Different Kinds of Hawks in Kentucky

You will see both buteo and accipiter hawks in Kentucky. But among all the species, the Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Red-Tailed Hawk are the most common in Kentucky.

But what other species of hawks can be seen in Kentucky? Also, what do buteo and accipiter mean?

To be exact, you can find a total of eight different hawk species in Kentucky. And buteo and accipiter are two distant categories of hawks. Want to know more? Keep on reading!

Are There Hawks in Kentucky?

There are many types of hawks that flies the skies of Kentucky.

According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Southern States, Red-Shouldered, Broad-Winged, Sharp-Shinned, Red-Tailed, and Cooper’s Hawks are native to Kentucky.

You will not have to work too hard to find one of those birds in Louisville and other parts of Kentucky. And the best thing is that some of these birds can be found year-round in the state.

However, if you want to spot one of their homes, head over to the creeks, wet forests, and streams of Kentucky. Nonetheless, there are other species of hawks present in Kentucky too.

Types of Hawks in Kentucky

It is possible to spot a total of eight different kinds of hawks in Kentucky. Let’s get to know about each:

Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo Jamaicensis)

The Red-Tailed Hawks are the most common among all the types of hawks in North America. If you live in Kentucky, there is a high chance that you have seen one. They fly the skies of Kentucky all year round.


One of the things that make Red-Tailed hawks stand out is their wings. They are large and rounded, making you think of a goose. And just like the name suggests, these birds have distinctive red tails.

Although the wings are pretty large, the tail is more on the short and wide sides. These birds also have pale underneath with a streaked belly and brown back.

They are also known for their iconic raptor screech. This screech is easily recognizable as most television shows and movies use the same sound to portray hawks.


Red-Tailed hawks have a specialized diet. They mostly prefer mice, voles, and mammals. However, they will not attack cats and dogs. They mostly prefer small mammals, such as raccoons, ground squirrels, moles, and rabbits.

Nest Preference and Eggs

These hawks prefer to nest on the highest points. That includes the top of the buildings, the tallest trees, and cliff ledges. Female Red-Tailed hawks lay anywhere from 1 to 4 eggs, which are usually whitish or brown-spotted.

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

The Red-Shouldered hawks are seen throughout the year in Kentucky. You will often find them around the creeks and streams. And during the spring, these birds tend to circle around the nesting area.


As the name suggests, Red-Shouldered hawks have reddish wings. The rest of the body is decorated with eye-catching black and white feathers. They also feature a pale underside, and their tails have white banding.

There are translucent crescents around their wingtips, one of the special features that helps bird watchers spot Red-Shouldered hawks.


Red-Shouldered hawks are not picky regarding their diet. However, they typically live off rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and other small mammals.

Nest Preference and Eggs

The Red-Shouldered hawks tend to be around wet areas. They will often be seen flying pretty close to the ground. But when it comes to nests, they prefer tree crotches.

Female Red-Shouldered birds can lay anywhere from 3 to 4 eggs. The eggs are generally bluish to white in color.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii)

Like the other two birds described above, you will see Copper’s hawk all year round in Kentucky. They will most often be seen on the edge of the forests. These birds avoid populated areas. However, you can sometimes see them in backyards.


Copper’s hawks have a very similar outlook to sharp-shinned hawks. That is one of the reasons why it is difficult to differentiate one from the other. However, Copper’s hawk still has some special traits.

In comparison, Copper’s hawks are large in size. They also have broader wings. These birds have camouflaged feathers, which help them to blend well in the tree branches.


These birds mostly feed on quails, woodpeckers, chickens, plump fowl, and other smaller mammals. They are watchful birds and can spend hours in the canopies waiting for the right prey.

Nest Preference and Eggs

Cooper’s hawk nests in oaks, beeches, Douglas-firs, spruces, beeches, and other types of trees. Their nests are 10 to 60 feet high.

