Kentucky is a southeastern U.S. state that is bounded by the Ohio River to the north with the Appalachian Mountains in the east.
Kentucky borders West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Kentucky’s climate is usually mild and moderate, experiencing four distinct seasons, with warm summers and cold winters.
Kentucky offers 45 state parks, with some of them being recognized as the top state parks in America, featuring beautiful shorelines, mountains, and woodlands.
These dynamic elements offer wonderful homes to a variety of hawk species.
Below are summaries of the 8 species of hawk that live in Kentucky. You’ll commonly spot the Red-Tailed Hawk while in Kentucky, though it may be a little tricky to find the Ferruginous Hawk.
What Hawks can be seen in Kentucky?
Table of Contents
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Robins and Thrushes
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are the smallest hawk species and the males are known as the smallest in the United States.
It’s important to note that the female hawks in this species are found to be nearly one-third larger than the males.
These Sharp-Shinned Hawks have long legs, but short, rounded wings with square tails. The mature hawks have pastel gray feathers with pale orange underparts.
The immature hawks, however, are streaky brown and have white feathers on their underparts. Sharp-shinned hawks can be commonly found year-round throughout the majority of Kentucky.
The optimum time to observe them is in their large groups during the fall as they migrate.
The overall population of Sharp-Shinned Hawks is increasing and they tend to nest in cone-bearing forests.
These hawks have two types of calls: one call being a ‘ki-ki’ sound, with the other call being an overall, high-pitched shriek.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Up to 12 years
Small Birds, Mice & Squirrels
Cooper’s Hawks are a small-medium sized species typically described as being the size of a crow with the appearance of a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.
Female Cooper’s Hawks are typically larger than the males. These hawks have short and slender wings and are known for their rounded tails.
The mature Cooper’s Hawks are pale, but have orange feathers on their underparts. The juvenile hawks, however, have streaky brown feathers.
These hawks are abundant and are found year-round in Kentucky, mostly on the edges of forests, though they sometimes visit backyards.
Cooper’s Hawks typically avoid populated places, but they are becoming more pronounced in towns and residential areas.
You’ll most likely see these hawks in the spring and summer months during breeding season, so keep an eye out for them!
3. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Small mammals, reptiles & amphibians
Red-Shouldered Hawks are a large species, and as their name implies, these hawks display brilliant reddish barring on their pastel undersides as well as white banding on their long tails.
Adult hawks have many different color patterns with easily identifiable black and white patterns on their wings.
The juvenile hawks are often distinguished by their brown backs and white underparts. Red-shouldered hawks are found year-round throughout the state of Kentucky.
They prefer to live in wet forests near streams and creeks. You can easily observe these birds during the early spring where they are seen hovering above their nesting areas.
You will also be able to identify them by their calls which sound like ‘kee-aah’ in both high and deeper octaves.
4. Broad-Winged Hawk
Up to 20 years
Small mammals & insects
Broad-Winged Hawks are medium sized birds with the adults being a rusty, reddish color with distinguishable black and white patterned bars on their tails.
Immature Broad-Winged Hawks on the other hand, have light brown feathers. Broad-winged hawks can really only be seen during the breeding season in Kentucky, which ranges from April to August near wooded areas close to water.
They can be found nesting in the crotches of most trees. You can easily identify them by their high octave calls during this time, especially the higher pitched calls of the male hawks!
5. Red-Tailed Hawk
Small mammals, mice & voles
Red-Tailed Hawks are famed as being the second largest hawk in The United States and the most common in all of North America.
As their name suggests, these birds display brilliant red-colored tails although their underparts are quite pale.
In fact, immature hawks do not even have red tails, as they are still developing. The Red-Tailed Hawk is found in a variety of terrains throughout the state of Kentucky, though they are mostly observed in farm country, fields, and woodlands.
You can find these hawks perched on telephone poles, fence posts, or even on field edges.
Actually, males can readily be seen during mating season in the spring and summer months as they circle high in the sky in an attempt to attract the female hawks.
You can easily take notice of their scratchy ‘kee-eeeee-arr’calls, although the call varies during mating season. During mating season Red-Tailed Hawks are known for their shrill, cry-like sounds.
6. Rough-Legged Hawk
Up to 18 years
Rough-Legged Hawks are medium to large in size and they are known for their broad, but thin wings.
This particular species can have diverse colors, as they feature distinguishing feather patterns.
Rough-Legged Hawks have brown and black bodies with white feather patterns displayed on their tails.
Unfortunately, you will only be able to observe the non-breeding population of Rough-Legged Hawks in the northern half of Kentucky.
During the summer months, these hawks reside in the arctic tundra to hunt prey, and to raise their young.
These hawks tend to build their nests with several types of sticks near forests or cliffs.
You can identify these birds by their interesting flight patterns as they fly up and face the wind as they are hunting or searching for prey.
They can also be identified by their calls that sound like a loud meow or a gentle whisper
7. Ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous Hawks are a large species of hawk, known for their large heads, pale wings and underparts, and the rusty orange feathers that are displayed along their legs and bellies.
Though this species is a bit more uncommon in Kentucky, you have a chance at spotting them near grasslands, sagebrush country, saltbush-greasewood shrublands, and edges of forests.
Some hawks even live in smaller forests or open country in large nests. They build their nests from sticks, twigs, sagebrush stems, plastic and metal debris, and sometimes bones of prey.
You’ll most likely see them during the breeding season which takes place in early spring. The mature hawks can be recognized by their very distinct hoarse, screeching call, while the juvenile hawks have high-pitched cry-like calls.
8. Northern Harrier
Rodents and small birds
Northern Harriers are a medium sized species, and they are known for their thin wings and their longer tails.
The females and immature hawks of this species have brown feathers, but the adult males are a faded gray color featuring their white underparts.
These hawks are also said to resemble owls, regarding their features and appearance. Male Northern Harriers can be distinguished by their rapid ‘kek’calls whenever they feel that they are in danger.
Females can be identified by their high-pitched whistles. These hawks prefer open grasslands so their populations are usually prevalent in West Central and Eastern Kentucky.
Northern Harriers are the only hawk species in Kentucky that nest on the ground.
You will mostly see these hawks in the spring when they are nesting, so be on the lookout for nests on the grounds of Eastern Kentucky.
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We are avid bird-watchers who recently retired, allowing us more time to travel the world. Fortunately, we have managed to visit numerous countries around Europe, Asia, and America. Watching and photographing birds has been a passion for many years and we are making the most of the extra time on our hands!