With its arid, desert landscapes and year round high temperatures, Arizona makes the perfect habitat for some of the most incredible wildlife in the world.
But how many species of hawks are there in Arizona?
Below, we’ll take a look at all 15 of Arizona’s Hawks, along with a picture and ID Guide. We’ll look at their identifying features, habitat, diet, and more.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know everything there is to know about each of these amazing birds of prey.
There are 15 different types of Hawk you can spot in Arizona. They are:
- Common Black Hawk
- Short-Tailed Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Gray Hawk
- White-Tailed Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Rough-Legged Hawk
- Zone-Tailed Hawk
Now, let’s take a look at each of these Hawks in closer detail including how to identify them!
Common Black Hawk
We’re starting off our list with one of Arizona’s rarer Hawk species.
Identifiable by the jet black plumage that covers the majority of their body and sporting a white stripe across their tail, the Common Black Hawk is only found in the South of Arizona.
This bird of prey measures around 19-inches long and has long legs, a short tail, and broad wings.
While rare, most sightings of the Common Black Hawk are along the Arizona border running from Texas to California, and they remain in this area all year round.
They can also be found more abundantly in Central America and Mexico.
The Common Black Hawk’s preferred habitat is open woodland near a source of water, such as a river, stream, or lake.
Here, they are able to navigate through trees and vegetation with expert skill in search of food.
Fish, crabs, frogs, and lizards make up the majority of the Common Black Hawk’s diet, although they will also feed on small mammals and birds.
Due to their rarity, it’s highly unlikely that a Common Black Hawk will ever visit your backyard, even if food sources start to become scarce.
Another rare species of Hawk that you can find in Arizona, the Short-Tailed Hawk is actually considered an “accidental species” in the State.
Sightings have been reported in Mt. Lemmon, Madera Canyon, and Mt. Graham but, for the most part, the Short-Tailed Hawk resides in South America, Central America, Florida, and Mexico.
Short-Tailed Hawks aren’t only rare in Arizona; they’re also very hard to identify. This is because they can be either light or dark morphs.
Light morph Short-Tailed Hawks have light brown upperparts and pale white underparts.
Dark morph Short-Tailed Hawks, on the other hand, have dark-brown, almost black, feathers all over their bodies with a slightly lighter colored flight feather.
There isn’t any difference in size between the two morphs, though. Both light and dark Short-Tailed Hawks measure around 16-inches in length and, as you may have guessed from their name, have a short tail.
Something else that makes the Short-Tailed Hawk quite hard to identify is the fact they hunt from very high up in the sky.
Their chosen food is smaller songbirds, and they can sometimes be seen in aerial pursuit of their prey!
The Cooper’s Hawk is one of the most common species of Hawk you can find in Arizona, and is present in the State all year round.
They can be identified by their blue-gray upperparts, rust-red breast, and short tail that is covered with dark bands. In terms of size, females are larger than males, measuring around 17-inches long and with an average wingspan of 35-inches.
While resident in Arizona all year round, the number of Cooper’s Hawks you can spot in the State increases during the winter.
This is because other Cooper’s Hawks from across North America head to Arizona for the warmer winter temperatures. Come spring, the visiting birds head back to their native breeding grounds.
Both year-round residents and winter-visiting Cooper’s Hawks are most commonly spotted in their natural forest habitat.
Most sightings are recorded along forest edges, where they soar through the air in pursuit of prey which includes smaller songbirds and small mammals.
They also nest in these areas, choosing a dense clump of mistletoe as a platform to construct their nest on.
Some people have reported issues with Cooper’s Hawks hunting from their backyard bird feeders, especially during the winter when other migratory birds have left Arizona.
If you’re suffering with this problem, simply remove your bird feeders for a few weeks.
This will deter the Hawk from visiting and, better yet, it won’t take long for your feathered friends to start returning to your garden.
The Northern Goshawk is a large species of Hawk that measures around 25-inches long and has an average wingspan of 44-inches.
It can be identified by the dark-brown barred, gray feathers that cover its entire body, its long, yellow legs, and the white stripe that runs horizontally across its yellow eyes.
It’s quite rare to spot a Northern Goshawk in Arizona as they are also considered an “accidental species”.
