Hawks have become symbols of freedom and wildness around the world. They’re also some of the most incredible birds of prey you’ll ever see.
But where is the best place to spot a Hawk? And what species of Hawk are there where you live?
Below we look at 7 different species of Hawks in Tennessee.
We’ll help you identify them by describing their markings, where you can find them in their natural habitat, discussing their diet, migratory habits, and more.
From the much-loved (and ubiquitous) Red-Tailed Hawk to the notoriously elusive Rough-Legged Hawk, they’re all here for you to discover and learn more about.
Let’s look at one of Tennessee’s winter-visiting Hawk species; the Cooper’s Hawk.
This magnificent bird of prey is about 15 inches long and has an average wingspan of 32 inches, with the female being larger than the male.
The Cooper’s Hawk can be identified by its blue-gray upper body and rust-orange chest.
It also has a dark, banded tail. These markings make him remarkably similar to the Sharp-Shinned Hawk (which we’ll look at a little further down the page), but there’s one clear difference between the two.
The Cooper’s Hawk is much larger. It also has a larger head that extends well beyond its wings, which is especially noticeable during flight.
Most Cooper’s Hawks fly along forest edges searching for food, including small mammals and medium-sized songbirds.
However, they will forage outside their territory and have been known to snatch birds from backyard feeders during tough times.
However, if you have seen this in your garden, do not worry. Removing your bird feeders for a few weeks is usually enough to deter the Cooper’s Hawk from visiting your yard.
Better yet, it won’t be long before your usual feathered friends return to eat.
Another winter visitor to Tennessee, the Northern Harrier makes its way to the state after spending the spring and summer in the Northern States and Canada.
This slender bird of prey measures about 19 inches in length and has an average wingspan of 43 inches.
Males and females have different markings. The male Northern Harrier has gray upperparts, white underparts, and a dark brown tail with a white patch on the rump.
On the other hand, Northern harrier females are much duller and covered in brown feathers. They also lack the white rump patch.
However, both sexes can be identified by their unique flight habits, which consist of positioning their wings above their bodies. This forms a telltale V shape.
Most northern harrier sightings are reported in grasslands and swamps, where they fly close to the ground in search of smaller birds and small mammals on which to feed.
They also nest in these areas, choosing dense vegetation to build their nests and raise their brood.
The Cooper’s Hawk look-alike, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk looks almost identical. However, as we described above, it is much smaller and carries its head closer to its body.
It’s also non-migratory in the East of Tennessee. So if you see this bird of prey in the summer, it’s much more likely to be a Sharp-Legged Hawk than a Cooper’s Buzzard.
Although it resides in this part of the State year-round, the Sharp-Legged Hawk remains elusive.
They are often found at the edges of forests, where they fly through the air in search of food.
They also have incredible maneuverability and can reach very high speeds, allowing them to navigate through dense branches and vegetation to capture smaller songbirds.
The Sharp-Shinned Hawk also has a unique feeding habit. It will carry its prey back to a branch and pluck any feathers before using its razor-sharp beak and claws to tear through its flesh.
Much like the Cooper’s Hawk, it has been known to prey on garden bird feeders, but following the advice above should help prevent this.
This raptor will also nest in its chosen hunting ground, building large nests in coniferous trees surrounded by dense vegetation. These nests can be up to 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep.
Once constructed, the female will lay up to 8 light blue speckled eggs, and the pair will raise them together. Once the chicks have fledged, the pair will go their separate ways.
The Rough-Legged Hawk is one of Tennessee’s winter-visiting birds of prey, with most sightings being recorded from November to March.
Their name comes not from the skin on their legs is particularly rough, but from the feathers that cover them, giving them their namesake rugged appearance.
These coarse-looking feathers also serve a fundamental purpose as they help the bird stay well insulated and protected throughout the winter.
Their feathered legs aren’t their only distinguishing feature, however. The Rough-Legged Hawk has white underparts, dark brown upperparts, and dark brown patches on the tail, wings, and across the abdomen.
They are also a medium-sized Hawk, measuring about 19 inches on average, with an average wingspan of 52 inches.
The most common sighting locations for Rough-Legged Hawks are open fields and swamps, although they can often be found atop a telephone pole.
This gives them the perfect vantage point to spot their prey, which consists mainly of lemmings. They also eat ground squirrels, voles, mice and other small mammals.
Spotting a Red-Tailed Hawk in Tennessee is fairly easy as they are the most common species in the State.
They are particularly common in summer and winter when they are either hunting food for their brood or for themselves to get them through the colder months.
Their markings also make them fairly easy to identify. These large birds average 22 inches in length and have an average wingspan of 50 inches, making them quite a spectacle as they soar through the air.
As you might have guessed from their name, Red-Tailed Hawks have a reddish-red tail that is short, broad, and fan-shaped.
They also have broad, large, rounded wings, brown upperparts, and pale white underparts speckled with black dots.
They build their nests high on ledges and tall trees, although they have also been known to nest in tall towers and buildings in urban areas.
This is another reason why they are so easy to spot, and most people have noticed them circling high above open fields as they seek out their prey.
Unlike a few other birds of prey, the Red-Tailed Hawk captures its prey alive rather than relying on carrion.
They are also not particularly picky eaters and happily feed on reptiles, small mammals and other birds.
The best time to see a Red-Shouldered Hawk in Tennessee is March through May, although they are resident all year round.
They can be recognized by the red stripe that runs across their chests and their dark brown and white checkered wings. And, of course, they also have their namesake red color across each shoulder.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk’s preferred habitat is forested, flanking a water source such as a lake, pond, river or stream.
Here they build a nest in a broad-leaved tree near the water, and once built the female lays between 2 and 5 bluish-white eggs during the breeding season.
They also hunt where they live, scouring the forest edges from high above or gliding across the water’s surface in search of frogs, snakes and small mammals.
They also have a fairly distinctive call which is another distinguishing feature for them and sounds like a long string of “cack-cack-cack”.
Named for their broad wings, the Broad-Winged Hawk is a stocky little hawk, averaging about 15 inches with an average wingspan of 34 inches. It also has a reddish-brown head, a short banded tail, and a barred chest.
They’re a rare sight in Tennessee, and you’ll really only see a Broad-Winged Hawk during the warmer months of April through October.
This is because they breed in Tennessee, raise their brood, and then migrate south to Central and South America for the winter.
Their migration is quite a spectacle as well, as large numbers gather in a whirling flock known as a “kettle”..
During the breeding season, the Broad-Winged Hawk will often reuse an existing nest rather than build a new one.
This could be an old crow or squirrel nest big enough for them to rest and raise their brood.
Once settled, the female Broad-Winged Hawk lays 2-3 white eggs, incubates and rears them until they fledge in late summer.
You will most likely see a Broad-Winged Hawk high up in a tree or perch near a water source or open wooded area.
This gives them the ideal vantage point to track down their prey, which consists of frogs, small mammals, snakes and baby turtles.
From the common, year-round residents to winter visitors , there is always a magnificent species of Hawk to spot in Tennessee at any given time of year.
So, next time you see a large bird soaring through the forest or circling the air above an open field, take a look at what we’ve detailed above – you might have just spotted something you’ve never seen before!