Hawks in Alabama (With Pictures)

Hawks in Alabama (With Pictures)

Alabama boasts a wealth of natural landscapes, creating an ideal haven for a wide array of wildlife, including the awe-inspiring hawks. Renowned for their breathtaking aerial displays, impressive wingspans, and keen eyesight, these raptors have long captured the imaginations of both nature enthusiasts and scientific minds.

The state’s diverse climate and rich ecological tapestry provide a nurturing backdrop for various hawk species. Among them, the Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, American Kestrels, and Northern Harriers thrive, contributing significantly to Alabama’s intricate ecosystem and its delicate ecological equilibrium.

In this article, we take a closer look at hawks in Alabama, exploring their behaviour, hunting strategies, nesting habits, and their significance in maintaining the ecological balance of this captivating region.

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Life span: 10-15 years
  • Size: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
  • Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a highly prevalent bird species that can be found throughout the year in Alabama, and across North America, from Panama to Alaska. This bird is easily recognizable due to its distinctive features, such as a red tail, brown dorsal plumage, and light-coloured underbelly. It holds the honour of being the second-largest hawk species in Alabama, with a total of 14 subspecies across the continent.

This hawk is highly adaptable to various environments and is known to thrive in woodlands and transitional zones where different ecosystems meet. It is a fascinating species, showcasing impressive adaptability and an affinity for diverse habitats.

A Red-Tailed Hawk in flight

Alabama is home to the Red-Tailed Hawk, a fascinating bird known for its nesting behaviours. These birds create large stick nests, called eyries, which can be found high up in trees or on steep cliffs. These nests serve as breeding sanctuaries for the hawks, where they focus on taking care of their young and building strong family bonds.

Red-Tailed Hawks are versatile predators with a diverse diet. They consume a wide range of prey, including small mammals like rodents and rabbits, as well as birds and reptiles. These hawks use their impressive hunting skills and sharp talons to make precise swoops and ensure successful catches, making them apex predators in their habitats.

Conservation efforts have played a significant role in the success story of Red-Tailed Hawks in Alabama. Once threatened by habitat loss and human persecution, their populations have made a remarkable comeback. Thanks to protective measures and dedicated conservation efforts, these resilient birds now thrive in diverse habitats across the state, serving as a testament to the profound impact of conservation on preserving the intricate tapestry of nature.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
  • Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird species found throughout North America and Mexico, known for its impressive aerial skills and agility. It is characterized by the unique pale orange barring on its chest, which can sometimes be confused with Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

These birds of prey are stealthy hunters and possess remarkable hunting abilities, making them a fascinating sight to birdwatchers. However, this also causes some concern among homeowners, as they tend to loiter near bird feeders and hunt unsuspecting prey instead of the intended feeder fare.

A Cooper’s Hawk in flight

In Alabama, the Cooper’s Hawk engages in breeding activities and constructs cozy nests made of twigs and lined with soft materials.. Their dedicated nurturing of their young fosters a deep family bond amidst the towering forest canopy, weaving a captivating tapestry of life in the lush wilderness.

As a cunning inhabitant of the woods, the Cooper’s Hawk possesses exceptional agility, allowing it to skillfully pursue and capture prey. Its diverse culinary skills are on full display as it expertly targets small birds and mammals with remarkable precision. With sharp eyesight and nimble wings, it embodies the elegance of a skilled predator, showcasing the art of pursuit in the wild expanses of nature.

The Cooper’s Hawk in Alabama has embarked on an extraordinary conservation journey. In the past, its population dwindled due to habitat loss and pesticide use. However, collaborative efforts have sparked a resurgence in their numbers. Conservation initiatives focused on preserving their habitat and raising public awareness have served as a lifeline for these remarkable birds, ensuring a harmonious future in Alabama’s untamed wilderness.

3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
  • Life span: 5 years
  • Size: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species found in Alabama as well as in the entire United States. These hawks have a distinctive appearance with a greyish back and a bright orange chest that resembles its close relative, the Cooper’s Hawk.

One of the key traits that set the Sharp-Shinned Hawk apart from other hawks is the presence of unique tail stripes. Due to their secretive nature and small size, these hawks prefer to live in wooded habitats where they can easily conceal themselves during the nesting season.

