10 Hawks in Kansas (With Pictures)

10 Hawks in Kansas (With Pictures)

Kansas, a state renowned for its vast plains and diverse habitats, serves as a crucial junction for various species of hawks, making it a fascinating region for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

This introduction to the hawks of Kansas will explore the intricate balance between migratory patterns and breeding behaviors, highlighting both common and rare species found throughout the state. From the soaring Red-tailed Hawk, emblematic of the American wilderness, to the elusive Northern Goshawk, each bird plays a vital role in the ecological tapestry of Kansas.

As we delve into the lives of these majestic raptors, we uncover the challenges they face, the habitats they prefer, and the significance of their presence in maintaining the health of local ecosystems.

Join us as we embark on a journey through the skies of Kansas, where the silent wings of hawks weave stories of survival, adaptation, and beauty.

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 majestic bird of prey that graces the skies across North America. Its geographical range spans from the dense forests of Alaska and Canada, stretching southward to the deserts of Mexico.

This raptor is easily identifiable by its striking reddish-brown tail, which contrasts beautifully with its predominantly brown body and creamy underparts. The broad wings and rounded tail of the Red-tailed Hawk make it a master of the sky, capable of soaring and gliding with minimal effort.

Its piercing eyes, sharp beak, and talons add to its formidable appearance, making it a symbol of strength and freedom in the avian world.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are the architects of the skies in Kansas, crafting sturdy nests atop the highest trees or even on cliff edges. These nests, often reused and refurbished over the years, become massive structures of sticks, lined with softer materials for comfort. Mates work in tandem, bringing materials back and forth, creating not just a nest but a home.

Their dedication to their nesting site strengthens bonds, making their partnership as enduring as the structures they build. This commitment ensures a safe and cozy cradle for their chicks, sheltered from the prying eyes of predators.

Red-tailed Hawks are the masters of adaptation, feasting on a diet as diverse as the terrain they oversee. From small mammals like rodents and rabbits, which form the bulk of their diet, to birds, reptiles, and even carrion, these raptors demonstrate remarkable versatility.

Their keen eyesight allows them to spot a meal from high above, diving down with precision and power to snag their unsuspecting prey. This adaptability in diet has helped them thrive in a variety of habitats, showcasing their prowess as apex predators.

Once threatened by habitat destruction and the widespread use of pesticides, these hawks have rebounded remarkably, thanks in part to conservation efforts and legal protections. Wildlife enthusiasts and scientists alike have worked tirelessly to monitor populations and protect crucial habitats.

Their presence in the skies is a powerful symbol of nature’s ability to recover, inspiring ongoing efforts to preserve the natural beauty and biodiversity of Kansas.

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, a medium-sized bird of prey, can be found throughout North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Its habitat ranges from dense forests to suburban areas, adapting seamlessly to the presence of humans.

This bird is distinguished by its blue-gray back and warm, reddish bars on its chest and underparts. The Cooper’s Hawk has a long tail and rounded wings, which it uses to navigate through trees with remarkable agility. Its fierce gaze and sharp talons are a testament to its prowess as a hunter, making it a respected figure in its ecosystem.

The elegant yet powerful appearance of the Cooper’s Hawk captivates all who observe it.

Cooper’s Hawk

Nestled within the boughs of tall trees, these structures are a labour of love, meticulously constructed to cradle their precious eggs. Both parents are involved in the nest-building process, a symbol of their commitment to each other and their offspring.

Their choice of location, often in dense woodlands or occasionally in suburban areas, offers a strategic advantage against predators and a tranquil environment for raising their young.

The Cooper’s Hawk, a dynamic presence in Kansas, thrives on a diet rich in variety, predominantly targeting medium-sized birds and small mammals. These hawks are skilled hunters, utilizing their agility to navigate through wooded areas with stealth and precision. Their sharp talons and beak make them formidable predators, capable of catching a bird in flight or a rodent on the ground. This varied diet reflects their adaptability and skill as hunters, ensuring their survival in both rural and urban environments.

