9 Types of Hawks in Iowa

Types of Hawks in Iowa
Photo by Horst Joachims on Unsplash

Are you a budding ornithologist or just curious about the various types of hawks in Iowa?

The Midwestern state provides excellent rural and urban habitats for numerous species.

Hawks are a type of bird in the family Accipitridae, which includes several groups such as eagles, kites, harriers, and buzzards.

Hawks have long wings and short rounded tails; they primarily feed on small animals like mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. 

Iowa is home to various hawk species, including red-tailed, red-shouldered, sharp-shinned, and more.

In our article, we’ll detail the types of hawks in Iowa, identifying them by their unique features and behaviors.

We’ll also discuss how to identify them in the wild so you can start your birding adventure!

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

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

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is first on our list of types of hawks in Iowa.

It is one of the most common hawk species in the state, and its population numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years. 

This species prefers to hunt in open spaces with plenty of room to maneuver and dive after prey, such as fields and marshes along river bottoms.

This makes it an ideal predator for Iowa’s many wide-open farmland areas. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk has short, rounded wings, which help it quickly change direction while hunting.

Its diet consists mainly of small birds and rodents, making it adept at catching prey on the wing in midair or diving from perches at ground level.

For those interested in hawks, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is a great bird to observe on the prairie or near trees since it often hunts low over these areas.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
by airboy123 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is also on our list of types of hawks in Iowa.

It can be found throughout the state and is one of the most common raptors in North America.

It is known for its bold, agile flight, as well as its predatory abilities when hunting smaller birds. 

Cooper’s Hawks prefer wooded habitats, often perching and nesting in tall trees or shrubs.

Cooper’s Hawks are characterized by their striped head and chestnut brown backs.

The types of hawks in Iowa measure from 15 to 20 inches long, with a wingspan ranging from 28 to 38 inches. 

As a bird of prey, they have a rounded tail and short but powerful legs that allow them to easily maneuver through dense forests while hunting smaller prey such as songbirds and small rodents.

They hunt primarily by stealth and ambush-diving at their prey quickly before snatching up their target with sharp talons. 

Cooper’s Hawks are an important component of Iowa’s ecosystems.

They help control small game populations while providing valuable sustenance to other wildlife, such as eagles, owls, foxes, and bears, whose diets commonly include bird meat.

The types of hawks in Iowa presence also help maintain ecological balance; any disturbance to their populations could increase unwanted rodent populations that damage crops or create health risks for humans and livestock alike.

For these reasons, Cooper’s Hawk is considered a species of special concern in Iowa and many other states across the U.S., prompting efforts from various organizations aimed at preserving habitat suitable for them to thrive in.

3. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a hawk of the Accipitridae family, making it a member of North America’s biggest family of avian predators.

The bird is known for its willingness to inhabit populated areas freely and can be found in Iowa, where it will often have to compete with other hawks in order to survive. 

The Northern Goshawk is identifiable by its large size (up to 27 inches long), distinct tail shape, slate-gray black and white underside, black wingtips and head shoulders, and pale yellow legs.

This bird is unique among raptors in that its call includes not just shrill cries but also a wide range of sounds like clucking and meowing. 

It thrives in suburban or semi-urban habitats like parks or gardens as well as rural forests on the borderline between deciduous woods and open fields.

It feeds mainly on small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, moles, and voles; birds such as grouse and quail; snakes; amphibians like frogs; lizards; large insects including cicadas; and even carrion if no other food sources are available.

To hunt effectively, Northern Goshawks fly at speeds approaching 55 mph with their heads tucked low into their body. 

 Northern Goshawks are found throughout the Midwest region of the United States, including Iowa, where they can remain year-round if they choose or move further south during winter months when temperatures drop too low for them to thrive. 

During the mating season from March through May, these types of hawks in Iowa build nests high up in trees out of sticks lined with finer materials such as grasses, then lay one to three eggs which take around 32 days to hatch.

After hatching, chicks remain with their parent(s) for about two months before becoming independent hunters themselves.

4. Swainson’s Hawk

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

Swainson’s Hawk is a medium-sized raptor with unique colors and behavior.

