12 Types of Hawks in Michigan

Michigan has a diverse animal population because of its prime location between two of the world’s greatest lakes (Lake Michigan and Lake Erie).

All kinds of birds fall under this category.

For those interested in seeing birds and other animals, this is an excellent state to do so.

We’ll talk about hawks and other birds of prey that call Michigan home.

We’ll look at photographs and interesting details about each species, as well as discuss where you may be able to see them in the state.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk
Short-tailed HawkShort-tailed Hawk
Cooper's HawkCooper's Hawk
Ferruginous HawkFerruginous Hawk
North HarrierNorth Harrier
Swainson's HawkSwainson's Hawk
Sharp-Shinned HawkSharp-Shinned Hawk
Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Broad-winged HawkBroad-winged Hawk
Red Shoulder HawkRed Shoulder Hawk

Types of Hawks in Michigan

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

In both the summer and winter months, the state of Michigan is home to a large population of red-tailed hawks.

During the summer, they are found on 9% of state checklists, while in the winter, they are on 13%.

Red-tailed Hawks, as the name indicates, are easily recognizable by their short, broad, and red tail. They have big, rounded wings and big bodies.

Red-tailed hawks often have a brown upper body and a white underside.

They are also among the most visible since they often hunt small animals, birds, and reptiles while circling slowly over broad areas on lengthy automobile trips.

They’re so common that you may even find them sitting atop telephone wires.

The Red-tailed Hawk’s loud, falling, raspy screech is frequently employed as a generic hawk or eagle call in media.

Those in Canada, Alaska, and the northern Great Plains migrate south for the winter, but Red-tailed Hawks are permanent residents in Mexico and the United States.

Nests may be found on the brink of cliffs, on the highest branches of trees, and even on the highest floors of buildings. About two to three white eggs with dark spots are laid in every clutch.

2. Short-tailed Hawk

Short-Tailed Hawk
Credits – Wikipedia

Michigan’s Short-tailed Hawk population is an introduced one. They have only been seen once in the state, in 2005, within Whitefish Point Unit National Wildlife Refuge, making them very uncommon.


The short-tailed hawk is a tiny hawk that may vary in color from light to black.

The flight plumage of a dark variant is lighter in color than the rest of the bird, whereas those of a light variant are white.

This species of hawk, as the name implies, has a shorter tail than others of its genus.

Florida, Mexico, and Central America are home to them. Short-tailed Hawks hunt tiny birds from great heights, making them difficult to notice.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawk is the state of Michigan’s second most frequently encountered hawk. Southern Michigan is home to these birds, but after nesting, their northern counterparts migrate south.

During the winter, they may be found on the lists of 5% of birders, but in the summertime, they only make it onto 3% of lists.

As birds migrate south from their summer nesting areas, their numbers rise in the south throughout the winter.


The Cooper’s Hawk is around the size of a crow, although it looks nearly identical to the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They all share the same blue-gray back, dark-banded tail, and red-orange chest, making it difficult to tell them apart.

Unlike the Sharp-shinned Hawk, this species’ head is much bigger and extends far beyond its wings.

Although Cooper’s Hawks are mostly permanent residents throughout the United States, some birds from the northern part of their range, including Canada, go south for the winter to warmer climes such as Honduras and Mexico.

They are most frequently found at the forest’s edge, although you may also spot them at feeders.

They nest in high trees, usually on top of an abandoned big bird nest or a cluster of mistletoe, and subsist on birds and small animals of a similar size.

They usually lay anything from two to six eggs that are bluish-white in color.

4. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

The last time a Ferruginous Hawk was seen within Ottawa was in 2015, making this bird a Michigan incidental.

The Ferruginous Hawk is the biggest hawk in North America. They possess lengthy wings and a big ol’ skull.

The fact that they occur in both a light and a dark variant, either of which may display considerable variation in color pattern, only serves to complicate matters when trying to identify them.

The undersides of the abdomen, wings, and head of the more frequent light variant Ferruginous Hawk are white.

The backs and top sides of their wings are a reddish brown, and their feet are darker. The bellies and legs of young light variants are more heavily brown-spotted.

Unlike the more common light morph, the dark variant is more uncommon and has brown underwings and a dark brown head, with white flight plumage only on the ends of the wings and the tail.


Another hawk species found in the Western open terrain is the Ferruginous Hawk. They have a breeding range that extends from southern Canada through northern Utah and southern Nevada.

When winter comes, they go only to Mexico and the southern United States. In the midst of their range, certain birds may spend the whole year as permanent residents.

