Louisiana is a state in the Southeastern United States on the Gulf of Mexico, sharing its borders with Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas.
Louisiana is known for its typically humid subtropical climate resulting in long, hot summers and short, mild winters.
The low latitudes and close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico greatly influences the state’s climate. Louisiana is also known for storms in the spring and summer months.
Louisiana has a rich cultural history making it appealing to visitors worldwide. Its 21 state parks also attract a diverse audience.
In fact, Louisiana is world renowned for outdoor activities like fishing, boating, and hiking. This state boasts the finest birdwatching in the country.
There are an extensive 11 species of hawks that can be seen throughout the state of Louisiana.
Below is each hawk’s unique profile and prime locations. You are most likely to observe the Red-Tailed Hawk while you are least likely to see the Rough-Legged Hawk
What Hawks can be seen in Louisiana?
Table of Contents
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Robins and Thrushes
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are a small species of hawk, and the males are classified as the smallest hawks in The United States.
This is because the females are actually around one-third larger than the male hawks.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are known for their long legs and toes, short, round wings, and extremely long tails.
The adult hawks of this species often have pale, gray-colored feathers but they have orange, rust-colored underbellies.
Unlike adults, juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawks are usually brown with pale white underbellies. Louisiana sees a vast population of Sharp-Shinned Hawks due to their yearly migration from Canada.
This is the optimum time to spot these hawks as they travel both in flocks and individually.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks prefer to take habitat in woodlands and forests, nesting in coniferous trees. You’ll recognize these hawks by their distinct ‘ki-ki’ call and their high pitched scream.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Up to 12 years
Small Birds, Mice & Squirrels
Cooper’s Hawks are small to medium in size, generally around the size of an adult crow.
Cooper’s Hawks may also slightly resemble Sharp-Shinned Hawks. The female Cooper’s Hawks are larger than their male mates.
These hawks have short and thin wings while their tails tend to be round. The adult hawks are pale, bluish-gray above, but have orange feathers on their underparts.
Immature hawks, though, have brown, streaky upperparts in sharp contrast to their underparts.
Cooper’s Hawks generally build their nests in pine and oak trees on flat ground instead of the usual dense forests.
However, these hawks are year-round residents in Louisiana and can be found in both woodlands and residential areas while preying on small birds at backyard bird feeders.
Though these are year-round residents, you will most likely see them during breeding season which can take place as early as March! You’ll be able to easily recognize these hawks by their famed ‘cak-cak-cak’ sound.
3. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Small mammals, reptiles & amphibians
Red-Shouldered Hawks are a medium-large species of bird, and they live up to their names with red-colored barring on their breast.
The adults have black-and-white checkered wings with narrow black-and-white bands adorning their tails. Adults can also have several different color patterns that are widely recognizable.
Immature Red-Shouldered Hawks, however, have brown feathers on their backs and mostly white underparts.
Red-Shouldered Hawks typically live in Louisiana year-round and prefer to take habitat near swamps, bottomland woods, and deciduous forest areas in close proximity to streams and rivers.
These hawks usually return to their same nesting site each year for multiple years.
You will most likely see these hawks during the spring in early April where they are readily seen near their nesting sites. Red-Shouldered Hawks are easily recognizable by their high and low octave ‘kee-aah’ calls.
4. Broad-Winged Hawk
Up to 20 years
Small mammals & insects
Broad-Winged Hawks are recognized as medium-sized hawks.
They are known for their broad, and slightly pointed wings with barred underparts and notably black and white banded tails.
Like most younger hawks, juvenile Broad-Wings typically have light brown feathers. Broad-Winged Hawks migrate south for the winter, and spend their breeding season in eastern North America, especially Louisiana.
These hawks depart in the autumn, even thousands at a time, making it the prime time to observe this fascinating species.
Residents of Louisiana sometimes form hawk-watching parties to observe this migration. Otherwise, these hawks nest in the cavities of trees.
During nesting season, Broad-Winged Hawks prefer to flock to wooded areas near open water.
Broad Wings can be recognized by their interesting high pitched calls, in which the males have higher calls than the females.
5. Swainson’s Hawk
Mammals & Insects
Swainson’s Hawks tend to be larger in size with distinct, broad wings, though they have short tails.
These hawks usually have dark brown feathers but bright white underparts.
It’s actually common for these particular hawks to vary in color when it comes to their underbellies.
Swainson’s hawks usually arrive in Louisiana in April as they spend their summers breeding. With the exception of breeding season, Swainson’s Hawks can be readily observed in large groups.
They’ve been spotted on fence posts, utility poles, and tall trees. Oddly enough, Swainson’s Hawks in Louisiana were scarce migrants, although now they are observed migrating from August to October.
