6 Hawks in South Carolina (With Pictures)

6 Hawks in South Carolina (With Pictures)

South Carolina, with its diverse landscapes ranging from coastal marshes to rolling hills and dense forests, is a haven for various hawk species. In this article, we delve into the world of these majestic birds of prey, exploring their habitats, behaviors, and the unique challenges they face.

South Carolina’s rich natural environments provide an ideal backdrop for observing and studying hawks, from the commonly sighted Red-tailed Hawk to the elusive Sharp-shinned Hawk.

We will uncover the best spots in the state for hawk watching, discuss identification tips, and explore the ecological roles these raptors play. Whether soaring above open fields or perched regally in treetops, hawks in South Carolina offer a glimpse into the intricate balance of nature and the beauty of avian life.

Join us as we embark on a journey to better understand and appreciate these powerful birds and their place in South Carolina’s ecosystem.

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 familiar sight in South Carolina, is known for its commanding presence. Perched high on trees or soaring over fields, its broad wings and fan-shaped, brick-red tail are unmistakable. Its mottled brown body and pale underparts are a common sight against the backdrop of South Carolina’s diverse landscapes.

The Red-tailed Hawk, a year-round resident, is a symbol of the state’s open spaces and a testament to the adaptability of nature.

Red-Tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk, a symbol of the open skies, chooses towering trees and high cliffs for its nesting sites in South Carolina. These nests, often reused and rebuilt over the years, become monumental structures of sticks and vegetation.

The red-tails exhibit a deep commitment to their nesting sites, often returning to the same location year after year. The nurturing of their young is a sight to behold, as both parents engage in feeding and teaching the fledglings the art of flight and hunting.

A versatile feeder, the Red-tailed Hawk’s diet reflects the richness of South Carolina’s ecosystems. These raptors feed on a wide range of prey, from small mammals like rabbits and squirrels to reptiles and even carrion. This adaptability in diet allows them to thrive in various habitats, from rural farmlands to urban areas.

The Red-tailed Hawk’s presence in the ecosystem is a testament to its role as a natural regulator, maintaining the balance between prey and predator.

The conservation journey of the Red-tailed Hawk is marked by resilience and adaptability. Once impacted by hunting and pesticide use, these hawks have shown remarkable recovery, largely due to legal protections and changing agricultural practices.

In South Carolina, they are often seen as a symbol of successful wildlife management, reflecting the importance of continued vigilance in conservation efforts to safeguard these majestic birds for future generations.

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

Cooper’s Hawk, a frequent visitor to South Carolina’s woodlands, is known for its stealth and agility. Larger than its cousin, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, it boasts a blue-gray back with a rich, red-orange breast, making it a striking figure against the greenery.

This bird is a master of the forest’s understory, navigating with ease through dense foliage. Its presence in South Carolina is most notable in winter, where it adds a dynamic element to the otherwise quiet woodlands.

Cooper’s Hawk

These adept architects prefer tall trees, crafting nests that are both hidden and accessible. The nests, constructed with sticks and lined with bark, are reused and refurbished each year, creating a legacy of habitation in their chosen trees.

The devotion of Cooper’s Hawks to their young is palpable, with both parents involved in nurturing and protecting the nestlings until they are ready to embark on their own journey.

The diet of the Cooper’s Hawk is a testament to their agility and hunting prowess. Specializing in bird hunting, they are often seen darting through the trees with remarkable speed, capturing unsuspecting smaller birds. However, their diet is not limited to avian prey; small mammals and insects also constitute a significant portion of their intake.

This adaptability in feeding habits ensures their survival in the diverse habitats of South Carolina, from dense forests to suburban backyards.

The Cooper’s Hawk has a conservation story woven with challenges and triumphs. Once declining due to pesticide use and hunting, these birds have made a remarkable comeback, thanks in part to legal protections and increased public awareness.

South Carolina has played its part in this recovery story, with local conservation groups advocating for habitat protection and sustainable practices. The Cooper’s Hawk’s resurgence is a beacon of hope, demonstrating the impact of dedicated conservation efforts.

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 rare

The elusive Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest hawk in South Carolina, is a winter visitor, adding a touch of mystery to the state’s birding scene. Its blue-gray back and finely barred underparts offer a glimpse of beauty in the otherwise barren winter woods.

