9 Most Common Hawks In West Virginia (+ High Definition Printable Pictures)

Are you ready to see hawks in West Virginia? Whether you live in the United States or Canada, chances are high that you are close to one of the best places in the country to visit.

West Virginia is home to many species of birds, and it is home to some of the most fascinating species of birds of prey. Of these, we have seen many hawks in WV which are known for their sharp eyesight and agility.

Hawks live in almost every habitat in West Virginia and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They are skilled hunters that do everything from catching insects on the wing to grabbing mammals right off the ground!

No matter if they inhabit wooded woodlands or open grasslands, hawks truly are among the most fascinating birds of prey that anyone could ever encounter!

Hawks in West Virginia

Whether you live in West Virginia or have plans to visit, this article will give you a glimpse into the lives of some of the hawks that call the Mountain State home.

With information about the birds’ calls, behavior, and habitat, you will gain a better understanding of these elusive raptors. Here are the most common hawks in West Virginia:

  1. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  2. Northern Harrier
  3. Cooper’s Hawk
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. Northern Goshawk
  6. Red Shouldered Hawk
  7. Rough-legged Hawk
  8. Broad-winged Hawk
  9. Osprey

1. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the common hawks in West Virginia that is also found throughout the United States, including West Virginia. The name “Sharp-shinned” refers to its long, sharp talons and short wings. This Common Hawk is just slightly larger than Common Robins.

If you are unsure if a hawk you have seen is a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk, there are several ways to be sure. The two are remarkably similar in appearance. Some of the easiest ways to tell between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk are to examine their shapes and sizes.

  • Length: 9.5 – 13.5 inches
  • Weight: 3 – 7.7 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16.5 – 24.5

Sharp-shinned Hawks are aggressive hunters that prey on small rodents, birds and rabbits. These hawks have strong talons that allow them to catch their prey.

Thanks to their affinity for backyard bird feeders, Sharp-shinned Hawks are not difficult to find in locations with ample prey availability.

Their smaller size and more slender body shape are distinctive compared to the common Red-tailed Hawks. The wingspan of a Sharp-shinned Hawk is roughly the same as its overall length.

2. Northern Harrier

northern-harrier-Common <a href=Hawks Of Ohio” class=”wp-image-688″/>
northern-harrier-Common Hawks Of Ohio

Here in West Virginia, you might see one of the most common and beautiful birds: the Northern Harrier. These hawks are one of the hawks in West Virginia that can be seen in a variety of habitats, from farmlands to marshes to more hardwood forests. They resemble common owls because of their sharply hooked bills and disk-shaped faces.

  • Length: 16 – 19.6 inches
  • Weight: 12 – 26 ounces
  • Wingspan: 38 – 48 inches

The very second these birds of prey hit the skies, they look for small animals as their much-needed food. They mostly feed on small mammals and birds, although they are capable of taking down bigger prey like ducks, rabbits and chickens.

You could even say they have an affinity with water because they even subdue particularly feisty prey by drowning them in a nearby lake.

The majestic Northern Harrier is still fairly common in West Virginia, but dwindling populations means that these birds are vulnerable to extinction if steps are not taken to protect them.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

Soaring high above forests, the Cooper’s Hawk is one of the top predators in West Virginia. This steely blue raptor has a keen eye and powerful talons to swoop through tree canopies in search of prey. If you are not careful, you could mistake them for Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Their tails range from four to five inches in length. The Cooper’s Hawk is built for speed and agility, so it is best to listen for their call when you are scouting for them during a hunting trip.

  • Length: Female- 16.5-17.7 inches, Male- 14.6-15.3 inches
  • Weight: Female- 16.5-17.7 oz, Male- 7.8-14.5 oz
  • Wingspan: Female- 29.5-35.4 inches, Male– 24.5-35.4 inches

Cooper’s Hawks love to eat songbirds. And when he gets hungry, a hungry Cooper’s Hawk will eat small mammals and frogs too! But guess what? He is not going to pay you a visit in the dead of winter when there are no songbirds around for him to eat.

You can keep him away by removing your bird feeder for a few months. You do not even have to bother putting out an owl house; the hawk has a better seat anyway.

4. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Year-round residents throughout most of the U.S., including West Virginia, Red-tailed Hawks are a common sight. They perch on telephone poles, waiting patiently for prey.

When they spot an animal to hunt, they fly down silently, often as if in slow motion, and snatch their prey with their talons (sharp hooked claws).

  • Length: Female- 19.7-25.6 inches, Male- 17.7-22.1 inches
  • Weight: Female- 31.8-51.5 oz, Male- 24.3-45.9 oz,
  • Wingspan: Female- 44.9-52.4 inches, Male- 44.9-52.4 inches

Red-tailed Hawks are not just common in West Virginia, they are interesting. These raptors have some fairly unique features that separate them from other raptors.

Up close, Red-tailed Hawks are truly a remarkable sight. High in the sky, courting couples put on a dramatic display as they swoop and dive together.

Both the male and female will grasp talons and look to plummet to the ground, pulling out before hitting the ground. These displays are all part of learning and perfecting the art of courting.

5. Northern Goshawk


A large, slate-grey bird with a crest, the Northern Goshawk is a powerful predator that lives in forests. It is one of the hawks in West Virginia considered a “rare but vagrant” species in West Virginia during the winter months.

  • Length: 20.9-25.2 inches
  • Weight: 22.3 -48.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 inches

They are excellent hunters that can easily subsist on a diet of other birds and small mammals, though they will also eat reptile and amphibian prey.

The Goshawk has brightly colored eyes in which contain a “yellow-ringed black pupil” that helps it detect movement. They are extremely hard to spot thanks to their grey plumage and ability to remain hidden.

