9 Types of Hawks in North Carolina

types of hawks in north carolina
Photo by Laurent Degradi

North Carolina is home to a variety of birds, including hawks. But how many types of hawks in North Carolina do you know?

We are about to burst your brains here, positively! Hawks are often seen soaring high through the sky, looking for prey from land or sea.

Hawks live all around North Carolina and belong to one of two families: Accipitridae (which includes the Accipiter, or the true hawks) and Anatidae (the family Harrier). 

Different species of hawks differ in size, shape, coloring, and behavior. Some live in woodlands, while others prefer open fields and wetlands.

In this article, we will explore different types of hawks in North Carolina, so you can better identify them when walking or birdwatching.

1. Red-Tailed Hawks

To start our list of the various types of hawks, Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are one of North America’s most commonly seen birds. They can be found in various habitats, from wooded and grasslands to open farmlands and urban areas. These hawks prefer to eat small mammals such as mice or squirrels, though they will occasionally feed on reptiles and small birds. 

Red-tailed hawks have reddish coloring on their tail feathers, which is how they get their name, but they also have pale brown wings and a white chest with dark streaks. Red-tailed hawks are monogamous birds that typically form lifelong pair bonds with their chosen mate. They will build nests, typically high in trees, laying an average of three eggs at a time.

This nest may be used repeatedly over several breeding seasons if the same pair remains together. Red-tailed hawks, types of hawks in North Carolina, also have an incredible ability to soar high in the sky while hunting. They often reach heights up to thousands of feet above ground level where predator birds such as owls won’t bother them.

The red-tailed hawk, one of the types of hawks in North Carolina, is admired for its beauty, tenacity, and intelligence—often collaborating with nearby meadows or grasslands for food supplies by scaring off potential predators or locating potential prey animals before swooping down to catch them. While rarely spotted during the day due to being nocturnal hunters, red-tailed hawks may sometimes be engaged in play behavior. 

These include aerial tree chasing with other species or spending time perched on telephone poles observing their surroundings. This behavior not only looks entertaining watching from afar but also keeps these majestic creatures entertained while waiting out difficult environmental conditions such as wintertime frosting when prey is scarce and hard to find.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium-sized hawk throughout much of North America. Its distinct coloring, with a harlequin pattern of black bars and white streaks along the head, neck, and chest, makes it easy to identify. It sports long, rounded tails with white tips, allowing it to change direction while in flight quickly. 

Cooper’s Hawks are also well known for their “flight screaming” vocalizations which can be heard during courtship season or when trying to claim territory from another bird. Cooper’s Hawks hunt by waiting until they spot their prey and then swooping down on them at incredible speed with lightning-fast dives, although they will also use tree perches during the search process. The diet of these types of hawks in North Carolina consists mainly of birds, large insects, small mammals, and reptiles such as squirrels and lizards. Some also consider them a nuisance due to their habit of preying upon songbirds.  

Cooper’s Hawks have been steadily increasing in populations since being recovered from near extinction in 1970 due to pesticide use, hunting, and capture for falconry. That said, as deforestation occurs, the availability of suitable nesting sites in the wild declines. This forces Cooper’s hawks into more urban areas where an abundance of artificial structures provides possible habitats for them to build nests. 

Conservation efforts have paid off for these particular types of hawks in North Carolina, but threats remain, such as habitat destruction. So it is important that continued efforts are put into monitoring population trends and protecting these remarkable raptors in the future.

3. Broad-Winged Hawk

The Broad-Winged Hawk is a medium-sized species belonging to the family Accipitridae that can be found all around North America. They typically have distinctive chestnut brown backs with black bands and white spots and white underbellies with dark stripes. The wings of these birds are broader than other similar species, making them easily recognizable in flight. 

Depending on their location, these types of hawks in North Carolina can also be seen having red or yellow tails. Broad-Winged Hawks prefer areas with trees and open fields, often perching high up near tree tops and power lines. During the breeding season, they tend to select areas with plenty of deciduous trees for nesting places but primarily hunt in grasslands or meadows due to the abundance of small prey such as voles and mice. 

Their mating ritual includes aerial acrobatics accompanied by drastic calls, creating an interesting show for those lucky enough to observe. These specific types of hawks in North Carolina migrate in large flocks known as “kettles” during their late summer departures. They head south through parts of Eastern North America down to Central South America instead of crossing the sea as many other raptors do. 