Females can lay anywhere from 3 to 5 eggs. The eggs of Cooper’s hawks are bluish-white or blue.

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

The Northern Harrier hawks are generally found in marshes, prairies, and open fields. In Kentucky, they are mostly seen during the spring.


Northern Harriers have broad wings and rounded tails. Many bird watchers can confuse them with owls as they look pretty similar to those birds. Other than that, they have medium and slender bodies.


These hawks like to feed on small mammals and small birds. However, they can carry large prey, such as rabbits, if they want to. You should also know that their diets change depending on the seasons.

Nesting Preference and Eggs

Among all the hawk species found in Kentucky, the Northern Harriers are the only ones that nest on the grounds.

You can spot their nests in prairies, marshes, and open fields during spring. However, they tend to conceal the nests pretty well, making it hard for you to spot one.

Female Northern Harriers lay 4 to 9 eggs during the mating season. These eggs can be faded-white, pale bluish-white, and spotted.

Broad-Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

You will not see Broad-Winged hawks all the time in Kentucky. Generally, they can be seen flying in the sky around April and August. Those two months are their breeding season.

However, if you are lucky enough, you can spot them during the fall, which is the season when they migrate.


One of the unique things about Broad-Winged hawks is that they are small in size. They have stocky bodies and relatively large heads. The heads of these hawks are reddish in color.

When it comes to the barring, they are pretty similar to Red-shouldered hawks. However, instead of red coloration, the barring is rather brown.

Another standout feature of the Broad-Winged hawks is their piercing whistle. It is single-pitched, which they only make during hunting.


The adults often prey on eagles, other hawks, and, surprisingly, the great horned owls. Other than that, the diet of the Broad-Winged hawks includes lizards, frogs, snakes, young turtles, and other small mammals.

Nesting Preference and Eggs

The Broad-Winged hawks will usually nest in the first main crotch of a tree. They tend to choose a deciduous tree for nesting. Besides that, they can nest on horizontal branches of trees.

Females will generally lay 1 to 5 eggs. The eggs of Broad-Winged hawks are typically whitish and have brown spots on them.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

The Sharp-Shinned hawks fly through dense forests. They take advantage of the lush nature of the forests to surprise their prey. You will only find them flying high in the open sky when they are migrating.


These hawks are small, and they have short and round wings. However, they have long tails and long legs. Although they are short, they can fly through forests at a rapid speed. You can catch them flying at a soaring 60 mph speed.


Even though these birds mostly stay in the forests, they often come to populated regions. And that is where they feed on songbirds. They are known for targeting unsuspecting songbirds near bird feeders.

Apart from that, they feed on snakes, squirrels, large-sized insects, and rodents.

Nesting Preference and Eggs

The Sharp-Shinned hawks tend to nest on the top of tall trees. They prefer not to choose trees that do not have dense covers.

During the breeding season, females can lay up to 5 eggs. And the eggs of Sharp-Shined hawks are blue-white in color and will have brown marks on the surface.

Rough-Legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

The Rough-Legged hawks have a unique flying pattern. They fly while facing the sky. Nonetheless, the ones that are typically seen in Kentucky are non-breeding.


These birds are large to medium in size. They have broad wings that are pretty thin. And most of the Rough-Legged hawks have white and dark-brown coloration. Some have dark and light morphs.

Furthermore, their legs are fully feathered, which is the exact reason why they are called “Rough-Legged.”


The Rough-Legged hawks often fly up facing the wind when they are hunting. They hover around and search for prey, such as small rodents. But in summer, they love to feast on voles and lemmings during the summer.

Nesting Preference and Eggs

They nest around the outcroppings and on cliffs of low-lying boreal forests, uplands, treeless tundra, and alpine regions. Mostly, you will find the nest of these birds near cliffsides.

The females can lay between 3 to 5 eggs, which are bluish-white in color. These eggs take around 31 days to incubate.

