9 Hawks in Oklahoma (With Pictures)

9 Hawks in Oklahoma (With Pictures)

Oklahoma, a land of rolling plains and rugged hills, serves as an awe-inspiring stage for one of nature’s most majestic aerial performers: the hawk. This article takes you on a journey through the Sooner State’s diverse landscapes, exploring the thriving world of hawks that call it home.

From the towering heights of the Wichita Mountains to the serene expanses of the Great Salt Plains, Oklahoma’s rich habitats offer a haven for a variety of hawk species. Whether it’s the sharp-eyed Red-tailed Hawk soaring over open fields or the stealthy Cooper’s Hawk gliding through dense woodlands, each species adds a unique brushstroke to the state’s ecological canvas.

We’ll delve into their habitats, behaviors, and the best spots for hawk watching, providing insights for both avid birdwatchers and curious nature enthusiasts.

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, a regal bird of prey, graces the skies across North America. From the dense Canadian forests to the sun-bathed landscapes of Panama, this hawk’s domain is vast and diverse. Its plumage boasts a rich brown on the back and a paler, streaked belly.

The tail, from which it derives its name, flaunts a striking reddish hue, particularly noticeable in adults. Its broad, rounded wings and wide tail are unmistakable in flight, making it an iconic figure against the backdrop of varying terrains.

A Red-Tailed Hawk in flight

In Oklahoma’s diverse landscapes, the Red-tailed Hawk builds its kingdom high in the treetops or on rocky outcrops. These architects of the air fashion large nests of sticks, often lined with bark and leaves, where they return year after year, adding new layers to their aerial abodes.

The Red-tailed Hawk, a masterful hunter, thrives on a diet rich in small mammals like mice and rabbits. Oklahoma’s open fields and forest edges provide a perfect hunting ground, where they soar with keen eyes, ready to dive with precision at unsuspecting prey below.

Once threatened by hunting and habitat loss, conservation efforts in Oklahoma have helped stabilize the Red-tailed Hawk population. Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, these majestic birds now soar freely, a symbol of nature’s resilience and beauty.

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

Cooper’s Hawk, an adept flyer, patrols the skies across North America, ranging from southern Canada to northern Mexico. It possesses a sleek, streamlined appearance, with a blue-gray back and a barred reddish-orange chest.

This hawk is often seen in wooded habitats and has a long tail and relatively short wings, which aid in its agility when weaving through trees. Its fierce gaze and sharp talons are a testament to its prowess as a hunter.

A Cooper’s Hawk landing on a tree

Cooper’s Hawks in Oklahoma prefer the seclusion of dense woodlands for their nesting sites. They craft their homes from sticks and twigs, creating a safe haven for their young amidst the sheltering foliage, a hidden gem in the heart of the forest.

This agile raptor primarily feeds on birds and small mammals. Oklahoma’s Cooper’s Hawks are skilled hunters, darting through the trees with breathtaking agility, their sharp talons ready to snatch an unsuspecting bird or scampering squirrel.

Once declining due to pesticide use, the Cooper’s Hawk population in Oklahoma has rebounded thanks to environmental regulations. Their resurgence is a vibrant reminder of nature’s ability to recover, mirroring the enduring spirit of the land.

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, North America’s smallest hawk, is widespread, extending from Alaska and Canada down to western Panama. This bird is distinguished by its slender body, short, rounded wings, and a long, narrow tail.

Adults have a slate gray back and a barred rust-coloured chest, while juveniles exhibit a brown back and streaked underparts. This agile hunter is often seen darting through dense woodlands.

This Sharp-Shinned Hawk sitting on a stick

Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t breed in Oklahoma, but build their nests high in the trees. These compact nests, often hidden among dense foliage, offer a snug and secure setting for raising their young, a tiny fortress amidst the forest’s embrace.

Sharp-shinned Hawks in Oklahoma are adept bird hunters, weaving through trees with incredible agility. Their diet consists mainly of small birds, a dramatic display of nature’s cycle, where the forest’s whispers are punctuated by the rush of wings and the thrill of the hunt.

Conservation of Sharp-shinned Hawks in Oklahoma revolves around preserving forest habitats. These efforts ensure the delicate balance of the ecosystem is maintained, allowing these small but fierce raptors to thrive, a fluttering heartbeat in the wild chorus.

