9 Types of Hawks in New Jersey

Whether you are enthusiastic about avian species, a resident of the state of New Jersey, or simply just curious, have you ever wondered what types of hawks frequent New Jersey? This article lists the 9 species of hawk that can be found in the state, discussing their morphology and behavior. 

Hawks are birds of prey that fuel their carnivorous diet on animals such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even fish. These raptors can perceive ultraviolet wavelengths, which allows them to identify certain plumage colors and hunt more efficiently. 

They are widely distributed and can be found on every continent apart from Antarctica. Like other birds of prey, they have sharp talons and hooked beaks. They are generally large, solitary, and territorial birds.

Different Types of Hawks in New Jersey

There are 9 resident species of hawks in New Jersey. These birds of prey vary in their morphology, diet, behavior, and habitat. From the songbird preying sharp shinned hawk, to the very large rough legged hawk, this list highlights the fascinating individuality of these birds of prey. 

Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Image of a Broad-Winged Hawk perching on a utility pole
Credit: Eric Dewsnap

Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus

The broad winged hawk is not one of the most commonly observed species in New Jersey. It only has a breeding range in the State, so spring and summer months are when you will be most likely to spot one. 

Stocky and compact bodies define this bird. When perched and in flight, their short, square tail is visible. During flight, they expose their broad wings. 

There are two morphs that the broad winged hawk can assume: light and dark. The light morph is chocolate brown on their head and back, which contrasts with their pale chest and belly. Prominent, brown barring decorated their chest. 

On the other hand, dark morphs are deep brown all over, except for a white band that runs along their tail. The latter morph is only distributed across Western America. 

Small mammals, birds, and amphibians are just some of the prey this bird hunts and consumes. They can often be observed sitting on high perches, scanning their surroundings for prey. Quickly and silently, they will swoop down and grab their unsuspecting prey. 

The habitat of broad winged hawks is large forests, preferably some distance from urban habitats. They have a range throughout Eastern America and Southern Canada. 

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
Image of a Cooper’s Hawk perched on a branch
Credit: Linda Tanner

Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii

Blue-gray feathers cover the head, back, wings, and tail of the cooper’s hawk. Their underparts are pale, although appear mainly rust-colored due to the heavy red-brown barring. Their eyes are vibrant orange, and their yellow bill is hooked and tipped black. 

These raptors’ favorite prey are medium-sized bird species, such as rock pigeons, pheasants, and American robins. Small mammals such as chipmunks and hares are also consumed, but most commonly by hawks that live in the Western parts of America.  

The cooper’s hawk lives in dense forests and woodlands. However, they are becoming more common in leafy suburbs. Their range extends from North America to Southern Mexico, but they are most abundant in Central America.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk
Image of a Northern Goshawk consuming a pigeon
Credit: Iosto Doneddu

Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis

They have dark gray-brown upperparts which are contrasted by their white underparts, although they are densely barred with gray. Two, white stripes that resemble eyebrows run through their dark head. Their eyes are bright orange. 

Northern goshawks consume a wide variety of prey, including mammals, insects, reptiles, and carrions. However, large birds are their favorite food sources, such as grouse, woodpeckers, and corvids. These stealthy birds implement a sit-and-wait hunting strategy.

Large and mature forests are where these birds can be found. They favor habitats with a more than 60% closed canopy, which can make them somewhat difficult to spot. Northern goshawks breed across North and Central America.

Northern Harrier

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

Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius

Arguably one of the most elegant looking hawks, the Northern harrier has a slender body that is accentuated by its long wings and tail. They have a rather flat face that somewhat resembles that of an owl.

Sexual dimorphism is exhibited in these birds. Males are dark gray above, whilst females are brown. Both sexes are pale below and show barring under their wings and along their belly. 

Northern harriers have a fairly slender body with long wings and a long, rounded tail. Their face is flat and owl-like and adorned with a sharp, hooked bill. Males have gray upperparts and are white below, with black wingtips and a black tail band. Females are brown above. 

