9 Types of Hawks in Illinois

Hello, I’m thrilled to share with you the nine types of hawks that can be found in Illinois.

Hawks are powerful birds of prey with remarkable hunting abilities, and each species has its own unique characteristics.

Whether you’re a birdwatching enthusiast or simply curious about nature, I hope you’ll find this article informative and enjoyable.

So, let’s explore the fascinating world of Illinois’ hawks!

Sharp-Shinned HawkSharp-Shinned Hawk
Cooper's HawkCooper's Hawk
Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Red-shouldered HawkRed-shouldered Hawk
Broad-Winged HawksBroad-Winged Hawks
Swainson's HawksSwainson's Hawks
Red-Tailed HawkRed-Tailed Hawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Northern Harrier HawksNorthern Harrier Hawks

Types of Hawks in Illinois

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The male Sharp-Shinned Hawk is the smallest species of hawk in the United States.

Female However, female Sharp-Shinned Hawks are around a third bigger than males.

The adults of this species of hawk are mostly gray, with orange underparts.

Young ones, on the other hand, have a brown upper body and a white underbelly.

Despite being a regular traveler, the sharp-shinned hawk is an extremely unusual summer resident in Illinois.

Northern coniferous regions become breeding grounds for spring migrants beginning around March.

More heavily wooded locations are ideal for their breeding needs.

Early spring is the time to look out for Sharp-Shinned Hawks, which may be identified by their piercing calls and scared ‘kik’ noises.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks range from tiny to medium size, often being approximately the same size as a crow.

Females of this hawk species, like those of many others, tend to be bigger than their male counterparts.

Cooper’s Hawks have small, stubby wings and rounded tails.

The adults of this species have a pastel color scheme with orange undersides.

Young hawks are distinguished by their brown and spotted plumage.

These hawks have been removed from the Illinois endangered species list due to their rising population.

Cooper’s Hawks are becoming more possessive of their territories as a result of the significant increase in the species’ population.

They like the state’s wide open landscapes, woods, and mountains most.

Cooper’s Hawks build their nests in the trunks of trees or high up in the branches of large trees.

These birds of prey start nesting in March and may be seen in the skies over the United States and Canada all the way through the first week of November on their way south for the winter.

In a fascinating turn of events, they have adapted to and are more seen in suburban and urban areas.

3. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The size of the Northern Goshawk is very variable, although it is typically medium to big.

Hawks change from brown to gray as they mature, with the young having lighter gray feathers on their undersides.

Goshawk females are bigger and heavier than males.

In northern Illinois, northern goshawks are winter visitors and occasional migrants.

They may be spotted often in the state’s parks, open spaces, and woodlands.

These hawks are particularly protective of their nesting territories, which they establish on fir trees.

These hawks often come to the area around September, so that’s when you have the best chance of seeing one.

Goshawks may be identified by their characteristic short “ki-ki” call.

Even though these hawks are common and may be seen in parks, they often like to spend their time alone in huge trees.

4. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Having a lengthy tail and brilliantly colorful feathers, the Red-Shouldered Hawk stands out among other big species.

Adult hawks may be seen in a wide range of coloration; however, most have dark orange bellies and contrasting black and white wing patterns.

Young members of this species of hawk may be identified by their brown upper bodies and white bellies.

Throughout the state, Red-Shouldered Hawks are a rare sight, both as migratory birds and as a resident throughout the summer and winter months.

However, there are hawks that live in Illinois year-round.

About halfway through the month of March, the first migrants arrive, and from then until the end of May, they nest.

The red-shouldered hawk prefers to set up its nest in the tree trunk of a coniferous tree near a body of water.

They often make a call that sounds like “kee-aah,” which combines high and low tones.

Seeing a Red-Shouldered Hawk is easiest during migration when they are most likely to be seen flying over dense forests.

5. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

Adult Broad-winged Hawks are easily distinguished by the black and white barring on their reddish-brown bodies and tails.

Juveniles of this species have light brown feathers like those of most others.

Although it is a frequent migratory, the Broad-Winged Hawk is a relatively rare summer resident in Illinois.

In the summer, they migrate, and their high-pitched cries are easily recognizable.

Men have a louder call than women, which is something to keep in mind.

During the breeding season, Broad-Winged Hawks are common sights.

During the months of April and May, these hawks build their nests in dense woodlands along the Illinois River.

Nesting cavities are often seen in the forks of trees.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are the largest of the hawk species, and they are distinguished by their long, broad wings and short, stubby tails.