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

These birds get their name from the Latin word “Ferrum,” which stands for iron. And the word perfectly describes the color of their feathers.


The Ferruginous hawks have a rusted iron color on their features. This unique color can help you spot them in Kentucky. Along with that, they have large-sized bodies and feathered legs. Although the feathered-up legs can make them look a bit Rough-Legged hawks, the pattern on their feathers makes them look quite unique.


Ferruginous hawks mainly feed on squirrels, hares, mice, rabbits, reptiles, small birds, amphibians, and insects. And when these birds catch a pretty, they tend to swallow it whole. Often, they will tear the prey with their beak and try to break it apart.

Nesting Preferences and Eggs

Female Ferruginous hawks can lay 1 to 8 bluish-white eggs. And these birds like to nest around cut banks, low cliffs, buildings, and on top of shrubs and trees.

Profile of Different Hawk Species Found in Kentucky

NameLengthWeightWingspanCommonly Found InBehaviorFun Fact
Red-Tailed Hawk17.7 to 25.6 inches1.52 to 3.22 pounds44.9 to 52.4 inchesOpen areas such as swamps and agricultural landsTerritorialHave sharp eyesight, which is 8 times better than humans
Red-Shouldered Hawk16.9 to 24.0 inches1.07 to 1.71 pounds37.0 to 43.7 inchesNear wooded stream sides, bottomland woods, and swampsSolitary and very territorialScreams and cries of Red-Shouldered hawks can be heard from miles
Cooper’s Hawk14.6 to 17.7 inches0.49 to 1.5 pounds24.4 to 35.4 inchesVariety of habitats include small woodlots, open woodlands, deciduous forests, and forested mountainous regionsTerritorial and aggressive towards other raptorsCharles Bonaparte first named the bird in 1828. He named it after William Cooper
Northern Harrier Hawk16.14 to 19.68 inches0.69 to 1.69 pounds41 to 46 inches  Prairies, marshes, and open fieldsPrimarily solitaryNorthern Harriers utilize their sense of hearing to easily locate prey
Broad-Winged Hawk13.4 to 17.3 inches0.58 to 1.24 pounds31.9 to 39.4 inchesSpends most of their time underneath the canopy but are usually found in forestsWhen they are not migrating, these birds remain territorial and solitaryBroad-Winged migrates in swirling flocks
Sharp-Shinned Hawk9.4 to 13.4 inches0.19 to 0.48 pounds16.9 to 22.1 inchesCan be found in high montane forests and lowland habitatsThese birds are usually solitary but are territorial during the breeding seasonAdult birds feed their younglings while being in mid-air
Rough-Legged Hawk18.5 to 20.5 inches1.58 to 3.09 pounds52.0 to 54.3 inchesAround nestles tundra and cliffs of low-lying boreal forestsTerritorialRough-Legged hawks like to live alone instead of in groups
Ferruginous Hawk20 to 25 inches2 to 5 pounds52 to 56 inchesOld prairies, sage bushes, and open areasSolitaryThe Ferruginous hawks are the largest in North America

What Do buteo and accipiter Mean?

Bueto is a genus that consists of wide-ranging raptors. These raptors have robust bodies and are medium to fairly large in size. On the other hand, accipiter is another genus that consists of short and broad-winged hawks. These hawks have comparatively long legs and can fly fast.


As you can see, there are many birds of prey in Kentucky. However, if you were to spot most of the hawks in Kentucky, winter would be the best time. During this season, the raptor population skyrockets as there are many winter migrants in the area.

References and Sources:

  • https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Northern-Harrier
  • https://www.hawkmountain.org/raptors/coopers-hawk
  • https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/birds/forest-birds/coopers-hawk.html
  • https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-shouldered-hawk
  • https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/bird-cams-faq-red-tailed-hawk-nest
  • https://www.peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors-species/hawks/ferruginous-hawk
  • https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/rough-legged-hawk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *