15 Types Of HAWKS In Texas (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a hawk in the state of Texas, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying hawks in the Lone Star State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many hawk species in the state (as well as other Texas raptors that look similar).
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common hawks of Texas in this article.
What species of hawks are found in Texas?
There are 15 different types of hawks commonly found in Texas, which are described in full detail below.
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
With a wingspan of up to 52 in (4.5 ft), the Red-tailed Hawk is one of the larger buteo species.
It has variable coloration, ranging from dark brown to almost entirely white, but can be readily recognized by its rusty red tail.
This large bird of prey is common in open grassland and also in cities. It is most often seen perched on roadside posts or fences, waiting for prey.
It feeds on rodents and other small animals that it catches by swooping down from its perch when they venture out into the open.
This large hawk species is common in Texas, and Red-tailed Hawks can be found throughout the Lone Star State year-round.
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
This little Texas raptor is agile and has a lot of skill when it comes to catching small birds in flight. Sometimes it will even take species that are larger than itself.
The long striped tail of this hawk, as well as its small, rounded wings, make it possible for this bird of prey to perform sharp turns and quick maneuvers in the thick foliage of dense forests and shrubs.
While these raptors were originally shy woodland birds, they are now commonly found in urban areas such as Houston and San Antonio, where they hunt pigeons and songbirds.
It is not unusual for a Cooper’s Hawk to show up at a bird feeder, where it tries to surprise and ambush feeding songbirds with a lightning fast dash from a hidden perch.
It is a winter visitor in the southernmost parts of Texas, while it can be found year-round in the rest of Texas.
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
While Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t breed in Texas, they occur throughout the state outside of the breeding season.
With blue-gray wings and back, and with orange feather patterns on their chests, these hawks are recognizable by their small size, agility, and distinctive behavior.
Wintering birds are most often Sharp-Shinned Hawks from Canada that spend the cold season in the Lone Star State.
Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
The Northern Goshawk is the largest accipiter species in North America, and significantly larger than the Coopers’ and Sharp-shinned Hawks.
It also has slightly longer wings and a barred tail with rounded edges, and as a result looks slightly similar to buteo species.
However, its behavior is very different from buteos, as it spends much less time soaring or perched in prominent locations.
Instead, it hunts by flying at low altitude over open woodland or along forest edges, in order to surprise its prey out in the open.
When this raptor does hunt from a perch, it is usually well hidden, and thus hard to spot.
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
The Ferruginous Hawk is a very large buteo species of the western prairies and deserts. With a wingspan of up to 56 inches, it is the largest hawk in Texas.
This raptor is not a breeding bird in the Lone Star State, but winters in western and central Texas outside of the breeding season.
While it occurs in two color morphs (light and dark), the more common of these is the light morph.
The light morph of this hawk has a white belly, gray head, and rusty brown upperparts.
These raptors feed on rodents and other small mammals, with prairie dogs forming a large part of their diet.
Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus
This is a large hawk with a long tail and long legs. It is a dark brown raptor with chestnut patches on its shoulders, as well as on its thighs.
Another great distinguishing feature of the Harris’s Hawk is the white terminal bar at the end of the tail, which is clearly visible when it soars on thermal currents.
These raptors are most commonly found in Mexico and South America, but also breed in the western half of Texas.
Unlike most birds of prey, the Harris’s Hawk is very social, and often hunts in groups of 3 or more individuals.
Scientists have found that cooperatively hunting hawks are more successful than those that hunt alone.
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
The Swainson’s Hawk is a compact buteo that frequents dry prairies and open areas in west Texas during the summer months.
These raptors have long, narrow wings, and are best identified by their brown chest, which contrasts with the white underwings and chin.
They are migratory birds of prey that spend the winter in Argentina.
In fall they gather in flocks numbering in the tens of thousands that migrate south for the winter, often together with other raptor species.
These common Texas birds can be seen in the Lone Star State from April through September.
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
The Rough-legged Hawk is a breeding bird of the arctic tundra in northern Canada and Alaska, but can be seen wintering in large parts of the USA during the cold months.
It can be seen in Texas from October through March, and favors open habitats such as farmland, pastures and marshland.
