11 Hawks in California (With Pictures)

Do you have seen hawks in california? Hawks are cool birds that soar through the skies, keeping an eye out for their next meal. But what exactly makes a hawk different from other birds like eagles or falcons?

Well, hawks are part of a bird family called Accipitridae, which includes birds like buzzards too. Some birds that we don’t usually think of as hawks, like the Peregrine Falcon, are sometimes called hawks. It’s a bit confusing! But hawks have been known for being really smart birds, and people have even used them for hunting, a practice called falconry.

In places like California, where there are lots of different habitats and animals, hawks are just one part of the wildlife. There are other cool creatures like the Leatherback Sea Turtle and the California Condor, which is another type of bird of prey. Even though condors aren’t hawks, their story of coming back from being endangered is pretty amazing.

California’s got all kinds of environments, from beaches to mountains, and it’s home to eleven different kinds of hawks. So, if you’re interested in seeing hawks in the wild, California’s the place to be! This guide will show you where to find each kind of hawk in the state.

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
  • Length: 23 cm to 37 cm
  • Weight: 82 g to 219 g
  • Wingspan: 58 cm to 68 cm
  • Lifespan: 5 to 12 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, sometimes called the Sharpie, is a tiny hawk that lives across much of the Americas. Among hawks in the US and Canada, the males of this species are the smallest, about 30% tinier than the females.

These little hunters enjoy munching on all sorts of small critters, but they have a soft spot for tiny birds. In fact, one Sharp-shinned Hawk once snagged a hefty 1.2-pound Ruffed Grouse!

But their menu isn’t limited to just birds. These nimble hawks are skilled at catching everything from mice scurrying around houses to delicate dragonflies. They’re quite the versatile hunters!

2. Cooper’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 35 cm to 50 cm
  • Weight: 7.8 oz to 14.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 62 cm to 99 cm
  • Lifespan: 5 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Cooper’s Hawk, unlike its smaller cousin the Sharp-shinned Hawk, is one of North America’s biggest hawk species. Being larger in size compared to many other hawks, it’s no surprise they’re adept at hunting larger prey.

Cooper’s Hawk

These hawks are known for snatching up sizable meals, which is why they’ve earned nicknames like chicken hawk and hen hawk. They’re quite skilled at nabbing domestic poultry if given the chance.

In California, Cooper’s Hawks are quite common, especially in temperate deciduous forests. They’re not too bothered by habitat changes, often seen along roadsides or perched on utility poles. While some Cooper’s Hawks migrate, others stick around in parts of California throughout the year.

3. Northern Goshawk

  • Scientific name: Falco columbarius
  • Length: 46 cm to 61 cm
  • Weight: 357 g to 2,200 g
  • Wingspan: 89 cm to 105 cm
  • Lifespan: 7 to 12 years

The Northern Goshawk is a stunning bird that’s a real treat for birdwatchers lucky enough to spot one. These birds are quite territorial and typically prefer to fly solo, except when they’re part of a breeding pair with their mate.

Northern Goshawk

When it comes to flying, the Northern Goshawk is incredibly agile, especially during short-distance pursuits. Their long tail helps them stay steady in flight. Hunting for them is usually a quick affair, with chases rarely lasting more than 15 minutes.

Even though they usually hunt alone, Northern Goshawks that are part of a breeding pair have been seen teaming up to hunt together successfully.

As for their diet, Northern Goshawks are skilled hunters. While they mostly eat small birds and mammals like voles and rats, they’ve been known to take down larger prey like pheasants, hares, and even spiny porcupines. Sometimes they’ll even scavenge carrion, like already-deceased sheep and goats.

4. Red-shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 38 cm to 58 cm
  • Weight: 550 g to 700 g
  • Wingspan: 90 cm to 127 cm
  • Lifespan: 7 to 12 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a familiar sight along the coast of California, being one of the most abundant hawk species in North America.

Red-shouldered Hawk

These hawks are valued by farmers and homeowners because they mainly dine on small rodents, helping to control pests naturally. However, they sometimes lose out to their more aggressive cousin, the Red-tailed Hawk.

You can spot a Red-Shouldered Hawk by its signature rust-colored patch that runs from its shoulder down its chest and belly. People often mistake them for Red-tailed Hawks, but Red-Shouldered Hawks are slimmer and more nimble, and they lack the Red-tail’s light underside.

5. Broad-winged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
  • Length: 32 cm to 44 cm
  • Weight: 265 g to 560 g
  • Wingspan: 74 cm to 100 cm
  • Lifespan: 7 to 12 years
Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a smaller hawk species known for its broad wings, which are noticeably tapered. Even beginners at hawk identification should find them relatively easy to spot.

Adult Broad-winged Hawks have a distinct appearance with a pale underside marked by brown bars, contrasting with a dark brown upper half, especially noticeable when they’re flying.

These hawks have a vast range that covers much of North and South America. During migration, they gather in massive flocks called kettles, sometimes numbering in the thousands. Witnessing these migrating flocks is quite a spectacle!

6. Swainson’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Length: 43 cm to 56 cm
  • Weight: 0.5 kg to 1.7 kg
  • Wingspan: 117 cm to 137 cm
  • Lifespan: 8 to 14 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Swainson’s Hawk is not only a stunning bird, but it’s also highly valued by farmers for its pest control abilities. Sometimes called the grasshopper hawk or locust hawk, these names reflect the hawk’s insatiable appetite for insects, especially grasshoppers.

