Hawks in North Carolina (With Pictures)

Hawks in North Carolina (With Pictures)

North Carolina, a state renowned for its diverse natural landscapes, is home to a remarkable array of wildlife, and among its most captivating residents are the majestic hawks. These raptors, with their keen eyesight, impressive wingspans, and awe-inspiring aerial acrobatics, have long fascinated both nature enthusiasts and scientists alike.

Nestled within the southeastern United States, North Carolina’s rich ecological tapestry provides a perfect habitat for a variety of hawk species. From the soaring Red-tailed Hawks to the stealthy Cooper’s Hawks, and the agile American Kestrels to the elusive Northern Harriers, the state boasts an intriguing mix of these formidable predators.

In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the lives, behaviors, and significance of hawks in North Carolina. We will delve into their hunting strategies, nesting habits, and their vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of this captivating region.

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 common bird species present year-round in North Carolina. Its vast habitat spans from Panama to Alaska, encompassing all of North America. Recognizable for its unique characteristics, including a concise red tail, brown dorsal plumage, and light-coloured underbelly, this hawk holds the distinction of being the second-largest hawk species in the state.

Boasting a total of 14 subspecies across North America, including the variant found in North Carolina, this adaptable bird showcases impressive adaptability in various environments, showing a particular affinity for woodlands and transitional zones where woodlands interface with other ecosystems.

A Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on a stick

In the heart of North Carolina, Red-Tailed Hawks exhibit fascinating nesting behaviours, crafting expansive stick nests known as eyries either within the lofty boughs of towering trees or on rugged cliffs. These sturdy abodes serve as their breeding sanctuaries, where they pour their energies into nurturing their young and fostering strong familial bonds.

These versatile predators, the Red-Tailed Hawks, display a diverse palate when it comes to dining. Their menu includes a wide range of choices, from small mammals like rodents and rabbits to birds and reptiles. With remarkable hunting skills and razor-sharp talons at their disposal, they execute precise swoops, ensuring successful catches and solidifying their position as apex predators.

The story of Red-Tailed Hawks in North Carolina reflects a remarkable conservation success. Once imperilled by habitat loss and human persecution, their populations have made a remarkable comeback, thanks to protective measures and dedicated conservation efforts.

These resilient avian creatures now thrive in diverse habitats across the state, serving as a testament to the profound impact of conservation in preserving the intricate tapestry of nature.

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

Known for its remarkable aerial prowess and agility, the Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized avian species that ranges throughout North America and Mexico. Its striking appearance is defined by the intriguing pale orange barring on its chest, a feature that can sometimes cause confusion with Sharp-Shinned Hawks.

These cunning predators are equipped with stealthy hunting abilities, at times provoking the ire of homeowners as they loiter near bird feeders, honing in on unsuspecting prey rather than the intended feeder fare.

A Cooper’s Hawk in flight

Cooper’s Hawk does not breed in North Carolina, but is constructing snug, meticulously woven nests crafted from twigs and lined with soft materials in other parts of the United States. Their diligent care for their offspring fosters a profound familial bond amidst the towering forest canopy, creating a captivating tapestry of life within the lush wilderness.

As a sly denizen of the forest, the Cooper’s Hawk boasts extraordinary agility, enabling it to adeptly pursue and capture prey. Its diverse culinary repertoire showcases an ability to skilfully target small birds and mammals with astonishing precision. Equipped with keen eyesight and nimble wings, it embodies the grace of a masterful predator, exemplifying the art of pursuit in the untamed expanses of nature.

The Cooper’s Hawk in North Carolina has embarked on a remarkable conservation journey. Once facing population declines due to habitat loss and pesticide usage, collective efforts have catalyzed a resurgence in their numbers. Conservation initiatives encompassing habitat preservation and heightened public awareness have acted as a lifeline for these remarkable birds, securing a harmonious future within the untamed realms of North Carolina’s wilderness.

