Hawks in Arkansas (With Pictures)

Hawks in Arkansas (With Pictures)

Arkansas, known as the Natural State, is a haven for bird enthusiasts, especially those fascinated by the majestic hawks that grace its skies. This article delves into the diverse world of hawks in Arkansas, showcasing their unique characteristics, behaviors, and the crucial role they play in the state’s ecosystem.

With a landscape that ranges from the Ozark Mountains to the Mississippi River plains, Arkansas provides an ideal habitat for various hawk species. Readers will learn about the most common types, including the Red-tailed Hawk, known for its distinct reddish tail, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk, a smaller, more elusive predator.

The article also explores the challenges these raptors face, such as habitat loss and environmental changes, and the conservation efforts underway to protect them.

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, an iconic raptor of North America, is renowned for its majestic appearance and widespread presence. It showcases a broad range of color morphs, but typically, it has a brownish back and a pale underside, with a characteristic reddish-brown tail that glows in the right light.

This large hawk possesses broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail, which aid in its effortless soaring. The Red-tailed Hawk’s imposing stature and regal bearing make it a symbol of the wild skies.

Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is a master of high-rise living, building its nest atop tall trees, cliffs, and sometimes even human-made structures. These hawks are known for their large, sturdy nests, which they often return to and refurbish over several years. The nest becomes a center of activity during the breeding season, with both parents diligently involved in raising their young.

The Red-tailed Hawk’s diet is a reflection of its adaptability, consisting primarily of small mammals like rodents, but also including birds and reptiles. This hawk is often seen soaring high in the sky or perched in a prominent location, keenly surveying its territory for potential prey.

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the success stories in raptor conservation. Thanks to legal protections and the banning of harmful pesticides, their populations have remained stable and widespread. Ongoing conservation efforts focus on habitat preservation and public education to ensure these majestic birds continue to thrive.

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

Cooper’s Hawk, an embodiment of grace and power, inhabits a wide range of areas across North America, from dense woodlands to suburban settings. This bird is easily recognizable by its blue-gray back and warm, reddish barring on the chest and belly.

Its broad, rounded wings and long tail, which often shows a rounded tip, give it a distinctive profile in flight. The Cooper’s Hawk’s piercing red eyes, in adult birds, add to its intense and focused demeanour, making it a captivating sight in its natural environment.

A Cooper’s Hawk eating its prey on a branch

Cooper’s Hawk is an architect of the treetops, choosing tall trees in dense woodlands as the site for their nests. Here, they demonstrate a strong sense of fidelity, often returning to the same area or even the same tree year after year.

The nest, a sizable structure of sticks and twigs, becomes a hub of activity during the breeding season, echoing with the calls of these majestic birds.

The diet of the Cooper’s Hawk is a showcase of its hunting acumen, primarily consisting of medium-sized birds and small mammals. This hawk’s approach to hunting is stealthy and sudden; it uses the element of surprise to its advantage, swooping down on its prey with remarkable agility and speed.

Cooper’s Hawks have made a significant comeback after facing declines in the mid-20th century due to pesticide use. Conservation efforts have included banning harmful pesticides and protecting their woodland habitats.

These measures have not only helped their numbers rebound but also allowed these hawks to adapt to suburban environments, reflecting their resilience and adaptability.

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

In the avian world of agility and stealth, the Sharp-shinned Hawk stands out with its remarkable presence. Found throughout North America, especially in dense forests, this hawk is distinguished by its slate-gray back and finely barred underparts.

Its long, narrow tail and short, rounded wings are hallmarks of its silhouette. In flight, it exhibits a rapid wingbeat pattern. The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s head appears small for its body, and adult birds display a strikingly sharp contrast between their dark upperparts and lighter underparts, creating a visual allure unique to this species.

This Sharp-Shinned Hawk eating its prey

In the secretive canopies of dense forests, the Sharp-shinned Hawk crafts its nest, a concealed masterpiece of twigs and bark. These hawks display a preference for coniferous trees, where they intricately weave their nests high above the ground.

During the breeding season, these small yet fierce raptors become surprisingly tender, meticulously arranging their nest to ensure the safety and comfort of their future offspring.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a skilled predator, primarily preying on small birds, a testament to its agility and precision. Darting through dense foliage with remarkable speed, it captures unsuspecting birds mid-air. This hawk’s diet reflects its prowess as an aerial hunter, showcasing a remarkable ability to navigate through challenging environments in pursuit of its next meal.

