Hawks in Maryland (With Pictures)

Hawks in Maryland (With Pictures)

Nestled within the heart of the Mid-Atlantic, Maryland reveals itself as a treasure trove of natural wonders, where the skies come alive with the majestic presence of hawks. From the soaring heights of its Appalachian peaks to the serene marshlands of its coastal regions, this state provides a diverse array of habitats for these awe-inspiring raptors.

Hawks in Maryland not only captivate the imaginations of bird enthusiasts but also play an integral role in the intricate web of the state’s ecosystems.

This article invites you to embark on a journey into the world of hawks in Maryland, where we will delve into their remarkable behaviors and the captivating stories that unfold beneath the open skies. Discover the art of hawk-watching, explore their preferred nesting grounds, and uncover the ongoing conservation efforts that safeguard their presence in this richly biodiverse state.

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 one of North America’s most iconic raptors, inhabiting a vast range across the continent. These hawks derive their name from their brick-red tail feathers, which stand out vividly against their otherwise dark plumage.

They possess a broad, powerful build with strong talons, ideal for capturing a variety of prey. Red-Tailed Hawks are frequently observed soaring gracefully in open skies, seeking small mammals and birds. Their distinctive “krreeeee” call often echoes through the countryside.

A Red-Tailed Hawk in flight

The nesting behavior of Red-Tailed Hawks in Maryland is a spectacle of grace and precision. These raptors, known for their majestic presence, meticulously select elevated sites for their nests. Whether perched high in trees or on man-made structures like cell towers, their nests are constructed with a keen eye for both stability and a commanding view of their hunting grounds.

In Maryland, they are expert hunters, targeting a variety of prey, including rodents, rabbits, and birds. Their soaring flight and razor-sharp vision allow them to spot potential quarry from great heights before embarking on their characteristic swoop to capture their prey.

Red-Tailed Hawks are considered common and stable residents of Maryland. The state’s varied landscapes, abundant prey species, and vigilant conservation efforts have combined to support their thriving populations. As stewards of Maryland’s natural treasures, ongoing habitat preservation and protection are imperative to maintain the presence of these majestic raptors.

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 bird of prey found in North America. Sporting a compact body and long tail, they are known for their stunning slate-grey upperparts and striking reddish bars on their breast. These hawks are agile hunters, primarily targeting birds in wooded areas, utilizing their remarkable speed and manoeuvrability to chase down prey.

Cooper’s Hawks are often mistaken for their close relative, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, but they generally have a larger size and a more rounded tail.

A Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a stick

In the verdant landscapes of Maryland, Cooper’s Hawks select the most secluded and hidden nesting sites. It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle, observing these avian architects at work.

They carefully piece together their nests using small branches and leaves, often finding sanctuary in tall trees. These nests, carefully concealed from prying eyes, serve as the first line of defence for their precious eggs and chicks.

The intensity of their pursuit of avian prey is a sight to behold. Amid the suburban neighbourhoods and wooded realms, they primarily focus on songbirds and pigeons. Their swiftness and agility in the air are remarkable, allowing them to seize opportunities with precision.

The Cooper’s Hawk’s journey in Maryland is marked by a resurgence in their population. Once impacted by pesticide use and habitat loss, these raptors have made a remarkable recovery. The history of their conservation is a testament to the dedication of Maryland’s conservationists.

The state’s awareness of their status has played a pivotal role in their resurgence. Today, conservation efforts and habitat preservation continue to be pillars of support for these majestic birds.

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: Breeding and common

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a compact and agile predator residing in North America. Recognizable by its small size, short wings, and long tail, these hawks have a slate-grey back and finely barred underparts. Their hunting technique involves rapid and precise movements, making them skilled bird hunters in dense woodlands and suburban areas.

Often confused with Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks have slender bodies and square-ended tails, allowing them to navigate through dense foliage with ease.

A Sharp-Shinned Hawk sitting on the ground

The nesting behavior of Sharp-Shinned Hawks in Maryland is a testament to their agile hunting skills. Nestled in secluded sites within wooded areas, these hawks construct compact nests high in trees, often blending seamlessly with the surrounding foliage. These concealed nests offer protection for their precious eggs and fledglings.

As specialized bird hunters, Sharp-Shinned Hawks have honed their skills in pursuit of small songbirds. In the dense foliage of Maryland’s woodlands, they navigate with ease, using their slender bodies and razor-sharp talons to capture avian prey. Their hunting tactics are swift and precise, a testament to their role as apex predators of the avian realm.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are relatively common in Maryland, but their populations are closely monitored due to their specialized bird-hunting niche. The conservation playbook emphasizes habitat conservation and responsible forest management to ensure the continued presence of these elegant raptors in the state’s wooded realms.

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

The Broad-winged Hawk is a raptor known for its striking appearance and widespread distribution across North and South America. With a wingspan of around 2 feet, these hawks feature broad wings and a distinct, bold pattern. They display a dark head, a reddish-brown barred chest, and white undersides marked with black streaks.

Broad-winged Hawks are migratory birds, often seen in large numbers during their annual journey, known as the “kettle” flight. Their haunting, high-pitched calls resonate through the dense woodlands and open skies they frequent.

A Broad-Winged Hawk sitting in the snow

Nesting behavior in the Broad-Winged Hawk reveals a remarkable testament to avian craftsmanship. These raptors meticulously select the choicest branches and leaves to construct their nests, often within the towering deciduous trees of rich woodlands, in other parts of North America than Maryland.

These nests are carefully placed high in the canopy, providing an excellent vantage point for monitoring their woodland domain. The intricate weaving of twigs and leaves creates a cozy refuge for their vulnerable chicks, ensuring their safety during the formative days of life.

Their diet comprises a diverse array of small mammals and reptiles, showcasing their prowess as skilled hunters. In the lush, temperate forests of Maryland, Broad-Winged Hawks have been observed swooping down upon unsuspecting squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional serpent. It’s a sight to behold, a testament to nature’s precision in predator-prey relationships.

Maryland’s conservationists have long been stewards of the Broad-Winged Hawk’s presence. The history of their conservation is interwoven with the preservation of the state’s pristine woodlands. The population of these hawks in Maryland remains stable, their status being of least concern.

The collaboration between conservationists and the state’s natural splendour ensures that these raptors continue to thrive in the verdant forests of Maryland. Nevertheless, vigilance remains paramount, guarding against any potential threats that might disrupt the harmonious balance they’ve found in this ecosystem.

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 rare

The Rough-Legged Hawk is a northern dweller, found across North America, Europe, and Asia. Named for its feathered legs, this hawk has a distinctive, light-coloured plumage, featuring a mix of dark and light markings. They have a wide wingspan and a graceful flight, often hovering in search of prey in open fields and marshes.

These hawks are highly adapted to cold climates and are known for their ability to hover while hunting small mammals, such as voles and lemmings.

A Rough-Legged Hawk in flight

While the Rough-Legged Hawk is an occasional winter visitor to Maryland, its nesting behavior is observed in more northern regions. In the frigid landscapes, they select nesting sites on cliffs and within the tundra. Here, they carefully construct nests from twigs and grasses, placing them strategically to command a clear view of their Arctic hunting grounds.

During their temporary stay in Maryland’s winters, Rough-Legged Hawks shift their hunting focus to small mammals like voles and mice. They are known for their mesmerizing hovering flight, a unique skill that allows them to pinpoint prey in open fields and marshes. Their winter hunts reflect their adaptability and efficiency in exploiting seasonal opportunities.

While they may not be year-round residents, the presence of Rough-Legged Hawks in Maryland is a reminder of the state’s remarkable ecological diversity. The conservation of these birds primarily takes place in their northern breeding grounds, emphasizing the significance of conserving Arctic habitats. Their visits to Maryland underscore the interconnectedness of ecosystems across vast distances.

6. 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

The Northern Goshawk is a formidable raptor inhabiting the northern hemisphere, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Recognizable by their robust build and piercing red eyes, Goshawks display a slate-grey back, pale underparts streaked with fine bars, and a distinctive white eyebrow stripe.

These birds are known for their exceptional hunting skills, preying primarily on birds and mammals in dense forests. Their powerful flight and sharp talons make them apex predators in their territories.

A Northern Goshawk in flight

It’s a sight to behold as the Northern Goshawks construct large, sturdy nests in the heart of coniferous trees in the Northern parts of North America. With an almost architectural precision, they weave sticks and foliage, creating nests that blend seamlessly with the surrounding wilderness. These nests are strategically placed for an unobstructed view of their hunting domain.

The Northern Goshawk is an apex predator, demonstrating a culinary prowess that reflects their position in the avian hierarchy. Amid Maryland’s lush woodlands, they display their formidable hunting skills. Squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally other birds fall prey to their ambush-style attacks. These hunts, marked by swift and calculated movements, exemplify the artistry of forest hunting.

In Maryland, Northern Goshawks have navigated the challenges posed by habitat fragmentation. However, the conservation efforts have not gone unnoticed. Vigilant monitoring and habitat preservation are essential for ensuring the continued presence of these majestic raptors in Maryland’s diverse ecosystems. The pages of their conservation history in the state continue to be written, with a focus on sustaining their splendour.

