8 Types of Hawks in Massachusetts

Have you ever looked up into the sky and spotted a majestic bird of prey soaring overhead, its sharp talons and keen eyesight on full display?

In Massachusetts, there are eight different types of hawks that call this state home, each with its own unique characteristics and hunting strategies.

From the fierce and powerful red-tailed hawk to the stealthy and elusive sharp-shinned hawk, these birds are a vital part of our local ecosystem and a fascinating subject for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

So, grab your binoculars, and let’s take a closer look at the eight types of hawks you might encounter in Massachusetts.

Sharp-Shinned HawkSharp-Shinned Hawk
Coopers HawkCoopers Hawk
Northern HarrierNorthern Harrier
Broad-Winged HawkBroad-Winged Hawk
Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Red-Tailed HawkRed-Tailed Hawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Red-Shouldered HawkRed-Shouldered Hawk

Types of Hawks in Massachusetts

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the tiniest species of hawk found across the United States, and you may find them living in Massachusetts throughout the whole year.

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

Because they like to nest in woods with thick canopies, they are difficult to see when they are at this phase of their lives.

They do sometimes get into gardens in order to catch birds when they are eating at feeders.

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

During the winter months, they leave their summer territory in Canada and migrate south into the United States, where they may be observed in huge numbers at hawk-watching locations.

The backs of sharp-shinned hawks are a blue-gray hue, and they have a striping pattern of reddish-orange on their breast that are cream colored. 

Their tails have black banding on them. They have a head that is more rounded and a tail that is more squared off than the cooper’s hawk, which is their most comparable-looking relative.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The majority of North America is home to Cooper’s hawks, and Massachusetts is one of the few states in which these birds remain permanent inhabitants.

The backs of adults appear bluish-gray, and they possess significant orange banding on the breast.

They also have red eyes and a squared-off head having a black crown.

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

Their natural environment is found in wooded areas and woods, although they may also be seen thriving in suburban environments.

Their primary source of nutrition is preying on tiny birds in the forest canopy, where they do it with great skill.

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

Crashing through foliage and trees at great speed when pursuing birds can take its toll, and investigations of Cooper’s hawk skeletons indicate that most of them had at one shattered bone in their breast.

This is likely due to the fact that Cooper’s hawks are known to pursue birds at high speeds.

3. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

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, channeling sound into their ears to assist them in hunting both visually and aurally.

The animal’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 perfect word to describe them.

This species of hawk may be seen across Massachusetts during the mating season and, in some areas, throughout the whole year.

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 have two or even more partners at the same time, and each partner will give food to the female and her babies.

4. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

The broad-winged hawk is a migratory species that only makes its way up into Massachusetts during the summer and spring months for the purpose of reproducing.

The breast and head of these lesser hawks are brown, and they have striped underparts and bars of white and black on their tails.

When in flight, you can see that they have short tails and large wings that taper to points.

During the time of year when they are reproducing, 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 human habitation.

They are tiny animals, insects, toads, and frogs, among other things.

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

The sky is filled with flocks of birds known as “kettles,” which may include thousands of individual birds.

In the event that you do not stand in their path of movement, it is possible to see them in woodlands.

Just pay attention to how sharp their whistles are.

5. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Goshawks possess a grayish back, gray bars on the breast that continues all the way through to the abdomen, and a broad white stripe over each eye.

In addition, goshawks possess thick white bands on each eye.

The sharp-shinned hawk and the cooper’s hawk are regarded to be smaller and less aggressive cousins of these birds.

Goshawks, on the other hand, are much more reclusive than the yard hawks that are more popular.

They prefer to stay in the woods and steer clear of regions that are heavily inhabited by people.

The northern goshawk might well be spotted across the state of Massachusetts at any time of the year, with the exception of the coastal areas, where it is only possible to observe them when they are not nesting.

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

When people get too near to their nests, they have been reported to attack such individuals.

Be very cautious during the mating season if you plan on tracking any of these raptors down.

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

They are not very common, and it is difficult to determine how many of them there are because of the secretive character they have.

6. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

The red-tailed hawk is among the most widely distributed species of hawk located on the continent of North America.

They may be found residing in virtually every state, including Massachusetts, during the whole year.