Historically challenged by habitat loss and pesticide use, these birds have shown signs of adaptation and population recovery. Efforts by conservation groups and regulatory bodies have focused on protecting habitats and promoting safe pesticide practices. Public education campaigns have also helped to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, fostering a coexistence that benefits both hawks and humans.

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 rare

Venture into the dense forests and woodland areas across North America, and you might catch a glimpse of the elusive Sharp-shinned Hawk. This bird’s range extends from the boreal forests in the north to the subtropical regions in the south, showcasing its adaptability to various habitats.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is smaller and more slender than many of its raptor cousins, with short, rounded wings and a long, narrow tail that aids in its acrobatic flight through dense foliage. Its plumage is a subtle blend of gray and orange, with the males showcasing a darker back and the females and juveniles adorned in a more muted, brownish tone.

This hawk’s keen eye and swift movements make it a fascinating subject for birdwatchers.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Preferring the dense canopy of mature forests, they construct their nests out of twigs, hidden away from the eyes of the world. These hawks are solitary architects, with the male primarily gathering materials while the female shapes the nest.

Their choice of secluded spots and high trees for nesting helps protect their young from predators, ensuring a safe start to life. This intimate process of nest-building highlights the care and effort these birds invest in the next generation.

The diet of Sharp-shinned Hawks in Kansas is a thrilling display of agility and precision, primarily consisting of small birds. These adept hunters stealthily navigate through trees, using their compact size and speed to surprise their prey. Their acute vision locks onto unsuspecting birds at feeders or in bushes, capturing them with a swift, decisive strike. This diet reflects their specialization as bird hunters, playing a crucial role in the balance of local ecosystems by regulating bird populations.

Conservation efforts for Sharp-shinned Hawks in Kansas have focused on preserving their natural habitats and mitigating the impact of human activity. Despite facing challenges from habitat loss and collisions with man-made structures, these hawks have shown remarkable resilience.

Conservationists have emphasized the importance of maintaining forested areas and encouraging practices that protect these birds’ nesting sites. Education and research have also been key, increasing public awareness about the hawks’ role in the ecosystem and monitoring their population trends to ensure their continued presence in Kansas’s skies.

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 rare

The Broad-winged Hawk is a symbol of the American woodlands, thriving in the dense forests from southern Canada through the eastern United States, and migrating to Central and South America for the winter.

This small hawk is noted for its compact shape, broad wings, and short tail, which facilitate its journey across continents. Its plumage is a mix of brown and white, with distinct barring on the tail and a rufous tinge on the underparts. The Broad-winged Hawk’s piercing call is a herald of spring in its breeding range, and its presence is a vital part of the ecosystem, controlling rodent populations and adding to the biodiversity of its habitat.

Broad-Winged Hawk

These compact raptors create sturdy nests of twigs and bark, carefully chosen to blend into the forest’s tapestry. The secluded nature of their nesting sites provides a peaceful haven for raising their young, away from the hustle and bustle of predators and human activity. The intimate setting of their nests, hidden among the leaves, reflects the Broad-winged Hawk’s desire for privacy and security during the critical period of nurturing their chicks.

The Broad-winged Hawk’s diet in Kansas is a mirror to the diversity of the forest, with a preference for small mammals, insects, and amphibians. These hawks are patient hunters, often perching silently before swooping down on their prey with remarkable precision.

Their diet plays a crucial role in the control of insect and rodent populations, highlighting their importance in maintaining the ecological balance. The variety in their diet also speaks to their adaptability, allowing them to thrive in the diverse habitats of Kansas.

Conservation efforts for Broad-winged Hawks in Kansas focus on the preservation of forested areas, crucial for their nesting and feeding. These hawks face challenges from habitat fragmentation and the loss of large, contiguous tracts of forest. Conservationists and bird enthusiasts have rallied to protect these habitats, advocating for land management practices that benefit not only Broad-winged Hawks but the entire forest ecosystem.

Public education on the importance of these birds and their role in biodiversity has also been key in garnering support for conservation initiatives, ensuring that Broad-winged Hawks continue to grace the skies of Kansas.