Close up photo of a Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk, not a resident breeder in Alabama, is a migratory visitor to the state. In regions across North America, these birds construct compact nests using twigs and soft materials, strategically placed within the sheltered canopies of forests. These nests provide a secure environment for raising their young, fostering a strong sense of familial warmth and protection.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk stands out for its remarkable hunting abilities, characterized by its agility and precision. It primarily preys on small birds and mammals, demonstrating a diet rich in feathered prey and elusive quarry. Its expertise in the art of pursuit highlights its prowess as an adept avian predator.

Throughout Alabama’s history, conservation efforts have played a pivotal role in preserving the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and its habitat. These magnificent raptors have faced challenges arising from habitat loss and human impact. Through dedicated conservation initiatives, including the establishment of protected areas and habitat restoration projects, their recovery has been facilitated, ensuring a harmonious coexistence between humans and these majestic aerial hunters.

4. Rough-Legged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 18-20 in (46-51 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-3.25 lbs (680-1470g)
  • Wingspan: 52-54 inches (132-137 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and uncommon

The Rough-legged Hawk is a notable inhabitant of Arctic and subarctic regions, characterized by its large size and a unique feathered facial disk that imparts an owl-like visage. This distinctive adaptation serves as a valuable defence against frigid temperatures. During flight, its wings display a distinguishing black carpal patch, and its tail boasts an eye-catching dark band, adding to its remarkable appearance.

A close up photo of a Rough-Legged Hawk flying

Rough-legged Hawks are not permanent residents in Alabama but they do visit the state during the winter months. These birds build their nests on rocky outcrops and cliffs during their breeding season in the Arctic tundra. Their nests are made using twigs, grass, and feathers, providing them with protection from the harsh Arctic weather.

In their breeding habitat, Rough-legged Hawks feed mainly on small mammals such as lemmings and voles. However, during their temporary stay in Alabama, they may shift their diet to include small rodents and occasionally birds. Thanks to their exceptional eyesight, these birds of prey can spot prey from great distances while soaring through the open landscapes.

Conservation efforts for Rough-legged Hawks mainly focus on their breeding grounds in the Arctic. It is important to protect the fragile tundra ecosystems and reduce any disturbances caused by human activities. In Alabama, the presence of these Arctic visitors during winter emphasizes the significance of maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem that supports their wintering needs.

5. Broad-Winged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

In the spring and summer breeding season, Alabama provides a habitat for the Broad-Winged Hawk. However, it’s during the fall migration that these hawks truly capture attention. They assemble in massive flocks, occasionally reaching thousands in number, as they embark on their journey to South America.

These hawks sport a dark brown body with a pale whitish belly adorned with horizontal bars, rendering them a captivating spectacle for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

A Broad-Winged Hawk about to take off

The Broad-Winged Hawk, renowned for their high-flying prowess, does not typically breed in Alabama. However, they are known to construct robust nests perched atop towering trees, where they raise their young with utmost care in a wild and untamed environment that poses both challenges and rewards.

These skilled avian predators have a diverse diet, including small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally amphibians. With their sharp eyesight and agile aerial skills, they are exceptional hunters, capable of executing precise swoops to capture their prey.

Alabama has been at the forefront of conservation efforts dedicated to protecting the Broad-Winged Hawk and their natural habitat. With initiatives focused on preserving their surroundings, educating the public, and conducting research, these efforts have contributed significantly to the protection of their populations. This collective dedication ensures the continued presence of this captivating species and fosters a harmonious coexistence between humans and these majestic birds.

6. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: Up to 12 years
  • Size: 18-20 inches (45-50 cm)
  • Weight: 12-26 ounces (350-740 g)
  • Wingspan: 40-48 inches (100-122 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Northern Harrier, a skilled predator, can be frequently observed in various parts of North America, including Alabama. These avian creatures are readily identifiable by their unique facial disk, slim physiques, and elongated wings, enabling them to glide gracefully through the air.

During the courtship season, male Northern Harriers engage in elaborate aerial exhibitions, demonstrating their agility and charm as they execute intricate manoeuvres.

A Northern Harrier in flight

In Alabama, the Northern Harrier exhibits a fascinating nesting behaviour that underscores its resilience and adaptability. These raptors meticulously select their nesting sites, often opting for concealed spots within marshes, grasslands, or shrub-dominated habitats. Their nests, typically built close to the ground, comprise twigs, grass, and soft feathers, creating a snug cradle for their future offspring.

