Famed not only for being the largest State in the United States, but also for its desert landscapes, Texas is home to some of the most incredible wildlife you could ever hope to find in North America.
And, of all of the wildlife you can find in Texas, it’s the majestic Hawk that reigns supreme as the most impressive!
There are a total of 18 different species of Hawk you can find soaring through the Texan skies, each equipped with its own unique identification features, style of hunting, and preferred habitat.
Below, we’re going to take a closer look at each of Texas’ Hawk species, helping you identify each of them and giving some pointers on the best place to find them.
Want to know what Hawk species you can find in Texas but don’t necessarily want to know everything about them?
Here’s a quick reference list of all Texas’ Hawk species.
- White-Tailed Hawk
- Rough-Legged Hawk
- Great Black Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Zone-Tailed Hawk
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Crane Hawk
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Gray Hawk
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Common Black Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Roadside Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Broad-Winged Hawk
- Short-Tailed Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
Now, let’s explore each of these magnificent birds of prey in more detail.
The White-Tailed Hawk can be identified by its red shoulders, dark brown upperparts, and white underparts.
It also sports its namesake white feathers across the tail which is surrounded by a band of dark brown markings.
Females are slightly larger than males, measuring an average of 22-inches long and both sexes have an average wingspan of 50-inches.
Juvenile White-Tailed Hawks have a distinctive speckling across their underparts and breasts, but this fades with age.
One of Texas’ resident birds of prey, you can find the White-Tailed Hawk soaring through the State all year round.
Most sightings are recorded between October and April, and this is likely because other White-Tailed Hawks from colder parts of North America flock to Texas’ warmer winter temperatures, increasing their numbers in the process.
The best place to spot a White-Tailed Hawk is in drier habitats, such as savannas and grasslands.
Here, they hunt for small mammals such as rabbits, rats, and mice as well as reptiles and smaller songbirds.
They are also opportunistic hunters, and can often be seen speeding through the air close to the ground after a fire in pursuit of fleeing animals.
A winter visitor to Texas, the Rough-Legged Hawk is most commonly spotted in the State between November and March.
Once spring rolls around, they take to the skies and head North towards their Arctic breeding grounds.
Identifying a Rough-Legged Hawk can be quite difficult, and this is because they are found in both light and dark morphs.
It’s not impossible, however, and both morphs have dark patches across the underparts, at the bend of their wing, and at the end of their tail.
They also bear their namesake rough-looking legs, which are actually a collection of fuzzy feathers.
These leg feathers serve an important purpose, keeping the Rough-Legged Hawk warm and protected against the cold temperatures and fierce winds of its Arctic home.
In terms of size, the Rough-Legged Hawk measures around 20-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 53-inches.
The Rough-Legged Hawk’s diet consists primarily of lemmings, which are in abundance in the Arctic during the spring and summer.
While in Texas, however, the Rough-Legged Hawk hunts and feeds on rodents including mice, ground squirrels, and voles.
Great Black Hawk
The Great Black Hawk is extremely rare in Texas, and is actually considered an accidental species in the State.
In fact, the last sighting of a Great Black Hawk in Texas was in 2018, when one was spotted in South Padre Island.
There have been speculations of sighting since, but these turned out to be the Common Black Hawk, which is very similar in appearance.
Due to their rarity, there isn’t very much known about the Great Black Hawk.
We do know that they measure around 25-inches in length and can be identified by the jet black feathers that cover their entire body, the only exception being two white patches on either side of the tail.
Resident in South and Central America, the Great Black Hawk hunts and feeds on large insects, reptiles, and small invertebrates.
They have also been known to snatch young chicks and unhatched eggs from the nests of smaller birds to feed on.
While the Cooper’s Hawk is resident in Texas all year round, they are most commonly spotted during the winter months.
This is due to the fact that other Cooper’s Hawks from across North America head to Texas to spend the winter in the warmer temperatures.
Come spring, these visiting birds will take to the skies and head back to Northern States and Southern Canada.
Often mistaken for the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk can be identified by its dark-banded tail, blue-gray upperparts, and rust-red underparts and breast.
They are larger than the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, however, and also carry their head further beyond their shoulders.
In terms of size, the female Cooper’s Hawk is larger than the male, measuring around 16-inches in length. Both sexes have an average wingspan of 33-inches.
The best place to spot a Cooper’s Hawk is in Texas’ forests, soaring along the edges in pursuit of prey.
This prey includes small mammals such as voles and mice, and they also hunt and feed on smaller songbirds.
The Cooper’s Hawk has been reported attacking birds feeding from backyard bird feeders as well, but if you’ve been experiencing this problem simply remove your feeders for a couple of weeks.
The Cooper’s Hawk nests in its preferred forest habitat, constructing a small nest high up in the canopy of the trees.
