Hawks in Massachusetts

Hawks in Massachusetts

Nestled within the picturesque landscapes and diverse ecosystems of Massachusetts, a group of magnificent raptors takes to the skies, capturing the imagination of bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Hawks, with their awe-inspiring beauty and soaring prowess, are a prominent presence in the Bay State’s avian realm. From the enchanting forests of the Berkshires to the coastal habitats along the Atlantic, Massachusetts offers a haven for these majestic birds of prey.

The diverse geography of the state provides a rich tapestry of habitats, attracting a variety of hawk species. Whether it be the iconic Red-Tailed Hawk, the striking Red-Shouldered Hawk, or the agile Cooper’s Hawk, these avian hunters grace the Massachusetts skies, displaying their aerial acrobatics and keen hunting skills.

In this article, we delve into the captivating world of hawks in Massachusetts, exploring their fascinating adaptations, natural history, and conservation efforts. We will uncover the secrets of their migratory patterns, delve into their breeding habits, and shed light on the crucial role they play in maintaining the delicate ecological balance of the state’s ecosystems.

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

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a prevalent avian species found throughout the year in Massachusetts. Its extensive range stretches from Panama to Alaska, covering North America in its entirety. Distinguished by its distinctive features, such as a short red tail, brown back, and pale underside, this hawk ranks as the second largest in Massachusetts.

With a total of 14 subspecies across North America, including the Massachusetts variant, this adaptable species demonstrates remarkable resilience in diverse habitats, displaying a particular fondness for woodlands and the fringes where woodlands meet other ecosystems.

A Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on a wooden post

In Massachusetts, Red-Tailed Hawks exhibit remarkable nesting behaviors, constructing large stick nests called eyries either in the lofty branches of tall trees or on cliffs. These robust dwellings serve as their breeding sanctuaries, where they devote themselves to raising their offspring and fostering a strong sense of familial bond.

As versatile predators, Red-Tailed Hawks demonstrate a diverse culinary preference. Their diet encompasses an array of options, ranging from small mammals like rodents and rabbits to birds and reptiles. Armed with exceptional hunting skills and razor-sharp talons, they execute precise swoops, ensuring successful captures and solidifying their position as apex predators.

The Red-Tailed Hawks in Massachusetts embody a remarkable conservation triumph. Once threatened by habitat loss and human persecution, their populations have experienced a remarkable resurgence, thanks to protective measures and dedicated conservation endeavours. These resilient avian creatures now flourish in various habitats throughout the state, serving as a testament to the influential impact of conservation in safeguarding nature’s captivating tapestry.

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

Renowned for its exceptional agility and flying abilities, the Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird that spans across North America and Mexico. It showcases a captivating appearance, characterized by pale orangy barring on the chest, which often leads to confusion with Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

These intelligent predators possess stealthy hunting skills, occasionally drawing the frustration of homeowners when they linger near bird feeders, targeting the unsuspecting prey rather than the feeder’s offerings.

A Cooper’s Hawk eating its prey on a branch

Amidst the vibrant forests of Massachusetts, the Cooper’s Hawk skillfully constructs snug nests woven from twigs and lined with soft materials. With meticulous devotion, they nurture their young, fostering a profound familial unity amidst the towering trees, weaving a captivating tapestry of life in the lush wilderness.

As a cunning inhabitant of the forest, the Cooper’s Hawk possesses extraordinary agility to pursue and capture its prey. It indulges in a diverse culinary repertoire, skillfully targeting small birds and mammals with astonishing precision. With its keen eyes and nimble wings, it embodies the grace of a masterful predator, epitomizing the art of pursuit in the untamed expanse.

The Cooper’s Hawk in Massachusetts has witnessed a remarkable conservation journey. Once confronting population declines due to habitat loss and pesticide usage, collective efforts have sparked a resurgence in their numbers. Conservation initiatives, encompassing habitat preservation and public awareness, have served as a lifeline for these remarkable birds, ensuring a harmonious future within the untamed realms of Massachusetts.

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

Massachusetts and the United States boast the Sharp-Shinned Hawk as their smallest hawk, adorned with a greyish back and a vibrant orangy chest, reminiscent of its Cooper’s Hawk relative. Notable attributes include distinct tail stripes that set it apart. With a secretive disposition and petite stature, these elusive hawks seek refuge within forested domains, masterfully concealing themselves during the nesting season.