Swainson’s Hawks are distinguished by their black upper parts and their white underbellies.

The undersides of Swainson’s Hawks may have any number of colors, and this is extremely frequent.

Hawks may range from having white feathers to darker brown ones.

Swainson’s Hawks are uncommon visitors throughout the state of Illinois; however, they spend the summers in the northern part of the state.

Even though they are difficult to notice, their wide grassland habitats are typical of their environments.

Late March is when you will most likely witness the first of the spring migrants as they make their way to Northern Illinois to nest in solitary trees.

Among the characteristics that set mature males of this species apart is a shrill, alarming call.

The female counterpart of this scream is somewhat shorter but else sounds the same.

It has always been rare to see a Swainson’s hawk in Illinois, and now it is critically endangered.

7. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

It is widely accepted that the Red-Tailed Hawk is the second biggest hawk in the United States, behind the Bald Eagle.

In a similar vein, Red-Tailed Hawks are widely recognized as the most common kind of hawk in the Americas.

The undersides of these hawks are a neutral gray, despite the fact that they are known for their bright red tails.

Juvenile hawks, like most other raptors, lack red tails because their plumage has not completely matured.

The loud “kee-eeeee-arr”-like the cry of these hawks is a reliable way to spot them in the wild.

Further, these hawks’ piercing screech varies throughout the breeding season.

During the mating season, you may also spot the males by watching them fly high above the ground in an attempt to attract females.

The red-tailed hawk is a solitary bird that prefers open areas like fields, where it may sit on the branches of large trees during the warm summer months.

Red-tailed Hawks are a regular sight along Illinois’s highways.

They may sometimes be seen waiting for prey from the safety of their treetop nests.

8. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks may range in size from medium to giant, and their plumage is diverse.

Also, these hawks are easy to spot because of their distinctive feather patterns, which include contrasting bright heads and black bellies.

Additionally, these hawks’ tails are light overall, with a black tuft at the end.

Northern Illinois is a hotspot for sightings of the Rough-Legged Hawk, both as a migratory and a winter resident.

The marshes, pastures, and vast plains are where you’re most likely to see one.

They often construct their nests from a tangle of sticks in the underbrush of woodlands.

These hawks make a distinctive sound like a hissing cat, which will serve as a reliable means of identification.

9. Northern Harrier Hawk

Northern Harrier

They are medium-sized birds with long, thin tails and wings, and they are called Northern Harrier Hawks.

Adult male Northern Harriers have a light gray color with a white underbelly, while females and young birds are a brownish tan.

Northern Harriers are easily recognizable because of their owl-like appearance.

Hawk males, in a similar vein, may be identified by the quick succession of ‘kek’ noises they make when they feel threatened by predators or people.

Females, on the other hand, whistle in a more generic high tone.

While nesting, Northern Harriers often choose open areas near water or fields.

The birds begin their annual spring migration in February and nest from May to July.

These hawks are more likely to be seen after dark during the breeding season.


In conclusion, Illinois is home to nine impressive species of hawks, each with its own distinctive features and hunting styles.

From the magnificent Northern Goshawk to the agile Cooper’s Hawk, these birds of prey are a wonder to observe.

Learning about the different types of hawks in Illinois can deepen our appreciation of the natural world and inspire us to protect their habitats.

So, let us continue to marvel at the beauty and power of these amazing creatures and strive to preserve their existence for generations to come.


What do hawks eat?

Hawks are carnivorous birds of prey and primarily eat small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. They also eat other birds, reptiles, and insects.

Are hawks endangered in Illinois?

While hawks are not considered endangered in Illinois, their populations can be negatively impacted by habitat loss and other environmental factors. It is important to protect their habitats and provide resources for their survival.

When is the best time to see hawks in Illinois?

The best time to see hawks in Illinois is during the fall migration period, typically from September to November. This is when many species of hawks pass through the state on their way to their wintering grounds.

How can I tell the difference between different types of hawks in Illinois?

Different types of hawks in Illinois can be distinguished by their size, shape, coloration, and behavior. Field guides and online resources can also be helpful in identifying hawks by their physical characteristics and geographic range.

Are hawks dangerous to humans?

Hawks are not generally considered dangerous to humans, but they can become aggressive if they feel threatened or are protecting their nest. It is important to give hawks their space and avoid disturbing their nesting sites.

Last Updated on April 10, 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.