5. 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 common

The Rough-legged Hawk, a visitor from the Arctic tundra, graces the skies of North America only during the winter months. Its breeding grounds lie in the northernmost reaches of Canada and Alaska, from where it migrates to the lower 48 states to escape the harsh Arctic winter.

This hawk is distinguished by its feathered legs, which extend all the way to its toes, a unique adaptation to its frigid homeland. Its plumage varies from light to dark morphs, featuring patterns of brown, black, and white that provide camouflage against the snowy landscape.

The Rough-legged Hawk’s large wings and buoyant flight are a testament to its mastery of the cold, open spaces where it hurts.

Rough-Legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, a winter visitor to Kansas, exhibits remarkable nesting behaviours in its Arctic breeding grounds. These hawks prefer the open tundra, where they build nests on cliffs or even on the ground, using whatever materials are available in the sparse landscape.

This adaptability to extreme conditions highlights their resilience and the incredible journey they undertake each year to raise their young. Their nesting behaviour, a blend of simplicity and necessity, reflects the harsh realities of life in the Arctic and the indomitable spirit of these migratory raptors.

During their stay in Kansas, Rough-legged Hawks adapt their diet to the available prey, primarily feeding on small mammals such as voles and mice. Their hunting technique is a mesmerizing display of skill, as they hover in the air, scanning the ground below with their keen eyesight before making a precise dive to capture their prey. This ability to exploit the open landscapes of Kansas for hunting showcases their adaptability and the vital role they play in controlling rodent populations during their winter sojourn.

The conservation story of the Rough-legged Hawk in Kansas is intertwined with broader efforts to protect migratory bird pathways and the habitats they rely on during their seasonal journeys. Conservationists have focused on monitoring population trends and the impacts of climate change on their Arctic breeding grounds and winter habitats.

Initiatives to preserve natural landscapes in Kansas and reduce threats from pesticides and habitat loss are crucial for ensuring these hawks have safe wintering grounds. The presence of Rough-legged Hawks in Kansas each winter is a reminder of the global interconnectedness of ecosystems and the need for international conservation collaboration.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 18-22 inches (46-56 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4-2.4 pounds (650-1,100 g)
  • Wingspan: 47-59 inches (119-150 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

Swainson’s Hawk is a traveler of the skies, breeding in the grasslands and prairies of North America and wintering in the pampas of South America. This long-distance migrant is recognized by its sleek body, long, pointed wings, and a relatively short tail. Its plumage varies significantly, from light to dark morphs, but typically features a brownish back and a white underbelly, often with a reddish chest.

The Swainson’s Hawk takes to the air with grace and power, riding the thermals in search of prey. Its journey across continents is one of the avian world’s most remarkable migrations, showcasing the bird’s endurance and adaptability.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks bring a touch of the prairie spirit to Kansas, choosing open landscapes to build their nests. These hawks have a preference for tall trees or even utility poles, creating large platforms of sticks and vegetation.

Their choice of nesting sites reflects their love for the wide-open spaces, where the sky stretches endlessly above. The effort and care put into constructing and maintaining their nests are a testament to their strong parental instincts, ensuring their young have a safe and sturdy home amidst the vastness of the prairie.

The diet of Swainson’s Hawks in Kansas is as broad as the prairie itself, including insects, small mammals, and birds. These hawks are particularly adept at hunting in open fields, often seen soaring or perched, watching for prey. Their preference for insects, especially during certain times of the year, aligns with their migratory patterns, demonstrating an incredible adaptability to seasonal changes.

Once impacted by pesticide use and habitat loss, these hawks have become symbols of conservation success, with efforts aimed at safeguarding their migratory routes and breeding grounds. Initiatives to reduce pesticide use and protect large areas of open land have been pivotal in supporting their populations.

The collaboration between farmers, conservationists, and policymakers has been instrumental in creating a safer environment for these majestic birds, ensuring their place in Kansas’s natural heritage.