The hunting strategy of this bird is to fly just above the ground and scan for prey, relying heavily on auditory cues. Small mammals, reptiles, and birds constitute this raptor’s diet. 

Open habitats such as arctic tundra and marshes act as this bird’s breeding ground. They breed throughout Canada and North America, flying further South for the winter months.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Image of a Red Shouldered Hawk cawing whilst perched on a stump
Credit: Kate Perez

Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus

As their name implies, these raptors are streaked red-brown on their head, back, shoulders and belly. Their tail and wing tips are banded white and dark brown. 

The red-shouldered hawk feasts primarily on small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. They sit silently on perches that are close to the ground, scanning for prey. 

Red shouldered hawks favor large, deciduous forests that are close to bodies of water such as swamps and rivers. They prefer open forests over dense ones, as they improve the efficiency and ease of hunting. 

Red shouldered hawks have broad wings and hooked bills. They boast a striking plumage of black and white banded wings and tail. They have red-brown underparts streaked with white. They can be found across Northeast and Midwest America. 

Red-Tailed Hawk

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

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

The red tailed hawk is the most common raptor across the whole of North America. Their plumage is predominantly dark brown with a pale belly. As implied by their name, they have a rusty-red tail that stands out from the rest of their feathers. 

Small mammals including squirrels and rabbits make up a large part of this hawk’s diet. They also feast on reptiles, other bird species, and even carrion.

Red-tailed hawks are an adaptive species and can be seen across a wide variety of habitat types, from open grasslands to deserts to dense forests. They range across North America, extending from Alaska to Panama.

Rough Legged Hawk

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

Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus

The rough-legged hawk is one of the largest species of raptor in America. Their broad wings have a wingspan of just shy of 55 inches. These hawks are mainly dark brown, mottled with white and paler brown. They get their name due to the thick, fluffy feathers that cover their legs. 

Rough-legged hawks have two morphs: light and dark. The former is characterized by their pale underwings whilst the latter is almost entirely dark brown. 

The hunting technique of this bird is to hover just above the ground, in a down-wind position, in search of prey. Lemmings are the main food source of this bird, but they also consume a variety of other small mammals.

The breeding habitat of this raptor is the Arctic tundra across North America and Eurasia. They migrate further South for the winter months.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Image of a Sharp Shinned Hawk with prey
Credit: Kozarluha

Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus

Across both the United States and Canada, the sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest of all the hawk species. They measure just 13 inches in length and weigh under 8 ounces. Their tails are quite long compared to their bodies. 

Sharp-shinned hawks have blue-gray upper parts and are white below. Their breast is densely barred with rusty orange. They have piercing yellow eyes and bright yellow legs and feet. 

Around 90% of their diet is made up of songbirds, including warblers, robins, and sparrows. They are pursuit hunters, meaning they chase their bird prey through the air and catch them midflight using their sharp talons.   

The sharp-shinned hawk frequents dense forests at a variety of elevations. They can be found in the Northwest mountains of America, as well as in more central and continental locations.

Osprey ‘Sea Hawk’

Osprey ‘Sea Hawk’
Image of an Osprey in flight
Credit: NASA

Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus

The Osprey is a very large species of raptor. They have a wingspan that exceeds 70 inches and they weigh a heavy 70 ounces. 

The wings and tail of ospreys are dark brown, whilst their head and underparts are white. When they are in flight, the white ends of their underwings can be observed. Two, brown eyebrow-like stripes run across their pale head. 

The Osprey is commonly referred to as the ‘sea hawk’, due to its diet which is unique among hawks. Their diet is 99% fish, which they catch from both salt water and fresh water. Ospreys dive under the water and snatch up fish using their sharp talons. 

Areas with large, shallow water that is abundant in fish are where this hawk can be found. The osprey ranges across America, from Alaska to Mexico. 

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FAQ What Kind of Hawks are in New Jersey?