Top Hawks in California with Pictures

We’ll acquaint you with the most frequently sighted hawks in California – complete with vivid photographic illustrations and factual information. All of this data was only sourced from reliable sources and subsequently corroborated by an Ornithologist for accuracy.

Most Common California Hawks:

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk1

(Buteo jamaicensis) is one of the largest and most common hawks in California. They are easily identified by their reddish-brown tails, which often have a pale spot near the tip. These birds of prey have broad wings with black flight feathers and white patches near the tips. Their upperparts are mostly brown or gray, while their underparts are mostly white with brown streaks. Adult Red-tailed Hawks can reach up to 22 inches long and have a wingspan of up to 4 feet.

Red-tailed Hawks hunt for small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds. They often perch in high areas such as trees or telephone poles so they can scan the ground for food.

In California, Red-tailed Hawks live in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, deserts, forests, and suburban areas. They usually nest in tall trees at least 12 feet off the ground. These hawks engage in aerial displays during courtship and territorial defense. During mating season they call out with a loud, high-pitched “keeee-eeee” sound.

Red-tailed Hawk range map

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk is found in California, where it is an uncommon summer resident and rare winter visitor. This medium-sized hawk has a wingspan of about four feet, with a reddish-brown back, pale head and breast, barred white underparts, and yellow eyes. It feeds mainly on insects but will also take small rodents and birds. Swainson’s Hawk typically inhabits open woodlands, prairies, and agricultural areas where there is plentiful food.

During the breeding season it builds a large stick nest in trees or on telephone poles and hunts for prey from high perches. It is particularly active during early morning and late afternoon when its main prey of insects are most abundant. Swainson’s Hawk is a strongly migratory species, with the California population wintering in Argentina and Uruguay. Its conservation status is of least concern.

Swainson's Hawk range map

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

(Buteo lineatus) is a medium-sized hawk found throughout the United States, including in California. Identifying characteristics of Red-shouldered Hawk include streaked reddish brown upperparts and barred pale white underparts. This species has a large head and bright yellow eyes, with bold facial markings surrounding its face. In terms of size, this hawk typically ranges from 16-24 inches in length, with a wingspan of 36 to 43 inches.

Red-shouldered Hawk is primarily a woodland species and live mainly in forest edges and riparian areas. It can also be found around marshes, wetlands, deciduous woods and fields with scattered trees. This hawk feeds mostly on small reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals such as rodents. It also feeds on other bird species and the occasional invertebrate.

In terms of behavior, the Red-shouldered Hawk is generally a solitary bird but may form loose flocks during migration or when searching for food. They are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their nests. During mating season, they are known to engage in aerial displays and loud vocalizations. Red-shouldered Hawks typically breed once a year and lay 3–4 eggs in a nest of sticks that is built by the female. The young Red-shouldered Hawks will stay with their parents until they are independent before migrating south for winter.

Red-shouldered Hawk range map

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

(Accipiter gentilis) is a large hawk native to California. It has distinct identifying characteristics such as a white to grey head, dark brown back, barred light underparts, and yellow legs and feet. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals, reptiles, and birds, which it hunts from perches. Northern Goshawks are typically 18 to 25 inches (45-64 cm) in length and have a wingspan of about 34 to 43 inches (85-109 cm).

Northern Goshawks can be found in habitats such as coniferous or mixed forests, wooded river valleys, and city parks. They prefer areas with high tree density for nesting but will also nest in abandoned raptor nests, cavities in trees, or man-made platforms. Northern Goshawks are solitary birds and prefer to hunt alone. They fly with a slow, powerful, and silent flight pattern that helps them sneak up on their prey.

Northern Goshawk range map

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk is a large raptor native to California. It has a distinguishable pale head, dark back and wings, and reddish-brown tail feathers. The bird is usually seen soaring in the sky or perched atop trees scanning for prey on open grasslands, shrublands, agricultural fields, and wooded areas across Central and Northern California.

The Ferruginous Hawk is a carnivore, primarily eating small mammals such as rabbits and ground squirrels. It also hunts for reptiles, birds, insects, and carrion. The bird can grow up to a size of 25 – 35 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 60 inches across.

It usually nests on the ground, in open areas and cliffs. The Ferruginous Hawk is a solitary bird but often migrates with other raptors, such as Red Tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles. During nesting season, ferruginous hawks will call out to each other while soaring in the sky. In addition, they also have an aerial courtship display.

Ferruginous Hawk range map

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

(Buteo platypterus) is a medium-sized raptor that is widely distributed throughout North and South America. It can be seen in open fields, farmland, wetlands, and other habitats in California.

The Broad winged Hawks have distinct identifying characteristics. Its back is brown to chestnut red while its underparts, head, and tail are white. The tail is split into two bands of black and white with a broad center stripe. It has long, broad wings with black-tipped primaries and long legs.

The Broad-winged Hawk’s diet consists primarily of small rodents, but it may also include birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. It hunts by soaring and swooping down on its prey from a height.

