9 Hawks in Minnesota (With Pictures)

9 Hawks in Minnesota (With Pictures)

Minnesota’s diverse landscapes provide a haven for a wide array of hawk species, making it a prime location for birdwatching enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. From the dense forests in the north to the sprawling prairies in the south, the state’s varied ecosystems support a rich tapestry of raptor life.

This article will explore the tenacious hunters of the Minnesota skies, detailing the characteristics, behaviors, and habitats of species such as the Red-tailed Hawk, the stealthy Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the majestic Northern Harrier, among others.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or simply curious about the avian world, understanding the role these raptors play in Minnesota’s ecological balance is both fascinating and essential.

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 predominant raptor species across North America, exhibiting a vast geographical range that includes diverse environments from dense forests and deserts to urban areas. Characterized by its robust build and broad wings, this hawk is easily identifiable by its rich brown dorsal plumage and the striking red hue of its tail, which contrasts sharply with its lighter underside.

These physical attributes not only facilitate its adaptability to various habitats but also enhance its efficiency as a predator. The Red-tailed Hawk’s presence across such a wide range of locales underscores its ecological significance, serving as a key indicator of the health and diversity of ecosystems.

This bird’s widespread distribution and adaptability highlight its role as an emblematic figure of North American wildlife.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks prefer to nest in high places, such as tall trees or cliffs, where they can have a broad view of their territory. Their nests are constructed from sticks and twigs and are often reused and added to each year.

These birds exhibit a strong territorial behavior during the nesting season, which typically starts in early spring. Males and females work together to build the nest, which plays a crucial role in their courtship and bonding process.

The diet of the Red-tailed Hawk is highly varied, including small mammals like rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), rabbits, birds, reptiles, and occasionally carrion. This flexibility in diet allows them to adapt to different environments, from rural to urban areas.

They are opportunistic hunters, often seen soaring or perched high waiting to spot their prey before making a swift dive to capture it.

Conservation efforts for the Red-tailed Hawk have been successful, leading to a stable and even increasing population in many areas. These efforts include habitat protection, legal protection from hunting and poaching, and education about the importance of these birds to the ecosystem. The banning of DDT and other harmful pesticides has also played a significant role in their recovery.

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 medium-sized raptor that thrives in wooded and suburban areas across North America, from southern Canada to Mexico. Its body is characterized by a blue-gray back and rust-barred underparts, with a distinctive long tail and rounded wings that are optimized for quick, agile flight.

This hawk is known for its skilled hunting, capable of navigating through dense foliage to catch prey. The Cooper’s Hawk’s intense red eyes and fierce demeanour exemplify its predatory prowess.

The adaptation of this species to suburban environments underscores its ecological versatility, allowing it to play a significant role in urban and suburban bird communities by regulating populations of birds and small mammals.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks build their nests in large trees, often in areas where forests meet open spaces. The nests are constructed from sticks and lined with bark and softer materials. These hawks have a single brood per year, with the female primarily responsible for incubation. The nesting site plays a crucial role in their breeding success, offering both visibility and protection.

The diet of Cooper’s Hawks mainly consists of birds and small mammals. They are adept at catching birds in flight and often hunt around bird feeders. Their hunting strategy involves quick, surprise attacks using obstacles to conceal their approach. Cooper’s Hawks play a crucial role in controlling bird and rodent populations in their habitats.

The population of Cooper’s Hawks has recovered in many areas due to reduced pesticide use and increased awareness and protection of their habitats. Urban and suburban environments have provided new nesting and feeding opportunities, contributing to their adaptability and increasing population trends in these areas.

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 occupies dense forested areas throughout North America, extending from the boreal forests of Canada to the subtropical regions of Central America. This species is the smallest hawk in North America, characterized by its slender body, short, broad wings, and long tail which it uses adeptly for manoeuvring through dense vegetation.

Adults display a striking plumage with a slate-gray upper body and a finely barred reddish-orange underbody, enabling them to blend seamlessly into their woodland habitats. The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s acute vision complements its physical agility, making it a formidable ambush predator.

Its presence in forest ecosystems plays a critical role in controlling the populations of small birds and rodents, thus maintaining ecological balance.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks build their nests in dense forests, often choosing coniferous trees to help conceal the nest from predators. The nests are made of sticks and are usually placed in the lower to mid canopy.

Both parents participate in nest building, but the female does most of the incubation. These hawks are highly territorial around their nesting sites.

