Hawks in Wisconsin

Hawks in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s skies come alive with the majestic presence of hawks, captivating both nature enthusiasts and casual observers alike. From the regal Red-Tailed Hawk to the elusive Northern Harrier, these aerial predators grace the state’s diverse landscapes, embodying grace, power, and keen hunting skills.

This article delves into the world of hawks in Wisconsin, exploring their remarkable adaptations, nesting behaviors, and the conservation efforts that strive to protect their habitats. Join us on a captivating journey as we uncover the fascinating lives of these raptors and the vital role they play in Wisconsin’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

The Red-Tailed Hawk, a prevalent resident of Wisconsin throughout the year, can be found across a vast range spanning from Panama to Alaska and throughout North America. Its distinguishing features include a short, red tail, brown back, and pale underside.

As the second largest hawk in Michigan, it exhibits 14 subspecies in North America, including the Michigan variant. This highly adaptable species thrives in diverse habitats, with a preference for woodlands and woodland edges.

A Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on a wooden post

In Wisconsin, Red-Tailed Hawks construct large stick nests, called eyries, in tall trees or cliffs. These nests provide a secure breeding ground for raising their young.

As versatile predators, they have a diverse diet, preying on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. With their impressive hunting skills, they capture their prey with precision using their sharp talons.

Red-Tailed Hawks in Wisconsin have made a remarkable conservation comeback. Despite past threats of habitat loss and persecution, their populations have rebounded due to conservation efforts. Today, they thrive in various habitats across the state, showcasing the success of conservation in preserving these magnificent birds.

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

The Cooper’s Hawk, a medium-sized bird distributed throughout North America and Mexico, showcases impressive agility and flying skills. Its notable characteristics, such as pale orangy barring on the chest, can lead to confusion with Sharp-Shinned Hawks. These intelligent predators exhibit stealthy hunting tactics, sometimes attracting frustration from homeowners as they linger near bird feeders, targeting the feeder’s visitors rather than the food itself.

A Cooper’s Hawk eating its prey on a branch

In the vibrant forests of Wisconsin, Cooper’s Hawks build cozy nests with twigs and soft materials. They nurture their young with care, creating a familial bond amidst the towering trees.

Cunning forest dwellers, Cooper’s Hawks showcase remarkable agility in chasing and capturing prey. With keen eyes and nimble wings, they excel as graceful predators, targeting small birds and mammals with precision.

Cooper’s Hawks have seen a conservation success story in Wisconsin. Despite past declines from habitat loss and pesticides, efforts have led to a population resurgence. Conservation initiatives, including habitat preservation and public awareness, secure a harmonious future for these remarkable birds in Wisconsin’s wild realms.

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

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Wisconsin’s and the United States’ smallest hawk, features a greyish back and a vibrant orangy chest, similar to its counterpart, the Cooper’s Hawk. Notably, it possesses distinct tail stripes. With a secretive nature and small size, these elusive hawks find refuge in forested habitats, expertly hiding during the nesting season.

This Sharp-Shinned Hawk seems to have spotted the cameraman

Amidst the picturesque landscapes of Wisconsin, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk thrives with its meticulous nesting behavior. Constructing compact nests in sheltered forest canopies, they create a cozy haven for nurturing their young.

With remarkable agility and precision, these skilled hunters specialize in capturing small birds and mammals.

Wisconsin’s conservation initiatives have played a crucial role in safeguarding the Sharp-Shinned Hawk and its habitat, ensuring their harmonious coexistence with humans and preserving the magnificence of these skybound predators.

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

In the spring and summer breeding season, the skies of Wisconsin are adorned with the majestic presence of the Broad-Winged Hawk, captivating birders. Yet, it is during the remarkable fall migration when these hawks truly dazzle, forming awe-inspiring flocks numbering in the thousands on their journey to South America.

With its dark brown body and a pale whitish belly adorned with horizontal bars, the Broad-Winged Hawk presents a captivating sight that leaves onlookers in awe.

Close-up photo of a Broad-Winged Hawk

In the scenic landscapes of Wisconsin, the Broad-Winged Hawk exhibits captivating nesting behavior. Constructing sturdy nests in towering trees, they create a secure haven for raising their young with unwavering dedication, embracing the challenges and joys of parenthood in the wild.

With a versatile palate, the Broad-Winged Hawk preys on small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally amphibians. Their keen eyesight and swift aerial maneuvers make them adept hunters, showcasing their prowess as skilled predators of the sky.