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

In both North Carolina and the broader United States, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk holds the distinction of being the smallest hawk species. Its appearance features a greyish back and a striking orangy chest, reminiscent of its close relative, the Cooper’s Hawk. One of its standout characteristics is the presence of distinctive tail stripes, setting it apart from other hawks.

With their secretive nature and diminutive size, these elusive hawks find sanctuary within wooded habitats, where they excel at concealing themselves during the nesting season.

A Sharp-Shinned Hawk sitting on the ground

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a migratory guest to North Carolina and does not breed in the state. In other parts of North America, they create compact nests made of twigs and soft materials, carefully placed within the sheltered canopies of forests. These nests serve as secure havens where they raise their young, fostering a sense of familial warmth and protection.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is known for its exceptional hunting skills, marked by agility and precision. It primarily targets small birds and mammals, showcasing a diet consisting of feathered prey and an elusive quarry. Its adeptness in the art of pursuit underscores its prowess as a skilled avian predator.

Throughout North Carolina’s history, conservation efforts focused on preserving the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and its habitat have played a pivotal role. These magnificent raptors have faced challenges stemming from habitat loss and human influence.

Through dedicated conservation initiatives, such as the establishment of protected areas and habitat restoration, their recovery has been facilitated, 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
  • State status: Breeding and common

During the breeding season in spring and summer, North Carolina becomes a habitat for the Broad-Winged Hawk. However, it is during the fall migration that these hawks particularly stand out. They gather in large flocks, sometimes numbering in the thousands, for their journey to South America. The Broad-Winged Hawk has a dark brown body with a pale whitish belly featuring horizontal bars. This distinctive appearance makes them a fascinating sight for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

A Broad-Winged Hawk in flight

In the picturesque landscapes of North Carolina, the Broad-Winged Hawk exhibits intriguing nesting behavior. These hawks adeptly construct sturdy nests high in the towering trees, creating secure sanctuaries where they raise their young with dedicated care. This parenting journey unfolds amidst the untamed wilderness, marked by both joys and challenges.

The Broad-Winged Hawk boasts a varied diet, which includes small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally amphibians. Equipped with keen eyesight and agile aerial skills, they excel as hunters, executing precise swoops to capture their prey. This showcases their proficiency as skilled avian predators.

North Carolina has been a hub for committed conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding the Broad-Winged Hawk and its habitat. Through initiatives focused on preserving their natural surroundings, educating the public, and conducting research, these efforts have contributed to the protection of their populations. This collective dedication ensures the continued presence of this captivating species and fosters a harmonious coexistence between humans and these majestic birds.

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: Migratory and rare

The Northern Harrier, an adept predator, is a common sight in various regions of North America, but not in North Carolina. These birds are easily recognized by their distinctive facial disk, slender bodies, and elongated wings, which allow them to gracefully glide through the skies.

During the courtship period, male Northern Harriers engage in elaborate aerial displays, showcasing their agility and charisma as they perform intricate manoeuvres.

A Northern Harrier in flight

In other parts of the United States than North Carolina the Northern Harrier unveils a captivating nesting behavior that paints a picture of resilience and adaptability. These raptors select their nesting sites with meticulous precision, often choosing concealed locations in marshes, grasslands, or shrub-dominated habitats.

Their nests, typically constructed close to the ground, consist of twigs, grass, and downy feathers, forming a cozy cradle for their future offspring.

The Northern Harrier’s menu in North Carolina is an eclectic mix that showcases its prowess as a skilled hunter. With a preference for small mammals, birds, and sometimes even amphibians, these raptors employ their keen eyesight and precision in executing low-level flights as they glide over fields and wetlands, seeking out their quarry. Their efficient hunting techniques make them both agile and efficient predators.

North Carolina has played a pivotal role in the conservation of the Northern Harrier and its habitat. Historically, these raptors faced challenges due to habitat loss and changes in land use, but concerted efforts have been made to protect their populations.