Their diet primarily consists of small birds, making them frequent visitors to bird feeders to prey on songbirds. They also eat small rodents, insects, and occasionally bats. Sharp-shinned Hawks use cover to stealthily approach their prey before making a quick, agile chase through vegetation.

Conservation concerns for Sharp-shinned Hawks include habitat destruction and the impact of pesticides on their prey base. Efforts to monitor their population trends and protect critical habitats are important. Being migratory birds, they also face challenges during their long-distance travels, including window collisions and being caught in hunting traps in some countries.

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 during migration

The Broad-winged Hawk is a small raptor that inhabits deciduous and mixed forests across the eastern United States and migrates to South America for the winter. This hawk is known for its compact shape, with short wings and a tail that facilitate manoeuvrability through dense forest environments.

Its plumage features distinctive black and white bands on the tail and a variety of brown and white patterns on the body, aiding in its camouflage. The Broad-winged Hawk’s annual migration in large groups, or “kettles,” is a spectacular natural event, highlighting the species’ importance in ecological connectivity and the global significance of migratory bird pathways.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawks build their nests in dense forests, preferring areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. They use sticks to construct their nests, usually in the fork of a tree. These hawks are known for their spectacular migratory behavior, traveling in large groups called “kettles” during migration.

They primarily feed on small mammals, insects, and amphibians. Their hunting strategy involves waiting on a perch and then swooping down on prey. The migratory habits of Broad-winged Hawks play a significant role in controlling insect populations, especially during their time in Central and South America.

The protection of migratory corridors and breeding and wintering habitats is crucial for the conservation of Broad-winged Hawks. Efforts include monitoring population trends and protecting forests in both their North American breeding grounds and their wintering habitats in the tropics.

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 in winter

The Rough-legged Hawk, a winter visitor from the Arctic, exhibits a unique adaptation by extending its range into the lower 48 states of the United States during the colder months. This species is distinguished by its large size and the feathering that extends down to its toes, a characteristic suited for its cold native habitats.

Its plumage varies from light to dark morphs, featuring contrasting patterns that aid in camouflage against snowy landscapes. The Rough-legged Hawk’s ability to hover while hunting is a unique trait that allows it to scan the ground effectively for prey.

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate south to winter in open fields and farmlands. They build their nests on the ground or on cliff ledges, using sticks, vegetation, and animal fur. In their wintering grounds, they do not build nests as they return to the Arctic each spring to breed.

Their winter diet includes small mammals, particularly voles and mice found in open fields. They hunt by hovering in the air before diving to catch prey on the ground. Their presence in agricultural areas during winter helps control rodent populations.

Conservation efforts for Rough-legged Hawks focus on protecting their Arctic breeding grounds from the impacts of climate change and ensuring suitable wintering habitat is available. Research into their migration patterns helps identify important habitat areas to target for conservation.

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: Breeding and less common

The Northern Goshawk, with its expansive habitat range across the forests of the Northern Hemisphere, is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of raptors in varied environments.

This species is distinguished by its large size, powerful build, and striking plumage, consisting of a slate-gray back and a white stripe over the eye, which gives it a formidable appearance. Its broad wings and long tail enable precise manoeuvring through dense forests, making it an adept hunter.

The Northern Goshawk’s yellow eyes exude a penetrating gaze, reflective of its status as a top predator within its ecosystem. This bird plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of forest ecosystems, preying on a variety of medium-sized birds and mammals.

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks prefer dense forests for nesting, using tall trees far from human disturbance. Their nests, made of sticks, are often reused and added to each year, becoming quite large over time.

These hawks are very protective of their nesting area, aggressively defending their territory against intruders.

Their diet is diverse, including birds, small mammals, and occasionally reptiles and insects. Northern Goshawks are powerful hunters that can take down larger prey relative to their size, such as hares and grouse. They rely on the element of surprise, using their agility to navigate through dense forests during the hunt.

Conservation efforts for Northern Goshawks focus on preserving old-growth forests and managing forests sustainably to maintain suitable habitat. They are sensitive to habitat disturbance and deforestation, making the protection of their breeding areas critical for their survival.

Monitoring and research are ongoing to better understand their population dynamics and habitat requirements.

7. 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: Migratory and less common

Swainson’s Hawk is a long-distance migrant that breeds in the grasslands of North America and winters in the pampas of Argentina, showcasing remarkable migratory endurance. This species is characterized by broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail, adapted for soaring over open landscapes.

The plumage varies between light and dark morphs, featuring distinctive underwing patterns that vary from white to rufous. Swainson’s Hawk plays a crucial role in agricultural and grassland ecosystems, controlling rodent and insect populations, thus highlighting its ecological value across continents.

