6 Types of Hawks in Alaska

Greetings fellow nature enthusiasts! As someone who has been captivated by the majesty of birds of prey, particularly hawks, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife of Alaska.

In this article, we will take a closer look at six types of hawks that call Alaska their home.

From the iconic Northern Harrier to the elusive Northern Goshawk, join me on this journey as we explore the fascinating world of hawks in the Last Frontier.

Let’s soar into the wild and uncover the beauty of these magnificent birds!

Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Red-Tailed HawkRed-Tailed Hawk
Sharp-Shinned HawkSharp-Shinned Hawk
Swainson’s HawkSwainson’s Hawk
Harrier of the NorthHarrier of the North

Types of Hawks in Alaska

1. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is one of the most ferocious American hawk species.

They are able to fast chase other birds, notably crows, and Gray Jays, because of their short, wide wings and rudder-like tails.

Northern Goshawk are a frequent name among professional falconers because of its usefulness in securing food sources.

Adult goshawks possess greyish feathers, while juveniles feature brown upper parts and a striped bottom.

The eyes of both juvenile and adult hawks are a striking shade of yellow, but the red eyes of the former are terrifying.

They have black heads with a white band across each eyebrow.

Although being Alaska’s sole resident hawks all year round, these birds may be difficult to see due to their preference for breeding in remote, deep pine woods.

Even if you locate a kettle, you should stay away from it since these hawks will attack if you go too near.

2. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

The only hawk species known to fly north of the Arctic Circle in the spring is the Rough-legged Hawk.

These hawks have good opportunities for both grazing and breeding because the sun never sets in the Arctic.

You may be wondering, “But what about the freezing weather?” Happily, it seems that these hawks have taken care of all the little details.

Their large, insulating plumage all the way down their legs give them their nickname, “rough-legged,” and helps them keep warm in the air.

Just two other American raptors, the ferruginous hawk and the golden eagle, possess this morphological trait.

Rough-legged hawks, like other hawk species, go through distinct color patterns over their lives.

Common characteristics of hawks include a dark brown back and a white, striped belly.

Its wide white spot at the end of its tail is a telltale sign as they float low to the earth.

You may still see these hawks in the wintertime across southern Alaska if you’d rather avoid the Arctic.

Fence posts and power poles are common places to find them, where they perch and use their keen eyesight for hunting.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Across North America, red-tailed hawks predominate.

They spend the winter in practically every state in the United States but migrate to Alaska in the springtime.

Red-tailed hawks, as its name indicates, are distinguished by a distinctive tail feather pattern that deepens in color with age.

The remainder of a hawk’s feathers varies greatly across subspecies, but all of them possess a chocolate-brown back and a white abdomen with faint streaks.

The nice part about these hawks is you’ll be able to discover them even if you’re not an expert birdwatcher.

Roadside vegetation and structures, such as fence posts, utility poles, and trees, may provide important clues about the location of hidden dangers, so keep an eye out for them on your next road journey, particularly if they overlook vast fields.

The red-tailed hawk will wait patiently for hours on the perch until it spots its meal.

Rats, toads, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and snakes smaller than pheasants are all fair game for this bird of prey.

4. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The sharp-shinned hawk may be the tiniest hawk species in the United States, yet it is also one of the most lethal.

In the neighborhood, they are well-known for their habit of surprising the birds feeding at feeders by leaping out of the bushes.

Young Sharpies possess a dark brown back and a white belly with dark vertical stripes.

The top sections of an adult change from yellow to bluish-gray, and the stripes grow more horizontal.

Like the northern goshawk, the eyes change color from yellow to dark red as the bird ages.

Sharpies may be recognized by their square-shaped tails as they soar over wide spaces.

Its name comes from the fact that you can see their slender legs and little feet when they sit in the trees.

Similar to red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks go to Alaska mostly in springtime to increase their chances of finding a mate.

You’ll need to put in more time and energy to find them, however, since they like to raise their young in dense coniferous woods.

5. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

The Swainson’s hawk gets its name from the well-known 18th-century British naturalist William John Swainson.

Because of their preference for insect prey, these hawks are usually referred to by names like locust hawks and grasshopper hawks.

These hawks, like the preceding species, may be observed throughout Alaska in the springtime, but they do not go quite as far south.

Most of the time, they are found in the wide grasses in the eastern part of the state.

These birds of prey are unique among raptors in that they hunt grasshoppers on the grass.

Even so, they have the ability to capture flying prey.

The top portions of an adult Swainson’s hawk are dark brown, while the chest and abdomen are brown.

The white markings on its neck are easily identifiable if you get near enough. 

If you want to tell a male from a female of this species, look at their forehead color.

Males’ heads are predominantly gray, whereas females’ are a little darker.

6. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Contrasted with the many harrier species found on other continents, North America is home to only one: the Northern Harrier.

During the nesting season, you may see these hawks soaring over Alaska’s vast tundras, marshes, and meadows.

You should be cautious when you go through these regions since the nests of these birds are often situated on the ground.

Northern harriers seem a lot like owls, although they are not related to them in any way.

Like them, they use both sights and hearing while hunting.

Differences in behavior are just part of what unites these two birds.

They have the disc-shaped face and stiff cheek plumage of owls and forage in the same manner.

Females of this type are brown, having black stripes on their tails, while males are grayish and white, having black wingtips.

These medium-sized birds may be identified by their V-shaped wingspan and sharp, hooked beak as they fly through the sky.


In conclusion, Alaska is a haven for hawk enthusiasts, boasting a rich diversity of these magnificent birds of prey.

From the regal Sharp-Shinned Hawk that soars high above the rugged Alaskan landscapes to the stealthy Northern Goshawk that navigates through dense forests, Alaska offers a unique opportunity to witness these awe-inspiring birds in their natural habitat.

Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or simply have an appreciation for the beauty of nature, exploring the six types of hawks in Alaska is a thrilling adventure that is sure to leave you with lasting memories.

So grab your binoculars, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on a journey to discover the breathtaking world of hawks in the Last Frontier.

Happy birding!


Where can I spot hawks in Alaska?

Hawks can be found throughout Alaska, but they are commonly spotted in various habitats such as coastal areas, forests, grasslands, and tundra. Popular locations for hawk sightings include Denali National Park, Chugach Mountains, and the Kenai Peninsula.

What is the best time of year to see hawks in Alaska?

The best time of year to see hawks in Alaska is during the spring and fall migration seasons. Spring migration typically occurs from late April to early June, while fall migration takes place from late August to early October.

How can I identify different hawk species in Alaska?

Identifying hawks can be challenging as they share similar physical features. However, key characteristics such as size, shape, coloration, and behavior can help with identification. Using a field guide or seeking assistance from experienced birdwatchers can be helpful.

Are hawks in Alaska endangered or threatened?

While hawks are not currently listed as endangered or threatened species in Alaska, they are protected under state and federal laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which safeguards the Bald Eagle and its habitat.

What is the role of hawks in Alaska's ecosystem?

Hawks play a vital role in Alaska’s ecosystem as top predators, helping to control populations of rodents and other small mammals, and maintaining a healthy balance in the food chain. They also serve as indicators of the overall health of Alaska’s ecosystems and provide important ecological services.

Can I observe hawks up close in Alaska?

Hawks are wild birds and should be observed from a safe distance to avoid disturbing their natural behavior. Binoculars or spotting scopes are recommended for close-up observations without causing any disturbance to the birds.

Are there any conservation efforts in place for hawks in Alaska?

Yes, there are various conservation efforts in place to protect hawks and their habitats in Alaska. These include habitat conservation, research and monitoring, and public education initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of conserving these magnificent birds.

Can I participate in hawk conservation efforts in Alaska?

Yes, there are opportunities to participate in citizen science programs, volunteer for research projects, and support local conservation organizations that work towards the protection of hawks and their habitats in Alaska.

Last Updated on April 20, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

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