There have been some sightings over the past few years though, with reports of Northern Goshawks roosting in Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, and Kaibab National Forest.
Most, however, are spotted in Canada and Alaska, where they remain all year round.
The Northern Goshawk’s preferred territory is forests with large, open areas.
This gives them enough space to fly freely through the trees as they chase after their prey, which mainly consists of small mammals and medium-sized songbirds.
This forest habitat also makes them quite difficult to find, and they are fiercely territorial too.
In fact, there have been reports of the Northern Goshawk attacking people who got a little too close for comfort!
One interesting fact about the Northern Goshawk is, during the breeding season, the mating coupe doesn’t only prepare one nest – it builds as many as 8!
From this selection, they’ll then decide which is the best to raise their brood in.
A summer visitor to Arizona, the Gray Hawk can be identified by the light gray feathers that cover its underparts.
These feathers are also barred with dark brown, while its upperparts are a darker gray color.
They measure around 24-inches in length and have shorter, broader wings than most other hawks.
Most sightings of the Gray Hawk are reported in the South East of Arizona, and here they best in woodlands with a source of water nearby.
As soon as fall comes around, they head to other parts of the world including Mexico, Texas, and Central America.
The Gray Hawk’s diet mainly consists of lizards, and they can often be spotted flying high above the ground in open areas, or perched atop telephone poles and branches.
From there, they use their incredible vision to scope out their prey before swooping down and snatching it up with their razor-sharp, fierce talons!
One of the most distinctive looking Hawks you can spot in Arizona, the White-Tailed Hawk can be identified by its white underparts that are dotted with black.
The underside of its wings have the same markings, while the upperparts are a very dark brown. They also have a really distinctive tail, which is white on both sides and circled with a dark band.
Despite such distinctive markings, it’s incredibly rare to spot a White-Tailed Hawk in Arizona.
That being said, there are more and more sightings each year so it is possible that they may become a more common sight in the future.
For now, however, White-Tailed Hawks are mostly found in South America, although some are spotted in Texas all year round.
Due to their rarity, not very much is known about the White-Tailed Hawk’s preferred habitat.
We do know that they choose to hunt across open spaces though, and have been seen soaring through savannahs and grasslands in pursuit of small mammals to feed on.
These include rabbits and rodents, and they also feed on lizards too.
The Swainson’s Hawk is another of Arizona’s summer visiting Hawk species, and can be found throughout the State from April through to October.
They can be identified by their brown upperparts, lighter brown underparts, and deep red chests. Swainson’s Hawks measure around 22-inches in length and have short tails.
Another way of identifying the Swainson’s Hawk is by looking at the underside of the wings.
Here, you’ll find a contrast between dark brown on the lower edges and white on the tips and linings. This identifying feature is particularly obvious when the Swainson’s Hawk is in flight.
The best place to spot a Swainson’s Hawk is in open country, and they are particularly abundant in the Great Plains and across the West.
Here, they spend the breeding season raising their brood before heading back to South America for the Winter.
As you can imagine, the open country doesn’t present the Swainson’s Hawk with very many places to build a nest.
As such, they’ll choose any low tree or bush they can find, and some have even been known to nest on top of telephone poles!
The Swainson’s Hawk’s nest is constructed using twigs and sticks, and these nests can reach as large as 1 ft high and 2 ft across. It is then lined with grass, moss, wool, or other soft materials.
In terms of diet, the Swainson’s Hawk isn’t a particularly fussy eater. Insects, small birds, rodents, and other small mammals all make it onto the menu!
They have also been known to prey on Burrowing Owls, snakes, and lizards.
Arizona’s most common bird of prey, the Red-Tailed Hawk can be spotted in the State all year round.
They can be identified by their dark brown upperparts, pale underparts, and namesake red tail.
Males and females differ in size, with females being larger than males and measuring around 25-inches with an average wingspan of 50-inches. Both sexes have broad, rounded wings.
Most sightings of Red-Tailed Hawks take place along the roadside, as they circle high above open fields in search of reptiles, small birds, and small mammals to feed on.
They’re also commonly spotted perched atop telephone poles, taking in the surrounding area and scoping out their prey!
They don’t nest or roost in their hunting grounds, though. Instead, forests with tall trees are where the Red-Tailed Hawk calls home.
