far away.

Their unique aerial acrobatic skills also add value when identifying them among other types of hawks in Illinois.

9. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
by jimthompson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is next on our list of types of hawks in Illinois and is a beautiful species found in the US.

With its reddish-brown feathers, it stands out among other species of hawks and adapts to different climates and seasons.

Our article will provide two paragraphs on the Red-Shouldered Hawk that can be found in Illinois. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a large raptor with characteristic red patches near its shoulders and wings.

Its diet consists mainly of small amphibians and reptiles, mammals, big insects, and fruits sometimes.

They can be found in forests near large fields or open woodlands in Illinois.

As an adaptation to colder weather during winter, some have been observed to be feathered thickly for survival. 

Red-shouldered hawks are territorial birds, meaning they will build nests in specific areas, often atop old-growth trees, to secure their territory from competitors, such as other raptors or animals that want to take over their nesting area.

During mating season, they will display vocalizations such as squeals or whistles while flying together during courtship rituals.

These courtship displays happen especially at daybreak when the sun rises and later sets again at dusk when they head to roost for the night until dawn breaks again.

10. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk - Types of Hawks in Utah
by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Lastly on our list of Illinois’s most popular types of hawks is the Red-Tailed Hawk.

This majestic bird of prey is known for its large size, impressive wingspan, and distinctively marked reddish tail feathers.

They are often seen soaring high above suburban areas and open fields, hunting small prey like mice, voles, and other rodents. Here are a few facts about these incredible birds. 

The adult Red-tailed Hawk has a mostly brown body with a pale underside streaked with brown or white bars.

Its distinctive reddish tail can be seen below as it soars majestically through the sky.

Both males and females have the same coloring, although females can sometimes be larger than males.

Red-tailed Hawks breed mainly in large tracts of open fields and farmlands throughout much of Illinois during summer months before migrating south for winter.

They prefer perching in tall trees where they can scan the ground below for their next meal. 

It’s estimated that more than 90% of their diet comprises small mammals like mice, voles, and even rabbits.

They also hunt amphibians, reptiles, insects, and some birds when necessary to meet their dietary needs. 

During courtship season, the male types of hawks in Illinois will soar high around their chosen mate while performing aerial acrobatics or mock combat dives as a display of affection towards her.

Afterward, both hawks collaborate to build nests, usually located in tall trees near their chosen territory.

The female lays between 1 – 3 eggs which she incubates for 28 days until hatching! 

Red-tailed Hawks are among the few types of hawks in Illinois known to sleep even during daylight hours!

While most Hawks naturally migrate south for winter, some young adults may take up permanent residence near humans due to abundant food sources, particularly at landfills where they thrive year-round!


Hawks are a family of birds found across the globe, but they all have different characteristics.

In Illinois, these are commonly seen species of hawks: The red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Goshawk, and Swainson’s Hawk. 

All these types of hawks in Illinois provide beauty and diversity to the state’s landscape.

Each species has specific needs regarding habitat preferences and nesting habits that can influence its population numbers.

By understanding the needs and values that each type brings to the environment of Illinois, these majestic types of hawks in Illinois can continue to soar high above us for many years to come!

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