The Broad-winged Hawk typically measures between 14-20 inches in length with a wingspan of 32-39 inches. Its weight can range from 10 to 24 ounces. The hawk is larger than other raptors of similar size such as American Kestrels and Red-tailed Hawks.

The Broad-winged Hawk is a migratory species and can typically be seen in California from late April to early August. During the winter months, these hawks return to their breeding ground in Central and South America. They live mainly solitary lives but may form small flocks during migration. They usually nest in trees and build large stick nests.

The Broad-winged Hawk is an agile flier and has been known to soar as high as two miles above the ground while searching for prey. It is a powerful predator with excellent eyesight, which helps it quickly spot potential prey from great distances. It also has a keen sense of hearing which helps it detect potential prey when flying.

Broad-winged Hawk range map

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

(Buteo lagopus) is a medium-sized hawk that breeds in Arctic regions and migrates to California during winter months. It is sometimes known as the Roughlegged Buzzard or Rough Legged Hawk.

Identifying characteristics of this species include striped legs, yellow eyes, dark wingtips with white patches at the base, and light brown or grey back and head. An adult Rough-legged Hawk has an average wingspan of 48 inches, and a length of 16 to 20 inches.

Rough-legged Hawks are carnivores, feeding on small rodents, reptiles, amphibians and birds. They may also feed on carrion and sometimes scavenge food from other raptors.

In California, Rough-legged Hawks often inhabit open fields and grasslands, as well as near shorelines or wetlands. They are also known to roost in wooded areas with large trees for cover.

Rough-legged Hawk range map

Zone-tailed Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

(Buteo albonotatus) is a medium-sized bird of prey found in the western United States, Mexico, and Central America. It can be identified by its tail pattern: black stripes on white bands like those of a Zonotrichia sparrow. Its diet consists mainly of small mammals and birds, but it will also take large insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

Zone-tailed Hawks typically have a wingspan of around 40 inches and weigh between 1.3 and 2.1 lbs. They inhabit a variety of open terrain including deserts, grasslands, shrub lands, pine-oak woodlands, and tropical rainforests throughout western North America. They prefer to perch on high points and use a soaring flight pattern to scan for prey.

In California, Zone-tailed Hawks are found in the southern parts of the state near canyons and rivers, especially in areas with large sycamore trees. They have been observed nesting in riparian corridors such as those associated with the Santa Ana and San Gabriel Rivers of southern California. They are also found in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where they breed at higher elevations near coniferous forests during summer months.

Zone-tailed Hawks have several behaviors that distinguish them from other species. They often hunt by flying low over wooded areas or fields with their characteristic tail feathers “zipped” up, giving them a more streamlined shape and making them difficult to detect. They also sometimes perform aerial displays such as soaring loops, barrel rolls, and dives to attract potential mates or scare off predators.

Zone-tailed Hawk range map

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk is an agile medium-sized hawk found in California. It has a rounded head, long tail, and broad wings when seen from a distance. Its body is mainly brown with a lighter underside and white patches on the backside of its wings. Its diet consists mainly of small birds, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Cooper’s Hawks typically measure between 16 and 21 inches in length, with a wingspan ranging from 28 to 35 inches.

Cooper’s Hawks live throughout California, usually inhabiting deciduous and coniferous forests. They can also be found around suburban areas where trees are abundant. When hunting, these hawks will often perch atop tall trees or poles, scanning the ground for potential prey. They will then swoop down and capture their prey with their sharp talons. They have also been known to feed by entering backyard bird feeders, stealing food from smaller birds.

When not hunting, Cooper’s Hawks usually perch on higher branches of trees in order to stay out of sight. This behavior helps them remain safe from potential predators and also makes it easier for them to spot prey. They often use their wingspan as camouflage when perched, allowing them to blend into the surrounding foliage. Additionally, they are known for their fast and agile flight, which allows them to quickly change direction while hunting or evading predators.

Cooper's Hawk range map

Northern Harriers

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier Hawks are medium-sized raptors, measuring 17–20 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 3.5 to 4.5 feet. The females tend to be larger than the males and can weigh up to 28 ounces.

Northern Harrier Hawks have distinctive white patches on the backs of their heads, which makes them relatively easy to identify from a distance. They have short tails, rounded wings, and long legs with yellow feet. Their plumage is mostly gray on the back and white underneath, with a black cap on the head.

Northern Harrier Hawks are most often found in open fields or wetlands hunting for small mammals like voles, moles, hares, and rabbits. They also feed on smaller birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. During migration season, they hunt for small rodents in agricultural fields or on coastal mudflats.

In California, Northern Harrier Hawks typically inhabit wetlands such as marshes and meadows but can be found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, croplands, and even urban parks. They typically hunt from high perches such as trees, hedges or telephone poles.

Northern Harrier range map

Gray hawk

Gray Hawk

A gray hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey with a wingspan between 19 and 25 inches. It has gray upperparts, white underparts, yellow eyes and black streaks on the chest. Its diet mainly consists of small mammals, reptiles and insects.