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, a denizen of forests in eastern North America, is renowned for its spectacular migratory flocks. It migrates to South America in winter. This compact raptor has a rich brown back and a white underbody with distinctive barring.

Its broad wings and short tail make it well-suited for manoeuvring through dense forests. During migration, they form large groups known as ‘kettles’, a breathtaking natural phenomenon.

A Broad-Winged Hawk in flight

Broad-winged Hawks prefer the quiet and isolation of dense forests for nesting. Their nests, typically built in the crooks of tall trees, are sanctuaries of twigs and greenery, a testament to the enduring bond between these birds and the ancient woods.

Broad-winged Hawks feast on a variety of small animals and insects. In Oklahoma’s lush forests, they are skilled predators, manoeuvring through the trees with grace, each dive a ballet of precision and power, a dance with nature that sustains life.

The conservation narrative for Broad-winged Hawks in Oklahoma is one of forest preservation. By protecting these wooded realms, conservationists ensure that these hawks continue their vital role in the ecosystem, a winged guardian of the forest’s deep secrets.

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, a visitor to the northern parts of North America during winter, breeds in the Arctic tundra. This large hawk is notable for its feathered legs, which extend all the way to its toes – a feature that gives it its name.

It displays a variety of plumage patterns, typically characterized by dark patches at the bend of the wings and a prominently streaked underside. Its ability to hover in the air while hunting is a sight to behold.

A Rough-Legged Hawk sitting on a fencepost

During their winter stay in Oklahoma, Rough-Legged Hawks don’t nest, but in their Arctic breeding grounds, they build nests on cliffs or rocky outcrops. These sturdy structures become a seasonal haven for their young, a testament to the hawk’s resilience in the face of harsh climates.

While in Oklahoma, Rough-Legged Hawks primarily feed on small mammals, showcasing their adaptability. They hover in the chilly winds, scanning the ground below with sharp eyes, a mesmerizing display of aerial mastery in the quest for sustenance.

Rough-Legged Hawks, protected under various laws, benefit from broad-scale environmental protections in Oklahoma. Their presence each winter is a reminder of the global nature of conservation efforts, linking the Arctic tundra to the heartland of America.

6. 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 common

Swainson’s Hawk, a long-distance migrant, exhibits an extensive geographical range. It breeds in North America, primarily in the western United States and Canada, and winters as far south as Argentina.

Sporting a brown upper body and a lighter underbelly, its most distinguishing feature is the contrast between its dark flight feathers and lighter wing linings. This raptor prefers open habitats and can often be seen soaring gracefully on warm updrafts.

A close up photo of a Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are true nomads of the sky, but come breeding season, they settle in. They build their nests in trees or on utility poles, crafting a sturdy platform for their young, a temporary home under the wide, open skies.

The diet of Swainson’s Hawks in Oklahoma is varied, including insects, small mammals, and reptiles. During migrations, they can be seen soaring over fields, their eyes sharp for a meal, a dance of survival played out against the backdrop of the changing seasons.

Conservation efforts in Oklahoma focus on safeguarding the migratory paths of Swainson’s Hawks. Awareness campaigns and habitat preservation initiatives ensure these travelers always have a place in Oklahoma’s skies, a flying symbol of the global ecosystem’s interconnectedness.

7. 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

Dwelling primarily in the eastern United States, extending into parts of California and Mexico, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a sight to behold. This medium-sized raptor exhibits a distinctive checkered black and white pattern on its wings, while its chest is a warm, rusty red.

Inhabiting wooded areas near water sources, it cuts a striking figure with its sharp, piercing eyes and elegant poise. The vivid red shoulders, from which it gets its name, are especially prominent during flight.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on a stick while screeching

Nestled in the wooded areas of Oklahoma, the Red-shouldered Hawk builds its sanctuary high in the trees. These nests, often reused and refurbished annually, become cradles of life, hidden among the leaves, echoing with the calls of hatchlings each spring.

In Oklahoma’s rivers and wetlands, the Red-shouldered Hawk hunts amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. They glide silently, their keen eyes spotting prey in the underbrush, striking swiftly with their sharp talons, embodying the grace and ferocity of nature.

Oklahoma’s conservation efforts, focusing on habitat preservation, have been crucial in maintaining the Red-shouldered Hawk’s population. Efforts to safeguard wetlands and forests have ensured these hawks continue to grace the skies, a testament to the effectiveness of targeted conservation strategies.