If you find a Northern Goshawk at your feeder, it is probably because they are protecting their young. This solitary hawk does not flock with others and will attack anything that ventures too close to its nest.

Though powerful, they are not large enough to tackle exceptionally large prey such as Deer or Moose. In the wild, an adult Goshawk will most likely be found below the tree line eating small rodents, while a juvenile Goshawk eats mostly voles and squirrels.

6. Red Shouldered Hawk

 Red Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk

Love to see some hawks in West Virginia? The Red-shouldered Hawk is a year-round resident of the Mountain State and can be found in almost any open woodland or forest habitat. During late winter, look for this species near rivers, creeks, and swamps – places where they build their nests of sticks in trees.

  • Length: 16.9-24.0 inches
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 inches

As one of the hawks in West Virginia, many people think that their calls resemble the “laughing” of a hyena, but in reality, the call sounds more like the musical notes, “Loo-hoop”. With their calls, the Red-shouldered Hawk is telling other raptors to leave its territory alone.

7. Rough-legged Hawk


One of the only North American raptors to have feathers all the way down its leg, is the Rough-legged Hawk. It is one of the common hawks in West Virginia. Their winter habitat ranges from northern Canada to North Carolina and western Mexico.

They hunt by facing the wind and hovering while they search for prey, or perch and then swoop down on their prey. Rough-legged hawks prefer open fields to forested areas because there are more ground squirrels, mice, and larger birds in the grasslands.

  • Length: 18.5-20.5 inches
  • Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 52.0-54.3

The Rough-legged Hawk is a bird of prey with a black belly and light gray head. When flying, it is possible to see black patches on its belly. It makes for a good comparison to other birds who exhibit similar hovering behavior.

Though the Red-tailed Hawk has an adult coloring too similar to the Rough-legged Hawk (they both have gray heads), they can be separated by the rounded shape of their tails and the smaller size of the Red-tailed Hawk compared to the Rough-legged Hawk.

8. Broad-winged Hawk


On your next hiking adventure, use your new binoculars to search for Broad-winged Hawks. Like other hawks, Broad-winged Hawks love the forest and hunt for small animals under the canopy. If you have a tough time locating them, listen for their one-pitch whistle.

  • Length: 13.4-17.3 inches
  • Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 oz

The broad-winged hawk is a large and formidable bird and one of the hawks in WV. With a wingspan of 31.9-39.4 oz, it is the largest raptor in West Virginia. They tend to spend most of their time under the cover of trees. This allows them to be less noticeable to smaller birds in the area.

When they are not hunting for food, or roosting for the night, they tend to sit very still in order not to be detected by prey.

One of the most awesome sights in all of nature is the “river of raptors,” a mighty aerial display that occurs as Broad-winged Hawks migrate narrow areas.

Thousands of these birds will fly together in huge “kettles” that can be visualized as massive waves passing over the landscape and converging to pass through obstacles, such as a small valley.

9. Osprey

Osprey Most Common Hawks
Osprey Most Common Hawks

Ospreys are graceful birds of prey, found all over the world, who soar above the ocean. The Osprey is the only bird in its family (Pandionidae) and can be found living on all seven continents in a wide range of environments.

On each continent, the Osprey are different and adapt to the surrounding environments. The Osprey builds the largest nest of any North American raptor!

  • Length: 20-25.5 inches / 50-65 cm
  • Weight: 3-4.4 lb. / 1.4-2 kg
  • Wingspan: 59-71 inches / 150-180 cm

The Osprey is a raptor that can be easily confused with a hawk. The Osprey was given the name including river hawk, fish hawk and sea hawk because of their appearance. This bird has spread its wings over the United States, Canada and Europe.

You might even find them in your backyard if you live near the water which they prefer. This bird is not as common as some of the hawks we know of, but they are widespread, just not as visible.

Hawks In West Virginia (Hawks In WV)

Hawks in West Virginia FAQs

What does it mean when a hawk visits you?

The Hawk is a symbol of free spirit and an incentive for change. Seeing hawks often, on television or in live view, indicates you should let your imagination soar with innovative ideas as if you are skating in the sky. Seeing a hawk means you are overflowing with creative juices that need an outlet.

Are hawks protected in WV?

Did you know that hawks, as well as other birds of prey, are protected by state law in West Virginia? They should be left alone and not harmed because they help rid our environment of pest populations.

What kind of hawks are in West Virginia?

Hawks in WV include:

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Red Shouldered Hawk
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Osprey

Can a hawk pick up a 20 pound cat?

Are raptors really big enough to take down your Great Dane or the neighbor’s pesky Scottie? Not really. In fact, according to most raptor researchers, it is unlikely a hawk could lift a dog at all.

Can you shoot hawks in WV?

You are not allowed to shoot hawks in WV. To ensure that these magnificent birds of prey continue to soar over West Virginia, please leave them alone. Please keep your cats indoors and feed your pets indoors.

If you come upon a hawk or eagle that appears to be in pain or not able to fly, call the Division of Natural Resources

Is it good to have a hawk in your yard?

Throughout history, people have feared birds of prey. Often such fear has been warranted, as bald eagles have attacked people, and other raptors have snatched birds from yards.

Although they make meals of some pretty and harmless animals, they also feed on gophers, rats, snakes and other wildlife that is a nuisance. Without hawks, these animals would overrun a neighborhood, so it is important to have them keep the balance.

Watch How To Identify Hawks Video


To conclude, hawks in West Virginia are fascinating birds. These hawks in WV are incredibly smart and benefit from their distinctly sharp eyes. Armed with a devious hunting prowess, these raptors are surprisingly common in the state.

You can spot them all over the place—from woodland to field, you might encounter a hawk or two. And as they continue to evolve and adapt to the changing world around them, do not be surprised if you see several different species in West Virginia in years to come.

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