This Sharp-Shinned Hawk seems to have spotted the cameraman

Nestled within the picturesque landscapes of Massachusetts, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk demonstrates a secretive yet methodical nesting behavior. It meticulously constructs compact nests, skillfully woven from twigs and soft materials, within the sheltered canopies of forests. In these cozy abodes, they lovingly nurture their young, creating a sanctuary of familial warmth and protection.

With unparalleled agility and precision, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk showcases its expertise as a formidable hunter. Specializing in capturing small birds and mammals, it pursues a menu of feathered delicacies and elusive prey. Mastering the intricate dance of pursuit, it exemplifies the prowess of an accomplished avian predator.

Throughout the history of Massachusetts, conservation efforts focused on the preservation of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and its habitat have proven crucial. These magnificent raptors have encountered challenges stemming from habitat loss and human interference. Through dedicated conservation initiatives, including the establishment of protected areas and habitat restoration, their recovery has been fostered, ensuring a harmonious coexistence between humans and these majestic aerial hunters.

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

In the spring and summer breeding season, the skies of Massachusetts are adorned with the majestic presence of the Broad-Winged Hawk, captivating birdwatchers. Yet, it is during the remarkable fall migration that these hawks truly enchant, as they assemble into immense flocks numbering in the thousands, embarking on their epic journey to South America.

With its dark brown body accentuated by a pale whitish belly adorned with horizontal bars, the Broad-Winged Hawk presents a captivating spectacle that is simply awe-inspiring.

Close-up photo of a Broad-Winged Hawk

Among the picturesque landscapes of Massachusetts, the Broad-Winged Hawk displays a captivating nesting behavior. They skillfully construct robust nests nestled in the towering trees, creating a secure sanctuary where they nurture their young with unwavering dedication, embracing the joys and challenges of parenthood in the untamed wilderness.

With a diverse palate, the Broad-Winged Hawk feasts on small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally even amphibians. Armed with sharp eyesight and swift aerial maneuvers, they become proficient hunters, executing precise swoops to secure their next meal, showcasing their prowess as skilled avian predators.

Massachusetts has been the site of committed conservation efforts to safeguard the Broad-Winged Hawk and its habitat. Through initiatives focused on habitat preservation, public education, and research, their populations have been protected. This collective dedication ensures the perpetuation of their captivating presence, fostering a harmonious coexistence between humans and this majestic species.

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

The Rough-Legged Hawk, a remarkable avian inhabitant of the high Arctic, undertakes an annual winter journey to Massachusetts. With its predominantly brown plumage, it presents a captivating contrast, boasting a lighter-coloured head and scattered dark spots adorning its body.

What distinguishes the Rough-Legged Hawk is its unique characteristic: feathered legs extending down to the toes. This exceptional adaptation provides insulation against the unforgiving Arctic climate, allowing them to flourish in their remote breeding habitat.

A Rough-Legged Hawk sitting on the snowy ground

Amidst the rugged landscapes of Massachusetts, the Rough-Legged Hawk displays a resilient nesting behavior. They construct their elevated eyries on cliffs or tall trees, establishing secure sanctuaries for their young. With unwavering devotion, they embrace the challenges of parenthood, providing their offspring with fierce protection and tender nurturing.

The Rough-Legged Hawk, a skilled sky hunter, possesses a versatile diet. From small mammals like voles and mice to birds and even reptiles, they exhibit adaptability in their foraging habits. With calculated precision, they gracefully soar above the wilderness of Massachusetts, executing strategic swoops to secure their next meal, epitomizing the artistry of aerial predation.

Massachusetts’s conservation endeavours have played a vital role in the preservation of the Rough-Legged Hawk. Through habitat protection, research, and public education, their populations have been safeguarded. This collective commitment ensures the harmonious coexistence of humans and these magnificent raptors, preserving the breathtaking beauty of Massachusetts’s natural heritage.

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

Similar to the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Northern Goshawk demonstrates exceptional agility within forested domains. These elusive birds adeptly maneuvers through the depths of woodlands, evading curious gazes.

In Massachusetts, the Rough-Legged Hawk is a year-round resident in the northern region and occasionally ventures to the south during non-breeding seasons. With a dark grey upper body embellished with black stripes and lighter gray underparts, they exude a sense of innate grace.

