8 Hawks in New Jersey (With Pictures)

8 Hawks in New Jersey (With Pictures)

New Jersey, with its diverse landscapes and rich ecosystems, is a haven for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Among the state’s most captivating avian residents are its hawks, a group of powerful and graceful raptors that dominate the skies. From the common Red-tailed Hawk, often seen soaring above fields and perched along highways, to the elusive Northern Goshawk, lurking in the deep forests, New Jersey offers a fascinating array of hawk species.

Each season brings its unique visitors, with species like the Rough-legged Hawk appearing in winter and the Broad-winged Hawk passing through during migration. Whether you’re an avid birder or a casual observer, the hawks of New Jersey provide an exciting glimpse into the wild, showcasing nature’s raw beauty and the intricate balance of our environment.

1. 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 common

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a striking bird found in eastern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It is easily recognizable by its reddish-brown shoulders, pale underparts with rust-coloured barring, and distinctive black-and-white checkered wings.

This hawk prefers wooded areas near water, where its sharp, repetitive call can often be heard. It soars gracefully above forests, showing off its broad, rounded wings and banded tail. In New Jersey, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a common sight, contributing to the rich tapestry of the state’s avian population.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks are known for their preference for nesting in deciduous forests near water sources. They build large nests high in the trees, often in the crook of a large branch, using sticks and lining them with softer materials like moss or leaves.

These hawks tend to reuse and refurbish old nests each breeding season. The female lays 2-5 eggs, and both parents share the responsibilities of incubation and feeding the young. Their choice of nesting sites in moist, wooded areas provides ample cover and abundant food sources for their growing chicks.

Red-shouldered Hawks have a varied diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They are particularly fond of hunting near water, preying on frogs and small fish. Their hunting strategy often involves perching quietly and watching for movement before swooping down to capture their prey. These hawks are also known to hunt by soaring over forests and fields, using their sharp vision to spot potential meals.

Red-shouldered Hawks have benefited from conservation efforts aimed at protecting their forested habitats and reducing pesticide use. Legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act have played a significant role in their recovery. Habitat preservation, particularly in wetlands and forested areas, is crucial for their continued success.

Monitoring programs and research have provided valuable data on their population trends and health. Public education about the importance of raptors and their ecosystems has also supported conservation efforts.

2. 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

Broad-winged Hawks are migratory raptors found in North and South America. In the breeding season, they inhabit forests across the eastern United States and southern Canada. These hawks are medium-sized with broad wings and short tails, adorned with distinctive black-and-white bands.

Their plumage is generally brown with a lighter underside and reddish-brown barring on the chest. During migration, they form large flocks, or kettles, soaring high in the sky. In New Jersey, the best time to observe Broad-winged Hawks is during their spectacular fall migration, when thousands pass through the region.

Broad-Winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a master of nest building, favouring deciduous or mixed forests for its nesting sites. Typically, these hawks choose a sturdy branch high up in the trees, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The nest, constructed by both male and female, is made of sticks and lined with softer materials like moss and leaves.

During the breeding season, from April to July, the female lays two to three eggs. Both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks, showcasing their strong parental bond. This cooperative effort ensures that their young are well-cared for until they are ready to fledge, usually around five to six weeks after hatching.

Broad-winged Hawks are opportunistic feeders with a varied diet that changes with the seasons. During the breeding season, they primarily hunt small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews. They are also known to capture amphibians, reptiles, and insects, showcasing their versatility as hunters.

When migrating, they often rely on abundant food sources like insects, particularly dragonflies and grasshoppers, to sustain their long journey. This diet not only provides the necessary energy but also highlights their adaptability to different environments and available prey. Their keen eyesight and swift flight make them efficient predators, capable of capturing a wide range of prey to meet their nutritional needs.

The Broad-winged Hawk has a fascinating conservation history marked by significant efforts to protect its habitat. Once threatened by deforestation and habitat loss, conservation initiatives have helped stabilize their population.

Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, these hawks benefit from legal safeguards against hunting and habitat destruction. Conservation groups have also focused on preserving large tracts of forest, crucial for their nesting and hunting. Public education campaigns and bird monitoring programs have raised awareness about their ecological importance.