This hawk, often secretive, reveals itself in fleeting moments, darting through the forest canopy with remarkable agility. The Sharp-shinned Hawk’s presence in South Carolina is a subtle reminder of the diverse avian life that graces the state.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest of the North American accipiters, exhibits a secretive nature in its nesting habits. These birds prefer dense forests for their nesting sites, often choosing locations that offer seclusion and protection.

Their nests, though smaller compared to other hawks, are intricately built with twigs and lined with bark and leaves. The dedication of Sharp-shinned Hawks to their young is evident in the meticulous care they provide, from incubation to the fledging stage.

The diet of the Sharp-shinned Hawk is a testament to its agility and precision as a hunter. Specializing in catching small birds in mid-air, these hawks demonstrate remarkable flying skills.

Their diet mainly consists of small songbirds, but they also adapt to include insects and small mammals when available. This dietary flexibility is crucial for their survival in the diverse habitats of South Carolina, from dense woodlands to suburban areas.

The conservation narrative of the Sharp-shinned Hawk in South Carolina is a complex one. These birds have faced challenges due to habitat loss and environmental changes. However, they have shown resilience, adapting to various habitats, including urban areas.

Conservation efforts, including habitat protection and monitoring, are crucial in ensuring the survival of these small but fierce hunters. Public education about the importance of these birds in the ecosystem has also been key in fostering a supportive environment for their conservation.

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 rare

The Broad-winged Hawk, a forest dweller, is a symbol of the lush greenery of South Carolina’s wooded areas. This bird, often unnoticed due to its compact size and cryptic plumage, becomes a spectacle during migration. It has a rich brown back and a banded tail, with underparts streaked in white and brown.

Its breeding ground in the state’s northwest transforms into a bustling hub in spring, before it embarks on a remarkable journey to South America. In South Carolina, the Broad-winged Hawk is a harbinger of seasonal change, its presence marking the time of year.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Amid the lush forests of South Carolina, the Broad-winged Hawk weaves a tale of architectural mastery. These raptors prefer dense woodland canopies for their nesting sanctuaries. Their nests, often hidden high in the boughs of deciduous trees, are crafted with a meticulous blend of twigs and lined with softer materials, creating a cradle that’s both sturdy and comfortable.

Each spring, these nests become the nurturing ground for their eggs, with both parents sharing the duty of incubation. The fledglings, once hatched, are treated to a symphony of care, learning the ways of the wild under the watchful eyes of their parents.

The Broad-winged Hawk, a masterful hunter, thrives on a diet as varied as the forests it calls home. These birds are opportunistic feeders, primarily preying on small mammals like voles and mice, which they snatch with surprising agility. But their palate doesn’t stop there; amphibians, insects, and even other small birds often find themselves on the menu. This diverse diet reflects the hawk’s adaptability, allowing it to thrive in the varied ecosystems of South Carolina.

The conservation tale of the Broad-winged Hawk is one of cautious optimism. Historically, these birds faced threats from habitat loss and pesticide use. However, concerted conservation efforts, including habitat preservation and stricter pesticide regulations, have helped stabilize their populations.

Birdwatchers in South Carolina often celebrate the annual migration of these hawks, a natural spectacle that underscores the importance of ongoing conservation efforts to ensure these majestic birds continue to grace the skies.

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 uncommon

In the open grasslands and marshes of South Carolina, the Northern Harrier is a sight to behold. This slim, long-tailed raptor, with its distinctive facial disk, glides inches above the ground on broad wings.

The male’s gray plumage and the female’s brown hues blend seamlessly with the winter landscape of the state. This migratory bird brings a sense of wild grace to South Carolina, its low, coursing flight a dance over the open fields.

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier crafts its home close to the ground. Unlike their forest-dwelling cousins, these hawks prefer the openness of the terrain, creating nests that are well-camouflaged among the grasses and reeds.

This ground-level nesting strategy is unique among hawks, reflecting the Northern Harrier’s distinct lifestyle. The care for their young is a testament to their resilience, as they guard and nurture their offspring amidst the challenges of ground-level threats.

