The 6 Hawks of Georgia

The 6 Hawks of Georgia

Georgia is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including many species of hawks. These birds of prey are often a highlight for nature enthusiasts, with their powerful wingspans, sharp talons, and impressive hunting skills.

Georgia’s mild climate and varied landscape provide ideal conditions for these birds to thrive year-round, making it an excellent destination for birders looking to observe and learn about hawks in their natural habitat.

From the Broad-Winged Hawk to the Red-Tailed Hawk, Georgia is home to a variety of species that can be found throughout the state. Observing these birds in their natural habitat can be both exhilarating and educational, providing a glimpse into their behavior, hunting techniques, and unique characteristics.

In this article, we will explore the world of hawks in Georgia, including where to find them, how to identify them, and some interesting facts about these majestic birds.

Whether you are an experienced birder or a novice wildlife enthusiast, this guide will provide valuable information and insights into the world of hawks in Georgia.

1. 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

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a common and captivating sight in Georgia all year round. With its unique features and behavior, this bird has carved out a special niche for itself across the Eastern United States, ranging from Southeast Canada all the way down to Mexico.

This magnificent bird can be easily recognized by its brownish head and pale reddish chest, adorned with stripes that add to its beauty. One of the most noticeable aspects of the Red-Shouldered Hawk is its long tail, which sets it apart from other hawk species.

The hawk’s name comes from the striking red coloration of its shoulders, which can be seen vividly when it takes flight. This adds to the bird’s allure and makes it a favorite among both bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.

The Red-Shouldered Hawk thrives in deciduous swamps and bottomland hardwood forests, where it can find ample food and shelter.

In Georgia, it has found the perfect habitat to flourish and grow, making it a vital part of the state’s ecological landscape. With its impressive wingspan and majestic presence, the Red-Shouldered Hawk is truly a sight to behold.

A Red-Shouldered Hawk taking a rest on a residential wooden fence

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a fascinating bird that boasts a unique mating ritual. Their breeding season typically kicks off in April, and they tend to prefer nesting in mixed wooded areas near bodies of water.

These hawks are territorial and prefer to stay away from human presence, making it essential for conservationists to protect their habitats.

During mating season, the male hawks display courtship by circling above the females and swooping down to impress them with their flying skills. Once they have chosen a partner, the pair will build a large tree nest together, which they will reuse in future breeding seasons.

When it comes to their diet, the Red-Shouldered Hawk is a skilled hunter that mainly preys on small mammals, such as voles, mice, and moles.

They typically hunt in or around woodlands, perching on tall trees or gliding over the terrain to find prey. During winter, when small mammal populations are low, they may also consume crayfish and small birds.

Sadly, the population of the Red-Shouldered Hawk has suffered in the past due to the clearing of old-growth forests. However, conservation efforts have helped to stabilize their numbers since the 1950s, when hunting these birds was outlawed.

The banning of certain pesticides, such as DDT, has also contributed to their recovery. As a result, the Red-Shouldered Hawk is no longer considered a species in need of conservation efforts, but their habitats must still be protected to ensure their continued survival.

2. Northern Harrier

  • Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Georgia is home to a wide range of birds of prey, including the Northern Harrier, one of the state’s largest and most commonly spotted hawks.

While this bird breeds in the Northern United States and throughout Canada and Alaska, it also spends its winters as a guest in Georgia, making it a true traveler in the avian world.

One of the most striking things about the Northern Harrier is its overall grayish appearance, which has earned it the nickname “Gray Ghost.” When viewed up close, this hawk may even be mistaken for an owl due to its facial structure, though they are not closely related.

The Northern Harrier tends to favor open areas such as moorlands, bogs, prairies, and marshes. They are known for their unique hunting style, which involves low, slow, and steady flights over their prey, often just a few feet above the ground.

This technique makes them especially adept at catching small mammals, such as rodents, that are hidden in the grass or brush.

Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

While scanning the ground for potential prey, a Northern Harrier gracefully soars through the air, showcasing its impressive wingspan and distinctive owl-like facial features.

Unlike many other raptors, the Northern Harrier is polygynous, with a male often breeding with up to five females in a single season. Breeding typically begins in April, with males performing elaborate courtship flights to attract a chosen mate.

Despite spending much of its time in open landscapes, the Northern Harrier nests on the ground, building its nest from small twigs and lining it with soft materials like grass and leaves. These birds are also known to nest in small colonies, which may offer some protection from predators.