When birds that have spent the entire summer in Canada travel back to join the others in the United States during the winter season, their number grows much more than it did during the summertime.

It is most likely that you will spot a red-tailed hawk flying through the air or sitting on a telephone pole along the side of the road during the day or in the morning.

These birds are usually active in the daytime and in the morning.

Their food consists mostly of rodents ranging from very tiny to medium-sized, such as rats, mice, squirrels, and rabbits. In addition to that, they could consume snakes and birds.

While they are adults, they are easily distinguished by their brick-red tails; however, when they are still youngsters, their tails are striped white and brown.

In general, the undersides of these hawks appear white, while the tops are dark brown.

They possess brown streaks on their chest and frequently have a strip of deep brown lines extending across their abdominal region, which is another indication that may be used to help identify them.

There are numerous different color variants of these hawks around the nation due to their extensive distribution.

It is the protracted shriek that the red-tailed hawk makes that has come to be identified as the call of all raptors.

The shriek of these birds is nearly often employed as the sound effect for hawks and eagles whenever they are shown on film or television.

7. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

During the months of autumn and winter, it is possible to see rough-legged hawks in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

When it comes time to go to their mating grounds, they trek all the way toward 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 posts and fence poles in open fields and other undeveloped areas.

Mice, shrews, and voles 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 for their prey.

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

Only a small percentage of the raptors that are native to the United States possess feathers that go all the way back down to their feet.

The majority of them have a deeply patterned white and dark brown 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.

8. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Within their habitat, which encompasses the eastern United States as well as the western California coast, red-shouldered hawks are rather frequent.

They are present throughout the year in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The strong red coloration on the chest, which goes down to the abdomen with red bars, is a useful distinguishing trait.

They have very dark and almost completely black plumage that runs down their backs and across their wings.

On top of their shoulders and backs, this will be combined with feathers that are crimson in color.

There will be white bars blended in with the black feathers from the middle of the back down, culminating in a highly banded tail feather pattern.

There is a chance that you may first hear this hawk prior to actually seeing it.

They make a resonant “keee-aaah” call that is often issued in a string of many consecutive iterations.

A few individuals have said that it reminds them of the sound of a seagull.

They make a loud calling sound when they are trying to establish their territory or when they are scared.

These birds of prey hunt and make their homes in forests, and they are particularly fond of marshes and other habitats that are prone to flooding.

They are also common in suburban regions with a mix of forest and human habitation, where the two types of environments coexist.

The red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk are sometimes confused with one another; however, if you are aware of the key characteristics between the two, it is not difficult to distinguish between the two.


In conclusion, the eight types of hawks found in Massachusetts are remarkable birds of prey that play a vital role in the state’s ecosystem.

From the iconic red-tailed hawk to the agile Cooper’s hawk, each species has its own unique characteristics, hunting strategies, and behaviors.

While these birds are awe-inspiring to observe in the wild, they also face various threats, including habitat loss and environmental pollution.

As responsible citizens, we must take steps to protect these majestic creatures and their habitats to ensure their survival for generations to come.

By learning more about these incredible birds, we can deepen our appreciation for the natural world and take action to preserve it.


What do hawks eat?

Hawks are carnivorous birds of prey that primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice, rabbits, and squirrels. They also eat birds, reptiles, and insects.

What is the biggest hawk found in Massachusetts?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the biggest hawk found in Massachusetts. They can have a wingspan of up to four feet and weigh up to three pounds.

Can hawks be dangerous to humans?

Hawks generally do not pose a threat to humans. However, they may attack if they feel threatened or their nest is disturbed. It’s important to give hawks their space and not approach them too closely.

When is the best time to see hawks in Massachusetts?

The best time to see hawks in Massachusetts is during their migration season, which is typically from September to November. However, some species, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, can be seen year-round.

How can I attract hawks to my backyard?

Hawks are attracted to areas with abundant prey, such as bird feeders or gardens with lots of small rodents. However, it’s important to note that attracting hawks to your backyard may also attract other predators, such as cats and other birds of prey.

What can I do to help protect hawks in Massachusetts?

You can help protect hawks in Massachusetts by supporting conservation efforts, such as habitat preservation and restoration. You can also report any instances of illegal hunting or harassment of hawks to local wildlife authorities.

Last Updated on March 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.

Leave a Comment