Winter’s Raptors

During the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, is a great time to spot hawks. With shorter daytime hours, the hawks are especially busy hunting for their next meal. Here are a few hawks you may see in our area over the winter.

Rough-legged Hawk

These beautiful hawks visit us during the winter from the Arctic. These hawks will look for terrain similar to the Arctic, which is mostly a treeless habitat. As the name suggests, Rough-legged Hawks have feathered legs all the way to the “toes”. You can see them hover in place when they are hunting. Rough-legged Hawks have narrower wings and have a fan-shaped white tail with a dark band at the tip.

Sharped-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is also a winter visitor, but you may also catch a glimpse during the fall and spring. They are a smaller hawk, with short, rounded wings which helps then maneuver through the deep woods at top speeds. Sharp-shinned hawks have relatively long legs and a long square-tipped tail. They are slightly larger than a Blue Jay, although the females are larger than the males.

Cooper’s Hawk

These hawks are here year-round. You can often find them perched in your backyard. Cooper’s Hawks have short, rounded wings like the Sharp-shinned Hawk, which again, helps them maneuver through deep woods. They have a long, narrow rounded tail. Cooper’s Hawks also seem to be standing very upright, like they have perfect posture. They are about the size of a crow and again, the females are larger than the males.

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawks are here year-round and are the most common hawk in North America. They have broad, rounded wings which enable them to hunt in large open areas. You often see Red-tailed Hawks perched on telephone or utility poles along open roadsides. They do indeed have a red tail, but from underneath it may look paler, almost white. Their size falls somewhere between a crow and a goose size.

Red-shouldered Hawks

These hawks are slightly smaller than the Red-tailed Hawk, but again somewhere between a crow and a goose size. Red-tailed Hawks have broad wings, with long tail feathers that are blackish with narrow white bands. They are built to soar over forests and prefer wooded areas near water. They have reddish barring on their breast, black and white spotted wings with just a hint of red on the shoulder. Every so often you can find them perched on utility poles or tree branches near roads.


Article by Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK