9 Types of Hawks in Massachusetts | Birds of Prey

Being birds of prey, hawks are carnivores that feast on animal flesh using their sharp talons and hooked beak. Raptors, like most bird species, see in the ultraviolet wavelength which makes their hunting more effective. They can more easily spot their prey such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish. 

Hawks are generally large, solitary, and territorial birds. They are widely distributed and can be found on every continent, except Antarctica. They can often be seen circling or hovering in the sky in search of prey.

The state of Massachusetts is home to 9 different species of hawk. Some species are more common than others and they inhabit different environments, but it is possible to see everyone on this list. This article lists the 9 hawks that can be found in the state and highlights their morphology and behavior.

List of Types of Hawks in Massachusetts 

The largest hawk in Massachusetts is the rough-legged hawk, weighing almost 50 ounces. The smallest of the hawk species is the sharp-shinned hawk, weighing less than 8 ounces. Of all the species, the most common in Massachusetts and North America is the red-tailed hawk. 

The 9 species of hawks in Massachusetts may differ from each other to some extent, but they are all equally fascinating. Generally, they silently perch in wait for prey, which they will then swoop down to grab, as seen in the broad-winged hawk and red-shouldered hawk.

The northern harrier differs from most hawk species because they rely heavily on auditory cues. They have a sharp sense of hearing, which enables them to listen for and capture unsuspecting prey. The sharp-shinned hawk, however, hunts their prey on the wing, chasing smaller birds through the sky in pursuit. 

In terms of diet, the osprey is unique among the hawk species. Their diet is almost entirely fish, which they snatch from near the surface of the water. 

Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Image of a Broad-Winged Hawk perching on a telephone wire
Credit: Eric Dewsnap

Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus

Broad-winged hawks have compact and chunky bodies with fairly large heads. When in flight, their wings appear broad and their tail is short and square. They are around 17 inches in length. 

Adult light morphs have a brown chest and head with pale and barred underparts and a dark, banded tail. Adult dark morphs are dark brown overall, apart from a white tail band. Dark morphs are rare and only found in the Western parts of America. 

Being carnivorous raptors, these birds feed on small mammals, amphibians, and insects. They perch on raised platforms such as trees and posts, scanning for prey. They swoop down and snatch their prey from the ground. 

Broad-winged hawks frequent large mixed and deciduous forests, far from human inhabitance. They are distributed throughout Southern Canada and the Eastern United States. 

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
Image of Cooper’s Hawk consuming its prey
Credit: Linda Tanner

Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii

The cooper’s hawk has blue-gray upper parts with a dark cap and contrasting pale cheeks. They have pale underparts that are densely barred with red-brown. Their wide tail is adorned with a white band and they have a strong, hooked bill. 

Medium-sized birds such as European starlings, mourning doves, and quails constitute the majority of this raptor’s diet. They will also consume mammals including mice, squirrels, and hares, although it tends to be the Western individual’s diet where mammals are most common.  

Cooper’s hawks inhabit forests and dense woodlands, although have been frequently spotted in leafy suburbs. They are common over most of the continental United States although range from North America right down to Southern Mexico. 

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
Image of a Northern Goshawk perched in the grass
Credit: Iosto Doneddu

Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis

Large and bulky, these raptors have broad wings and long tails. Their upper parts are a dark slate-gray whilst their underparts are paler and heavily barred. Their dark head is contrasted by white eyebrow-like strips. They have piercing orange-red eyes. 

Agile and stealthy, the Northern goshawk waits on high perches for prey, which they will quickly attack with a swooping motion. They eat a huge variety of prey, ranging from birds to mammals to reptiles and even carrion.

Northern goshawks frequent large and mature forests with more than 60% closed canopy. They live mainly in coniferous forests but will also occupy hardwood ones. These birds breed across North and Central America though some may migrate further South during the winter.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Image of a Northern Harrier in flight
Credit: Frank Schulenburg

Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius

The Northern harrier has an elongated body, long wings, and a rounded tail. have a fairly slender body with long wings and a long, rounded tail. They have a flat, owl-like face that is adorned with a sharp, hooked bill. Males have gray upper parts and white under parts with black banding along the tail and wingtips. Females have brown feather above.

When hunting, these birds fly just above the ground, scanning for prey. They rely heavily on auditory cues to capture prey. They feast on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They feed on the ground or whilst perched on low platforms. 

Northern harriers breed in a wide variety of open habitats such as arctic tundra, grasslands, and marshes. They build nests concealed among the dense, low-lying vegetation. They breed across Canada and North America and winter further down South.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Image of a Red Shouldered Hawk perched on a branch
Credit: Kate Perez

Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus

Red-shouldered hawks have downward curved bills and broad wings. Their eye-catching wing and tail feathers are black and white striped, whilst their underparts are red and white banded.

Small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles make up the majority of this raptor’s carnivorous diet. They hunt by silently perching near the ground and swiftly descend to the forest floor, snatching up their unsuspecting prey. 

Deciduous forests are the favored habitat of this bird, inhabiting areas near rivers or swamps. Forests with open sub canopies increase the ease and efficiency of their hunting. They are distributed throughout the Northeast and Midwest of America.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk
Image of a Red Tailed Hawk perched on a pole
Credit: Becky Matsubara

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

Red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk species in North America. As their name suggests, they have a characteristic rust-red tail. They have dark brown feathers above and are white below apart from their dark belly band and wing tips that can be seen during flight.

Small mammals constitute the bulk of this hawk’s diet. prey includes rabbits, squirrels, and voles. They also consume birds such as pheasants and starlings, as well as snakes and carrion. They use their sharp talons and hooked bills to catch and consume their prey. 

Red-tailed hawks occupy virtually any open habitat from grasslands, to deserts to woodlands. They have a wide range in North America, from Alaska to Panama.

Rough Legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawk
Image of a Rough Legged Hawk perched on a rock
Credit: Derek Bakken

Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus

One of the largest species of hawk in America, these birds have a wingspan of almost 55 inches. Their wings are broad and their tails are long. They are so-called due to the feathers which adorn their legs. These birds are dark brown patterned with dark wings and tail tips.

Light morphs have pale underwings with dark patches on the wing bend. Dark morphs are almost entirely brown except for the underwings which show pale trailing at the edges. 

When hunting, they hover above the ground in a down-wing direction and scan the floor for prey. When on their arctic breeding grounds, these birds hunt mainly lemming. They also prey on other small mammals including mice, squirrels, and pocket gophers. 

Rough-legged hawks breed in arctic tundra habitats across Eurasia and North America. They winter across Southern Canada and most of America, frequenting grasslands and similar open habitats.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Image of a Sharp Shinned Hawk perched on a branch
Credit: Kozarluha

Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus

The sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest of the hawk species in Canada and the United States. They are only around 13 inches in length and weigh less than 8 ounces. These birds have long tails and short, rounded wings. 

Adults are blue-gray above with pale breasts densely barred with red-orange. They have small yellow eyes and yellow feet with sharp talons and hooked bills. 

Songbirds such as robins, warblers, and sparrows make up around 90% of the sharp-shinned hawk’s diet. They also consume small rodents including mice and voles. They are pursuit hunters and chase prey through the air, catching them mid-flight. 

Sharp-shinned hawks occupy dense forests with closed canopies. They favor coniferous trees and inhabit elevations ranging from sea level to tree tops. They are common in the Northwest mountains of America and also occupy the continental United States and Central South America.

Osprey ‘Fish Hawk’

Osprey ‘Fish Hawk’
Image of an Osprey perched on a wooden post
Credit: NASA

Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus

The Osprey is a large fish-eating bird of prey found throughout North America. It is approximately two feet in length, with a white head, dark brown back, and wings, and has long yellow legs, yellow eyes, and sharp talons.

Ospreys are carnivorous birds that feed mainly on fish which they catch by plunging into water from heights of up to 100 feet. They prefer wetland habitats such as rivers, lakes, and estuaries for their home, often constructing tall nests near the shoreline or on tall trees.

Ospreys form strong pair bonds that last for more than one breeding season. Their nests are typically built high up in trees using an array of materials such as twigs, sticks, and other debris collected by both males and females while building the nest structure.

A notable characteristic of Ospreys is their ability to hover over bodies of water while hunting for fish as well as their remarkable vision which allows them to spot prey from long distances. This makes them well-suited for life in North America where they inhabit many regions across the continent including parts of Canada, Mexico, and Alaska.

FAQ What Hawks are in Massachusetts

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