Some have been known to nest along cliff edges as well, but most tend to nest where there is plenty of tree cover to provide protection.
The Ferruginous Hawk is another rare species of Hawk in Arizona, however, they are most commonly spotted during the winter months.
They are also the largest Hawk species in all of North America, measuring 27-inches long and with a huge 55-inch wingspan.
Part of the reason for their rarity is the fact that the Ferruginous Hawk is incredibly hard to identify, presenting in both light and dark morphs.
Dark morph Ferruginous Hawk can be identified by their dark brown feathers that cover the entirety of their body.
The only flashes of other colors they have is a white flight feather and white wing tips. Dark morph Ferruginous Hawk are also the rarer of the two.
Light morph Ferruginous Hawk are more common, and sport white underparts and a white head.
They also have rust-red upperparts, and dark legs. Juvenile Ferruginous Hawk of both types of morph look like the light morph, but darker colors will follow as they mature.
While rare and incredibly hard to identify, it isn’t impossible to spot a Ferruginous Hawk in Arizona.
If you want to find this elusive bird of prey, the best place to look is in shrublands and grasslands throughout the low country. Here, they build huge nests that can measure up to 3 ft wide and 3 ft tall.
The Ferruginous Hawk also hunts in its preferred habitat, seeking out small mammals including Cottontail Rabbits and Jackrabbits with its incredible vision.
Interestingly, unlike most other species of Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk also hunts at both day and night time.
There are no surprises when it comes to guessing how the Broad-Winged Hawk got its name.
Measuring just 15-inches long and with an average wingspan of 33-inches, the Broad-Winged Hawk is a stocky little bird of prey.
It can be identified by its barred breast, rust-red head, and banded tail. The tail is also short and square-ended and, of course, they have short, broad wings.
It’s quite rare to spot a Broad-Winged Hawk in Arizona, and it is another species that is considered “accidental” within the State.
Sightings are becoming more common though, and most of these are reported in Salero Ranch which is located in South Arizona.
Broad-Winged Hawks only ever spend the breeding season in Arizona, however, and as soon as fall rolls round they take to the skies and head towards Central and South America.
They also migrate in large groups that can be hundreds of birds strong, creating a spectacle known as a “kettle” in the process.
The Broad-Winged Hawk’s preferred habitat is mixed woodland near a source of water, such as a river or stream.
This habitat presents the perfect hunting grounds for them as well, and they’ll soar along the edges of the forest looking for snakes, young turtles, frogs, and small mammals to feed on.
They also nest in this habitat but, unlike most other species of Hawk, they don’t build a new nest every year.
In fact, they don’t build nests at all! Instead, they’ll settle into an abandoned nest created by another animal and raise their brood there.
The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a winter visitor to Arizona, arriving from around the middle of August and staying in the State until early May.
Outside of these months, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk can be found in Canada, Alaska, and a few other Northern States.
Most sightings in Arizona are reported in Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, and Tonto National Forest.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks can be identified by their blue-gray upperparts, rust-red breast, and dark banded tail.
They also have short, rounded wings and square-ended tails, and measure around 13-inches with an average wingspan of 20-inches. Females are typically a third larger than males.
Although relatively small for Hawks, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk uses this to its advantage and can move at incredible speeds through dense woodland.
This is incredibly useful as they pursue their prey through the air, which mainly consists of smaller songbirds. They have a rather unique feeding habit as well, and will kill their prey instantly upon catching.
They’ll then carry it over to the nearest tree branch and pluck its feathers before eating it.
The Sharp-Shinned Hawk also nests in the dense woodland it hunts in, building a nest that is almost too large for such a small Hawk.
Placed high up in the trees and given plenty of canopy cover, this 2 ft wide and 6-inch deep nest is made from a collection of twigs and lined with a softer material such as moss, grass, and animal hair.
Another of Arizona’s winter visiting birds, the Northern Harrier can be found in the State from October through March before harding back to their Northern breeding grounds.
Measuring around 19-inches long and with an average wingspan of 43-inches, the Northern Harrier is a slender-looking bird that, unlike many other Hawk species, has different markings depending on sex.
The male Northern Harrier can be identified by its gray upperparts and white underparts, along with a white patch on the rump.