7. Ferruginous Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Life span: Up to 20 years
  • Size: 22-27 inches (56-69 cm)
  • Weight: 2.6-4.4 pounds (1.2-2 kg)
  • Wingspan: 52-55 inches (132-140 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Ferruginous Hawk, the largest of the North American hawks, rules over the open landscapes of the western United States, extending into Canada and Mexico. This bird prefers the wide-open spaces of prairies, deserts, and plains, where it can use its keen vision to spot prey from afar.

Its name derives from the Latin word for iron, referring to its rust-coloured back and wings, which contrast strikingly with its white underparts and legs. The Ferruginous Hawk’s broad wings and powerful build give it a commanding presence in the sky, making it a breath-taking sight against the backdrop of the American West.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawks, the regal inhabitants of the Kansas prairies, exhibit a remarkable preference for open lands when it comes to nesting. These largest of North American hawks build their nests on the ground or atop low shrubs and trees, using sticks and bones, and lining them with softer materials.

Their nests, often located in areas that offer panoramic views of their surroundings, serve as vantage points to monitor threats and prey. The dedication of Ferruginous Hawks to their nesting sites, returning year after year, highlights their deep connection to their chosen territory, embodying the spirit of the prairie.

In the expansive landscapes of Kansas, Ferruginous Hawks thrive on a diet that showcases their prowess as hunters of the open plains. Primarily feeding on rodents and rabbits, these hawks demonstrate an impressive ability to control pest populations, benefiting the agricultural landscape.

Their hunting strategy, often involving soaring high before diving down on prey with breath-taking speed, is a spectacle of nature’s precision.

Conservation efforts for Ferruginous Hawks in Kansas are deeply rooted in the preservation of prairie ecosystems. Faced with challenges such as land conversion for agriculture and urban development, these hawks have become focal points for conservation initiatives aimed at protecting open habitats.

Efforts to maintain and restore native prairie lands have been key in providing the necessary space for these hawks to hunt, nest, and flourish.

8. 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 rare

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a vibrant presence in the wet woodlands and riverside forests of Eastern North America, extending into parts of California and Mexico. This bird’s range, though not as extensive as some of its relatives, is marked by its preference for lush, wooded habitats.

The Red-shouldered Hawk is easily identified by its rich, rufous-red shoulders, which stand out against its striking black and white checkered wings and tail. Its underparts are beautifully barred with orange, creating a stunning contrast. The bird’s intense stare and sharp features embody the spirit of the wild, making it a captivating sight for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk brings a splash of color to the Kansas woodlands, crafting nests that are as secure as they are secluded. Preferring the dense cover of deciduous forests near water bodies, these hawks meticulously build their nests, layering sticks and lining them with bark and leaves. This choice of location not only provides a lush backdrop for their nesting period but also ensures a steady supply of food for their chicks.

In the verdant landscapes of Kansas, the Red-shouldered Hawk’s diet reflects the abundance of the land. Feeding primarily on small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, these hawks showcase their versatility and skill as hunters. Their keen eyesight and patient hunting strategy allow them to detect and capture prey in the underbrush or along water’s edge, making them an integral part of the ecosystem’s delicate balance.

The conservation narrative of the Red-shouldered Hawk in Kansas is one of cautious progress, with efforts aimed at preserving the wet woodland habitats these birds call home. Challenges such as deforestation and water pollution have prompted conservationists to advocate for protective measures and habitat restoration projects.

Public awareness campaigns have also played a crucial role in highlighting the importance of these hawks to the ecosystem, encouraging community involvement in conservation efforts.

9. Northern Goshawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter atricapillus
  • 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

The Northern Goshawk, with its formidable presence, reigns over the boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. This bird’s impressive range speaks to its adaptability and prowess as a top predator.

The Northern Goshawk is characterized by its large size, broad wings, and long tail, which allow it to maneuver through dense forests with ease. Its plumage is a striking combination of slate gray and white, with a distinct black stripe across its yellow eyes, giving it a piercing gaze. The robust body, accented by powerful talons and a sharp beak, underscores its status as a fearsome hunter.

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk, a rare but awe-inspiring sight in Kansas, chooses secluded and dense forests for its nesting sanctuaries. These formidable birds of prey construct large nests high in the canopy, preferring the solitude offered by the forest’s heart.

The construction of these nests is a testament to the goshawks’ strength and determination, using branches and twigs to create a secure foundation for their eggs. The privacy and security of their chosen nesting sites reflect their elusive nature and the importance they place on the safety of their offspring.

The diet of the Northern Goshawk in Kansas is a testament to their prowess as apex predators, focusing on a range of mammals and birds, reflecting their adaptability and hunting skills. These powerful raptors utilize their keen eyesight and powerful flight to ambush prey, showcasing an impressive ability to adapt their hunting techniques to the available prey.

These magnificent birds face challenges from logging, land development, and disturbances to their nesting areas. Conservationists advocate for sustainable forestry practices and the protection of large tracts of mature forests to ensure the goshawks have the necessary space to thrive. Research and monitoring programs aim to better understand their ecology, informing conservation strategies to safeguard the future of these majestic raptors in Kansas.

10. 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 distinctive owl-like face, glides effortlessly over marshes and open fields across North America, Europe, and Asia. This bird’s range is a testament to its versatility, thriving in a variety of open habitats.

The Northern Harrier is easily identifiable by its slim profile, long wings, and tail, which it skillfully uses to maneuver close to the ground in search of prey. Its plumage is a mix of gray, brown, and white, with males being lighter than females. The Harrier’s face is framed by a ruff of feathers, which directs sound to its ears, enhancing its hearing.

This unique adaptation, combined with its silent flight, makes the Northern Harrier a formidable and mysterious hunter of the bird world.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harriers, the ethereal hunters of Kansas’s marshes and meadows, have a unique approach to nesting. These ground-nesting raptors prefer dense vegetation, creating simple nests on the ground that blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

This choice reflects their need for concealment from predators, providing a safe haven for their chicks. The Northern Harrier’s deep connection to the land is evident in their nesting behaviour, with a profound reliance on the natural cover provided by their habitat.

Feeding on small mammals and birds, they glide low over fields and wetlands, using their exceptional hearing and sight to detect prey. Their hunting technique is a delicate balance of stealth and speed, demonstrating the harrier’s mastery of its domain. This varied diet highlights their importance in controlling pest populations and maintaining the health of their ecosystems, underscoring the intricate connections between species in Kansas’s natural landscapes.

The conservation narrative of the Northern Harrier in Kansas is a story of resilience and hope. Facing challenges from habitat loss and degradation, these birds have become symbols of the need for wetland and grassland conservation. Efforts to protect and restore these habitats have been crucial in supporting Northern Harrier populations, emphasizing the importance of healthy ecosystems for the survival of species.

Through research, land management, and public education, conservationists are working to ensure that Northern Harriers continue to soar over Kansas, serving as ambassadors for the protection of the natural world.

Where to find Hawks in Kansas

In Kansas, hawks can be observed across various habitats, from the wooded areas and river valleys to the wide-open plains. To find hawks in Kansas, enthusiasts should focus on areas where these birds hunt or nest, particularly during migration seasons or breeding times.

Early morning or late afternoon are ideal for spotting hawks, as they are most active during these times. Bringing binoculars and a field guide to raptors can enhance the experience, helping to identify different species from a distance.

Four notable areas for hawk watching in Kansas include:

  • Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area: A vital stopover for migratory birds.
  • Quivira National Wildlife Refuge: Offers diverse habitats attracting a variety of hawk species.
  • Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: Ideal for spotting hawks in natural grassland environments.
  • Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area: Provides a mix of wetland and forested areas, attracting raptors.

Each of these locations offers a unique ecosystem supporting a rich biodiversity, making them excellent choices for observing hawks in their natural habitat.


Exploring the skies of Kansas reveals a dynamic raptor community, from the widespread Red-tailed Hawk to the elusive Northern Goshawk. These majestic birds, whether through migration or as year-round residents, add to the state’s natural allure, reminding us of the importance of conserving their habitats for future generations to witness their majesty.

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