7. 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 is a graceful raptor that spans across North America, Europe, and Asia. Distinguished by their long wings and owl-like facial disk, these harriers have a distinctive white rump and a slim, brown-streaked body.

Unlike many raptors, Northern Harriers practice a low, hovering flight pattern, often hunting rodents and small mammals in marshlands and open fields. Their keen eyesight and agility make them highly effective hunters in their varied habitats.

A Northern Harrier in flight over a meadow

The Northern Harrier’s nesting behavior in Maryland unfolds in the open fields and marshlands that they favor. It’s an elegant spectacle, as they create shallow nests right on the ground, often tucked away amid tall grasses. This unique strategy allows them to raise their chicks while maintaining a vigilant eye over their hunting grounds.

Their diet primarily comprises rodents and small birds, with voles, mice, and marsh birds often falling victim to their swift and graceful strikes. Their low, mesmerizing flight and keen eyesight enable them to navigate challenging terrains with the precision of a seasoned avian predator.

Northern Harriers have enjoyed the fruits of wetland preservation and restoration efforts in Maryland. Their populations have thrived, a testament to the harmonious relationship between conservationists and the state’s rich natural heritage.

Ongoing monitoring and continued habitat protection remain integral to ensuring that these unique raptors continue to grace Maryland’s diverse ecosystems with their presence.

8. 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 striking bird found primarily in North America. These hawks feature a richly coloured plumage, with rusty-red shoulders that contrast with their white belly and barred chest. With their signature call resembling a loud, drawn-out “kee-aah,” they are often heard before seen.

Red-Shouldered Hawks are forest-dwelling raptors, commonly found near wetlands and streams, where they hunt amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals with their keen eyes and strong talons.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on a pole

Red-Shouldered Hawks in Maryland favor wooded realms for their nesting sites, where they weave the tapestry of life. These architects construct their nests with a blend of sticks, leaves, and moss, often nestled securely in the crooks of large trees. Proximity to water sources is key, providing easy access to the amphibians and reptiles that make up a substantial portion of their diet.

In Maryland’s riparian habitats, they specialize in hunting frogs, snakes, and rodents, displaying a keen palate for the region’s offerings. As they roam the woodland canopy, their distinctive “kee-aah” calls echo through the forest, a testament to their prowess in seeking sustenance.

Red-Shouldered Hawks have encountered the challenges of habitat loss in some parts of Maryland, but they continue to maintain relatively stable populations. The state’s ongoing efforts revolve around preserving their wooded habitats and safeguarding the vital riparian zones. By doing so, Maryland ensures that these striking raptors thrive amidst its lush forests.

Where to find Hawks in Maryland

Finding hawks in Maryland can be an exhilarating adventure for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers. The state’s diverse landscapes offer a variety of habitats where you can spot these majestic raptors. To embark on your hawk-watching journey, follow these tips and explore some prime locations:

  • Parks and Wildlife Refuges: Maryland boasts numerous state parks and wildlife refuges that provide excellent hawk-watching opportunities. Patuxent Research Refuge, Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and Assateague Island National Seashore are fantastic options. These protected areas offer undisturbed habitats where hawks frequently gather.
  • Ridgetop Overlooks: Hawks are often seen soaring along ridgelines, taking advantage of updrafts for effortless gliding. Head to places like Catoctin Mountain Park or Green Ridge State Forest, which feature well-positioned overlooks. Bring binoculars or a spotting scope to scan the skies for these high-flying birds.
  • Coastal Areas: Coastal regions along the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean provide vital stopover points for migratory hawks. Visit places like Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in nearby Delawareor Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore during fall migration for excellent hawk viewing.
  • Urban Parks and Suburban Areas: Even in more populated regions, you can find hawks. Parks in and around cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are known for supporting resident populations. Keep an eye out for Cooper’s Hawks or Red-Tailed Hawks perched in trees or circling above open fields.

To maximize your hawk-watching experience, bring along a field guide or a birding app to help with identification. Additionally, timing is crucial; autumn is the prime season for hawk migration in Maryland, with many species passing through or overwintering in the state.


In the heart of Maryland’s diverse landscapes, the allure of hawks reigns supreme. From the towering ridges of the Catoctin Mountains to the tranquil coastal shores of the Chesapeake Bay, these raptors command our attention with their majestic flights and keen hunting skills.

As we delve into the world of hawks in Maryland, we discover not only their role as apex predators but also their significance in the intricate tapestry of the state’s ecosystems. Whether you’re an avid bird enthusiast or a casual observer, Maryland’s skies and landscapes offer a mesmerizing stage for encountering these remarkable birds of prey.

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1 comment
  • What kind of predatory birds would you likely see in Lakeshore/Pasadena MD around the Chesapeake Bay area