8 Types of Hawks in Maryland

Hello there! As a nature enthusiast and avid bird-watcher, I’m excited to share with you the incredible diversity of hawks that call Maryland home.

From the soaring Bald Eagle to the elusive Northern Harrier, Maryland boasts a rich population of these majestic birds of prey.

Join me as we explore the eight different types of hawks that can be found in the Old Line State and learn more about their unique characteristics and habitats.

So grab your binoculars and let’s embark on a thrilling journey into the world of hawks in Maryland!

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk
Sharp-shinned HawkSharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's HawkCooper's Hawk
Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Rough-Legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Broad Winged HawkBroad Winged Hawk
Northern HarrierNorthern Harrier
Red-shouldered HawkRed-Shouldered Hawk

Types of Hawks in Maryland

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is among the most common species of hawk seen on the continent of North America, and it can be found living year-round in nearly every state, especially Maryland.

Their number grows even more during the wintertime when birds that had spent the previous summer across Canada return to the United States to spend the winter with the others there.

Red-tailed hawks are quite active during the day or in the early morning, and they may often be seen flying across the sky using their extraordinary eyesight to search for prey or sitting along the roadside on power lines.

The majority of the food they eat is comprised of tiny to medium-sized animals, such as mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels.

They could also consume reptiles and birds.

However, while they are still juveniles, their tails possess a brown and white striped pattern rather than a brick-red color that is easily identifiable by adults.

Typically, the undersides of their wings are white, while the tops of their heads are dark brown.

They possess brown streaking on their breasts and frequently have a strip of deeper brown streaks extending over their abdominal region, which is another indication that may be used to help identify them.

The fact that these hawks are found in such large numbers throughout the nation has led to the development of a broad variety of color variants.

The protracted shriek that the red-tailed hawk makes has come to be associated with all raptors in general.

Their cry is nearly usually employed as the sound effect for any hawk or eagle that is portrayed on screen in movies or on television.

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the tiniest species of hawk found across the United States, and it lives in Maryland during the whole year.

These hawks hunt through the forest in search of tiny rodents and birds, which they then consume as prey.

Because they like to nest in woods with thick canopies, they are difficult to see while they are in this state.

They occasionally come into backyards in search of birds to hunt at feeders.

Fall migration is the time of year when you have the highest chance of seeing them.

From their summer territory across Canada, they migrate south into the United States, where they are often seen in great numbers at hawk watch locations.

The backs of sharp-shinned hawks possess a blue-gray hue, and they have barring that is a reddish-orange color on their chests that are cream colored.

Their tails have black striping.

They have a very similar appearance to the cooper’s hawk, but their heads are more rounded, and their tails are more squared off.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s hawks may be spotted across much of North America, notably Maryland, where they are permanent inhabitants.

They can also be found in the southwestern United States.

Adults are distinguished by their bluish-gray backs, thick orange banding on the breast, red eyes, and squared-off heads topped with black caps.

The eyes of young birds are yellow, their backs and heads are brown, and their underparts are white with thick brown streaking.

Their natural environment is found in wooded areas and forests however, they may also be found in suburban areas and seem to be quite an at ease there.

Most of their diet consists of the little birds that they capture in the canopy of the forest via their skilled hunting.

The Cooper’s hawk is a common sight in the backyards of many homes, where it has been known to attack birds that are being fed at bird feeders, particularly pigeons, starlings, and doves.

Crashing through trees and vegetation at great speed when chasing after birds can take a toll, and investigations of Cooper’s hawk skeletons indicate that several of them had at one time shattered bones in their chest.

This suggests that Cooper’s hawks often engage in high-speed chases after birds.

4. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks possess a grey back, grey barring on the breast that continues all the way down to the abdomen, and a thick white stripe over each eye.

In addition, goshawks possess a white stripe through each eye.

The sharp-shinned hawk and the cooper’s hawk are supposed to be their smaller and less aggressive cousins, however, these birds are bigger and more aggressive.

However, in contrast to the hawks that are often seen in suburban backyards, goshawks are rather secretive.

They prefer to keep to themselves, remaining in the woods and avoiding regions where people live.

During the colder months of the year, the state of Maryland is home to the Northern Goshawk.

However, due to the fact that they like to raise their young in mature forests with thick canopies, it is quite unlikely that you would have an easy time locating one of these birds.

Humans that get too near to their nests put themselves in danger of being attacked by these animals.

Be very cautious during the mating season if you want to find these raptors and try to find them.

The diet of the northern goshawk consists of a wide variety of foods, including other species of reptiles, hawks, mammals, birds, and even carrion and insects.

Their number is difficult to determine because of the fact that they are very secretive, which contributes to the perception that they are rare.

5. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

It is possible to observe rough-legged hawks across Maryland throughout the autumn and winter months, although sightings of these birds are far less frequent than sightings of several of the other types on this list.

When it comes time to go to their mating grounds, they trek all the way to the northern Arctic!

Cliffs and other rocky outcroppings are ideal places for them to set up their nests there.

During the colder months, you may see them in the United States roosting on wires and fence poles in open fields and other undeveloped areas.

Mice, voles, and shrews are some of the animals they look for in this area.

It is good knowledge that rough-legged hawks will face toward the direction of the wind while flapping their wings in order to attain a hovering position from which they may search the ground below them, seeking their prey.

The plumage that is seen on the legs of rough-legged hawks is where the name of this species comes from.