3. 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 rare

The Northern Goshawk, a formidable raptor, ranges across the boreal forests of North America and Eurasia. In New Jersey, it is a rare and secretive breeder, more often seen during the winter months. This large hawk has a blue-gray back, pale underparts with fine barring, and striking red eyes.

Its broad wings and long tail aid in agile flight through dense forests. Northern Goshawks are known for their fierce hunting prowess and have a reputation for being highly territorial. Spotting one in New Jersey’s woodlands is a rare and exhilarating experience for birdwatchers.

Northern Goshawk

These hawks prefer coniferous or mixed forests, where they can find ample cover and a good supply of prey. The nests are large and sturdy, constructed high in the trees from sticks and lined with bark, leaves, and feathers.

Both the male and female participate in building the nest, but the female takes on the primary role of incubating the eggs. She typically lays two to four eggs, which hatch after about a month. The male provides food during this period, showcasing their strong partnership in raising their young. The chicks fledge approximately five to six weeks after hatching, but they remain dependent on their parents for several more weeks.

Their diet includes species such as grouse, squirrels, rabbits, and various songbirds. They are known for their powerful flight and swift, silent approach, allowing them to catch unsuspecting prey with ease. Goshawks have adapted to hunting in dense forests, using their agility to navigate through trees and catch prey mid-flight.

This adaptability in hunting techniques and diet ensures they can find food in diverse environments. During the breeding season, their dietary needs increase, as they must provide for their growing chicks, often requiring multiple successful hunts each day.

The conservation history of the Northern Goshawk has been complex, marked by both challenges and successes. Historically, habitat destruction and human persecution posed significant threats to their populations. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting large tracts of forest and implementing legal protections to prevent hunting and nest disturbances.

The Northern Goshawk is now protected under various regulations, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and regional conservation programs. Monitoring and research initiatives have been crucial in understanding their population trends and ecological needs.

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 rare

The Rough-legged Hawk, a visitor from the Arctic, spends its winters across much of the United States, including New Jersey. These large hawks are named for their feathered legs, which help insulate them from the cold.

Their plumage varies from light to dark morphs but typically includes a mix of brown, black, and white, with a distinctive dark belly band and a white tail with a dark terminal band. Rough-legged Hawks are often seen hovering over open fields, displaying their long, broad wings and agile flight. Their presence in New Jersey adds to the state’s winter birding appeal.

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawks have a unique nesting behavior, typically breeding in the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests, usually on the ground or in low cliffs. The nests are large, made of sticks and lined with grasses, moss, and feathers to insulate against the cold. The female lays two to seven eggs, which she incubates while the male hunts and provides food.

This division of labour is crucial in the harsh Arctic environment, ensuring the female can focus on keeping the eggs warm. The chicks hatch after about a month and fledge in approximately six weeks, adapting quickly to the challenging surroundings.

The Rough-legged Hawk’s diet is predominantly composed of small mammals, particularly voles and lemmings, which are abundant in their Arctic breeding grounds. These hawks are adept at hunting in open spaces, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from great distances.

They also eat birds and carrion, showing their ability to adapt to different food sources when necessary. During the winter, when they migrate south to more temperate regions, their diet can include a wider variety of small mammals, birds, and even insects.

Rough-legged Hawks have benefited from various conservation efforts aimed at protecting their habitats and migratory pathways. As a species that breeds in the remote Arctic regions, they face fewer threats from human activities during the breeding season. However, climate change poses a significant threat to their habitat, affecting the availability of prey and nesting sites.

Conservation organizations are working to monitor populations and study the impacts of environmental changes on these hawks. Legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act also play a crucial role in safeguarding them from hunting and habitat destruction.

5. 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 rare

The Northern Harrier, known for its distinctive owl-like face, ranges across North America, from the Arctic tundra to the southern United States. This medium-sized hawk is easily identified by its gray or brown plumage, long wings, and characteristic white rump patch visible in flight.