Female Northern Harriers, on the other hand, are completely brown and have no white patches at all.
Both males and females can be identified by their flight habit of carrying their wings much higher than their body, resulting in an unmistakable “V” shape.
The best place to spot a Northern Harrier in Arizona is in marshes and grasslands. Here, they glide silent through the air, keeping close to the ground in search of their prey.
The Northern Harrier’s diet mainly consists of small mammals, but they do also prey on small birds as well.
They also nest in these grasslands and marshes, building their nest on the ground and relying on protection from dense vegetation.
Once the nest is ready, the female Northern Harrier lays up to 5 eggs and incubates them for a period of around 12 days.
Once hatched, the couple raise their young together until they are ready to fly nest. They then head their separate ways.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk is another species that is considered “accidental” in Arizona. Most sightings are reported to come from Tucson and Phoenix, but they are very rarely recorded elsewhere in the State.
You’ll know immediately if you’ve seen a Red-Shouldered Hawk, thanks to their extremely distinctive markings.
They have dark brown and white checkered wings, and this color combination extends across the breast as well.
They also have a dark brown tail with two white bands, rust-red upperparts and, of course, their namesake red shoulders.
In terms of size, the Red-Shouldered Hawk measures around 22-inches long and has an average wingspan of 40-inches.
If you would like to try and seek out this elusive bird of prey, the best place to look would be forests with plenty of water sources available.
Here, the Red-Shouldered Hawk soars along the edges of the forest, seeking out snakes, frogs, and small mammals to feed on.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk also nests in this wet forest habitat, choosing a branch high up in a broad-leaved tree to build its nest.
This is constructed from a collection of differently sized twigs, then lined with leaves, grass, and moss.
Once complete, the female lays up to 5 eggs and the mating couple raise their brood together until they are ready to fledge.
The Rough-Legged Hawk takes its name from the fluffy, almost rough-looking feathers that cover its legs.
These shabby-looking feathers serve an important role, though – they keep the Rough-Legged Hawk warm and protected in its Arctic breeding grounds!
Of course, they can only offer so much protection and, as such, the Rough-Legged Hawk heads to Arizona for the winter. Most sightings of this beautiful bird of prey are recorded in Coconino National Forest.
Its namesake, rough-looking feathers aren’t its only identifying feature though.
The Rough-Legged Hawk can also be identified by its dark wing patches, dark brown tail patch, and dark spotting on the underparts. All other feathers are white which, again, comes in useful in the Arctic.
The best place to spot a Rough-Legged Hawk in Arizona (outside of Coconino National Forest) is in open marshlands or open fields.
Here, they fly close to the ground in search of their prey, which mainly consists of voles and lemmings, although they have also been known to feed on mice, voles, ground squirrels, and other small mammals.
During its Arctic breeding season, the Rough-Legged Hawk constructs a large nest high up on the ledge of a cliff.
Here, the female lays up to 5 pale blue eggs and the breeding couple raise their chicks together until they are ready to fly the nest.
Once the breeding season is over, the couple will part ways before reuniting with each other next spring.
The final entry on our list of Hawks you can find in Arizona is the Zone-Tailed Hawk.
This incredible bird of prey visits Arizona in the spring and summer, spending the breeding season in the State before heading further South to Mexico for the winter.
The Zone-Tailed Hawk can be identified by the super-dark feathers that cover the majority of its body.
It also has white barring on the underside of each wing and a white banded tail. Females are larger than males, measuring around 32-inches long and with an average wingspan of 52-inches.
It’s easiest to spot a Zone-Tailed Hawk while they are out hunting along cliffs and canyons, although they have also been spotted in scrubs and deserts.
Their diet mainly consists of reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and small birds, all of which they catch by flying close to the ground.
They are intelligent hunters as well, using the landscape around them to mask them during flight.
This allows them to get as close to their prey as possible and, once the moment is right, they snatch their prey from the ground before they realize what’s going on!
As you can see, there are 15 different types of Hawk you can spot in Arizona at any given time of the year. Some are really elusive, while others are easy to spot on a car journey.
Either way, one thing is for certain – Arizona continues to be home to some of the most breathtaking and majestic wildlife you’ll ever see.