Swainson’s Hawk

Although they’re not permanent residents of California, Swainson’s Hawks can be spotted here during the breeding season.

Swainson’s Hawks prefer open and dry habitats like prairies, pastures, and even deserts. In these environments, they hunt insects and small mammals, which are plentiful.

They’re particularly skilled at catching ground squirrels, which are common in these dry areas. While they usually go for smaller prey, they’ve been known to take down larger birds like mallard ducks and grouse.

7. Red-tailed Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Length: 45 cm to 60 cm
  • Weight: 690 g to 1,300 g
  • Wingspan: 105 cm to 141 cm
  • Lifespan: 6 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Red-tailed Hawk is probably the hawk you imagine when you think of one – they’re the most widespread hawk species in North America.

Red-tailed Hawk

This iconic bird also provides the typical raptor screeches you hear in movies. Interestingly, their calls often stand in for the Bald Eagle’s, since eagle screeches are so high-pitched that some viewers find them unrealistic!

Informally, the Red-tailed Hawk is sometimes called a ‘chickenhawk’.

Their diet mainly consists of small rodents, but they also play a crucial role in controlling invasive species. For example, they often prey on European Starlings, which can be harmful to native birds.

Because of this, some building owners welcome Red-tailed Hawks to their area, as they help keep the noisy starlings in check and protect native bird populations.

8. Rough-legged Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
  • Length: 46 cm to 68 cm
  • Weight: 600 g to 1,660 g
  • Wingspan: 120 cm to 153 cm
  • Lifespan: 8 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Known as the Rough-legged Buzzard in Europe, this hawk is quite large and distinguished.

Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk is unique among hawks in that it can hover in flight, a behavior usually associated with falcons. While their coloration can vary, they’re easily identified by their long white tail feathers with dark bands at the end.

During most of the year, Rough-legged Hawks live in cold tundra habitats. In winter, they migrate to warmer regions, including parts of California, giving birdwatchers a chance to spot this medium-large raptor in the wild.

9. Ferruginous Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Length: 51 cm to 71 cm
  • Weight: 907 g to 2,268 g
  • Wingspan: 122 cm to 158 cm
  • Lifespan: 8 to 12 years

The Ferruginous Hawk is a big and mighty bird, being the largest member of the Buteo genus of hawks in North America. Because of their size, adult Ferruginous Hawks don’t have many natural predators.

Ferruginous Hawk

These hawks come in two color variations: light and dark morphs. Light morphs have a rusty upper body, while dark morphs are dark brown or black. Some say their screechy cry sounds a bit like a gull’s call.

Males and females of this species don’t have different color patterns that help tell them apart. However, like many birds of prey, females are larger than males.

Although Ferruginous Hawks hunt a variety of prey, they especially like black-tailed jackrabbits.

10. Zone-tailed Hawk

  • Scientific name: Buteo regalis
  • Length: 46 cm to 56 cm
  • Weight: 565 g to 1,080 g
  • Wingspan: 117 cm to 140 cm
  • Lifespan: 8 to 12 years

This hawk looks really different and it’s cool to spot for anyone who likes watching birds. The Zone-tailed Hawk is easy to notice because, unlike other hawks that are brown or gray, this one is mostly black and looks amazing.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk Under its wings, this hawk has stripes that look like shiny silver in the sunlight because they’re a lighter gray color. The hawk’s nose area and legs are a bright yellow.

When it’s flying, this hawk can be mistaken for a Turkey Vulture that glides slowly in the sky. Some people think this helps the hawk sneak up on animals without scaring them away.

But this hawk doesn’t eat dead animals much. It mostly hunts for living things like small birds, mammals, and lizards.

11. Harris’s Hawk

  • Scientific name: Par 59 cm
  • Weight: 546 g to 850 g
  • Wingspan: 103 cm to 120 cm
  • Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Harris’s Hawk is a beautiful bird that’s easy to spot, even if you’re just starting to learn about birds. It has a rich brown back and bright rust-colored shoulders, making it stand out when you see it outside.

Harris’s Hawk

Harris’s Hawk People often say this hawk is one of the smartest. Most birds of prey like to hunt alone, but the Harris’s Hawk likes to team up in small groups to catch their food. Because they like to be around others, these hawks are also popular birds for falconry.

You can find Harris’s Hawks in different places, but they really like living in woods and places that are kind of like deserts but not too dry.

These hawks don’t fly away to other places during different seasons, which means you can see them all year in California.

Check Our Previous Articles

Falcons in North Carolina
Mousebirds (Family Coliidae)
Birds With Orange Beaks
Hawks You Can See in Tennessee

Q1: What is the most common hawk in California?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in California.

Q2: What is the big California hawk?

The big California hawk is the Ferruginous Hawk.

Q3: What does the hawks mean in California?

Hawks in California symbolize freedom, vision, and strength.

Q4: Can you have a hawk in California?

Yes, but it requires permits and adherence to strict regulations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Mya Bambrick

I am a lifelong bird lover and nature enthusiast. I admire birds for their beauty, diversity, and intelligence. Birding is more than a hobby for me; it is a way of life. Therefore, I created this website to provide better and quality information about bird species. You know there are many bird species in the world right now. I started a path to introduce you to birds one by one.

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