Northern Harriers glide low over fields and marshes, using their keen hearing and sight to detect prey. Their flight style, with wings held in a V-shape, sets them apart from other hawks. In New Jersey, they are a year-round presence, favouring open landscapes where they can hunt efficiently.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harriers are unique among hawks for their ground-nesting behavior. They typically choose dense marshes, grasslands, or wetlands for their nesting sites, constructing nests on the ground from grasses, reeds, and other vegetation. The female lays 4-6 eggs, which she incubates for about a month while the male provides food. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for several weeks, receiving care and protection from both parents.

The diet of Northern Harriers is varied and adaptable, consisting mainly of small mammals like voles and mice, as well as birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They hunt by flying low over open fields and marshes, using their keen eyesight and hearing to locate prey. Their distinctive facial disc helps funnel sound to their ears, much like an owl, enhancing their ability to detect movement.

Northern Harriers have faced challenges due to habitat loss and degradation, particularly the draining of wetlands and conversion of grasslands to agriculture. Conservation efforts have focused on preserving and restoring these critical habitats, as well as implementing measures to reduce pesticide use and other threats. Legal protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act have also contributed to their conservation. Public education and habitat management programs aim to support stable and healthy populations.

6. 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

Cooper’s Hawk is a stealthy predator found throughout North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico. It is characterized by a blue-gray back, reddish-brown barred underparts, and a long, rounded tail with distinct dark bands. This hawk’s piercing yellow eyes and intense stare give it a fierce appearance.

Known for its agile flight, Cooper’s Hawk adeptly weaves through dense forests and wooded suburbs in pursuit of prey. It often surprises birdwatchers by visiting backyard feeders. Despite its fierce hunting skills, its elegant appearance and intricate plumage make it a favorite among bird enthusiasts.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are adept nest builders, often selecting dense forests or wooded areas for their nesting sites. They construct their nests high in trees, typically using twigs, sticks, and a soft inner lining of bark or leaves. These hawks are known to reuse old nests from other birds or even previous seasons, refurbishing them as needed.

The female lays 3-5 eggs, and both parents share incubation duties. After the chicks hatch, the male primarily hunts and brings food, while the female stays close to the nest, protecting and feeding the young.

Cooper’s Hawks primarily feed on medium-sized birds, such as pigeons, doves, and songbirds, which they catch with their swift and agile flight. They are also known to prey on small mammals, like squirrels and chipmunks, when available.

These hawks hunt using stealth and surprise, often flying low through dense vegetation or along the edges of wooded areas to ambush their prey. Their long tails and short wings make them well-suited for manoeuvring through trees, allowing them to chase down agile prey with precision and speed.

Cooper’s Hawks have made a remarkable recovery from population declines caused by habitat loss and pesticide use in the mid-20th century. Conservation efforts, including legal protections and the banning of harmful pesticides like DDT, have helped their numbers rebound.

Habitat conservation and urban green spaces have also provided new nesting opportunities. Public awareness and education about the importance of raptors have further supported their recovery.

7. 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, a staple of North American skies, boasts a broad geographic range extending from Canada to Central America. Its plumage varies but generally features a rich brown back and a pale underside, accented by a streaked belly. The hallmark of this bird is its reddish-brown tail, visible when perched or in flight.

These hawks are often seen soaring in wide circles, using their keen vision to survey the ground below. They are adaptable, thriving in diverse habitats such as deserts, grasslands, forests, and even urban areas. This adaptability contributes to their widespread presence and visibility.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks are known for their large, sturdy nests constructed high in trees or on cliff edges. They use sticks and twigs to build their nests, often lining them with softer materials like bark strips and foliage.

These raptors are monogamous and typically return to the same nesting site each year, adding new materials to the existing structure. Nest building begins in early spring, and the female usually lays 1-3 eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks, showcasing a strong pair bond and cooperative parenting.

The diet of Red-tailed Hawks is diverse and adaptable, primarily consisting of small to medium-sized mammals like mice, voles, and rabbits. They are opportunistic hunters and may also prey on birds, reptiles, and even insects when the opportunity arises. Their keen eyesight allows them to spot prey from great distances, and they often hunt by soaring high in the sky or perching silently on a high vantage point before swooping down to capture their meal.