The Northern Harrier’s diet is a mirror of the open landscapes they inhabit. These birds primarily feed on small mammals like voles and mice, which they hunt with a quiet grace, gliding low over fields and marshes. Amphibians and insects also feature in their diet, showcasing their ability to adapt to the seasonal availability of prey.

This diet underscores the Northern Harrier’s role as a natural controller of rodent populations, contributing to the ecological balance of South Carolina’s landscapes.

The conservation narrative of the Northern Harrier is one of delicate balance. These birds face challenges from habitat loss and environmental changes. In South Carolina, conservationists and bird enthusiasts have been pivotal in monitoring their populations and advocating for the preservation of their natural habitats. Efforts to maintain and restore wetlands and open fields have been crucial in ensuring these graceful hunters continue to soar over the state’s landscapes.

6. 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
  • State status: Breeding and common

A resident of South Carolina’s wet forests, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized raptor known for its vibrant plumage. With checkered wings and a richly barred chestnut breast, it cuts a striking figure perched beside streams and ponds. The bird’s loud calls echo through the woods, adding to the region’s auditory landscape.

The Red-shouldered Hawk’s year-round presence in South Carolina’s watery habitats makes it a familiar and cherished part of the local ecosystem.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk, with its distinctive call, finds solace in the riparian woodlands of South Carolina for its nesting. Preferring the areas near water bodies, these hawks build their nests in the crooks of large trees.

The construction of their nests is a labour of love, with both parents meticulously assembling sticks and lining them with softer materials. The nurturing of their offspring is a harmonious endeavour, with the hatchlings being cared for diligently until they are ready to spread their wings.

The diet of the Red-shouldered Hawk is intimately linked to its habitat near water. These raptors primarily feed on small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, including snakes and frogs. Their hunting strategy, often involving a stealthy approach from a perch, reflects their keen adaptation to the wooded and watery landscapes they inhabit.

This varied diet not only ensures their survival but also highlights their role in maintaining the ecological balance within their habitats.

The Red-shouldered Hawk’s conservation story in South Carolina is one of coexistence and awareness. While not as threatened as some other raptor species, habitat fragmentation and environmental changes pose challenges.

Efforts by conservation groups to protect and restore their natural habitats, particularly riparian corridors, have been vital. Education and awareness programs have also played a significant role in fostering a harmonious relationship between these hawks and the expanding human population.

Where to find Hawks in South Carolina

Hawks, majestic birds of prey, can be found throughout South Carolina and are known for their keen eyesight and graceful flight. In South Carolina, various hawk species, including Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, make their home in a variety of habitats.

To find hawks in South Carolina, the best approach is to visit areas where they are likely to hunt or nest. Hawks prefer open spaces for hunting, such as fields and meadows, but they can also be found in wooded areas and wetlands. They are often seen soaring high in the sky, scanning the ground for prey, or perched atop tall trees or poles.

Here are four excellent areas in South Carolina for hawk watching:

  • Congaree National Park: This park offers a diverse ecosystem with large expanses of woodlands and waterways, providing an ideal habitat for hawks.
  • Huntington Beach State Park: Known for its rich birdlife, this coastal park is a great spot to observe hawks, especially near the marshy areas.
  • Caesars Head State Park: Located in the upstate region, this park’s high elevation and rugged terrain offer excellent opportunities for sighting hawks, particularly during migration periods.
  • Ace Basin National Wildlife Refuge: This large protected area combines wetlands, forests, and estuaries, creating a perfect environment for hawks and other birds of prey.

When looking for hawks, it’s helpful to bring binoculars or a spotting scope. Early morning or late afternoon are typically the best times for birdwatching, as birds are most active during these periods. Additionally, joining a local birdwatching group or participating in guided tours can enhance the experience and increase the likelihood of spotting these magnificent birds.


South Carolina’s skies are graced by a remarkable array of hawks, each contributing uniquely to the state’s ecological tapestry. From the Broad-winged’s forest canopies to the Northern Harrier’s marshland dances, these birds demonstrate nature’s intricate balance.

Their varied diets, nesting habits, and resilience in conservation efforts underscore the importance of protecting these majestic raptors. As we continue to safeguard their habitats, we ensure that these symbols of wild freedom soar high for years to come.

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