10 Types of Hawks in Nova Scotia

Hi there! As a bird enthusiast and nature lover, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the incredible diversity of hawks that call Nova Scotia home.

From majestic hunters soaring high in the sky to elusive species hidden in the dense forests, Nova Scotia is a haven for these magnificent birds of prey.

Join me on a journey as we explore the 10 types of hawks found in this beautiful Canadian province, learning about their unique characteristics and behaviors.

Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or simply curious about the avian world, this article is sure to captivate your imagination and deepen your appreciation for these awe-inspiring creatures.

Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk
Northern HarrierNorthern Harrier
Sharp-shinned HawkSharp-shinned Hawk
Broad-winged HawkBroad-winged Hawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Northern GoshawkNorthern Goshawk
Cooper’s HawkCooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered HawkRed-shouldered Hawk
Swainson’s HawkSwainson’s Hawk
Zone-tailed HawkZone-tailed Hawk

Types of Hawks in Nova Scotia

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large raptor that is found throughout Nova Scotia.

It is one of the most commonly seen raptors in the province, often spotted soaring high above fields, marshes, and woodlands.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a powerful and swift flier with long, broad wings and a distinctive red tail.

The Red-tailed Hawk is a colonial nester, meaning it builds large communal nests in trees, often in groups of two to three.

Nests can be up to two meters wide and are constructed of sticks and twigs and lined with softer materials such as grasses and feathers. 

The birds can be seen year-round in Nova Scotia, but they are most visible during the breeding season when they can be seen in pairs, perched high in trees near their nests.

The Red-tailed Hawk’s diet consists mainly of small mammals such as shrews, voles, and mice, though they will also take birds, insects, and reptiles.

They hunt by soaring over open fields and then diving down onto their prey.

They can also be seen perched in trees, looking for food below.

Red-tailed Hawks are relatively common in Nova Scotia, but their numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss and other human activities.

It is estimated that there are only about 200 breeding pairs left in the province. 

Conservation efforts have been undertaken to protect their habitat and nesting areas and to discourage people from disturbing the birds.

2. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is a species of hawk that is common in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada.

It is a medium-sized raptor with a long, slim body, a broad wingspan, and a distinctive white rump.

This species is a regular winter visitor to Nova Scotia, especially along the coast and in the larger inland lakes.

The Northern Harrier is a raptor that feeds mainly on small mammals, insects, and birds.

It has a very distinctive hunting style, hovering in mid-air and then swooping down to catch its prey.

This bird has an excellent sense of sight and hearing, as well as a strong sense of smell.

The Northern Harrier is a migratory species, wintering in the southern parts of Canada and the northern parts of the United States. 

In Nova Scotia, it is most commonly seen along the coast, in urban areas, and in larger inland lakes.

It is a fairly common species in the province, though it is not as abundant as it once was.

The Northern Harrier can be identified by its white rump, which helps distinguish it from other raptors.

Its upper parts are brown to grey, while its underparts are white or pale.

Its wings are long and broad, and it has a long tail that is usually held in a V-shape.

Its head is round, with a large yellow eye.

The Northern Harrier is an important bird species in Nova Scotia, as it helps to keep rodent and insect populations in balance.

It is also a species of conservation concern, as its population is believed to be declining in the province due to habitat loss and other factors.

3. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) is a small bird of prey that is native to Nova Scotia, Canada.

This species of hawk is found throughout the province but is most abundant in the central and eastern regions. 

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is considered to be one of the most common raptors in Nova Scotia and is often seen in residential areas as well as in the wild.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an adaptable species and is found in a variety of habitats, including wooded areas, open fields, and even urban areas.

In Nova Scotia, these birds are typically seen hunting in open fields or along the edge of woodlands and forested areas. 

They will also hunt in backyards and other residential areas, where they can find small birds and rodents as prey.

The adults of this species have a gray-brown back and wings, with a white underside and barring on the tail.

The head is grayish-white with a black stripe through the eye and a rusty-red cap.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small species, measuring only 8 to 14 inches in length.

These Hawks are migratory birds, and the majority of their population moves south for the winter.

In Nova Scotia, the birds can be spotted during the spring and summer months when they are breeding and raising young.

During this time, the hawks can be seen hunting for small birds and rodents, as well as foraging for small insects.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are a protected species in Nova Scotia, and it is illegal to hunt or capture them.

If you spot a Sharp-shinned Hawk in your area, you can help the population by ensuring that there is a supply of food and water available to them. 

You can also create a safe nesting environment by providing places for the birds to build their nests, such as tall trees or brush piles.

4. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk is a species of hawk found throughout Nova Scotia, Canada.

It is a medium-sized hawk in the Accipitridae family and is the smallest of the Buteo hawks.

This species is easily recognized by its short tail and broad wings, which give it its name.

The Broad-winged Hawk is usually seen migrating south in the late summer and fall.

They are commonly found along the coast, in open fields, and in woodlands.

They feed mostly on insects, small rodents, and occasionally small birds. 

In Nova Scotia, the Broad-winged Hawk is a common breeding species.

It is found in most parts of the province, although it is more abundant in the south and along the coast.