Initiatives encompassing habitat preservation, restoration, and public awareness have contributed to the successful conservation of this magnificent species in the state. Today, the Northern Harrier stands as a symbol of the harmonious coexistence between humans and nature in North Carolina.

6. 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

Within the expansive woodlands and lush habitats of North America, one encounters a truly captivating avian wonder – the Red-Shouldered Hawk. These remarkable birds are adorned with a striking plumage, characterized by rich chestnut hues and vibrant reddish shoulders, ensuring they capture the gaze of all fortunate enough to observe them.

However, their allure extends beyond their fiery appearance. Red-Shouldered Hawks have earned their reputation for their exceptional navigational skills within their territories. They exhibit an astonishing ability to navigate with precision, effortlessly weaving through dense foliage and intricate tree canopies. This remarkable agility ensures their success as hunters in the dense woodlands where they make their homes.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk flying close to a tree

Amidst North Carolina’s diverse ecosystems, the Red-shouldered Hawk exhibits captivating nesting behaviour that provides a glimpse into their family-oriented lives. These raptors are meticulous architects, crafting large stick nests high in the trees, often near water sources. Their nests serve as secure sanctuaries where they raise their young, fostering strong familial bonds amidst the lush woodlands.

The Red-shouldered Hawk in North Carolina boasts a diverse diet that underscores their adaptability as predators. Their menu includes small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and occasionally even birds. Armed with sharp talons and keen eyesight, they execute precise swoops to secure their next meal, showcasing their prowess as skilled avian hunters.

North Carolina has been a pivotal location for the conservation of the Red-shouldered Hawk and its habitat. Historically, these raptors faced challenges due to habitat loss and human interference, but dedicated efforts have been made to protect their populations.

Conservation initiatives, including the preservation of wooded areas and heightened public awareness, have contributed to the successful conservation of this magnificent species in the state. Today, the Red-shouldered Hawk stands as a symbol of the collective commitment to preserving the rich biodiversity of North Carolina’s wilderness.

Where to find Hawks in North Carolina

North Carolina offers a diverse landscape that provides ample opportunities for bird enthusiasts and nature lovers to observe hawks in their natural habitats. To spot hawks in North Carolina, follow these tips and explore some of the state’s top birding areas:

  • Haw River State Park: Located in the Piedmont region, this park is an excellent place to start your hawk-watching journey. Trails along the Haw River and its surrounding woodlands offer ideal viewing spots. Scan the skies from elevated viewpoints and keep an eye on tree perches for Red-shouldered Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks.
  • Pisgah National Forest: Head to the western part of the state, where Pisgah National Forest provides a diverse range of habitats. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you might spot the impressive Red-tailed Hawks soaring above the mountains. Be sure to bring binoculars and a field guide to aid in identification.
  • Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge: This coastal refuge in eastern North Carolina is a haven for birdwatchers. Here, Northern Harriers can be seen gliding over the open wetlands. Check out the refuge’s observation decks and boardwalks for the best vantage points.
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: For a mix of woodland and waterfront birding, Jordan Lake is an ideal destination. Scan the lake’s shoreline for Ospreys and Bald Eagles, while wooded areas might reveal Broad-winged Hawks during their migration season.

To increase your chances of spotting hawks, visit these areas during migration seasons in spring and fall when these magnificent raptors are on the move. Carry a pair of binoculars, a bird guidebook, and some patience, and you’ll be well on your way to experiencing the thrill of hawk-watching in North Carolina’s picturesque landscapes.


In the vibrant landscapes of North Carolina, hawks serve as charismatic ambassadors of the state’s rich biodiversity. From the secretive Northern Harrier to the majestic Red-shouldered Hawk, these birds of prey not only captivate with their beauty but also offer valuable insights into the delicate balance of our natural ecosystems.

As we continue to explore and appreciate the diverse habitats they call home, we’re reminded of the importance of preserving these environments to ensure the enduring presence of these aerial marvels in North Carolina’s wild realms.

Join the discussion