Conservation efforts for the Sharp-shinned Hawk have focused on preserving their woodland habitats and monitoring population trends. These hawks have faced challenges due to habitat loss and pesticide use in the past, but recent conservation initiatives have helped stabilize their populations, symbolizing a triumph of dedicated environmental stewardship.

4. 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

Residing primarily in forests across North and South America, the Broad-winged Hawk is a master of camouflage. Its compact and stocky build is accentuated by a brown back and a white underside with distinct brown barring.

The most striking feature is its broad black-and-white banded tail. When soaring, its relatively short wings are noticeable, along with a somewhat rounded tail. The Broad-winged Hawk’s subtle yet detailed plumage allows it to blend seamlessly into the canopy, making it a fascinating subject for birdwatchers.

A Broad-Winged Hawk in flight

The Broad-winged Hawk chooses the quieter, more secluded parts of the forest for its nesting sites. These hawks build compact nests, often in the crook of a tree branch, using sticks and lining them with softer materials. The breeding season is a time of intense devotion, with both parents involved in nest building and care of their young.

Broad-winged Hawks have a varied diet that includes small mammals, insects, and amphibians. These birds are adept at utilizing their forested habitats to hunt, often catching prey on or near the forest floor. Their hunting style is a blend of patience and precision, waiting for the right moment to strike.

The conservation story of the Broad-winged Hawk is one of awareness and habitat protection. Efforts to conserve large tracts of forestland have been key in maintaining healthy populations. Their status as a migratory bird also highlights the importance of international conservation efforts, as these hawks travel long distances during their migrations.

5. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • 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 Red-shouldered Hawk, a resident of wooded areas across eastern North America, is a sight to behold with its strikingly patterned plumage. Its rich, rufous-coloured shoulders, which give the bird its name, contrast beautifully against the black-and-white checkered wings and tail.

The underparts are pale with reddish barring, creating a visually appealing pattern. In flight, its translucent crescents near the wingtips are a unique identifier. This medium-sized hawk carries an aura of elegance, complemented by its vibrant colouring.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

In the lush forests of Arkansas, the Red-shouldered Hawk builds its nest, a lofty fortress amidst the branches. Preferring deciduous or mixed woodlands near water bodies, these hawks meticulously construct their nests using sticks and line them with bark and leaves.

The nests are often reused and refurbished each year, a testament to the hawk’s attachment to its chosen nesting site.

The Red-shouldered Hawk’s diet is as diverse as the ecosystems it inhabits, consisting of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. It is a patient hunter, often perched silently on a tree limb, watching for movement below before swooping down to capture its prey with its sharp talons.

Conservation efforts for the Red-shouldered Hawk have centered around preserving wetland and forest habitats. Although not currently endangered, habitat destruction poses a significant threat. Conservationists emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems to ensure the continued presence of these vibrant forest dwellers.

6. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: 5 – 7 years
  • Size: 18-24 in / 45-61 cm
  • Weight: 12.3-26.5 oz / 350-750 g
  • Wingspan: 40-48 in / 100-122 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Northern Harrier, with its ethereal grace, frequents open fields and marshes across North America and Eurasia. It’s known for its distinctive facial disk, akin to that of an owl, which aids in its hunting.

The males are pale gray with black wingtips, while females and juveniles are brown with streaked underparts. In flight, its long wings and tail, and its unique, buoyant flight pattern, give it an almost otherworldly appearance. The Northern Harrier’s slender, elegant profile, along with its owl-like face, sets it apart from other raptors.

A Northern Harrier hunting in tall vegetation

The Northern Harrier is unique in its nesting habits, often building its nest on the ground in dense vegetation. This ground-nesting behaviour is unusual for raptors and demonstrates the Northern Harrier’s adaptability. The nests, made of twigs and grass, are carefully hidden to protect the eggs and young from predators.

The diet of the Northern Harrier is as varied as the open landscapes it inhabits, including small mammals, birds, and insects. Known for their distinctive hunting method, they glide low over fields and marshes, using their keen hearing and sight to detect prey, a testament to their prowess as hunters.

Conservation efforts for the Northern Harrier have been focused on preserving grassland and wetland habitats. Due to habitat loss and fragmentation, their numbers have declined in some areas, making conservation efforts crucial.

Initiatives include land management practices that support healthy ecosystems for these elegant birds of prey.

7. 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 rare

In the open landscapes of the Arctic tundra and Northern boreal forests, the Rough-legged Hawk reigns with a unique adaptation to cold climates. It displays a range of color morphs, from light to dark, but typically has a pale head and underparts with bold dark streaks. Its feathered legs, which give the bird its name, and large, broad wings are suited for hovering in search of prey.

