Are you an avid bird watcher who lives in Wisconsin? Or, maybe you’re a wild enthusiast who is visiting the area.
Either way, one bird species you’ll want to keep an eye out for is the Hawk.
This majestic bird of prey is one of nature’s greatest hunters, swooping down from on high to snatch up small mammals, frogs, snakes, and anything else they can sink their claws into.
But what species of Hawk can you spot in the area? There are more than you might think!
Below, we’ll look at 10 species of Hawks in Wisconsin. We’ll discuss how to identify them, give tips on where you’re most likely to spot one, talk about their diet, and more!
The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is not resident in Wisconsin but spends the fall and winter in the State as it’s warmer than the North.
So, if you’re looking for one of these birds of prey, you should keep an eye on the sky from September to April.
As is the case with most birds, there is a difference in appearance between males and females.
Male Sharp-Shinned Hawks have blue-gray upperparts, red-orange breasts, and a dark band across their tail.
Female Sharp-Shinned Hawks have a much longer tail with a square end, shorter wings, and a square head.
They’re also around a third larger than the male, measuring an average of 13 inches in length.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are quite secretive birds and rarely venture from their preferred habitat of dense, coniferous forests.
They also nest in these areas, building huge nests that can be as big as 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep.
Once constructed, the female Sharp-Shinned Hawk will lay 3-8 pale-blue mottled eggs, and the couple will raise their brood together.
They also hunt in these coniferous forests, flying through the dense cover with ultimate agility and high speeds.
Here, they’ll catch and eat anything they can find, including small mammals, but they fondly hunt smaller songbirds.
This can be problematic for garden bird lovers when food in the forests becomes scarce, however, as this can drive the Sharp-Shinned Hawk out of its preferred habitat toward backyard bird feeders.
If you’ve had a problem with hawks picking off songbirds from your garden, just remove your feeders for a few weeks.
They’ll soon start looking elsewhere, and it won’t take long for your smaller feathered friends to start coming back.
The Swainson’s Hawk can be identified by its short tail and long wings with pointed tips. It also has a brown mottled back, pale yellow underparts, and a rust-orange chest.
It measures an average of 20 inches in length and has a wingspan of around 44 inches.
Interestingly, Swainson’s Hawks are a relatively new bird to Wisconsin and have only been spotted here since 2021.
They can be found soaring above open country during the spring and summer months before heading down to South America for the winter.
The best time to spot one of these magnificent birds is May or September. This is when they start arriving in huge numbers, flocking together and creating incredible aerial displays.
The Swainson’s Hawk hunts from high in the air, usually choosing a tall utility pole or fence as their vantage point.
From here, they can spot rabbits, bats, lizards, mice, and snakes that they’ll swoop down from on high and instantly kill with their razor-sharp talons.
They’ve also been known to feed on burrowing owls, and, when food becomes really scarce, they’ll also hunt for larger insects such as dragonflies and crickets.
Choosing to live and hunt in the open country doesn’t present the Swainson’s Hawk with many nesting opportunities, though.
As a result, they’ll build their nests in any trees or low mesquite bushes they can find. These nests can be as large as 2 feet across and 1 foot high and lined with wool, grass, or bark.
The Cooper’s Hawk is one of Wisconsin’s most common Hawk species. It’s the second most frequently spotted Hawk in the State, second only to the Red-Tailed Hawk.
Despite their abundance, they can be pretty tricky to identify as they look remarkably similar to the Sharp-Shinned Hawk.
They have the same blue-gray back, rust-orange chest, and banded tail.
The thing that sets them apart, however, is their head. The Cooper’s Hawk has a much larger head than the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, and it projects far beyond the wings.
They are slightly smaller as well, measuring an average of 14 inches and with a wingspan of 30 inches.
The Cooper’s Hawk is a non-migratory bird; however, if temperatures start getting too cool as winter approaches, a select few may migrate further South to Honduras and Mexico for the winter.
The best place to spot a Cooper’s Hawk is around the edges of forests. Here, they nest in tall trees, often using abandoned nests or large clumps of mistletoe.
Here, the female Cooper’s Hawk will lay between 2-6 pale blue eggs. The couple will raise them together, help them fledge, and then go their separate ways.
They’ll also hunt in this habitat, snatching up any small mammals or songbirds they can find.
Like the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk will also hunt from bird feeders when needed.