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks nest in open areas, often in trees but sometimes on poles or other structures. They return to the same nesting area each year, where they build nests out of sticks and line them with softer materials. These hawks are long-distance migrants, traveling to South America for the winter.

Their diet is highly variable, including insects, small mammals, and birds. Swainson’s Hawks are particularly known for feeding on insects such as grasshoppers and locusts in large flocks during migration and in their wintering grounds, playing a crucial role in controlling insect populations.

Conservation efforts for Swainson’s Hawks have focused on mitigating threats from pesticide use in their wintering grounds and protecting their breeding habitats from development and agricultural expansion. International cooperation has been key to their conservation, particularly in addressing the challenges they face during migration.

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 uncommon

The Red-shouldered Hawk, a resident of eastern and parts of the western United States, prefers wet woodlands and riparian forests. This species is notable for its striking plumage, featuring rich brown and black upper parts with vibrant red shoulders and a barred chest of cream and orange hues.

Its broad wings and tail are marked with distinctive black and white bands, making it an impressive sight in flight. The Red-shouldered Hawk’s loud, distinctive call is characteristic of its presence within its preferred habitats.

This raptor plays a significant role in its ecosystem by controlling populations of small mammals and reptiles, contributing to the biodiversity and health of its habitat.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks prefer to nest in forested areas near water sources. They build their nests in tall trees, using sticks and lining them with softer materials. These hawks are known for their loud calls, especially during the breeding season. They may use the same nesting area for several years, adding to the nest each year.

Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, reflecting their preference for forested wetlands. Red-shouldered Hawks hunt from a perch, dropping down on prey spotted on the ground below. They play an important role in controlling populations of rodents and other small animals in their ecosystems.

The Red-shouldered Hawk has faced habitat loss due to deforestation and wetland drainage. Conservation efforts include protecting wetland habitats and managing forests to maintain and enhance suitable nesting and foraging areas.

Public education on the importance of wetland conservation has also benefited this species.

9. 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, distinct for its owl-like facial disc and slender frame, frequents open habitats such as marshes, meadows, and fields across North America. This raptor’s geographical range is extensive, adapting to various open landscapes where it can utilize its unique hunting strategy.

The male’s gray and the female’s brown plumages blend into their surroundings, while the white rump patch is a distinctive field mark. The Northern Harrier’s ability to hunt by sound as well as sight is a unique adaptation among hawks, making it an effective predator of small mammals and birds.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harriers nest on the ground in dense vegetation, often in marshes or open grasslands. Their nests are made from sticks and grasses, and they exhibit a high degree of territoriality around their nesting sites.

These ground-nesting habits make them vulnerable to predation and require large tracts of undisturbed land for successful breeding.

They primarily feed on small mammals and birds, using their exceptional hearing, aided by their facial disk, to detect prey in tall grasses. Northern Harriers hunt by flying low over the ground, using their agility to catch prey unawares. They are important for controlling rodent populations in their habitats.

The conservation of Northern Harriers focuses on preserving and restoring grassland and wetland habitats. They are sensitive to habitat destruction and fragmentation due to agricultural expansion and urban development. Conservation programs aim to protect large areas of suitable habitat to support their breeding and foraging needs.

Where to find Hawks in Minnesota

Hawks can be spotted throughout the state, but they favor areas where forests meet open spaces, such as edges of woods, fields, and wetlands, because these environments provide ample hunting opportunities and nesting sites.

To increase your chances of observing these raptors, consider visiting during migration periods in spring and fall when hawks are more active and visible.

Four notable areas for hawk watching in Minnesota include:

  • Hawk Ridge in Duluth, renowned for its spectacular fall migration views.
  • The Minnesota River Valley, offering diverse habitats for various hawk species.
  • Tettegouche State Park, providing a natural setting with a mix of forest and shoreline.
  • Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for Northern Harriers and other raptors amidst its grasslands and wetlands.

Equipping yourself with binoculars and a field guide will enhance your hawk-watching experience, allowing for closer views and easier identification of species. Additionally, joining birdwatching groups or guided tours can offer insights and increase the likelihood of spotting these magnificent birds.


Hawks in Minnesota embody the spirit of the wild, playing crucial roles in the ecosystem. Through adaptive strategies, diverse diets, and unique nesting behaviors, they thrive across the state.

Conservation efforts ensure their legacy endures, highlighting the importance of coexistence between humans and these majestic raptors in Minnesota’s natural tapestry.

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