Wildlife abounds in Vermont, especially small mammals that make for a perfect meal for the birds of prey such as hawks in Vermont that also call these areas home.
Whether it is to watch hawks and eagles soar or to see their aerial hunting skills at work, Vermont is the place to go. An experienced birdwatcher can find many other species of smaller birds, but beginner birdwatcher will be more than satisfied with a trip to Vermont and its Hawk Migration Hot Spot festivals.
Most Common Species Of Hawks In Vermont
Here are some of the most beautiful and common hawks in Vermont:
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Northern Goshawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
1. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawks are commonly seen soaring above fields and forest edges, mixing stiff wingbeats with glides as they speed in pursuit of prey. They are one of the hawks in Vermont.
A master of vertical flight, the Cooper’s Hawk is like a cross between a small Red-tailed Hawk and an American Kestrel (aka sparrow hawk).
It shares the Kestrel’s long tail, but it is a raptor when it comes to its hunting prowess. One of the best front porches of any North American hawk, as it swoops in low over grasslands and forests.
- Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
- Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
- Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
- Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
- Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
- Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)
Cooper’s hawks are medium-sized but fierce-looking birds of prey. They have dark bars on their wings that make them look even bigger. Cooper’s hawk has a sharp hooked beak, black eyes, and a white breast with brown spots. They nest high in towering trees.
If you have bird feeders, a Cooper’s Hawk can show up in your yard. Although they are just doing what comes naturally, they will attack the birds you are feeding, not just the small songbirds, but large cardinals and blue jays as well.
If you have a hawk in your yard, one of the best ways to get it to leave is to take down your feeder for a few days. When the hawk does not find food, it moves on.
2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the smallest hawks in Vermont, Canada and the United States. While their small size makes them more difficult to view, it is this feature that allows them to fly through the dense woods, pursuing songbirds and mice.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a speedy, acrobatic little hunter that gets its name from the sharp spurs on its feet.
In autumn and winter, you might see one of these tiny raptors at a backyard bird feeder–they are especially fond of sunflower seeds. But you can more easily spot them on their annual journeys between summer homes in Canada and our U.S. northeast woodlands, and winter homes in Mexico.
- Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
- Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
Sharp-shinned Hawks are beautiful and bold predators that can be found in many backyards. Although they are usually the highest-flying birds in the yard, occasionally they may hunt at feeders.
Sharp-shinned Hawks do not normally pose a threat to songbirds, but they can be incredibly aggressive and will kill other birds around feeders if given the chance. Preventing this behavior is simple with placing feeders far from your yard.
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a small but rangy forest hawk of the eastern United States. It is one of our most common hawks with barred reddish-peachy underparts and banded tails.
The Red-shouldered Hawk is very difficult to identify in flight at a distance, but you can look for the translucent crescents near its wingtips to identify it. At rest, watch for the dark eyes and mustache stripe through the eye.
- Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
- Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
- Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
The Red-shouldered Hawk is very hard to miss when it flies over, even in an unfamiliar landscape. The barred reddish-peach underparts and the strongly banded tail are very distinctive.
This hawk hunts for prey ranging from mice to frogs and snakes, but even if it catches a small frog, it will still have enough left to share with its frightened young.
If you hear a loud cack-cack-cack-cack, chances are you are looking at a red-shouldered hawk.
4. Red-tailed Hawks
Red-Tailed Hawks are the most common hawk in North America. They fly above open fields, slowly turning circles on their broad, rounded wings. Sometimes, you will see Red-tailed Hawks toting food in their talons as they glide down from a battery tower or pole to a nearby tree or fence post.
Soaring high above open fields and sparsely wooded areas, Red-tailed Hawks have keen eyes to spot a vole or a rabbit in the distance. They have an impressive wingspan of 44.9 inches to 52.4 inches.
- Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
- Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
- Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
- Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
- Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
- Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
Red-tailed Hawks are not the friendliest of hawks in Vermont. They might not respond to the sight of you with the same flapping and shrieking as a Great Horned or Cooper’s hawk.
Their calls can be difficult to hear (sometimes even impossible) over other bird songs, further reducing the chance that you will hear one. At any rate, they are very busy hawks, unlike their smaller cousins.
5. Broad-winged Hawk
With broad wings and a long tail, the Broad-winged Hawk ranges from southern Canada to Mexico in North America. Although common, it can be hard to see during the nesting season because of its forest habitat and inconspicuous coloring.
The key field marks to look for are dark brown underparts, a white rump, and black-and-white covert bands. The bird’s call is an easy-to-identify two-part whistling sound.
- Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
- Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
- Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
Early fall is a special time to observe bird migration as the hawks gather in flocks, which sometimes contain thousands of birds and head south.
If you are lucky enough to see one, grab your binoculars to look for the small white marks above and below the dark eyes, giving it a bandit mask effect; these markings are much more distinct than on other hawks.
6. Northern Harrier
This raptor is in the genus Circus and is known as a harrier hawk. It looks really distinctive from afar: a long-tailed, slim hawk gliding low over grassland or marsh, holding its wings in a V-shape while also revealing a white patch at the base of its tail.
Viewing it up close, this raptor has an owlish face that helps it spot voles and mice beneath the thick vegetation. Unlike most hawks, Northern Harriers breed throughout most parts of the United States, Alaska and Canada.
- Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
- Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
- Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
The gray-and-white male Northern Harrier may mate with many females that are usually larger and brown in color.
Northern Harriers eat small rodents such as voles and mice, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
If you know where to look, Northern Harriers are fairly easy to spot in late fall through spring. Find an open, grassy field and scan the sky above with your binoculars.
You may also see a harrier flying low over the meadow or coasting high over a ridge. Note the hawk’s white rump, short wings and body, and long legs—and watch for it to suddenly fold back its wings and plunge into a new hunting territory.
7. Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawks are the largest of Vermont’s hawks. They live in vast forests but are difficult to find as they are extremely cautious and can be violent if you move too close to their nest.
They hunt from trees and pounce down on prey from above. Goshawk nests can be located in old-growth dead trees near streams or other open areas and can have three or more entrances.
With a body length of 20-25 inches, the Northern Goshawk is the biggest accipiter in North America. It is larger than Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks. There are several subspecies of Northern Goshawks, which differ in appearance and range.
- Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)
- Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)
Adult Northern Goshawks have bold white “eyebrows” bordered by black streaks on their orange to red eyes. They have blue-gray upper parts with paler underparts and pale barring on their undersides that form hairlike strands beneath the tail.
Their wings are broad with dark flight feathers and solid black primaries (four long fingerlike feathers that extend past the wrist joint of the wing). Northern Goshawks have long, rounded tails; long legs and a long bill with a small hook at the tip for clutching prey.
When hunting, Northern Goshawks can be distinguished by their unique combination of bold white stripes over big, orange “eyes” and long, blade-thin wings and super-fast, roller coaster flight.
They hunt elusive forest rodents with sudden dashes through dense cover and feet first plunges from high perches.
8. Rough-legged Hawk
The open-country hawk waits for you in Vermont. Sitting on a pole or hovering over a marsh, the Rough-legged is an exceptionally graceful sight in the winter.
Best seen in Vermont, this bird is large but relatively low-key, and it is both light and dark form will be appealing to your hunt-loving friends.
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
The Rough-legged Hawk is one of the most interesting hawks to watch. A large hawk in North America, it has a wedge-shaped tail with one broad and two narrower feathers, lighter underparts and dark upperparts with white markings, and two strongly contrasting color morphs.
In spring and summer, this huge dark raptor occurs throughout Canada’s Northwest Territories and the Arctic, where it hunts lemmings on the tundra and occasionally finds them near small ponds.
Winter is the time to observe this big bird in the tropics, where it is often perched on trees or poles. Its biggest appeal lies in its behavior associated with nesting.
Your best bet for finding a Rough-legged Hawk around here is to wait until winter when they are most often seen perching in the open.
When looking for these large birds, distinguish them from small raptors such as American Kestrels, who also hover while hunting, and White-tailed Kites, who perch on tall, thin branches.
To find a Rough-legged Hawk, look in open country like fields or prairies; check fence posts and utility poles; and check the underside of the trees that hug the ground.
Ospreys are one of the most interesting raptors to watch in Vermont. There are a few things you should know about these magnificent birds . . .
Osprey is not one of the hawks in Vermont, but it lives in Vermont. I include it because it really resembles a hawk and you want to see it when you visit Vermont.
- Length: 21.3-22.8 in (54-58 cm)
- Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz (1400-2000 g)
- Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in (150-180 cm)
Ospreys have a distinctive body shape that is similar to many hawks. This raptor has a large head and hooked bill, long wings and legs, and a thick body. To confuse the matter further, they are often seen near rivers, lakes and ponds hunting for fish, just like many hawks!
Ospreys have a long, broad, and rounded wingspan and a tapered tail. Their plumage is dark brown above with a lighter underside and white head with dark eyes and long black legs. They are generally larger than most hawks in Vermont.
Hawks In Vermont FAQs
Do Hawks Nest In The Same Place Every Year?
To help prevent predators from finding their nests, hawks are extremely vocal when it comes to defending their territory. A pair of red-tailed hawks may have a few nests and may fix up two or more of them each Spring before they choose one on which to raise their young.
Can A Hawk Pick Up 20 Pound Cat?
Hawk cannot pick any prey that outweighs it. Even the biggest hawk cannot pick up a 20-pound cat.
Will A hawk Keep Coming Back For Chicken?
Once a hawk tastes a delicious meal from your flock, it is likely that it will keep coming back. Unfortunately, you cannot harm them physically even if they are devastating because they are protected by federal law.
Do Hawks Eat squirrels?
Are Hawks Monogamous?
Most of the hawks in Vermont are monogamous.
Where Do Hawks Sleep At Night?
Hawks such as red-tailed hawk sleep high on trees at night. They always love trees with thick branches and leaves, particularly during aggressive colds and winds.
What Time Of Day Are Hawks Most Active?
Most hawks hunt dusk to dawn. They hunt for small mammals and rely on their sharp eyes and claws.
The hawks in Vermont are all excellent hunters, with each one having strengths to match their surroundings. But just like in human pursuits, one predator often outperforms the other where circumstance has them competing against each other.
That said, Vermont certainly has a place for all hawks, including red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and broad-winged hawks. If you are ready to see hawks in Vermont, plan your visit during the months mentioned above, and head over to your nearest Hawk Watch site.
Do not forget your binoculars — you will need them in the nighttime after all. They will be valuable tools for spotting these majestic birds from far away.