They’ll often pick a spot in dense mistletoe, as this is perfect for adding some structural support to their nest.
Once complete, the female Cooper’s Hawk lays up to 6 eggs and, once hatched, the breeding couple will raise them together before going their separate ways.
A summer visitor to Texas, the Zone-Tailed Hawk can be identified by its dark brown, almost black, upperparts.
It also has white barring across the breast, under the wings, and across the tail. It measures around 20-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 52-inches.
Come wintertime, the Zone-Tailed Hawk takes to the skies and heads further South to Mexico, although if temperatures are particularly high some may remain resident in Texas all year round.
The best place to try and find a Zone-Tailed Hawk in Texas is in dry areas such as scrub and deserts.
It has also been known to nest and roost in coastal areas, and can be spotted soaring along cliff edges and over canyons in search of prey.
The Zone-Tailed Hawk’s diet primarily consists of small mammals, but they also hunt and feed on amphibians, reptiles, and smaller birds.
They also have a unique way of hunting, and will use their surrounding landscape as a screen, flying close to ground and snatching up their prey with expert precision.
The Red-Tailed Hawk is resident in Texas all year round, and is the most commonly spotted bird of prey during the winter months.
As with most of Texas’ resident Hawks, the reason for this is because other Red-Tailed Hawks from across North America head South for the winter, and many choose to make Texas their home during this time of year.
Those that visit Texas for the winter head back to their original States as soon as March comes round.
You can identify the Red-Tailed Hawk by its brown upperparts, white underparts, and their broad wings that are rounded at the end.
As you may have guessed from their name, Red-Tailed Hawks also have a rust-red colored tail that is distinctively short and wide.
The Red-Tailed Hawk’s preferred habitat is mixed woodlands, where it nests high in the canopy of the trees.
It’s quite an adaptable bird of prey though, and has also been known to nest and roost on cliff ledges and even on tall buildings.
Most, however, are spotted circling high above open fields along highways as they scan the area below for food with their expert vision.
Once they have spotted a small mammal, reptile, or bird and locked onto it, they’ll dive towards it with incredible speed and snatch it up with their super-sharp talons.
As with the Great Black Hawk, the Crane Hawk is considered an accidental species in Texas.
It is resident in South and Central America, predominantly along the Mexican coasts, but some may head further North depending on weather conditions (albeit rarely).
In fact, the Crane Hawk is so rare in Texas that the last recorded sighting was in 1988, when one was spotted in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
If you do think that you’ve seen this elusive bird, the best way to identify it is by the jet black feathers that cover the entire of its body along with its bright red legs.
Some also have a white tail stripe, and they measure around 20-inches in length.
As they are so hard to find, not very much is known about the Crane Hawk’s preferred habitat, although it would be safe to assume that dense, mixed woodland is most likely where they nest and roost.
In terms of food, the Crane Hawk hunts and feeds on reptiles, snakes, small mammals and small birds.
They also have a remarkable evolutionary feature of double-jointed legs, meaning that they can get into small spaces that other birds of prey may not be able to reach.
A doppelganger of the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a winter visitor to Texas, visiting the State from September to April before heading further North for the breeding season.
Like many birds of prey, the female Sharp-Shinned Hawk is larger than the male measuring around 13-inches compared to the male’s 9-inch length.
Their wingspan also varies on sex, with female Sharp-Shinned Hawks having an average wingspan of 22-inches and the male 16-inches.
Size isn’t their only identifying factor, though. The Sharp-Shinned Hawk can also be identified by its rust-orange breast, blue-gray upperparts, and dark banded tails.
They also have quite a small head, long, square-ended tails, and short, rounded wings.
You’re most likely to spot a Sharp-Shinned Hawk flying along the edges of their preferred forest habitat.
Here, they navigate through the dense woodland with expert precision, speeding through thick branches and foliage in pursuit of songbirds, which make up the majority of their diet.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks may venture out of their forest habitat in search of food should it start to become scarce, and have been known to pick off birds feeding from backyard bird feeders.
They can be deterred, however, simply by removing your feeders for a couple of weeks.
It won’t take long for the Sharp-Shinned Hawk to realize there isn’t anything for them to hunt anymore and, even better, it won’t take long for your usual feathered friends to return.
The Gray Hawk is resident in Texas all year round, but is most abundant in the South of the State. Its range also covers Arizona, Mexico, and Central America.
In each of these locations, the Gray Hawk can be found living in woodlands near a source of water, and it has a particular fondness for nesting and roosting in willow woods and cottonwoods.
You can identify the Gray Hawk by its dark gray upperparts, from which it takes its name.
It also has a rather distinctive tail that is black in color and has three white bands running across it as well as a barred breast and underparts. In terms of size, the Gray Hawk measures an average of 22-inches, with females being larger than males.
Lizards, snakes, and other small reptiles make up the majority of the Gray Hawk’s diet.
You can often see this magnificent bird of prey soaring across open fields or perched patiently on branches, scoping out the area and waiting for its prey to appear before swooping down and killing them instantly.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk is Texas’ most common species, and is resident in the State all year round.
Its numbers increase significantly during the winter months as other Red-Shouldered Hawks from Northern States flock to Texas for the warmer winter temperatures.
As you may have guessed from its name, the main identifying feature of the Red-Shouldered Hawk is its rust-red colored shoulders.
It can also be identified by the red barring on its breast, its black and white checked wings, and white-banded tail.
When it comes to size, the Red-Shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, measuring around 22-inches in length and with an average wingspan of 40-inches.
Their preferred habitat is forests or mixed woodlands near a source of water, such as a pond, lake, or stream.
During the breeding season, they’ll use the same nest they raised their brood in as last year, making just a few structural adjustments.
Once ready, the female Red-Shouldered Hawk will lay up to 5 eggs, and the breeding couple will raise their young chicks together.
They also hunt in their forest homes, navigating through the trees with amazing agility in pursuit of small mammals.
They also feed on snakes and frogs, which are quite easy to find along the edges of forests.
Common Black Hawk
The Common Black Hawk is often mistaken for the Great Black Hawk but, unlike its doppelganger, it isn’t an accidental species in Texas.
It is still quite rare, however, and most are spotted in the South of the State – particularly in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.
As their name suggests, the Common Black Hawk can be identified by the jet black feathers that cover the majority of its body.
Its most distinctive feature is the white band that it sports across the tail, and it also has quite broad wings. In terms of size, the Common Black Hawk measures around 20-inches in length.
Summer visitors to Texas, the Common Black Hawk spends the breeding season in the State.
It can be found nesting in woodlands that are close to a rouse of water, where they hunt for fish and crustaceans which make up the majority of their diet.
They also hunt and feed on frogs and lizards, which are quite easy to find in their preferred habitat.
As soon as fall comes around, the Common Black Hawk takes to the skies and migrates back to its native Central America and Mexico.
One of the larger species of Hawk on our list, the Northern Goshawk measures around 25-inches in length and has an average wingspan of 46-inches.
It can also be identified by the black and gray striped feathers that cover the majority of its body and the white stripe that runs horizontally above each eye.
The Northern Goshawk isn’t very common in Texas and is actually considered to be an “accidental species”.
The last recorded sighting was in Palo Duro Canyon State Park back in 2019, although this doesn’t mean it hasn’t returned to the State since.
Those that do visit Texas only do so during the spring and summer. Canada, Alaska, and other parts of the mountainous West are where you’ll find the Northern Goshawk all year round, although some may migrate further South if temperatures drop too low.
This is particularly true for younger birds.
While they are hard to find in Texas, you may be able to spot a Northern Goshawk if you take a trip to its preferred mixed or coniferous forest habitat.
Be careful though – they are extremely territorial and have been known to attack humans who have come too close to their nest.
Small mammals and birds make up the Northern Goshawk’s diet, and they perch high up in tall tree branches, utilizing their incredible eyesight to spot them.
Once located, they maneuver through the trees and branches with amazing agility and snatch their prey from the ground in one swift move.
The Roadside Hawk takes its name from the place it is most commonly spotted!
Perched atop telephone poles and tall fences along the roadside, it uses its vantage point to spot lizards and small mammals that it swoops down upon with incredible speed, killing them instantly in its razor sharp talons.
Another “accidental” species to Texas, it’s very rare to spot a Roadside Hawk in the State.
The last recorded sighting was in 2018 in the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and, before that, they were only ever sighted in the most Southerly parts of Texas.
If you do think you’ve seen a Roadside Hawk in Texas, the best way to identify it is by its gray upperparts, orange and white barred underside, and black and orange markings on the wing.
It measures around 14-inches in length, has a bright yellow eye, and fierce-looking, bright yellow beak.
When they aren’t in Texas, the Roadside Hawk calls South America, Central America, and Mexico home.
Little is known about their preferred habitat, but given their diet and hunting area it would be safe to assume dry areas such as deserts and scrubs are where the Roadside Hawk is most comfortable.
Another of Texas’ winter-visiting Hawk species, the Northern Harrier is the third most-commonly spotted bird of prey from October through to March.
Come spring, it heads further North to Alaska, the Great Plains, and Canada to breed, although some may remain present in Texas all year round.
The Northern Harrier has some distinctive markings that help make it quite easy to identify, including white and dark-brown barred wings.
Males also have a white patch on the rump, and both sexes measure around the same size of 19-inches in length with an average wingspan of 43-inches.