It is one of Iowa’s most common types of hawks, found during migration periods, though it does not typically stay year-round.

Here are two paragraphs discussing the characteristics of this type of hawk and where it is commonly observed in the state: 

The Swainson’s Hawk has a mottled brown body, white chest, and long wings that resemble a small Red-tailed Hawk.

Its bill is curved, as seen on other Accipiter hawks, and its tail has a pale or rusty-colored base with two thin dark bands near the tip. 

Swainson’s Hawks often soar on thermals in flight, flapping their wings slightly to adjust their altitude if needed.

During the breeding season, males can be identified by their more rufous underparts than females.  

Swainson’s Hawks migrate through Iowa but rarely spend the entire winter season in the state.

One may occasionally see them soaring above vast open fields looking for prey, main rodents such as meadow voles and jackrabbits.

They usually hunt while flying low over pastures or grasslands, but when they detect prey, they drop quickly down onto it with feet extended forward.

As the weather turns cold, they migrate southward though some remain around densely forested areas all year round in certain parts of southern Canada

5. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
by Jon David Nelson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a migratory hawk species found in various parts of the United States, including Iowa.

This type of hawk is medium-sized and typically inhabits open areas like grasslands and wetlands.

It has distinctive features that separate it from other hawk species, such as its feathered leg feathers, mostly used for winter insulation. 

The Rough-legged Hawk can be found in Iowa between October and April.

During this time, they are often seen perched on telephone poles or power lines, staying motionless while they scan the landscape below. 

In Iowa, they feed predominantly on small mammals, especially rodents, carrion, and insects.

Occasionally they will eat birds, but these makeup only a portion of their diet. 

When in flight, this type of hawk has a long wingspan with a light underside and dark mottling along the top, giving it a light brownish hue when shown in sunlight.

Their tail is lighter underneath, with dark bands running along its length, adding to its overall patterning when viewed against the sky’s backdrop. 

During warmer weathers months, these types of hawks in Iowa can be spotted soaring high above more frequently due to an increase of prey availability on the ground below them; during cooler months, however, these hawks tend to take refuge among trees or shrubs where there is a cover from winds or storms that can arise out of nowhere during the winter season.

In conclusion, the Rough-legged Hawk is an elegant species of hawk that can often be seen in Iowa during fall and winter seasons as it migrates south for colder climates with more preferred food sources available to them.

Its distinct features help set it apart from other types of Hawks across North America, providing a unique experience for birders and nature observers alike who have a chance to witness them take flight or roost within their state boundaries!

6. Ferruginous Hawk

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

The Ferruginous Hawk is a type of hawk native to Iowa and can be found throughout the state during the spring and summer.

Its wingspan can reach up to four feet, while its body size is usually two feet long.

This hawk has a light brownish-reddish color on its back, tan streaks along its chest, and dark caramel spots on its tail feathers.

Its thin legs are yellowish-orange, and it has bright yellow eyes that can see prey from a distance. 

It has an impressive hunting strategy involving hovering in place until it finds an unsuspecting prey before swooping down rapidly to catch it.

Ferruginous Hawks prefer open areas such as pastures, grasslands, agricultural fields, and meadows for foraging territory. 

During their stay in Iowa, they primarily feed on small mammals such as rabbits, voles, ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and other rodents.

They also hunt birds such as doves and quail. They have seen roosting/nesting in tall trees or even making nests on the sides of hills where they can find rocky outcrops for protection from predators.  

The Ferruginous Hawk is mostly monogamous and pairs up each year for the breeding season, typically around late April or May through early August.

The female types of hawks in Iowa lay one to four eggs that hatch after approximately 30 days of incubation by both parents during peak nesting season, which may vary depending on temperature conditions.

Once hatched, both parents take turns feeding their young until they are ready to fledge at roughly 6 weeks of age, when they will become fully independent within a few months after leaving the nest site. 

Conservationists recommend protecting this species by preventing the destruction of its habitats, thus ensuring populations continue increasing with time, especially in states like Iowa, where studies have indicated significant numbers of regular sightings each year

7. Red-tailed Hawk

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

The Red-tailed Hawk is next on our list of types of hawks in Iowa and the most common type of hawk in the United States, and it is found throughout Iowa. It is a large, striking bird with a red tail, white head, and chest.