The tail is typically white with a dark band at the end. The Rough-legged Hawk’s ability to thrive in harsh environments, coupled with its striking plumage, makes it an intriguing subject for bird enthusiasts.

A Rough-Legged Hawk looking for prey

The Rough-legged Hawk, a visitor from the Arctic, nests in the northernmost reaches of its range. These hawks prefer open landscapes for nesting, often choosing rocky outcrops or cliffs. Their nests are substantial, built with sticks and lined with softer materials, providing a warm and secure environment for their chicks in the harsh Arctic conditions.

Adapted to the cold, open landscapes, the Rough-legged Hawk primarily feeds on small mammals, particularly lemmings and voles. Their hunting technique is unique – they hover in the air, using their keen vision to spot prey before swooping down to capture it, a display of their specialized hunting skills.

Conservation efforts for the Rough-legged Hawk are focused on preserving their Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding grounds. While their populations are currently stable, climate change poses a significant threat, affecting their prey availability and habitat.

Conservationists advocate for climate action and habitat protection to safeguard the future of these Arctic specialists.

8. Northern Goshawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 24-29 in (61-74 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5-3 lbs (680-1360g)
  • Wingspan: 45-52 in (114-132 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

As a denizen of the dense forests across the Northern Hemisphere, the Northern Goshawk exudes a formidable presence. This powerful raptor is adorned with slate-gray plumage, accentuated by a striking black stripe over the eye, lending it a fierce expression.

Its broad, rounded wings and long tail, banded with gray and black, are designed for agile flight through wooded areas. The adult’s piercing red eyes add to its intense appearance. The Northern Goshawk’s robust build and commanding presence make it a symbol of the untamed wilderness.

A Northern Goshawk in the snow

The Northern Goshawk, a secretive and elusive bird, prefers dense forests for its nesting sites. These large hawks build hefty nests high in the trees, often in conifers. The nest is not just a place to lay eggs; it’s a stronghold, a safe haven for their young, shielded by the forest’s embrace.

The diet of the Northern Goshawk is a testament to its status as a top predator, including a variety of birds and mammals. These hawks are powerful and determined hunters, capable of pursuing prey through dense forests with remarkable agility and speed, showcasing their mastery of the forested domain.

The conservation of the Northern Goshawk revolves around protecting old-growth forests, crucial for their nesting and hunting. While not endangered, they face threats from habitat loss and disturbance. Conservationists emphasize sustainable forest management practices to ensure the survival of these formidable forest guardians.

Where to find Hawks in Arkansas

Arkansas, a state rich in diverse habitats, is a prime location for hawk enthusiasts to indulge in their passion.

To spot these majestic birds, understanding their preferred environments is key. Hawks thrive in areas where open fields meet woodlands, as these locations provide ample hunting grounds and nesting sites.

  • One of the best places to observe hawks in Arkansas is the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, located near the Arkansas River. This refuge offers a unique combination of wetlands and open fields, attracting Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. Visitors should bring binoculars and be patient; early morning or late afternoon are optimal times for sightings.
  • Another notable area is the Ozark National Forest. Its vast expanses of woodland and clearings are ideal for spotting Broad-winged Hawks, especially during their migration period in the fall. The forest’s scenic beauty adds to the experience, making it a must-visit for birdwatchers
  • Pinnacle Mountain State Park, just outside Little Rock, is another excellent location. The park’s mixed terrain of woods and open spaces is conducive to observing various hawk species. The park’s elevated areas provide a great vantage point for birdwatchers.
  • Lastly, the Delta region of Eastern Arkansas, with its agricultural fields and hardwood forests, is a haven for hawks, particularly during winter. The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in this region is known for its wintering bird populations, including several hawk species.

To maximize the chances of spotting hawks, enthusiasts should visit these areas during the migration seasons in spring and fall. Using a good pair of binoculars and keeping a respectful distance to avoid disturbing the birds are essential practices.

Additionally, joining local birdwatching groups or guided tours can enhance the experience, offering expert insights and helping locate these magnificent birds.


The diverse array of hawks in Arkansas is a testament to the state’s rich ecosystems and the importance of conservation efforts. From the stealthy Sharp-shinned Hawk to the soaring Red-tailed Hawk, each species adds a unique thread to the natural tapestry of Arkansas.

Their presence not only enriches the state’s biodiversity but also offers invaluable opportunities for wildlife observation and education. Preserving their habitats ensures that these majestic birds continue to grace Arkansas’s skies for generations to come.

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