Red-tailed Hawks are currently not considered endangered and have a stable population across their range. Conservation efforts have focused on habitat preservation and reducing threats from human activities, such as collisions with vehicles and power lines. Historically, these hawks faced challenges from hunting and pesticide use, but regulations and conservation programs have significantly improved their outlook.

Public education about the importance of raptors in ecosystems has also played a crucial role in their conservation. Today, they are a common sight, benefiting from a balanced coexistence with human environments.

8. 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

Sharp-shinned Hawks, the smallest hawks in North America, are found across the continent from Alaska to Central America. They are easily recognized by their slate-gray backs, white underparts with reddish-orange barring, and long, square-tipped tails with dark bands. These agile raptors are often seen darting through forests, demonstrating impressive speed and manoeuvrability.

Their compact size and swift flight enable them to navigate through dense vegetation with ease. In New Jersey, they are a common sight, particularly during migration periods when they travel in search of more temperate climates.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawks prefer to nest in dense coniferous or mixed forests, often choosing secluded spots to avoid predators. Their nests are built high in trees, using sticks and lined with softer materials like pine needles or leaves.

These hawks typically select a new nesting site each year, with the female laying 3-8 eggs. Both parents participate in incubation and caring for the young, though the male is primarily responsible for hunting and bringing food to the nest. The chicks fledge after about a month, but they continue to rely on their parents for food for several weeks.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are specialized bird hunters, preying predominantly on small songbirds such as sparrows, finches, and warblers. They hunt with remarkable agility, using their short, rounded wings and long tails to navigate through dense foliage and surprise their prey. These hawks employ a variety of hunting techniques, including stealthy approaches through cover and rapid, direct pursuits. Occasionally, they will also take small mammals, insects, or reptiles, but birds make up the bulk of their diet.

Sharp-shinned Hawks have experienced population fluctuations due to habitat loss and pesticide exposure, particularly during the mid-20th century. Conservation measures, including habitat protection and the regulation of pesticides, have contributed to their recovery. Efforts to preserve large tracts of forested areas are crucial for maintaining their breeding habitats.

Additionally, research and monitoring programs help track their population trends and health. While they remain somewhat vulnerable to environmental changes, their populations are currently stable, benefiting from ongoing conservation initiatives and increased public awareness.

Where to find Hawks in New Jersey

Finding hawks in New Jersey is a thrilling experience for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. The state’s varied landscapes provide ample opportunities to observe these majestic raptors in their natural habitats.

To spot hawks, early mornings or late afternoons are the best times, as these birds are most active during these periods. Bring binoculars, a bird guide, and a camera for capturing these magnificent creatures in action.

Here are four excellent locations to find hawks in New Jersey:

  • Cape May Point State Park: Renowned for its bird migration, Cape May is a prime spot to see various hawk species, especially during the fall migration. The Hawk Watch platform offers an elevated view, making it easier to spot soaring raptors.
  • High Point State Park: Located in the northernmost part of New Jersey, this park provides a mix of forests and open areas, ideal for observing Northern Goshawks and Red-tailed Hawks, particularly during the winter months.
  • Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge is a haven for birdlife, including hawks. The varied habitat of wetlands, forests, and fields supports species like the Cooper’s Hawk and Northern Harrier. Trails and observation areas make it accessible for birdwatchers.
  • Barnegat Lighthouse State Park: Located on Long Beach Island, this park is great for spotting hawks during their migration periods. The open coastal environment is perfect for watching hawks hunt and soar along the shoreline.

Exploring these areas with patience and keen observation will reward you with sightings of some of New Jersey’s most impressive birds of prey.


Hawks in New Jersey are a vital part of the state’s diverse ecosystem. Their presence signifies healthy habitats and balanced food chains. From the adaptable Red-tailed Hawk to the elusive Northern Goshawk, these birds of prey highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

Protecting their habitats ensures these magnificent raptors continue to thrive, offering opportunities for observation and study. As stewards of the environment, we must remain vigilant in preserving these natural treasures.

Join the discussion