8. Ferruginous Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Life span: Up to 20 years
  • Size: 22-27 inches (56-69 cm)
  • Weight: 2.6-4.4 pounds (1.2-2 kg)
  • Wingspan: 52-55 inches (132-140 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Ferruginous Hawk, the largest of North American Buteos, resides in the open landscapes of the western United States and Canada, migrating to the southern United States and Mexico in winter.

Its name derives from the Latin word for ‘rust’, referring to its rusty back and leg feathers. With a pale head and underparts, this hawk presents a striking contrast in flight. Its broad wings and large, feathered legs are particularly noteworthy features, making it an imposing figure in its habitat.

A Ferruginous Hawk showing off its huge wings by taking off from a branch

In Oklahoma, Ferruginous Hawks build their nests on cliffs, in trees, or on man-made structures. These large, bulky nests are a testament to the hawk’s strength and determination, a safe haven for their chicks to grow, sheltered by the wide, open sky.

Ferruginous Hawks in Oklahoma are formidable hunters, feeding primarily on rodents and rabbits. Their hunting prowess is a sight to behold, as they soar and swoop over the plains, a majestic display of nature’s raw power and elegance.

Conservation efforts for Ferruginous Hawks in Oklahoma focus on preserving grassland habitats. These initiatives ensure the survival of these magnificent birds, allowing them to soar as symbols of the wild and untamed spirit of the plains.

9. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: 5 – 7 years
  • Size: 18-24 in / 45-61 cm
  • Weight: 12.3-26.5 oz / 350-750 g
  • Wingspan: 40-48 in / 100-122 cm
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and common

The Northern Harrier, with a range spanning across the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia, is a unique raptor. This bird has a distinctive facial disk, similar to that of owls, which aids in its hunting.

Its plumage is a mottled mix of gray, brown, and white, with males typically lighter than females. This bird is often seen gliding low over marshes and fields, with its long tail and wings held in a distinct V-shape.

A Northern Harrier looking for prey in a field

Northern Harriers choose ground-level sites in marshy or open fields for their nests. These ground-nesters weave together a low, bowl-shaped nest, a humble cradle for their young amidst the grasses, a hidden treasure in the vast landscape.

Adapted to hunting in open fields, Northern Harriers in Oklahoma feed on small mammals and birds. They glide low, their wings casting shadows over the grasslands, a silent hunter in sync with the rhythms of the earth.

The conservation story of the Northern Harrier in Oklahoma is one of habitat protection. Efforts to maintain grasslands and wetlands have been crucial in supporting their populations, ensuring these ethereal hunters continue to grace the skies.

Where to find Hawks in Oklahoma

Oklahoma, with its diverse landscapes ranging from prairies to forests, is a splendid haven for hawk enthusiasts. These majestic birds of prey grace the Oklahoma skies, offering birdwatchers and nature lovers spectacular viewing opportunities.

  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Located in southwestern Oklahoma, this refuge is a hotspot for various hawk species, including the Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks. The rugged terrain and open spaces provide ideal hunting grounds for these birds, making it an excellent location for hawk watching.
  • Great Salt Plains State Park: In north-central Oklahoma, this unique ecological region attracts hawks during migration seasons. The vast open plains are frequented by Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, offering breathtaking views against the backdrop of the salt flats.
  • Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge: Situated along the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma, this refuge is a haven for wildlife, including hawks. Here, birdwatchers can spot Red-shouldered and Broad-winged Hawks, especially around the forested wetlands and waterways.
  • Talimena National Scenic Byway: This scenic route through the Ouachita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma is not just a drive to relish but also a corridor for hawk migration. The high elevations and clearings along the drive are perfect for spotting hawks, particularly during the fall migration.

To effectively spot hawks in Oklahoma, a good pair of binoculars and a field guide are essential. Early morning or late afternoon, when hawks are most active, are the best times for observation.

Being patient and quiet enhances the chances of seeing these magnificent birds in action. Each of these areas offers a unique setting and an opportunity to witness the majesty of hawks in their natural habitat.

Conclusion

Oklahoma’s diverse landscape serves as a haven for various hawk species, each with unique behaviors and ecological roles. From the majestic soar of the Red-tailed Hawk to the elusive glide of the Northern Harrier, these raptors are not just birds of prey but vital components of the ecosystem.

Their presence, a testament to successful conservation efforts, reminds us of nature’s intricate balance and our responsibility to protect these magnificent birds for generations to come.

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