Again, if you have this issue, remove your feeders for a couple of weeks to deter them.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a non-migratory bird, meaning that it is resident in Wisconsin all year round.
However, there is an increased chance of spotting one from March to October as this is when they are actively breeding, and there is an abundance of prey for them to hunt.
As you may have guessed from their name, one of their identifying characteristics is their rust-red colored shoulders which extend onto the breast.
They also have brown and white checkered wings and measure an average of 20 inches in length, with a wingspan of around 40 inches.
Come the breeding season, the Red-Shouldered Hawk doesn’t construct its own nest. Instead, it reuses an older nest and will often return to the same one year after year.
Here, the female will lay between 2-5 pale blue eggs, and the mating couple will raise them together until they are ready to fledge.
You’re most likely to spot a Red-Shouldered Hawk near wetlands or forests with a water source.
Here, they’ll hunt along streams, ponds, or lakes, seeking out small mammals, snakes, and frogs.
The fourth most commonly spotted species of Hawk in Wisconsin, the Northern Harrier, can be seen in the State between April and October.
Outside of these months, they head further South to spend the winter in warmer climates.
Measuring an average of 18 inches in length and with a wingspan of 44 inches, the Northern Harrier is a slender bird of prey with long, broad wings.
They often position their wings higher than their body when they are flying, giving them a tell-tale V-shape that is one of their easiest identification markers.
Male Northern Harriers can also be identified by their gray upperparts, white underparts, and a white patch on the rump.
Females aren’t as marked and are entirely brown without the white rump patch.
You’re most likely to spot a Northern Harrier in the preferred habitat of marshes and grasslands.
Here, they soar close to the ground looking for small mammals to hunt, as well as smaller songbirds.
They nest in these areas, too, constructing their nests on the ground in dense vegetation such as willows, reeds, and brushtails.
The Red-Tailed Hawk is Wisconsin’s most common Hawk species. It is also non-migratory, so it can be seen all year round, although the number increases between August and May as Red-Tailed Hawks flock to Wisconsin for the winter.
Their most distinctive feature is their namesake red tail, which is also short and wide.
Both sexes have this as well as brown upperparts and pale yellow underparts. They also have broad, rounded wings with an average wingspan of 50 inches.
You’re most likely to spot a Red-Tailed Hawk circling above open fields in search of their prey.
Most sightings are reported from cars driving past open farmland and stretches of land.
They can also often be seen perched atop telephone poles, getting a better vantage point of small mammals, reptiles, and birds to hunt.
They don’t roost in these areas, though. Instead, they set up their home in forests and mixed woodland.
They also construct their nests high up in trees of cliff ledges, although some Red-Tailed Hawks have also been noted roosting in tall towers and buildings in urban areas.
The Ferruginous Hawk is the rarest bird of prey in Wisconsin. There hasn’t been a recorded sighting since 2002!
They aren’t only the rarest species of Hawk. They’re also the largest Hawk in North America, measuring 27 inches long and 59-inch wingspan.
Despite this size, they aren’t that easy to identify as they come in light and dark morph colors.
Light-colored Ferruginous Hawks are more common, and they have white underparts, wings, and heads.
They also sport a rust-brown color on their wings and have darker legs.
Dark morph Ferruginous Hawks are much rarer. These have dark brown underparts and wings, and their only white markings are on their wingtips and tails tips.
Both types are similar in size though and have large heads and long wings.
The fact that Ferruginous Hawks are also migratory makes them harder to spot, as they’ll head to Southern States and Mexico for the winter, only spending spring and summer in Wisconsin.
One place you’ll never spot them is The Rockies, as they avoid this area altogether during migration.
During the breeding season, they’ll set up home in grasslands and shrublands, constructing nests that can measure up to 3 feet across and 3 feet deep.
The female Ferruginous Hawk will lay up to 8 eggs and raise them with her partner.
The Ferruginous Hawk’s diet mainly consists of small mammals, the species of which differs depending on what’s available. Cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels are all on the menu!
Another fairly common sight in Wisconsin, the Broad-Winged Hawk, is the State’s third most frequently spotted species.
Relatively small in size, the Broad-Winged Hawk is a stocky bird that measures up to 17 inches and has a wingspan of around 35 inches.
It can also be identified by its red-brown head, barred breast, and short, banded tail with a square end.
Sightings are most common from April to October when they are in Wisconsin for the breeding season. Come winter, they head further South to warmer temperatures.