These hawks typically build nests in tall trees, often near water. 

They lay 2 to 3 eggs, which they incubate for 26 to 30 days before they hatch.

The young hawks are able to fly within another 4 to 6 weeks.

During the winter, the Broad-winged Hawk moves to the southern United States, where it joins other Buteo hawks in large flocks.

They return to Nova Scotia in the spring to breed and raise their young.

5. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) is a medium-sized hawk of the Buteo genus native to North America.

It is one of the few raptors that migrate to Nova Scotia each winter, offering birders a unique opportunity to observe this species in action.

The Rough-legged Hawk has a distinctive appearance, with a gray-brown upper body, white breasts, and barred tail.

Its underwings are a striking black and white pattern.

Its legs are feathered, giving it the distinctive “rough-legged” look. 

The Rough-legged Hawk can be differentiated from other raptors by its long, broad wings and its habit of soaring, rather than flapping, when in flight.

In Nova Scotia, the Rough-legged Hawk can be found from late October through early April.

The hawk prefers open areas, such as fields, wetlands, and shorelines, and can often be seen perched atop telephone poles or tall trees.

It feeds mainly on small mammals, such as rodents and hares, as well as small birds and insects.

The Rough-legged Hawk is a protected species in Nova Scotia and is not to be disturbed or harassed.

Birders should maintain a respectful distance when observing this species.

6. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk is a large and powerful bird of prey found in Nova Scotia, Canada.

It is the largest of the hawk species found in the province and is well-known for its powerful hunting skills. 

The Northern Goshawk is a year-round resident of Nova Scotia and is found in many areas of the province, including parks, forests, and other protected areas.

The Northern Goshawk is a large raptor with a wingspan of up to 70 cm (27.5 in) and a weight of up to 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs).

It has a dark gray head and back, a white chest and throat, and bright yellow eyes.

The tail is long and barred with white, black, and gray.

The Northern Goshawk is an excellent hunter and has a variety of prey, including small mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and amphibians. 

It hunts by flying low over the ground and using its powerful talons to snatch prey.

It is most active during the day, although it may also hunt at night.

The Northern Goshawk nests in large trees, usually in a fork, and can lay up to six eggs.

The female incubates the eggs for 28 days and the young fledge after about 45 days.

The chicks are cared for by both parents and can take up to two years to reach full maturity.

The Northern Goshawk is a species of special concern in Nova Scotia and is listed as a species at risk in Canada.

Its population has declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as persecution from humans.

7. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Nova Scotia is home to a wide variety of wonderful birds of prey, one of which is the Cooper’s Hawk.

The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey that is native to North America.

It is one of the top aerial predators in Nova Scotia.

The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, measuring between 17 and 23 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 3 feet. 

It has a dark grayish-brown back with reddish-brown streaks and a white underside with reddish-brown streaks.

Its tail is long and rounded, and its beak is large and hooked.

The Cooper’s Hawk is found throughout Nova Scotia, and it feeds on a variety of small birds, mammals, and reptiles. 

It is an opportunistic predator, meaning it will take advantage of any food source that is available.

Cooper’s Hawks hunt by flying quickly through forests and woods, and they have been known to hunt from perches as well.

The Cooper’s Hawk is a solitary bird, and it is not typically seen in flocks, although they may occasionally hunt in pairs.

In Nova Scotia, Cooper’s Hawk is most active in the early morning and late evening when the temperatures are cooler.

The Cooper’s Hawk is an important part of the Nova Scotia ecosystem, and its presence helps to maintain a healthy balance of prey and predators. 

The Cooper’s Hawk is a protected species in Nova Scotia, and it is illegal to harm or disturb them in any way.

8. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a common and widespread bird of prey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

It is a medium-sized hawk, easily identified by its reddish-brown upper parts and black and white barred underparts. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a permanent resident of Nova Scotia and can be found in wooded areas, along rivers, and near wetlands throughout the province. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a raptor, meaning it is a carnivorous hunter that preys on animals such as small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. 

It hunts mainly from perches, swooping down on its prey from above.

It also engages in hunting from the air, flying low and fast over open fields.

Along with its diet of small animals, the Red-shouldered Hawk also scavenges for carrion. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a monogamous species, forming long-term pair bonds with its mate.

They usually nest in tall trees, often in the same tree year after year.

The nest is usually built of sticks and lined with strips of bark and grasses. 

The female will lay three to four eggs in the nest, which will be incubated by both parents.

The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge after about five weeks. 

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a protected species in Nova Scotia, and it is illegal to harm or disturb the birds or their nests.

It is also important to protect the habitat of the Red-shouldered Hawk, as it is vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation. 

It is important to maintain the wooded areas and wetlands around Nova Scotia in order to ensure the continued survival of this species.

9. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Nova Scotia is home to a wide variety of birds, including the majestic Swainson’s Hawk.

This species of hawk is a migratory bird that breeds in the summer months in the eastern prairies and then migrates south to spend the winter in Central and South America. 

It is a large hawk with a wingspan of over four feet and a body length of up to two feet.

Swainson’s Hawks can be identified by their distinctive coloration and patterning.