Ferruginous Hawks are common mostly in low country shrublands and grassland. Even while migrating, they avoid going via the Rocky Mountains.

The bulk of their food consists of small animals like ground squirrels and prairie dogs in the East and jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits in the West.

They forage throughout the day, hunting from the air, on perches, and even on the ground. Their nests may be up to three feet in height and width, allowing them to hatch up to eight eggs at a time.

5. North Harrier

Northern Harrier

While northern Northern Harriers leave Michigan in the autumn after breeding, southern Northern Harriers remain year-round.

Northern Harriers are between the proportions of a goose and a crow, and they have long, wide wings. Sometimes they’ll fly with their wings spread out in a “v” form, with the points higher than their body.

Males are mostly grey and white with a white rump spot, whereas females are brown.


Northern Harriers spend the winter mostly in Mexico, the southern United States, and Central America, but they breed across Alaska, the northern Great Plains, Canada, and the Northeast.

Those in the sweet spot stay put all year long.

You could see this svelte hawk with its long, pointed tail soaring low over a marsh or open field.

Animals of a similar size to the Northern Harrier’s primary prey include mammals and tiny birds. They build their nests low on the ground, usually between willows, reeds, or brushtails.

The average clutch size is four to five drab white eggs.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Even though sightings of Swainson’s Hawks are extremely rare throughout Michigan, they were reported in 2021 around Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

To begin, Swainson’s Hawks are distinguished by their short tails, large wings, and sharp wingtips. They often have a white or pale belly, a speckled brown or grey back, and rusty brown or red breast.

Black flight plumage on the bottom margins and edges of the wings stands out clearly against the white top half of the wing while the bird is in flight (called the linings).

During the summer, Swainson’s Hawks may be seen soaring over the Great Plains and other wide areas of the West. However, in the fall, they migrate south to spend the winter.

Western regions from the Pacific to the Midwest provide fertile breeding grounds for these birds, as far north as Alaska and British Columbia.

The greatest times to watch these hawks are between May and September when they travel large distances and put on their legendary daytime displays, which may include hundreds of thousands of birds.

To better locate their prey in the comparatively flat regions where they live, Swainson’s Hawks sit on any high points, including utility poles or fences. They like to perch on trees and power lines; however, they have been seen hunting insects from the ground across grassland and fields.


They aren’t picky eaters and will eat just about everything, including snakes and bats, lizards, mice, dragonflies, rabbits, and crickets, which are plentiful in places where Burrowing Owls are common.

Since there aren’t many suitable trees out in the open land for Swainson’s Hawks to nest in, they will settle for those found near farms, low mesquite shrubs, or even power poles.

The nests are huge assemblages of twigs and branches, measuring up to two feet in width and a foot in height. Dung, wool, bark, and grass are softer materials used to cover the nest’s inside.

7. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Northern Michigan is home to sharp-shinned hawks during the summertime mating season, although these birds overwinter farther south.

An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk is a tiny hawk having a red-orange chest and a blue-gray back. All the way across their tails are a series of black bands.

Females tend to be a little bigger than males by around a third. Their tall, rounded wings and square tails are in sharp contrast to their short and little heads.


The sharp-shinned hawk migrates south from its breeding grounds across Canada and the northern United States.

Mostly in the Western Mountains and the Appalachians, such birds may stay throughout the entire year.

Despite their elusive nature, sharp-shined hawks may sometimes be seen flying over clearings near woodland boundaries.

They are nimble and quick, able to dart through the underbrush to capture their avian prey in midair.

You could see them at bird feeders, where they prey on smaller birds; if they’re a problem in the backyard, however, you might want to take down the feeder for a while.

Sharp-shinned Hawks kill and consume their prey by snatching it from a stump or low limb. They often consume songbirds little bigger than a robin.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk prefers to build its nest high in densely forested areas, often choosing conifer trees. Circumference-wise, the nest is between one and two feet, and depth-wise, it goes to around six inches.

They produce anywhere from three to eight eggs, which may be white or light blue with brown spots.

8. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

Rarely observed in the state of Michigan, Northern Goshawks are found primarily in the state’s northern national forests.

Compared to its smaller and less aggressive cousins, the Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned, Northern Goshawks are a formidable foe.

The majority of their bodies are grey, with a white bar across the top of their yellow eyes and a short, wide set of wings, and a lengthy tail.


Canada, Alaska, and the western mountains are home to Northern Goshawks. Younger birds might move to the central United States during the winter.

They like to keep to themselves in dense woodlands, are difficult to see, and may even attack if their nest is disturbed.