Wisconsin has witnessed dedicated conservation efforts to protect the Broad-Winged Hawk and its habitat. Through habitat preservation, public education, and research, their populations have been safeguarded. This collective commitment ensures the continuation of their captivating presence, fostering a harmonious balance between humans and this majestic species.

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

The Rough-Legged Hawk, an extraordinary Arctic resident, undertakes a remarkable winter journey to Wisconsin. With predominantly brown plumage, it stands out with a lighter-coloured head and scattered dark spots. What truly distinguishes this hawk is its feathered legs, extending to the toes, providing insulation in the harsh Arctic climate. This adaptation allows them to thrive in their remote breeding range, making them a unique and resilient species.

A Rough-Legged Hawk sitting on the snowy ground

They construct lofty eyries on cliffs or tall trees, providing secure sanctuaries for their young. With unwavering dedication, they nurture their offspring, offering fierce protection and tender care.

As skilled hunters of the skies, Rough-Legged Hawks exhibit a diverse diet. From small mammals like voles and mice to birds and reptiles, they showcase versatility in their foraging habits. Soaring above the Wisconsin wilderness with calculated precision, they swoop down to secure their next meal, exemplifying the artistry of aerial predation.

Wisconsin’s conservation efforts have played a vital role in preserving Rough-Legged Hawks. Through habitat protection, research, and public education, their populations have been safeguarded. This collective dedication ensures a harmonious coexistence between humans and these magnificent raptors, preserving the awe-inspiring beauty of Wisconsin’s natural heritage.

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

The Northern Goshawk, sharing traits with the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawk, exhibits impressive agility in forested domains. These elusive birds expertly maneuvers through wooded depths, eluding detection. In Wisconsin, the Rough-Legged Hawk is a year-round resident in the north and occasionally found in the south during non-breeding seasons. With a dark gray upper body adorned by black stripes and lighter gray underparts, they exude a natural elegance.

A Northern Goshawk plucking its feathers

Amidst the enchanting landscapes of Wisconsin, the Northern Goshawk showcases captivating nesting behavior. They skillfully construct lofty nests woven with twigs and foliage, providing a haven for their young. With unwavering dedication, they nurture their offspring, fostering a bond of love and protective instincts.

As true forest predators, the Northern Goshawk boasts a diverse and formidable diet. From small mammals like squirrels and rabbits to birds and reptiles, their menu encompasses a range of prey. With sharp eyesight and agile flight, they exhibit hunting prowess, engaging in a captivating dance of predator and prey within the woodland canopy.

Conservation efforts in Wisconsin have played a vital role in safeguarding the Northern Goshawk. Through habitat preservation, scientific research, and public awareness, their populations have been protected. These endeavours exemplify our shared responsibility in preserving the majestic beauty of these remarkable raptors for future generations to cherish.

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

The Swainson’s Hawk, a migratory marvel, spans a vast geographic range from North to South America. Its captivating presence is accentuated by a brownish body, white underparts, and a distinct dark bib. During migration, these hawks embark on impressive journeys, traveling up to 12,000 miles round trip, showcasing their incredible endurance and ability to navigate vast distances.

A Swainson’s Hawk sitting on an electrical pole

They construct cozy nests atop sturdy branches, creating a sanctuary for their young. With unwavering devotion, they embrace the joys and challenges of parenthood, fostering a legacy of family unity in the boundless sky.

As masters of the aerial realm, the Swainson’s Hawk enjoys a diverse diet. From small mammals and reptiles to insects and snakes, they display remarkable adaptability. With precise dives and agile maneuvers, they embody the art of avian predation, feasting on nature’s offerings with graceful efficiency.

Wisconsin’s conservation efforts have been pivotal in preserving the Swainson’s Hawk and its habitat. Through habitat protection, public education, and scientific research, their populations have thrived. This collective commitment ensures the perpetuation of their mesmerizing presence, nurturing a harmonious coexistence between humans and these majestic aerial nomads.

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

The Ferruginous Hawk, a captivating raptor native to North America, dominates vast territories across the expansive landscapes of the Great Plains and the western regions. With its majestic stature, it captivates attention through its striking appearance. Adorned in rich tones of rusty brown, its plumage creates a beautiful contrast against its pale underparts, leaving a lasting impression on all fortunate enough to encounter it.

A Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a telephone pole

With meticulous precision, they construct substantial nests, weaving twigs and branches into sturdy abodes for their young. Within these lofty havens, a symphony of parental devotion unfolds as they nurture their offspring with unwavering dedication and protective instincts.

As skilled predators of the sky, the Ferruginous Hawk embraces a diverse diet. From small mammals scurrying through grasslands to snakes and large insects, they exhibit a versatile palate. With keen eyesight and swift aerial maneuvers, they unleash their hunting prowess, soaring across the Wisconsin skies in pursuit of their next meal.

Wisconsin’s commitment to conservation has been instrumental in preserving the Ferruginous Hawk and its fragile habitat. Through proactive measures like habitat preservation, research, and public education, their populations have flourished. This collective effort ensures the perpetuation of these majestic aerial hunters, allowing them to grace the Wisconsin skies for generations to come—a symbol of harmonious coexistence between humans and the wonders of nature.

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

Across diverse regions of North America, including Wisconsin, the Northern Harrier, a proficient hunter, gracefully roams. Sporting a unique facial disk, streamlined body, and elongated wings, they effortlessly navigate the skies. During courtship, male Northern Harriers engage in captivating aerial displays, revealing their agility and captivating charm.

A Northern Harrier in flight

With meticulous precision and a touch of flair, they fashion their nests amidst the tall grasses, creating cozy havens where new life takes flight. These nests, carefully woven with nature’s finest materials, become the stage for an extraordinary dance of parenthood, where dedication and tenderness interlace. Fun fact: The nests are often strategically placed near open fields, providing the harriers with a panoramic view of their hunting grounds.

The Northern Harrier, a master of the air and an agile hunter, embraces a varied and delectable diet. From their elevated vantage point, they survey the land below, searching for small mammals scurrying amidst the fields and marshes. With impressive aerial acrobatics and keen eyesight, they swiftly swoop down to snatch their unsuspecting prey. But it’s not just mammals that tantalize their taste buds; they also indulge in a culinary adventure, including avian delicacies and even the occasional insect appetizer.

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, dedicated conservation efforts have been vital in safeguarding the Northern Harrier and preserving its precious habitat. Through habitat preservation initiatives, scientific research endeavours, and community education, the harrier’s populations have soared to new heights.

10. Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Life span: Up to 15 years
  • Size: 17-24 inches (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 1.5 to 2.2 pounds (680-1000 grams)
  • Wingspan: 37-43 inches (94-109 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

The Red-Shouldered Hawk, a captivating raptor of North America, graces the skies with its presence across a wide geographical range, including parts of Wisconsin. With its striking appearance, featuring reddish-brown shoulders, barred wings, and a pale chest adorned with dark bands, it is a true marvel to behold.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk taking a rest on a log

They construct sturdy nests in the dense foliage of tall trees, creating secure havens for their young. These nests, meticulously woven with twigs and lined with soft materials, become cozy sanctuaries where the delicate bond of family unfolds amidst the forest’s embrace.

The Red-Shouldered Hawk embraces a diverse diet in Wisconsin’s bountiful landscapes. From small mammals like rodents and squirrels to reptiles and amphibians, their culinary adventures know no bounds. With keen eyesight and swift flight, they execute precise dives to snatch their prey, showcasing their hunting prowess and maintaining a delicate balance within the ecosystem.

Wisconsin’s dedication to conservation has played a pivotal role in protecting the Red-Shouldered Hawk and its habitat. Through habitat preservation, public education, and research initiatives, their populations have thrived. These collective efforts ensure the preservation of these majestic raptors, highlighting the state’s commitment to maintaining a harmonious coexistence between humans and the wonders of the natural world.

Where to find Hawks in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, hawks can be found soaring across a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and open fields. To observe these magnificent birds, one can embark on nature trails, visit wildlife refuges, or explore scenic overlooks.

Four notable areas to spot hawks are the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Kettle Moraine State Forest, and the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

Equipped with binoculars, patience, and an appreciation for nature’s beauty, bird enthusiasts can witness the aerial acrobatics of hawks and immerse themselves in the captivating landscapes of Wisconsin.


Wisconsin’s hawks symbolize the untamed spirit of the state’s natural world, captivating us with their aerial prowess and intrinsic beauty. As we conclude our exploration of these magnificent raptors, let us carry with us a deeper appreciation for the intricate balance of nature and the importance of preserving their habitats.

By continuing to support conservation efforts, promoting education, and embracing sustainable practices, we can ensure that the skies of Wisconsin remain filled with the awe-inspiring presence of hawks, a testament to our commitment to safeguarding the wonders of the natural world for generations to come.

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