Birds-of-prey aren’t usually associated with New York. This is probably because we think of New York City instead of the state, and the image of pigeons and seagulls.
However, we forget that New York State is more than just buildings and taxis, and that outside the city there are actual mountains and trees upstate.
In this list, we’ll cover some hawks you can spot in New York (the state, not just the city):
What Hawks can be seen in New York?
Table of Contents
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Frank Lambert, XC274807. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/274807.
Robins and Thrushes
These are small, agile hawks that hang out in regions like Rochester and Buffalo when the weather permits.
They are smaller versions of the Cooper’s hawk listed below, with light brown and white stomachs and faces underneath dark bluish-gray, dark brown, or black wings and back.
These birds tend to be more visible when it’s cold, as they come down from the forested places in Canada to wait out the season in the slightly-less-cold forests of upstate New York.
Over the last few decades, though, sharp-shinned hawks have spread throughout New York everywhere except the coastal lowlands past the big city.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Sue Riffe, XC611811. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/611811.
Up to 12 years
Small Birds, Mice & Squirrels
This larger version of the sharp-shinned hawk feeds at the edges of forests near lowlands, making places like Crocheron Park in Queens a possible chance to spot one in the city.
Usually though, Cooper’s are solitary hunters who opt for the more natural open spaces of central and upstate New York.
They have the typical songbird-like appearance of accipiter hawks–a round head, a squat frame, and short legs with a long narrow tail.
Their colors are about the same as the sharp-shinned hawk, with lighter undersides and dark backsides in varied shades of brown, grey, and blue-gray (which can appear black from a distance).
3. Northern Goshawk
Peter Stronach, XC623479. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/623479.
Mammals, reptiles & insects
There aren’t a ton of northern goshawks in New York compared to the others, but they are a year-round resident outside the city.
This is a bird that is more attuned to the solitary hunting grounds of deep forests; while some exist in New York state, there are less than most other less-urbanized states.
It is fortunate, then, that northern goshawks are easily recognizable by their white row of feathers above the dark feathers around their eyes, which appear as a white eyebrow above a bandit’s mask.
Their coats are usually on the grayscale spectrum–white with grey stripes on the front and black wings, light grey front against dark grey back and wings.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Christopher McPherson, XC602509. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/602509.
Small mammals, reptiles & amphibians
In another of the usefully-named hawk breeds, the red-shouldered hawk is recognizable by the color of its shoulder feathers.
Of course, “red” is used figuratively, to mean colors that range from bright orange to reddish-brown.
They come south to breed, and some take up residence in the northeast part of the state north of the boroughs. Red-shouldered hawks are woodland birds, but they are not opposed to visiting neighborhoods that have dense gatherings of trees.
Areas near small bodies of water like streams and ponds are particularly enticing to this breed, as their diet mostly consists of the frogs, lizards, and critters that gather in these places.
5. Broad-Winged Hawk
Meena Haribal, XC479508. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/479508.
Up to 20 years
Small mammals & insects
Other than the broad wings, which are often splayed widely during flight, this hawk is recognizable by its round head and stout body.
Their plumage is usually light with speckled brown and darker brown on the back; or the same variation with shades of grey.
These raptors generally hide among the trees far from humans, usually in watery areas with lush deciduous trees like those near the Ausable River.
Broad-winged hawks are known for their large migrations, where they move in large flocks called ‘kettles’ by the thousands.
6. Red-Tailed Hawk
Peter Ward and Ken Hall, XC603736. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/603736.
Small mammals, mice & voles
As is the case with most states in the US, the red-tailed hawk is New York’s most frequent inhabitant among its kind.
While they can be found year-round throughout the state–including residential neighborhoods and parks–red-tails mostly gather far upstate near canada like most hawks.
The red-tailed hawk isn’t shy about relaxing or hunting from atop man-made structures like telephone poles and road signs.
One of the largest hawks, it can also be spotted by the trademark red gathering of feathers on its tail, which vary in shade according to the rest of the bird.
A light brown morph might have tail feathers that are more orange than red, whereas a dark brown morph might have a dark reddish-brown tail.
7. Rough-Legged Hawk
Stein Ø. Nilsen, XC580104. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/580104.
Up to 18 years
In New York, the rough-legged hawk is another that flies south during migrations from colder climates north of the border.
They can be seen in winter, resting between travels farther south in open areas like Greenland State Park in central New York York.
Rough-legged hawks have distinctly bold coloring, with sharp contrast between their bodies–which may be speckled white and brown or gray, solid brown, or dark gray–and their wing tips, which are often white.
The name comes from the feathers that extend from their body across most of their legs, giving them a ‘rough’ texture.
8. Northern Harrier
Bruce Lagerquist, XC329772. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/329772.
Rodents and small birds
As a hawk that breeds in place like Canada, one can see how a lot of northern harriers might move across the northern US and settle in upstate NY.
These hawks resemble owls more than hawks, with their round faces, and stocky frames, as well as the ring of feathers encircling its face.
Their coats vary, from whitish brown undersides with dark grays or browns on the backside, to all rust colored with lighter feathers at the wingtips.
Harriers are known for flying for long stretches without landing, so your chances are higher at seeing this bird in flight.
The need for wide open spaces to harry their prey means the northern harrier frequents the northernmost parts like those near Niagara Falls.
New York has a diverse ecosystem that most people don’t consider when we think of the state.
Outside the city there are plenty of state parks, rivers, and lakes–some of which are protected land–where a hawk can find its place in the world.
Residents of far upstate near the Canadian border are much more likely to see these birds at rest, but many of the areas are close enough to the city that they can be reached after a day trip.
North America is filled with many wonderful birds with blue beaks– in fact, there are
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!