The Northern Harrier’s menu in Alabama boasts a diverse array of prey, showcasing their prowess as skilled hunters. They favour small mammals, birds, and occasionally even amphibians, utilizing their sharp eyesight and precision during low-level flights over fields and wetlands to locate their quarry. Their efficient hunting techniques make them agile and effective predators.

Alabama has played a vital role in the conservation of the Northern Harrier and its habitat. Historically, these raptors encountered challenges due to habitat loss and shifts in land use. However, concerted efforts have been undertaken to safeguard their populations. Initiatives encompassing habitat preservation, restoration, and public awareness have contributed to the successful conservation of this majestic species within the state. Today, the Northern Harrier stands as a symbol of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature in Alabama.

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Life span: 19 years
  • Size: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a fascinating bird that can be found in North America’s vast woodlands and lush habitats. Its striking plumage, which features rich chestnut hues and vibrant reddish shoulders, makes it a captivating sight for anyone lucky enough to spot it.

The bird’s navigational skills are exceptional, particularly within its own territory. It has an impressive ability to navigate with precision, deftly manoeuvring through dense foliage and intricate tree canopies. This remarkable agility enables it to be a successful hunter in the dense woodlands where it resides.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk flying close to a tree

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a fascinating bird that resides in various ecosystems throughout Alabama. They are known for their intricate nesting behaviour, which offers a glimpse into their family-oriented lifestyle. These raptors are skilled architects, constructing large stick nests high in the trees, often near sources of water. These nests provide a secure environment where the hawks can raise their young, fostering strong familial bonds within the lush woodlands.

Red-shouldered Hawks in Alabama are highly adaptive predators with a diverse diet. They feed on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and occasionally even birds, showcasing their prowess as skilled avian hunters. With sharp talons and keen eyesight, they execute precise swoops to capture their next meal.

Alabama has played a crucial role in the conservation of the Red-shouldered Hawk and its habitat. These birds have faced challenges in the past due to habitat destruction and human interference, but dedicated efforts have been made to protect their populations. Conservation initiatives, such as the preservation of wooded areas and increased public awareness, have contributed to the successful conservation of this magnificent species in the state.

Where to find them

Alabama offers numerous opportunities for hawk enthusiasts to spot these majestic raptors in their natural habitats. To maximize your chances of witnessing these impressive birds, consider the following tips and four excellent areas for hawk watching:

  • Seasonal Awareness: Hawk migrations are highly seasonal. The fall months, from September to November, are prime times to witness hawks passing through Alabama on their southward journey. Spring, particularly March and April, also sees some hawk activity as they head north.
  • Look to the Skies: Hawks are often seen soaring high above, riding thermal currents. Find a vantage point with an open view of the sky, such as hilltops, overlooks, or open fields. A pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can enhance your viewing experience.
  • Identify Common Species: Familiarize yourself with Alabama’s common hawk species, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Each has unique characteristics that can aid in identification.

Four excellent areas for hawk watching in Alabama include:

  • Birmingham Botanical Gardens: This urban oasis attracts hawks during migration, offering a convenient location for local birdwatchers.
  • Little River Canyon National Preserve: Located in northeastern Alabama, the canyon’s unique geography funnels hawks along its ridges during migration.
  • Bald Rock Heritage Preserve: Situated within the Talladega National Forest, this overlook provides a stunning panoramic view for hawk spotting.
  • Dauphin Island: Positioned along the Gulf Coast, Dauphin Island serves as a critical stopover for hawks during migration, making it an ideal spot for both residents and visiting birders.


In Alabama’s rich tapestry of nature, hawks reign supreme, symbolizing both the state’s diverse ecosystems and the resilience of its avian inhabitants. From their captivating migratory flights to their diligent nesting rituals, hawks offer a remarkable spectacle for all who seek to connect with the wild.

As Alabama continues to prioritize conservation efforts and foster a community of hawk enthusiasts, these birds serve as ambassadors for the importance of safeguarding our environment. In the ever-expanding horizon of Alabama’s skies, hawks remind us of the profound and enduring relationship between humans and the untamed beauty of our natural world.

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