Only a small percentage of the raptors that are native to the United States have plumage that goes all the way down to their feet.

The majority of them have a severely speckled dark brown and white appearance, and some of them even possess a thick black spot on their bellies.

When you are in the air, you will see a black area that serves as the “wrist” against a lighter backdrop.

There’s also a dark morph that has virtually a completely black appearance and a two-toned appearance when seen from underneath.

6. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

The broad-winged hawk is a migratory species that only come to Maryland to nest during the summer and spring months because of its seasonal lifestyle.

These tiny hawks possess a brown head and breast, barred underparts, and black and white stripes on their tails.

When in flight, you’ll see that they have a rather short tail and large wings that taper down at the tips.

During the time of year when they are trying to have a family, these hawks prefer to be in an isolated location.

They will do so in remote areas of woodlands and along the shores of water bodies away from the presence of people.

They eat a wide range of different kinds of small animals, amphibians, and insects, like toads and frogs, for food.

The autumn migration, when broad-winged hawks are making their way back to South America from their northern breeding grounds, is your greatest hope for seeing one of these birds.

The word “kettles” is used to refer to flocks of birds that may comprise thousands of individuals and can be seen flying about in the sky.

The forest is a good place to look for wild animals, even if you’re not on their migratory path.

Just keep an ear out for their whistling, which is rather sharp.

7. Northern Harrier

Broad Winged Hawk

The face of the northern harrier is graceful and resembles an owl in several ways.

This face, which is in the form of a disc, acts in a manner very similar to that of an owl’s, transmitting sound toward their ears to assist them in hunting both visually and aurally.

The bird’s long tail and the white spot that sits just above it are two characteristics that might be used to recognize it.

Their recognizable flight pattern involves keeping their wings in a “V” formation while in flight.

These birds are very magnificent in every way.

Majestic is the ideal term to describe them.

This species of hawk is present throughout the year across Maryland, however, it is possible that you may see more of them during the winter.

They are more likely to be seen flying over open places such as marshes, fields, and the like.

This particular species of hawk constructs its nest on the ground amongst thick vegetation such as willows, reeds, cattails, and sedges.

Other hawks prefer to make their nests in trees.

It is possible for males to possess two or even more partners at the same time, and each partner will give food to the female and her kids.

8. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

The eastern United States and the coast of California to the west are both parts of the red-shouldered hawk’s natural habitat.

They stay all year long across Maryland.

An excellent identifier is the barring of red across the chest and down the abdomen.

Their flight and back feathers are a very dark brown, almost black.

This will be accented with ruddy plumage at the base of their back and shoulders.

There will be a lot of white bars blended in with the black feathers starting about the middle of the back and culminating in a highly banded tail.

This hawk is so stealthy that you can hear it before you see it.

A loud “keee-aah” cry is made, often repeated numerous times in quick succession.

Some have compared the sound to that of a bird.

They will make loud noises to declare their territory or to alert others of danger.


In conclusion, Maryland is a treasure trove for hawk enthusiasts, with its diverse landscape providing a home for eight different types of hawks.

From the powerful Red-tailed Hawk to the stealthy Cooper’s Hawk, these magnificent birds grace our skies with their remarkable hunting skills and stunning beauty.

Whether you’re a seasoned bird-watcher or just starting out, exploring the world of hawks in Maryland is a captivating experience that offers insights into the rich biodiversity of the state.

So, next time you find yourself in the great outdoors of Maryland, keep your eyes peeled for these majestic birds and appreciate the wonders of nature right in your own backyard.

Happy hawk-watching!


Where can I spot hawks in Maryland?

Hawks can be found throughout Maryland, but they are most commonly seen in wooded areas, near water bodies such as rivers and lakes, and in open fields and grasslands where they hunt for prey. Popular hawk-watching spots in Maryland include state parks, wildlife management areas, and migratory routes.

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

Hawks can be seen in Maryland year-round, but the best time to spot them is during their migration periods in spring and fall. During these times, hawks are more active and can be seen in larger numbers as they travel to and from their breeding grounds.

What do hawks eat in Maryland?

Hawks are carnivorous birds of prey that primarily feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, and rabbits, as well as birds, reptiles, and insects. They use their sharp talons and beaks to capture and kill their prey.

Are hawks protected in Maryland?

Yes, hawks are protected under federal and state laws in Maryland. It is illegal to harm, harass, or disturb hawks or their nests, eggs, or young without proper permits. It is important to observe hawks from a safe distance and not to disturb their natural behaviors.

How can I identify different types of hawks in Maryland?

Identifying hawks can be challenging as they share similar characteristics. However, key features such as size, shape, coloration, and flight patterns can help differentiate between different hawk species. Field guides, binoculars, and observation skills can be valuable tools for identifying hawks in the field.

Can I attract hawks to my backyard in Maryland?

Hawks are wild birds and are best observed in their natural habitats. While it is not recommended to try to attract hawks to your backyard, providing suitable habitats with trees, open spaces, and a healthy ecosystem can create favorable conditions for hawks and other wildlife to thrive.

Are hawks dangerous to humans or pets in Maryland?

Hawks are generally not a threat to humans or pets. They prefer to hunt and feed on small mammals and birds in their natural habitat. However, it is important to keep pets on leashes and supervise them when outdoors to prevent any potential conflicts with wildlife.

Last Updated on April 22, 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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