A Northern Goshawk plucking its feathers

Amidst the enchanting landscapes of Massachusetts, the Northern Goshawk exhibits a captivating nesting behavior. They skillfully construct their lofty nests within the embracing embrace of the forest, weaving a tapestry of twigs and foliage to create a sanctuary for their young. With unwavering dedication, they nurture their offspring, cultivating a bond forged with love and protective instincts.

As a true predator of the forest, the Northern Goshawk boasts a diverse and formidable diet. Their menu encompasses a range of prey, from small mammals like squirrels and rabbits to birds and even reptiles. With acute eyesight and swift flight, they unleash their hunting prowess, engaging in a captivating dance of predator and prey amidst the lush canopy of the woodland.

Conservation efforts in Massachusetts have played a pivotal role in safeguarding the Northern Goshawk. Through initiatives focused on habitat preservation, scientific research, and public awareness, their populations have been protected. These collective endeavours serve as a testament to our shared responsibility in preserving the majestic beauty of these magnificent raptors for generations to come.

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

The Northern Harrier, a proficient predator, can be observed in diverse regions of North America, including Massachusetts. Distinguished by its unique facial disk, sleek physique, and long wings, it gracefully soars through the heavens. During courtship, male Northern Harriers engage in intricate aerial exhibitions, highlighting their agility and charisma.

A Northern Harrier in flight

Within the captivating landscapes of Massachusetts, the Northern Harrier unveils its distinctive nesting behavior. With an artistic touch, they skillfully fashion their nests amidst the tall grasses, meticulously creating cozy havens where new life takes flight. An enchanting display of parental dedication unfolds as they nurture their young with unwavering tenderness, showcasing the enduring bonds of family.

As a master of the air, the Northern Harrier embraces a varied diet. Employing agile aerial acrobatics and adept ground-hunting skills, they seek out small mammals, birds, and even insects. With grace and precision, they execute their hunting strategies, engaging in a captivating dance of predator and quarry.

Massachusetts’s unwavering commitment to conservation has safeguarded the Northern Harrier and its vital habitat. Through dedicated efforts in habitat preservation, scientific research, and public awareness, their populations have flourished. This collective endeavour ensures the preservation of these enchanting raptors, underscoring our shared responsibility in nurturing the harmonious coexistence between nature’s wonders and our human presence.

8. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • 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

In the sprawling woodlands and lush habitats of North America, a captivating winged marvel graces the skies – the Red-Shouldered Hawk. Adorned with striking plumage, featuring rich chestnut hues and vibrant reddish shoulders, they command attention wherever they soar.

Interestingly, these remarkable birds are not only known for their fiery appearance but also for their remarkable ability to navigate their territory with great precision, effortlessly manoeuvring through dense foliage and intricate tree canopies.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk

With an artist’s touch, they meticulously fashion cozy nests nestled high up in the sturdy branches of towering trees, creating safe havens for their young. These dedicated avian architects weave together a tapestry of twigs, soft materials, and nature’s treasures to craft their treetop abodes.

When it comes to dining, the Red-Shouldered Hawk boasts a diverse and discerning palate. From nimble mammals scurrying through the undergrowth to aquatic prey swimming beneath the water’s surface, these resourceful hunters embrace a menu that spans the ecological buffet. With keen eyes and sharp talons, they swoop down with astonishing precision to snatch their next meal, showcasing their mastery of the hunt.

The Red-Shouldered Hawk’s conservation tale in Massachusetts is one of dedicated efforts and encouraging results. Once facing habitat loss and human impact, these magnificent raptors have become the focus of conservation initiatives aimed at preserving their natural habitats. Through the establishment of protected areas, habitat restoration endeavours, and collaborative research, their populations have rebounded.

Where to find Hawks in Massachusetts

To spot hawks in Massachusetts, venture to notable locations known for their hawk populations. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge offers elevated areas and observation points for optimal viewing. Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown features diverse habitats and boat tours for birding. Plum Island in Newburyport presents marshes and trails for birdwatching.

Mount Tom State Reservation in Holyoke offers diverse landscapes and lookout points. Bring binoculars, visit during migration seasons, and practice patience and quiet observation to increase your chances of witnessing the soaring grace of hawks in Massachusetts.


In the diverse landscapes of Massachusetts, hawks grace the skies with their majestic presence, captivating bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From the secretive nesting behaviors to their remarkable hunting prowess, hawks showcase the beauty and resilience of these avian predators.

With ongoing conservation efforts, the future looks bright for the preservation of these magnificent creatures and the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature’s aerial wonders in the captivating realm of Massachusetts.

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