Large tracts of predominantly coniferous or mixed woods are the preferred habitat for Northern Goshawks. They keep an eye out from above on smaller animals and birds of medium size.

Northern Goshawks may have as many as eight broods at once, with each clutch containing two to four eggs that are bluish-white in color.

9. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

The winter months of November through April are peak viewing times for Rough-legged Hawks across Michigan.

Their appearance rate in winter checklists is a respectable 3%. In May, rough-legged hawks begin their annual migration north.

Rough-legged Hawks get their name from the rough appearance of their feathered legs, which also serve to insulate the birds in the frigid Arctic climate.

These hawks are around the size of a goose or a crow, making them rather huge.

There are both light and dark variations of this species, distinguished by the presence or absence of black spots at the wing’s bend, tail’s end, and abdomen.

In comparison to other hawks, these ones have long, thin wings that are surprisingly large.

Rough-legged Hawks spend the summer breeding across northern Canada and Alaska and then migrate south to the United States for the winter.

They often are seen gliding over wide farmland and marshes or sitting on a pole.

Most of the food that Rough-legged Hawks eat consists of lemmings and voles.

West Virginian winters are spent feasting on tiny animals, including ground squirrels, mice, voles, and more.

They deposit a clutch of three to five bluish-white eggs in a nest on a ledge high up on a rock.

10. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

From April through October, Broad-winged Michigan summers are the only times to observe hawks since this is their mating season.

They occur on 2% of checklists, making them the third most common hawk seen throughout the summer.

The Broad-winged Hawk is a small to medium-sized bird, in between a goose and a crow in terms of bulk. Their heads appear reddish brown, their chests are barred, and their short, square tails are striped narrowly.


Hawks with broad wings nest in Canada and the eastern United States and then migrate south to Central and South America in a massive, whirling flock termed a kettle. Therefore, the autumn migration is usually the greatest time to watch them.

These hawks feed on small animals, snakes, frogs, and juvenile turtles, and they frequently hunt from perches on the edges of a forest or body of water.

The Broad-winged Hawk will utilize an existing nest (typically from a crow or a squirrel) to incubate it’s two to three white eggs.

11. Red Shoulder Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a year-round resident of Michigan. The population in the southern part of the state stays there year-round, whereas those in the northern part of the state relocate after mating season.

The wings of a Red-shouldered Hawk are checked in white and black, and the breast is barred with a rusty red.

They are around the size of a crow and somewhat smaller than a swan with a prominently banded tail. They have a very distinctive cackling sound.

Red-shouldered Hawks are year-round residents in the eastern United States, although some may move south for the winter. The West Coast is home to these hawks as well.

When hunting, they often congregate among damp woodlands, often near a water source like a pond or creek. They eat small animals and reptiles.

Many birds will utilize the same nest year after year, and they will do it on a broad-leaved tree near bodies of water. Two to five eggs, white or blue, are laid in each clutch.

12. Osprey


Because of their diet, Ospreys have earned the nickname “Fish Hawks,” which is a testament to their fearsome speed, size, and power.

Mating season for these magnificent creatures typically runs from January to May, so you’ll have more than enough time to plan a springtime trip to Lake Michigan with your binoculars.

Ospreys, the biggest of the hawks here, may grow to be as big as a goose. Their long legs aid them in fishing, and their white abdomen and underwings contrast with the dark brown plumage on their heads and wings. 

Their M-shaped bodies are complemented by their wings, which are slanted at a very peculiar angle.

Get out on Lake Michigan and explore the shoreline; you may just see an Osprey. If you’re fortunate, you can see it hunt by hovering over the water and then snatching a fish out of the water with its talons.

Check out this article on the Types of Hawks in Missouri.


You’ll notice that if you know where to look, it’s not too difficult to see a Hawk across Michigan.

You may be able to spot some, like the Red-Tailed Hawk, flying high over grassy areas from the road. 

Some, like the Ferruginous Hawk and the Northern Goshawk, need additional study. 

A higher chance of sighting any of the hawks on this list is yours if you take our advice and search in the correct habitat and study their distinguishing features.


In Michigan, what kind of hawk do you see most often?

In both the summer and the winter, Red-tailed Hawks remain Michigan’s most frequent hawk. The Broad-winged Hawk is one of the summertime hawks that is more often seen, whereas the Cooper’s Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk are more prevalent throughout the winter.

In what ways can I tell whether I'm looking at a hawk?

Hawks may be identified in flight by their tails as well as their wings. Compare the long, rounded tail of an accipiter to the tiny, stubby tail of a buteo shown in the chart.

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.

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