They have pale brown bodies, with white underparts and a white tail. 

The wings and head are dark brown, and they possess a light brown stripe across the breast.

Swainson’s Hawks also have a unique call, which is a loud, high-pitched whistle.

Swainson’s Hawks can be found throughout Nova Scotia, but they are most abundant in the eastern part of the province.

They prefer to nest in open areas with tall trees, such as grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural fields. 

During the breeding season, they feed mainly on small rodents and insects.

In the winter, they migrate to warmer climates in search of food, often feeding on carrion and other small animals.

Swainson’s Hawks are a protected species in Nova Scotia, with a population estimated to be around 1,000. 

As a result, the Canadian Wildlife Service has implemented several measures to help protect them, including limiting development in their nesting habitat and providing safe areas for them to migrate through.

10. Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk
Credits – Wikipedia

The Zone-tailed Hawk (Buteo albonotatus) is a rare and majestic bird of prey that is endemic to the province of Nova Scotia.

This large raptor is known for its distinctive black and white bands on its tail, which make it easily recognizable. 

The Zone-tailed Hawk is a member of the Buteo genus of hawks, which includes other species such as the Red-tailed Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk. 

The Zone-tailed Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with a wingspan of up to four feet.

It has a long, rounded tail with black and white bands, and its body is grayish-brown with light spotting. 

Its head is white with a black stripe along the sides and a black cap.

Its feet and legs are yellow, and its beak is black.

The Zone-tailed Hawk is usually found in open, grassy areas with plenty of trees for perching and hunting.

It feeds mainly on small mammals, reptiles, and insects but will also hunt larger animals such as rabbits and squirrels.

The hawk often hunts by surprise, hovering over its prey before swooping down for the kill. 

The Zone-tailed Hawk is a seasonal migrant, with many individuals traveling from their wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to their breeding grounds in Nova Scotia each year. 

They typically arrive in late April and stay until late August.

During this time, they nest in tall trees and build large stick nests.

The female incubates the eggs while the male hunts and brings food to the nest. 

The Zone-tailed Hawk is an endangered species in Nova Scotia, and its population is estimated to be between 200 and 500 individuals. 

The primary threats to its survival are habitat loss, hunting, and collisions with man-made objects such as powerlines and buildings. 

Conservation efforts to protect the Zone-tailed Hawk and its habitat are underway in Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotian government has enacted laws to protect the bird, and many organizations are working to preserve the hawk’s natural habitat. 

As well the Canadian Wildlife Service has established protected areas throughout the province to help ensure the species long-term survival.


In conclusion, Nova Scotia is a haven for hawk enthusiasts, offering a rich diversity of species that inhabit its varied landscapes.

From the iconic Northern Harrier and Cooper’s Hawk to the elusive Northern Goshawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, each hawk species brings its unique beauty and adaptations to thrive in the region.

Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or a nature lover seeking to learn more about these majestic birds of prey, exploring the 10 types of hawks in Nova Scotia is a truly captivating experience.

So, grab your binoculars, head out into the wilderness, and immerse yourself in the wonder of these magnificent raptors that grace the skies of Nova Scotia.


Where can I spot hawks in Nova Scotia?

Hawks can be spotted in various habitats in Nova Scotia, including forests, wetlands, coastlines, and open fields. Some popular areas for hawk-watching include Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Kejimkujik National Park, and the Bay of Fundy.

What is the preferred prey of hawks in Nova Scotia?

Hawks in Nova Scotia typically prey on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and rabbits, as well as birds, insects, and occasionally fish.

Are all hawks in Nova Scotia year-round residents?

While some hawks are year-round residents in Nova Scotia, others are migratory, nesting in the region during the breeding season and then traveling to other areas during the winter months.

Are there any endangered hawk species in Nova Scotia?

Yes, the Peregrine Falcon is a species of concern in Nova Scotia and is listed as endangered. Conservation efforts have been successful in reintroducing Peregrine Falcons to the province, and they can now be found nesting in certain areas.

How can I identify different hawk species in Nova Scotia?

Identifying hawks can be challenging due to their similarities in appearance. However, key characteristics such as size, shape, plumage coloration, and flight patterns can help in distinguishing different hawk species. Field guides, birding apps, and expert guidance from experienced birdwatchers can also be helpful.

Can I observe hawks up close in Nova Scotia?

Hawks are wild birds and should be observed from a safe distance to avoid disturbing their natural behaviors. It is important to respect their space and habitat. Many hawk-watching spots in Nova Scotia have designated observation areas or viewing platforms where you can safely observe hawks without disturbing them.

Can I take photographs of hawks in Nova Scotia?

Yes, you can take photographs of hawks in Nova Scotia, but it is essential to follow ethical wildlife photography practices, such as not disturbing the birds or their habitat, maintaining a safe distance, and respecting any posted guidelines or regulations.

What should I do if I encounter an injured or distressed hawk in Nova Scotia?

If you encounter an injured or distressed hawk in Nova Scotia, it is crucial to contact a local wildlife rehabilitation center or a qualified wildlife professional for assistance. Attempting to handle or rescue a hawk on your own can be dangerous for both you and the bird.

Last Updated on April 19, 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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