Its brown back and wings provide excellent camouflage while hunting over fields and grasslands. 

Red-tailed Hawks hunt mostly during the day, soaring high in the sky where they can scan the ground to spot small mammals such as mice, rabbits, squirrels, and voles which they will swoop down upon.

They have also been known to prey on other birds, like starlings.

In addition to their diet of small mammals, they are also known to feed on carrion and sometimes fish. 

Red-tailed Hawks are monogamous birds, returning to the same mate each year for mating season.

During this time, their courtship displays involve wide circles high up in the sky as they search for an ideal nesting site, often a tall tree or tall man-made structures, such as radio towers or city skyscrapers, where they lay two to four eggs, sometime between February and June.

The female types of hawks in Iowa incubate them while the male forces away predators with aerial dives.

When their young are born within 5 weeks, though still under parental care, it can take up to another three weeks before they are ready for independent living.

8. Broad-winged Hawk

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

The Broad-winged Hawk is a type of hawk found in the Midwest with a population throughout Iowa.

These types of hawks in Iowa of prey grow to about 16 to 21 inches long and have a wingspan of up to 3 feet wide.

They can be found foraging for food among meadows and pastures or perched on high poles looking out for their next meal. 

Broad-winged Hawks have distinctive colorings that make them easily recognizable.

These raptors are mostly brown on top, with white bellies, legs, and faces.

Their wings show off dark streaks along the edges, and their tails boast black stripes on light feathers. 

During migration, hundreds of these types of hawks in Iowa gather in large groups called “kettles,” which soar over forests as they migrate south in search of warmer climates yearly.

These hawks hunt almost exclusively by flying in circles and using thermals – pockets of air made warm by the sun – to save energy while looking for prey below.

They particularly love hunting mice, voles, squirrels, reptiles, and amphibians but will also take larger animals such as rabbits and other small mammals when needed.

And when it’s not hunting season, you can find them soaring high above meadows and pastures, looking out for snakes or insects near streams or lakeside habitats. 

This majestic bird is an important species in Iowa’s ecosystem because it helps maintain the balance between predators and their prey.

The Broad-winged Hawk population is stable in Iowa thanks to responsible conservation efforts from local landowners who promote habitat protection against destruction from farming or human activity like housing development projects.

9. Red-shouldered Hawk

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

Lastly, The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk found in many parts of the United States, including Iowa.

Its distinct features make it easily recognizable and a welcome sight in backyards, woodlands, and wetlands.

Here’s an overview of the Red-shouldered Hawk and why it stands out from other types of hawks in Iowa. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk has a wide range across the eastern portion of North America from Canada to Florida.

As their name suggests, Red-shouldered Hawks have narrow white bars on their chest and a distinct red patch on their shoulders.

Their coloring is mostly dark brown with lighter streaks on their chest and wings. 

These types of hawks in Iowa typically soar over small ponds or marshes, looking for small mammals or amphibians to eat.

Red-shouldered Hawks are particularly unique because they construct nests near water sources instead of high up in trees as most hawks do.

This often makes them easy to spot as they may be seen perched near rivers or swimming pools in urban areas with fewer tall trees available for nest building. 

During mating season, this species gets even more active during courtship flights and displays by flying close together while singing beautiful aerial duets with each other.

Overall, the Red-shouldered Hawk contributes to Iowa’s ecology by controlling rodent populations and sustaining healthy bird populations around our waterways and woodlands.

For all of these reasons, the Red-shouldered Hawk should be appreciated for its beauty but also respected for maintaining balance in our ecosystem!


Iowa is home to seven species of hawk, including the red-tailed hawk, the broad-winged hawk, and Swainson’s hawk.

Fortunately for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, Iowa offers some excellent places to observe these raptors, such as Schell Memorial Park near Dubuque and Carpenter Wildlife Sanctuary near Cedar Rapids.

Regardless of where you are in the state, it’s possible to find many hawks soaring through the skies.

But what differentiates each type of hawk? In our article, we have explored the unique characteristics of these magnificent types of hawks in Iowa so that you can easily identify them on your next outdoor adventure.

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