This mass migration which often happens during October or November, happens every year, creating an impressive sight for those who witness it! To date, there have been over 60 million Broad-Winged hawks thought to have migrated annually across North America thanks to organizations like Hawk Mountain Sanctuaries. They block hunting zones along their paths so as not to impede their journeys north or south each year.

4. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) is a predatory hawk native to North America’s arctic and tundra regions. It is a distinctive species, with long wings and a long tail that suggests the shape of an owl. The head has a white patch on the back, while the flanks are mottled gray. 

These birds can be found in open grasslands, wetlands, salt marshes, shrub land or coniferous forests. They feed mainly on small mammals such as mice and voles but also take some insects and occasionally hunt small birds. 

Northern Harriers are also types of hawks in North Carolina that typically nest in tall trees near areas where they can hunt for food. They usually lay a clutch ranging from 3-6 eggs which hatch after 30-36 days. Both parents take part in raising their young, keeping them safe from predators during their first few months of life. 

When the young fledge after 8-9 weeks, they will remain close to their parents for another 2-3 weeks until they are finally ready to be on their own and start hunting for themselves. Northern Harriers are declining due to habitat loss caused by human activities like urban expansion, farming, and logging operations. They have also been affected by pesticides that lower fertility rates or poison their prey species, like mice or voles, reducing their available food sources.

This spawns an overall population decline seen today in many parts of its distributional range across North America, including Canada and the United States. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting existing nesting sites and improving local habitats so these birds may thrive again into future generations of humans!

5. Rough-Legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a medium-sized hawk found throughout North America, Eurasia, and northern Asia. It’s both an aggressive predator and scavenger, making it well adapted to survive the cold climate in its range. Their distinct gray upper wings can identify them with wide white trailing edges and black tips. 

The underside of their wings is barred with lighter color bands, while their tail has black barring on top and a more uniform pale color underneath. Rough-legged hawks typically inhabit open prairies, grasslands, tundra, mountain slopes, and alpine steppes. They are types of hawks in North Carolina that also sometimes utilize coastal areas during migration periods as they fly southwards during winter. 

During the breeding season, these hawks form monogamous pairs, building nests on tall trees or cliffs near rivers or lakes. In general, these hawks feed mainly on small rodents such as mice and voles but have been known to take other medium-sized birds in some cases.

These types of hawks in North Carolina usually migrate to the warmer southern climates during winter. However, there have been instances where some populations remain stationary even through colder weather conditions due to a good food supply in the area. Globally, this species is protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). At the same time, specific local regulations may also apply according to individual country regulations regarding protected wildlife species within certain areas or regions.

6. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small and compact raptor found in forested habitats throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is a predominantly grayish species with pale underparts, a white lower belly, narrow, barred wings and long legs. These species belong to the Accipitridae family, characterized by their adaptability to target various moving prey. 

A fierce hunter, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, pme of the many types of hawks in North Carolina, preys primarily on other birds such as robins, sparrows, quails, and grouses. They may also take smaller mammals like chipmunks or voles and large insects like grasshoppers. The hawk uses unpredictable high-speed stoop dives to surprise its prey while airborne or perched upon branches before pouncing them with sharp talons. 

A unique feature of this species, which is also on the list of the different types of hawks in North Carolina, is that it prefers to perch quite far from the object of its hunt. Instead of waiting very close so it can launch quick surprise attacks through the element of surprise. The Sharp-shinned Hawk has an impressive flight technique known as ‘floating flight’ with flapping wings and soaring glides at rates up to 200 miles per hour for short distances. 

They use this mode of flight for hunting purposes as well as migration periods twice a year during spring (northward migrations) and fall (southward migrations). As its populations have rapidly decreased due to deforestation and urbanization in recent years, the bird has been categorized as threatened species in some parts of the United States. However, stable populations can still be seen in western North America, prompting conservation efforts from wildlife authorities across many countries to promote sustainable management for these birds into future generations.

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized raptor found throughout much of the eastern United States and southern Canada. They are part of the family Acciptridae, which includes most birds of prey like hawks, kites, eagles, and vultures. Known for their red shoulders that they get their name from, these hawks are also characterized by their brown backs with black and white striping and white chests with thick ochre streaks. 