During their winter migration to Central and South America, hundreds of Broad-Winged Hawks flock together and form an aerial spectacle known as a “kettle.”
This swirling mass of hawks is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles and something worth looking out for in late fall.
Their preferred habitat is mixed woodland near a source of water. Here, they’ll reuse the nest of another animal, such as a squirrel or crow, and, in the breeding season, the female will lay 2-3 white eggs in their nest.
They also hunt in this habitat too, soaring along the edges and surface of the water in search of snakes, small mammals, frogs, and baby turtles.
While Northern Goshawks are one of Wisconsin’s rare Hawk species, they can be found soaring high above national parks, forests, and mountains.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest has quite high levels of sightings, so if you want to increase your chances of spotting one, be sure to visit.
Be warned; they are very secretive birds and can become aggressive if you get too close to their nest.
The Northern Goshawk can be identified by its gray feathers that cover the entirety of its body.
It also has short, broad wings, a long tail, and a white stripe across its yellow eyes.
They measure around 23 inches in length and have an average wingspan of 44 inches.
In their preferred habitat of mixed and coniferous forests, the Northern Goshawk sits high up in the trees and uses its incredible vision to spot its prey from a distance.
Once located, it’ll swoop down with speed and agility, snatch it in its claws, and take it back to a tree branch or nest to devour. Their prey includes small mammals and smaller songbirds.
Unlike most of the other Hawks on this list, the Rough-Legged Hawk is most abundant in Wisconsin during winter.
They start returning to the State in late October and stay until April. They then head back to their Arctic breeding grounds and return in October.
Their name comes from the rough-looking feathers that cover their legs, which help keep them warm and protected from the cold, ice, and snow.
They can also be identified by the dark patches at the bend of each wing and the dark patches they sport on their underparts and tails.
In terms of size, the Rough-Legged Hawk is longer and narrower than most other hawks and measures around 20 inches with a 53-inch wingspan.
The Rough-Legged Hawk’s diet mainly consists of lemmings and voles. However, they will also hunt and eat other small mammals such as ground squirrels and mice.
Their preferred habitat is open fields and marshes, where they can often be seen perching on a high spot to get a better vantage point.
When they return to their Arctic breeding grounds, they’ll build their nest along a cliff edge, and the female will lay between 3-5 pale blue eggs.
As you can see, there are quite a few species of Hawk to spot in Wisconsin.
From the common Red-Tailed Hawk to the elusive Ferruginous Hawk, they’re all out there.
The only thing you need to do next is build a checklist and see how many you can spot throughout the year!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I see Hawks in Wisconsin?
This ultimately depends on the species of Hawk you’re looking for.
Generally speaking, Hawk numbers are higher during the spring and summer as many different species return to Wisconsin for breeding.
However, certain species, such as the Rough-Legged Hawk, are more abundant during winter.
You’ll also need to think about their habitat. Some are easy to spot, circling above open fields.
To see rarer species of Hawk, you’ll need to visit forests or National Parks.
Are there Cooper’s Hawks in Wisconsin?
Yes, there are. The Cooper’s Hawk is the second most common Hawk in all of Wisconsin, second only to the Red-Tailed Hawk.
It’s also native and non-migratory, so there’s a good chance of spotting a Cooper’s Hawk in Wisconsin if you’re looking in the right place.
Their preferred habitat is forest edges, where they can roost high up in the trees.
How many species of Hawk are there in Wisconsin?
There are a total of 10 different species of Hawk in Wisconsin.
Some are easy to spot, such as the Red-Tailed Hawk, which you can often see circling high above open fields while driving.
Others, such as the elusive Ferruginous Hawk, are much harder to find.
How do I find a Broad-Winged Hawk in Wisconsin?
Broad-Winged Hawks are quite easy to spot in Wisconsin and are the State’s third most commonly spotted Hawk species.
They are migratory birds of prey, so you have a better chance of seeing one during the spring and summer.
You can also increase your chances of a sighting by trekking through their natural mixed woodland habitat near a water source.
How can I protect the birds in my garden from Hawks in Wisconsin?
If you have an issue with Hawks preying on smaller garden birds that visit your bird feeders, simply try removing your feeders for a few weeks.
It won’t take long for the Hawk to realize that there isn’t anything worth hunting in your garden, and it also won’t take very long for your beloved songbirds to start flocking back to your yard once you’ve reinstalled your feeders.