Its preferred foraging tactic is to hunt from a perch, such as a fence post or telephone pole, though it also hovers on occasion, similar to a kestrel.
This is a large buteo species that is best identified by its dark brown belly, which contrasts with the white underside of its wings and tail.
Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
The Zone-tailed Hawk is another migratory species found in southern Texas during the breeding season in summer.
These raptors are almost entirely black, except for light barred areas on their flight and tail feathers.
Interestingly, they resemble Turkey Vultures both in their overall appearance and in their behavior.
Ornithologists believe that this similarity is not an accident, and that Zone-tailed Hawks use it to their advantage, as most of their prey species see Turkey Vultures as harmless.
They favor arid cliffs, canyons and foothills, where they hunt small mammals, reptiles and birds.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
The Red-shouldered Hawk has two distinct populations – one in the eastern US (which includes the Texas population), and another in California and Mexico.
These two populations are separated by more than 1000 miles, and very rarely mix.
This bird of prey is found in lowland forests of east Texas, where it favors mature woods interspersed with water.
The Texas population of the Red-shouldered Hawk is non-migratory, and adult birds stay in their nesting territories all year round.
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
The Broad-winged Hawk is a long distance migratory species that spends the winter in South America.
During fall migration, it’s not uncommon to see flocks (also known as “kettles”) of Broad-winged Hawks soaring together to take advantage of thermal currents on their way south.
This raptor is a scarce breeding bird in the easternmost parts of Texas, but can be seen more often during migration throughout the eastern half of Texas.
The preferred habitats of these medium-sized birds are extended forests, where the best way to detect them is by listening to their whistling call.
Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
The Gray Hawk is a Central American buteo species that also breeds in a few areas of Texas just north of the Mexican border, including the lower Rio Grande River valley.
It is almost entirely light gray, with light barring on its underside. This elegant raptor most often hunts from a perch in trees along a river or stream.
They patiently wait for reptiles and small mammals on the ground, which they catch by dropping down on them from their perch.
Scientific name: Geranoaetus albicaudatus
These raptors are easily recognizable by their distinct markings, which include a light underside, bright white tail with a dark band at its ends, dark wings, as well as rufous brown shoulder patches.
These Texas hawks are only found in the coastal prairies close to the Mexican border. They predominantly feed on lizards and small snakes, as well as insects and rodents.
Similar to kestrels, they like to hunt by “kiting,” which involves using the wind to hover in a fixed position, as they wait for prey to appear on the ground below.
Common Black Hawk
Scientific name: Buteogallus anthracinus
Common Black Hawks are most commonly found in Mexico and Central America, but they also occur as rare breeding birds in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas.
They are large raptors with broad wings and a relatively short tail, and are best identified by their soot black color which contrasts with a single white band on the tail.
They frequent canyons with wooded streams, where they primarily hunt fish, amphibians, and rodents that live in and around water.
These raptors migrate south in September, to spend the winter in Mexico. In Central America, they are most often found in swamps and marshy areas.
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
The Northern Harrier is a breeding bird of the northern parts of North America, but spends the winter in the southern USA and Central America.
This harrier is a winter bird in Texas from October through April, where it frequents open grassland and marshes.
Harriers are most easily identified by their behavior. Their foraging tactic is to fly slowly just a few feet above the ground, in order to pounce on any rodent caught outside its burrow.
What Texas hawks are black and white?
The following Texas hawks are black and white:
- Zone-tailed Hawk
- Common Black Hawk
- Harris’s Hawk
In addition to these types of black and white hawks, it’s also possible to encounter dark morphs of the Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk, which all have a largely black-and-white appearance when viewed from below in flight.
In summary, here are the 15 different species of hawks in Texas:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Northern Goshawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Harris’s Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Zone-tailed Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Gray Hawk
- White-tailed Hawk
- Common Black Hawk
- Northern Harrier
If you’ve spotted one of these hawks while bird watching in Texas, but aren’t sure which species it was, check our detailed identification guide with photos above.
In addition to the birds listed above, there are also rare vagrants such as the Crane Hawk, Great Black Hawk, Roadside Hawk, and Short-tailed Hawk, which are all considered accidental species in Texas (which is why we didn’t include them on this list).
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the kite birds of Texas.