In terms of diet, the Northern Harrier is primarily a hunter of small mammals, such as voles and ground squirrels. However, they may also occasionally prey on small birds.

To catch their prey, Northern Harriers use their keen senses to locate their target before swooping down and surprising them from behind, often flying just a few meters above the ground.

While the Northern Harrier is not currently facing any significant threats aside from habitat loss and poisoning of prey, the species is not at risk of experiencing a rapid population decline due to its wide distribution range.

Nevertheless, we must continue to protect their habitat and work to mitigate any threats to their survival to ensure that these impressive birds continue to thrive in the wild.

3. 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 is a magnificent bird that can be observed in Georgia throughout the year. It is one of the most widely distributed raptors on the continent, ranging from Alaska to Panama, and is a common sight in almost all regions of North America.

Despite the existence of 14 different subspecies of the Red-Tailed Hawk in North America, the differences between them are mainly in color, with the Georgia Red-Tailed Hawk being similar in appearance to its counterparts in the United States but larger in size.

This species is distinguishable by its short, red tail, brown back, and a pale underside.

A Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on a steel structure

During the breeding season, which typically starts in February, the male Red-Tailed Hawk performs impressive aerial displays to court its chosen female. This includes flying high in the air and diving next to the female or presenting prey as a gift.

The Red-Tailed Hawk usually builds its nest in tall trees, often the tallest in the area, or in nest boxes, and will reuse the same nest in the next breeding season.

The Red-Tailed Hawk feeds primarily feeding on small animals, such as voles, rats, and rabbits, but will also occasionally eat smaller birds. They are skilled hunters, often using trees as cover and as launching pads for surprise attacks.

They’re also seen soaring 20-50 meters above the ground while looking for prey, diving at any animal that moves.

The distribution range of the Red-Tailed Hawk has increased over the last century, potentially as a result of the transformation of dense woodlands into fragmented woodlands due to logging.

Nevertheless, as with several other hawk species, human activities, including unlawful shootings and the poisoning of prey, pose a threat to its existence. Preserving this impressive bird is essential for upholding the equilibrium of the ecosystem.

4. 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 is a bird that never fails to amaze observers. This hawk is known for its impressive speed, agility, and ability to hunt prey much larger than itself.

It is a medium-sized bird that can be found throughout North America, including as far south as Mexico. This bird’s striking appearance is a sight to behold, with pale orange barring on its chest that sets it apart from other raptors.

The Cooper’s Hawk, despite its striking appearance and exceptional hunting abilities, is frequently perceived with suspicion and animosity by homeowners, owing to its tendency to lurk around birdfeeders in search of unwary prey.

A well-hidden Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a branch in winter.

During the breeding season, which usually starts in March, male Cooper’s Hawks perform impressive aerial displays to attract a mate.

Once a pair is formed, they establish their territory by flying around their nesting area with slow, deliberate wingbeats. Their nests are usually located in tall trees and are often built on top of old bird nests or other pre-existing structures.

Cooper’s Hawks primarily feed on small birds, which they catch either mid-air or by ambushing them while sitting on branches. They also eat small mammals such as mice and voles, although they don’t catch them in as spectacular a manner as their bird prey.

In the past hundred years, the Cooper’s Hawk population has undergone substantial oscillations, including a threefold surge, succeeded by a sharp decrease because of hunting.

After the implementation of a hunting ban, their numbers began to recover, but the use of DDT resulted in another significant population decline. Presently, their population appears to have stabilized, with poisonings of prey being the primary cause of their premature deaths.

Despite being perceived negatively as birdfeeders’ predators, Cooper’s Hawks play a critical role in preserving a robust ecosystem, and their impressive aerial skills make them a delightful sight in their natural habitat.

5. 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, though small in size, is still an impressive bird of prey found throughout Georgia and the United States. Despite its size, it has a distinctive coloration that can make it difficult to distinguish from the larger Cooper’s Hawk.

While the Sharp-Shinned Hawk has a grayish back and orangy chest, the Cooper’s Hawk has pale orange barring on its chest. One distinguishing feature of the Sharp-Shinned Hawk is the stripes on its tail feathers, which are absent in Cooper’s Hawk.

A Sharp-Shined Hawk taking a rest on a big log.

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk’s courtship ritual is a sight to behold, with the male performing impressive aerial displays and calls to woo its mate.