These birds, which are types of hawks in North Carolina, primarily hunt in forests looking for small mammals, lizards, and snakes to swoop down upon. During mating season, males perform elaborate courtship displays in which they fly rapidly back and forth over the nest or soar high above trees. This serves to attract potential mates and ward off predators from the territories they have established. 

Before breeding begins, a pair will typically build one or more large nests from sticks atop a tree near water or food sources, where 2 to 5 eggs are laid. Incubation lasts 28-32 days before the young fledges approximately 45 days after that. 

Red-shouldered Hawks as types of hawks in North Carolina play an important role in keeping rodent populations under control. Along with other raptors, such as owls, they act as natural pest controllers by preying on mice, rats, and other small mammals that may otherwise become pests in farms or gardens if left unchecked. Red-shouldered Hawks were once threatened due to the logging of old-growth forests and other activities like trapping that decimated their population. 

Today, they remain stable throughout their habitat due to the protection afforded by wildlife conservation partnerships, legislation, and active habitat management programs. These were put into place by federal and state wildlife officials, combined with increased awareness from the general public about these beautiful birds of prey!

8. Northern Goshawk

If you are seeking to know the various types of hawks in North Carolina, the northern goshawk is one and is a large and powerful raptor of the Accipitridae family. These birds are found in wilderness areas across North America, Europe, and Asia. They once had an even larger range but have experienced declines over time due to deforestation and fragmentation of their habitat caused by human activity. 

The northern goshawk has slate-gray plumage, a white underside patterned with distinct bars, and a characteristic black crest on its head. Northern goshawks hunt as active predators while soaring in the sky or perching patiently in trees. They are expert fliers, capable of sudden swoops that take unsuspecting prey by surprise. 

Their main diet consists of small mammals such as squirrels, rabbits, mice, and other rodents and nesting birds like grouse and ptarmigan. Northern goshawks, on this list of the types of hawks in North Carolina, may also supplement their diet by foraging for invertebrates in thicker vegetation when the opportunity presents itself. 

Northern Goshawks form pairs that bond for life and inhabits territories they fiercely defend from competitors within their species or other intruders such as owls or domesticated cats. The female builds a bulky nest high atop an evergreen tree lined with fresh green sprigs of foliage each breeding season to serve as her young’s getaway from danger until they learn to fly. 

This strong sense of parental responsibility helps make sure the chicks survive long enough to contribute offspring to the next generation – Thus, enabling this magnificent bird of prey’s survival in our ever-changing world.

9. Swainson’s Hawk

Lastly, on this list of the different types of hawks in North Carolina, Swainson’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey found throughout much of the world. It has a wingspan of 4 feet, and its distinctive coloration makes it easily recognizable. Depending on the individual, it can be black and white or rusty brown. 

Swainson’s Hawks are diurnal birds active during the day and hunt for food by soaring through the air. Swainson’s Hawks feed mostly upon small mammal prey such as mice, voles, ground squirrels, or rabbits, as well as insects and carrion in certain areas. Their favorite hunting grounds are open grasslands, farmlands with plenty of vegetation for them to search for food items, desert scrubland reaching around 5,000 feet, and mountain slopes up to 8500 feet. 

These hawks often migrate southward in large groups and use counter currents to soar effortlessly. In recent times Swainson’s hawk has suffered from rapid population decline due to their hunting grounds being converted into agricultural land near consistent human living places. And this is where they are usually killed either intentionally or unintentionally, making them an endangered species since 1997. 

Some conservation measures have been put in place, like providing shelters and nesting sites with wider surrounding natural habitats enabling better survival conditions for these magnificent creatures. These actions, along with increasing public awareness, would give rise to this species’ population, helping them gain secure habitats and ensuring the longevity of these beautiful types of hawks in North Carolina!


In conclusion, various hawks can be found in North Carolina. These include Red-tailed Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and Cooper’s Hawks. While the size and coloration of each species will vary depending on season and location, they all share features such as large eyes, hooked bills, broad wingspans, and powerful talons. 

Each type of hawk is an important part of North Carolina’s ecosystem and provides a valuable food source for other creatures. With proper protection and conservation efforts, these incredible birds can continue to soar through our skies for years. Enjoy your adventure with our list of the types of hawks in North Carolina!

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