In California, gray hawks can be found in areas such as shrublands, riparian forests, deserts, and agricultural lands. They usually hunt early in the morning or late in the afternoon and can often be spotted perched on high branches of trees. When hunting, these birds use a combination of soaring and hovering to spot prey from above.

Gray hawks can also be seen in pairs during breeding season as they establish territories for nesting. They are monogamous and typically use abandoned nests of other birds, such as crows or ravens, to raise their young.

Gray Hawk range map

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small bird of prey commonly found in California. It has a relatively long tail and short, rounded wings with reddish-brown upperparts and pale underparts. The head is generally grey with white patches around the eyes and a prominent dark stripe running from the bill to the back of the neck. Its diet consists mainly of small birds, such as warblers, finches, and sparrows.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are typically around 10 to 14 inches in length with a wingspan of about 19 to 22 inches. They prefer wooded habitats, often living among trees and near open areas where they can hunt birds more easily. Their behavior is typical of most hawks, often sitting motionless on a branch or soaring high in the sky while looking for prey. They are also known to migrate south during the winter months.

Sharp-shinned Hawk range map

Zone-tailed Hawks look incredibly similar to Turkey Vultures

Zone-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture

They can easily be mistaken for them. However, they have distinctive tail patterns that differentiate the two species. Zone-tailed Hawks have a broad black band across their tails and white tips at the end of their feathers, while Turkey Vultures possess an entirely dark tail with no patterning.

Zone-tailed Hawks prefer to inhabit open forests, woodlands and desert regions with tall trees to build their nests. They also like to stay near sources of water, such as rivers, streams and lakes. They mainly feed on small mammals, reptiles, and insects which they capture in mid-air or pick directly off the ground.

Zone-tailed Hawks have a wingspan ranging from 4 to 5.2 feet, and a body length of about 17-20 inches. They can be distinguished by their chestnut colored head, pale yellow legs, white belly and black wings with white patches.

Their behavior is similar to that of other hawks; they often soar high up in the sky or perch atop tall trees. They are also very territorial, and will aggressively defend their territory from other birds. During mating season, they can be seen performing spectacular courtship displays which involve intricate aerial acrobatics.

In California, Zone-tailed Hawks migrate in the winter months to escape colder temperatures and for food sources. They can be found in areas like Southern California, the Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They are listed as a species of special concern in the state and efforts are being taken to reduce habitat destruction and ensure their population is healthy.

Cooper’s vs Sharp-shinned: How to identify!

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are both common birds of prey found in California. They can often be seen soaring majestically over open spaces or perched atop trees. While these two species share many similarities, there are several key differences that can help observers to distinguish between them.

Cooper’s hawks are large and stocky compared to Sharp-shinned hawks, with a wingspan of 33 – 40 inches. They also have disproportionately long tails that are squared off at the tip. The coloration of Cooper’s Hawks is generally dark above with yellow legs and white chest streaked with brown.

Sharp-shinned Hawks are smaller in size with a wingspan of only 22 – 28 inches. They have short, rounded tails and are overall more compact than Cooper’s Hawks. The coloring is quite similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, but with a more reddish head and neck.

The diet for both species consists mainly of small mammals and birds, but can also include insects and amphibians. Cooper’s Hawks tend to hunt from perches, while Sharp-shinned Hawks hunt with quick, agile flight patterns through dense vegetation.

Cooper’s Hawks inhabit open woodlands, suburban areas and farmlands throughout California. They often build nests high in trees which can be seen during the nesting season. Sharp-shinned Hawks are more adapted to dense forests and generally nest in smaller trees or shrubs.

What Is The Largest Hawk In California?

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the largest hawk in California. It can be identified by its reddish-brown back, barred tail and wings,and a white throat and breast. Its diet consists of small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

What Kind Of Hawks Are In Los Angeles?

Hawks are a common sight in Los Angeles, and can be seen soaring above the city or perched atop telephone poles. The most commonly spotted hawk species in Los Angeles is the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

What is the most common hawk in California?

The most common hawk in California is the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). This species can be found throughout the state, from coastal areas and mountain ranges to deserts. Red-tailed hawks are large raptors, typically having wingspans of up to 4 feet and weighing between 2 and 3.5 pounds. They are identified by their brown bodies and reddish-brown tails, which give them their name. Red-tailed hawks generally live in open woodlands or grassland habitats where they hunt for small mammals, reptiles, and insects.

What is the most common hawk in Southern California?

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is the most common hawk found in Southern California. This species can be identified by its reddish-brown coloring on its back, wings, and tail with a white underside. Red-tailed Hawks inhabit open areas such as grasslands, deserts, and agricultural fields where they can easily spot prey from the air. They are known to eat small animals like rodents, reptiles, and even other birds.

Are there Goshawks in California?

No, there are no goshawks in California. Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) are found throughout most of the northern hemisphere but their range does not extend to California. In North America, they can be found in Canada and Alaska, as well as parts of the eastern and western United States. However, they prefer more dense forests and higher elevations, which are not common in California. There is also a species of hawks, the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), that is found in California and resembles the goshawk; however, they are distinct species with different habits.