8 Hawks in Louisiana (With Pictures)

8 Hawks in Louisiana (With Pictures)

Hawks, the majestic birds of prey, are a vital part of Louisiana’s diverse ecosystem. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of these raptors, exploring their habits, habitats, and the roles they play in the natural landscapes of Louisiana.

The state’s unique geographical features, ranging from coastal wetlands to dense forests, provide an ideal environment for various hawk species, each with their own distinctive behaviors and characteristics.

We’ll examine the most common species found in Louisiana, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk, discussing their feeding habits, conservation status, and nesting behaviors. Additionally, the article highlights the challenges these birds face, including habitat loss and environmental changes.

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, one of the most widespread hawks in North America, occupies a range extending from Alaska to Central America. This large raptor is most famous for its striking red tail, visible in adults. Its plumage varies greatly, from rich brown to lighter tones, but typically features a broad, streaked belly band.

Soaring high above open fields and deserts, it’s often seen perched atop poles and trees, surveying the landscape with its keen eyes.

A Red-Tailed Hawk sitting in a bush

The Red-tailed Hawk is an impressive nest builder, choosing towering trees or cliff ledges for their homes. Their large nests, made of sticks and lined with softer materials, are often reused and expanded each year. This dedication to their nesting sites reflects their strong territorial instincts and commitment to their chosen locale.

Red-tailed Hawks are versatile in their diet, feeding on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are often seen soaring high above open fields, using their keen eyesight to spot potential prey. Their hunting is a display of power and grace, diving down with precision and strength.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a conservation success story. While they faced threats from hunting and habitat loss in the past, they have adapted well to human-altered landscapes.

Conservation efforts have focused on habitat preservation and protection from pesticides, ensuring that these majestic birds continue to soar across North American skies.

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: Migratory and common

The Cooper’s Hawk, an agile raptor, is commonly found across North America, extending from southern Canada to northern Mexico. It’s particularly recognized for its slate-gray back and rich, rufous-barred underparts.

The adult’s head exhibits a darker cap, contrasting with its lighter nape. Its tail, long and rounded, displays distinctive bands, a key feature in identification. Males and females differ slightly, with females showing a more robust build.

This hawk is often seen in wooded habitats, gracefully manoeuvring through dense foliage.

A Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a stick

Cooper’s Hawks are architects of the treetops. These raptors favour tall trees in dense woodlands for their nesting sites. With a flair for privacy, they intricately weave sticks and branches, creating a substantial platform high above the ground.

The male typically initiates the build, offering twigs to the female as if presenting gifts, while she takes the lead in construction, shaping their future home with meticulous care.

The Cooper’s Hawk, a masterful hunter, primarily feeds on smaller birds and mammals. They exhibit incredible agility, darting through dense forests with precision. The pursuit is almost like an aerial dance, as they maneuver with grace and speed to outflank their unsuspecting prey, capturing them with a sudden, decisive strike.

Once threatened by pesticide use, Cooper’s Hawks have made a remarkable comeback. Conservation efforts focused on banning harmful chemicals and preserving woodland habitats have played a crucial role. Their recovery is a testament to the resilience of nature when given a chance to thrive.

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, the smallest hawk in North America, inhabits areas ranging from Canada to the northern Andes in South America. It features a blue-gray back with orange-barred underparts and a distinctively square-tipped tail with narrow bands.

Its head is relatively small with a sharp expression, and its legs are notably thin, lending the bird its name. This hawk prefers dense forests and is often seen darting through trees with remarkable agility.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks favour dense forests for their nesting sites. Their nests, often hidden among thick foliage, are compact structures made of twigs and lined with bark. The construction is a joint effort, a symbol of the pair’s bond.

The female, larger and stronger, plays a significant role in shaping the nest, preparing for the arrival of her young.

In the world of Sharp-shinned Hawks, small birds are the primary menu items. They are adept at navigating through dense woods, surprising their prey with swift, agile attacks. The hunt is a thrilling display of speed and dexterity, showcasing their prowess as avian predators.

Sharp-shinned Hawks have faced challenges due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Conservation efforts focus on protecting forest habitats and monitoring the impact of pesticides. Their adaptability to different environments is a hopeful sign, but vigilance is necessary to ensure their continued survival.

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, a visitor from the Arctic, breeds in the northernmost parts of North America and Eurasia, migrating to southern regions in winter. It has a robust build with feathered legs down to the toes, a feature unique among North American hawks.

Its plumage varies from dark brown to almost white, with many birds displaying a striking pattern of dark streaks and spots. This hawk is commonly seen hovering over open fields in search of prey, a behaviour not typical of other hawk species.

A close up photo of a Rough-Legged Hawk flying

The Rough-legged Hawk, a visitor from the Arctic, nests in the high cliffs and rocky outcrops of its northern breeding grounds. Their nests, often in desolate and harsh landscapes, are large structures made of sticks, lined with softer materials.

This choice of nesting site reflects their hardy nature and resilience in the face of extreme conditions.

In their Arctic home, Rough-legged Hawks primarily feed on lemmings and voles. Their hunting strategy is unique among hawks, often hovering in the air before diving onto their prey. In Louisiana, during their winter migration, they adapt their diet to include local small mammals and birds, showcasing their remarkable adaptability.

The Rough-legged Hawk faces challenges due to climate change, affecting their Arctic breeding grounds. Conservation efforts are focused on understanding the impacts of a warming climate and protecting vital habitats. Their migration patterns also offer insights into broader ecological changes.

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: Breeding and common

The Broad-winged Hawk, a small but robust raptor, is native to the Americas, migrating impressively long distances between North and South America. It’s recognized by its reddish-brown underparts and streaked belly, with a compact, broad-winged and short-tailed profile.

In flight, its wings show unique black-and-white bands, while its tail features distinct broad black bands. This bird prefers deciduous forests and woodlands, often going unnoticed until its piercing whistle is heard during the breeding season.

A Broad-Winged Hawk about to take off

Broad-winged Hawks are secretive nesters, choosing dense forest canopies as their nesting sites. Their nests are relatively small, yet sturdily built of twigs and lined with greenery. The process of building and maintaining the nest strengthens the pair’s bond and ensures a safe haven for their offspring.

This hawk’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, insects, and occasionally small birds. They are stealthy hunters, often waiting motionless on a perch before swooping down on their prey. Their hunting style is a testament to their patience and precision, vital traits for survival in the wild.

The Broad-winged Hawk’s conservation status is relatively stable, but they are not without challenges. Habitat loss and climate change pose threats. Conservation efforts focus on preserving forest habitats and monitoring the impact of climate change on their migratory patterns.

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 unique raptor, boasts a wide geographic range across North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Characterized by its distinctive facial disk, akin to that of an owl, this hawk has a long, slender body and wings.

Males display a gray upper body and white underparts, while females and juveniles are predominantly brown. Their long, slender wings, held in a V-shape when soaring, and their white rump patch, make them easily identifiable in open fields and marshes where they’re often found.

A Northern Harrier catching prey

Northern Harriers are ground nesters, a rarity among raptors. They choose open fields or marshes to construct their nests, which are simple structures of sticks and grass. The female delicately shapes the nest, creating a cozy bowl-like space to lay her eggs.

This choice of nesting site reflects their connection to the earth, a unique trait in the hawk family.

The diet of the Northern Harrier is as varied as the landscapes they inhabit. They primarily feed on small mammals and birds, using their exceptional hearing and sight to locate prey in tall grasses. Watching a Harrier hunt is like observing a silent ghost, as they glide low over the ground, ready to pounce with deadly accuracy.

The conservation story of the Northern Harrier is mixed. While they are not globally threatened, habitat loss and degradation pose significant challenges.

Conservationists emphasize the importance of preserving wetlands and grasslands, vital habitats for these unique hawks. Efforts are ongoing to ensure these elegant birds continue to grace our skies.

7. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Life span: 10-15 years
  • Size: 17-24 inches (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 1-1.5 lbs (450-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 37-43 inches (94-109 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Red-shouldered Hawk, a striking bird of prey, is native to North America, predominantly residing in the eastern United States and parts of California. It showcases a rich, rufous-coloured chest and belly, contrasting with its checkered black-and-white wings and tail.

The wings, when spread, reveal a distinctive translucent crescent near the tips. This medium-sized hawk prefers wooded areas near water sources and is often heard before it’s seen, thanks to its loud, distinctive call.

A close up photo of a Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks are builders of high-rise homes. Preferring tall trees near water sources, they create large, sturdy nests of sticks and twigs, often reused and refurbished over the years. The male and female work in harmony, with a shared vision for their treetop residence. This is a place not just for raising young but a testament to their enduring pair bonds.

These hawks have a diverse palate, feeding on a mix of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. They are patient hunters, often perched silently on a branch, waiting to spot an unwary prey. Their hunting style is a blend of patience and precision, striking only when the moment is just right.

Red-shouldered Hawks have faced challenges due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Conservationists stress the importance of preserving mature forests and wetlands. Efforts include habitat restoration and public education to raise awareness of the species’ importance in the ecosystem.

8. Ferruginous Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Life span: 5 years
  • Size: 20-26 in (51-66 cm)
  • Weight: 2.2-4.4 lbs (1-2 kg)
  • Wingspan: 50-56 in (127-142 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

The Ferruginous Hawk, a regal presence in the skies, graces the open landscapes of North America, predominantly found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. It boasts the title of the largest North American hawk, showcasing a striking appearance.

The bird’s upper body is clothed in a rich, rust-coloured plumage, from which its name, ‘ferruginous’ (meaning iron-rust), is derived. Its underparts are predominantly white, creating a stark contrast. The wings, broad and powerful, display a mix of white and rust, with lighter flight feathers.

A Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a branch

Preferring the vastness of open country, they often choose elevated sites like cliffs, hills, or even human-made structures for their nests.

These nests are grand constructions, assembled with sticks and often lined with softer materials, such as cow dung or wool, to provide comfort and warmth. Their choice of open areas for nesting is strategic, offering an unobstructed view of the surrounding landscape.

They primarily feed on small to medium-sized mammals like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and rabbits. Their hunting style is a blend of patient observation and sudden, swift attacks. They often soar high in the sky, using their keen eyesight to spot prey before swooping down with remarkable speed and accuracy.

Once abundant across the prairies, they faced a decline due to habitat loss and the reduction in prey species, primarily due to agricultural expansion and rodent control measures.

Conservation efforts have since focused on habitat preservation and restoration, along with monitoring and research to better understand their ecological needs. Efforts to reduce the use of harmful pesticides and protect prairie ecosystems have been crucial in their conservation.

Where to find Hawks in Louisiana

These majestic raptors can be found across a variety of habitats – from the lush pine forests in the north to the sprawling coastal marshes in the south. To find hawks in Louisiana, one must tune into the environment, looking for open fields, forest edges, or wetlands, as these are the preferred habitats for many hawk species.

For the best hawk-watching experience, it’s essential to equip yourself with a pair of binoculars and a field guide to help identify different species. Early morning or late afternoon are prime times, as hawks are most active during these hours, especially during their feeding times.

Here are four prime locations for hawk spotting in Louisiana:

  • Kisatchie National Forest: Spread across central and northern Louisiana, this expansive forest is home to several hawk species, including the Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks. The varied terrain of pine hills and hardwood bottoms offers an ideal habitat.
  • Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge: Located in southwestern Louisiana, this refuge is a haven for Northern Harriers and other migratory raptors, especially in the cooler months.
  • Sabine National Wildlife Refuge: Situated along the Gulf Coast, this area provides a unique blend of marsh and coastal habitat. It’s an excellent spot for observing migratory hawks and local species.
  • Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge, in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin, is a mosaic of swamps, lakes, and bayous. It’s a prime location for spotting Red-tailed Hawks and others that thrive in wetland environments.

Remember, patience is key when hawk-watching. These birds are often perched silently or soaring high in the sky, so taking the time to observe and enjoy the natural beauty of Louisiana’s landscapes will enhance the experience.


Louisiana’s rich tapestry of ecosystems offers a spectacular haven for hawks, each species weaving its own unique thread into the state’s natural heritage. From the dense forests to the coastal marshes, these majestic birds of prey are not just residents but vital contributors to the ecological balance.

Observing hawks in Louisiana is more than a pastime; it’s a journey into understanding the intricate dance of nature and the importance of preserving these magnificent creatures and their habitats.

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