The Northern Harrier can also be identified by the way it flies, carrying its wings much higher than its body, forming a telltale V-shape in the process.
Most Northern Harriers are spotted flying low over marshes and grassland in pursuit of small birds and mammals, which make up the majority of their diet.
They also nest in these areas, building a nest close to the ground in the safety of willows, brushtails, reeds, and other dense vegetation.
The Broad-Winged Hawk can be identified by its dark brown and white barred breast, pale underparts, and red-brown upperparts and head.
They spend the spring and summer months in Texas, and are most commonly spotted at either end of these seasons as they busy themselves with nest-building and migration.
In fact, fall is often the best time of year to try and spot a Broad-Winged Hawk as they gather together in their hundreds, creating a spectacle known as a “kettle”.
This swirling flock takes to the skies and starts the long journey South toward South America, Central America, and Mexico where they’ll stay for the winter.
The Broad-Winged Hawks preferred habitat is mixed woodlands and dense forests. During the breeding season, they’ll spend the majority of their time here raising their chicks together.
They’ll often reuse the nest of another animal rather than building their own from scratch as well, just making a few reinforcements and relining with a soft material.
They hunt in these areas as well, perching up high in the canopy of the trees along the edge of their woodland habitat.
From this vantage point, they use their incredible vision to scope out frogs, snakes, small mammals, and baby turtles to feed on.
Another rare and “accidental” species found in Texas, the Short-Tailed Hawk is one of the smaller species on our list, measuring just 16-inches long on average.
There are two types of Short-Tailed Hawk, light and morph, which along with their small size can make them difficult to spot.
Light morph Short-Tailed Hawks have white underparts and a light brown back, while dark morph Short-Tailed Hawks are covered entirely with dark brown feathers aside from a few lighter brown flight feathers.
Both types have their namesake short tail which actually isn’t that short – it just seems like it when compared to other species of Hawk.
The Short-Tailed Hawk’s native home is South and Central America, Florida, and Mexico. Here, they soar high up in the sky in search of food which primarily consists of small birds.
They can often be seen in these areas in aerial combat with other birds of prey as they each go in for the kill.
Just like the Short-Tailed Hawk, the Ferruginous Hawk can be found in both dark and light morph varieties.
This means that, despite being the large species of Hawk in North America, they can be incredibly hard to identify.
Dark morph Ferruginous Hawks have dark brown underparts and upperparts, with white wing and tail tips. They are also the rare of the two.
Light morph Ferruginous Hawks can be identified by their rust-red wings and upperparts, along with their ple underparts and head.
Younger Ferruginous Hawks also have brown markings on their legs and under parts. Both light and dark morphs measure the same length of around 25-inches and have an average wingspan of 54-inches.
You’ll only ever spot a Ferruginous Hawk in Texas during the winter months as they migrate to the State from November to early March.
Outside of these months, they can be found across most of the Western United States and some may venture as far North as Southern Canada for breeding.
While they are in Texas, the best place to try and find the Ferruginous Hawk is in low country shrublands and grasslands.
Here, they construct an enormous nest that can be as big as 3 feet wide and 3 feet across.
They also hunt in this habitat, by both day and night, seeking out small mammals to feed on. This includes cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels.
Another summer visitor to Texas, the Swainson’s Hawk spends the breeding season of April to October in the State.
Once fall rolls around, it takes to the skies and heads further South to the warmer temperatures of South America.
Much like the Broad-Winged Hawk, the Swainson’s Hawk migrates in large numbers and can be seen in flocks that contain thousands of birds.
The Swainson’s Hawk can be identified by its brown-gray, mottled upperparts, rust-red breast, and lighter underparts.
It also has a telltale identifying feature in flight, as the underside and tips of its wings contrast from black to white. In terms of size, the Swainson’s Hawk measures around 20-inches long.
The best place to find a Swainson’s Hawk is in open countryside, and they are often spotted along roadsides as they look for prey.
However, this habitat doesn’t present many nesting opportunities for the Swainsons’s Hawk, and they’ll use any suitable places possible to build their nests. This includes low bushes, singular trees, and even telephone poles.
The nest built by the Swainson’s Hawk is large, and can measure up to 2 feet across and 1 foot deep.
Large sticks and twigs are used to form the structure, and it is then lined with wool, grass, dung, and other soft materials. This adds both comfort and insulation.
The Swainson’s Hawk’s diet consists mainly of rodents, which are easy for it to find scurrying across their open-country habitat.
They also hunt and feed on Burrowing Owls, but have quite a varied diet that also consists of bats, rabbits, and large insects including dragonflies and crickets.
There you have it – all 18 species of Hawk you can find in Texas. Some are quite common while others will take a little more seeking out.
But, next time you see a large bird of prey soaring high in the Texan sky, make sure you pull out this list – you may have just spotted something you’ve never seen before!