Once paired, they retreat into the dense forests to build their nests in the shelter of tall coniferous trees, hidden from the prying eyes of predators and human onlookers.

As skilled predators, Sharp-Shinned Hawks have a varied diet consisting of small birds and mammals, and their ambush tactics often involve hiding in thick foliage and pouncing on their unsuspecting prey. They are also adept at catching small birds in mid-air, using their agility and speed to their advantage.

Despite their success, the use of DDT in the past led to a significant decline in the Sharp-Shinned Hawk population, along with other bird species. However, with the ban on harmful chemicals, the population has rebounded and reached an all-time high.

The increasing popularity of bird feeders has also provided a convenient food source, contributing to their continued recovery

6. 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

The Broad-Winged Hawk is a majestic raptor that is easily recognizable due to its distinctive features.

This bird can be spotted year-round in Georgia, but bird enthusiasts agree that one of the most awe-inspiring sights is witnessing its massive migration in the fall.

During this time, thousands of Broad-Winged Hawks congregate in enormous flocks before embarking on their long journey to South America.

This magnificent bird has a dark brown body with a pale whitish belly adorned with horizontal bars, making it an impressive sight to behold.

The Broad-Winged Hawk is known for its exceptional hunting skills, which it uses to prey on small mammals like mice and voles, and occasionally small birds.

A Broad-Winged Hawk hiding between branches while taking a rest.

During the breeding season, which usually starts in April, the male Broad-winged Hawk woos the female with an intricate courtship display involving aerial acrobatics and diving.

The pair will then work together to build their nest in deciduous trees in the forests near the Georgia River and up toward Maine.

Unlike some other hawk species, the Broad-Winged Hawk is a relatively opportunistic feeder. They primarily consume small mammals such as voles, but they are also known to eat amphibians, insects, birds, and reptiles.

Their hunting method involves hiding on low-hanging branches and gliding toward their prey, using their sharp talons to catch it.

The Broad-Winged Hawk is threatened by forest fragmentation in its breeding range, as it requires deep forest cover for breeding and nesting.

However, conservation efforts in the United States seem to be paying off, as the population is believed to be increasing. Despite this, the Broad-Winged Hawk remains a species of concern for wildlife conservationists, and continued efforts are needed to ensure its survival.

Where to find Hawks in Georgia

Hawks are a common sight in Georgia and can be easily observed with a little knowledge and preparation. As these birds are active during the day, it’s essential to know where and when to look for them.

To increase your chances of seeing hawks, consider visiting specific locations where they are commonly found. Many state parks and wildlife refuges in Georgia offer trails designed for optimal wildlife viewing.

These trails are typically safe and offer guided tours by experienced birdwatchers who can help spot hawks hidden by brush or camouflaged against their surroundings.

Many of the hawks on the list have European cousins that I’ve spent a lot of time chasing, watching, and photographing in Scandinavia, and it never disappoints to see them.

When you arrive at popular hawk-watching spots, it’s crucial to stay safe, both for your sake and the birds’. Taking some necessary precautions can go a long way in making your experience safe and enjoyable.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings: Hawks tend to fly low to the ground when hunting, so keep an eye out for them in open fields or along the edges of forests.
  • Don’t feed them: While it may be tempting to toss food to a hawk, doing so can encourage them to approach humans more closely and become less wary. This is known as habituation and can become dangerous for both humans and the hawks.
  • Avoid nesting areas: During the breeding season, hawks can become particularly territorial and protective of their nests. If you see a hawk flying repeatedly around a particular area, it may be best to avoid that spot.

Here are a few popular spots to look for them in Georgia:

  • Red Top Mountain State Park
  • Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
  • Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
  • Tallulah Gorge State Park
  • Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Conclusion

In Georgia, bird watching enthusiasts spend a lot of time enjoying the experience of observing hawks, especially during the breeding season and winter migration when they are plentiful due to the temperate climate.

The sight of these magnificent birds of prey hunting in their natural habitat is a truly inspiring experience, cherished by even the most seasoned birders.

Historically, hawk populations faced significant declines due to hunting and pesticide use that contaminated their food sources. However, since the mid-20th century ban on DDT and the hunting of most raptors, many of these species have made remarkable recoveries, with stable or increasing populations.

As a result, it has become increasingly common and rewarding to spot hawks in their natural environment.