Adult male Swainson’s Hawks have a screeching alarm call, while the females have a related call, but it is a shorter version.
6. Red-Tailed Hawk
Small mammals, mice & voles
Red-Tailed Hawks are said to be the most common hawk species in North America, and they are actually one of the largest hawks in the entire United States.
As you may have guessed, these Red-Tailed Hawks have beautifully colored red tails, however, they have mostly pale underparts.
It is important to note that juvenile Red-Tailed Hawks do not have red tails. These hawks are found in varying environments in Louisiana.
In fact, many Red-Tailed Hawks are migratory visitors to and from Louisiana, and they can be readily seen traveling in groups during the autumn months.
You can especially spot the males during the mating season in the summer as they circle in the sky in an attempt to attract a mate.
Take note of their identifiable calls that are hoarse and scratchy, resembling a ‘kee-eeeee-arr’ sound. Interestingly, mating season brings about a different call that is known to resemble a cry.
7. Rough-Legged Hawk
Up to 18 years
Rough-Legged Hawks are recognized as medium to large sized hawks, known for their large, but thinner wings.
Rough-Legged Hawks often vary in color with strikingly distinct feather patterns.
Usually, these hawks have dark brown, to black bodies with white markings on their tails. Rough-legged Hawks tend to breed far north but some travel south for the winter.
During the winter, they live in areas like grasslands, prairies, marshes, and farmlands. Their nesting sites are typically on narrow ledges or cliffs.
However, you have the best chance of observing these birds in open areas, and they have even been spotted around Louisiana airports.
Otherwise, Rough-Legged Hawks are known to circle in the air together and dive from high elevations.
You’ll easily recognize these hawks by their familiar, cat-like meow or a soft snakelike hissing sound.
8. Ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous Hawks are recognized as large birds, known for their large, white heads, pastel wings and underbellies, and red-orange colored feathered legs.
These hawks are generally seen in southwestern Louisiana mostly during the late autumn, winter, and early spring. You can typically spot these hawks near grasslands, shrublands, and edges of forests throughout Louisiana.
Some Ferruginous Hawks even live in smaller forests or open country in large nests built from twigs, stems, and debris.
Interestingly, during the breeding season in early spring, pairs circle above their nesting sites where they give out their calls.
The adult hawks have an unmistakable raspy, screeching sound and the young hawks generally have high octave cries.
9. Northern Harrier
Rodents and small birds
Northern Harriers are recognized as medium sized hawks and have relatively thin, but broad wings and long tails.
The adult male hawks are a neutral, grayish color above, with dark feathers around the edges of their wings.
The female and juvenile Northern Harriers have brown and streaky feathers, but they are pale-colored below.
You may find Northern Harriers to be familiar looking due to their owl-like characteristics.
With regard to calls, male hawks are known for their rapidfire ‘kek-kek’ sound that is usually given when they feel they are in a threatening situation. Females, however, are widely known for their high octave whistles.
Throughout Louisiana, these hawks prefer to live and hunt in fields and marshes.
They are also known to live in grasslands and other open habitats, while breeding anywhere from April to September.
10. Harris's Hawk
Small mammals, birds & rodents
Harris’s Hawks are medium to large sized hawks with brown colored feathers and distinguishing bright colored shoulders.
These hawks are also recognized by the white marks on their tails. On the other hand, immature hawks can have a variety of white marks on their underparts.
These hawks are not exactly residents, but they have been known to wander into Louisiana, particularly the southwestern areas.
You will typically find them in taller trees, and can identify their nests by the wide variety of materials such as twigs, debris, and even some man made materials.
You have the best chance of observing these hawks during the spring and summer months, beginning in March. These hawks can be identified by their scratchy sounding call that can last up to a few seconds.
11. White-Tailed Hawk
12 Life Expectancy
White-Tailed Hawks are a larger species of hawk known for their striking feather patterns.
As their names suggest, adult hawks have white tails with a dark band near the tips while their underbellies are white.
These adult hawks are also recognized for their broad, dark, pointed wings with an identifiable chestnut patch on their shoulders.
Juvenile hawks tend to be darker with dark markings on their underbellies, and a gray-brown colored tail.
Though not as prominent as other species of hawks, the White-Tailed Hawk is an occasional visitor to southwestern Louisiana.
These hawks prefer to take habitat near open prairies, they also perch on tall trees or fence posts in search of prey.
It’s interesting to note that these hawks have been known to be attracted to brush fires to prey upon small animals escaping the fire.
White-Tailed Hawks have been known to breed very early in the spring, lasting to late summer. They typically build their nests in shrubs, low trees, or succulents in open areas.
These hawks have very interesting calls. For example, mature hawks have a scratchy, high octave call with two-part tones. Immature hawks generally have a nasal ‘peeeeee-up’ whistle.
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!