Hawks in North Carolina (8 Species with Pictures)

Rough-Legged Hawk

North Carolina is a lush state that is filled with all kinds of places that are ideal for birdwatching. 

It is known to provide a perfect backdrop for many different kinds of hawks but is also known for commonly sharing its natural environments with a total of eight kinds of hawks. 

Want to learn more? This book on the Birds of Prey of North America is a fantastic read!

These birds can be found all over the state, but are most commonly found in areas that have more wooded spaces with plenty of trees. 

In North Carolina, you can find a wide range of wonderful natural areas.

Whether you are looking for a full national or state park, or you just want a nice trail, these natural areas are perfect for spotting raptors in the world around you.

North Carolina has plenty of places for them to play and hunt. These beautiful birds can find the perfect environment in this state with its beautiful vegetation and complex ecosystems.

Want to attract birds of prey to your yard? Take a look at our article!

What Hawks can be seen in North Carolina?

Table of Contents

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk” by ‘Dennis Murhpy‘ is licensed under CC BY 2.0





Life Expectancy

3 years3


Robins and Thrushes

The Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a merciless bird known for its fascination with preying on smaller animals and birds. 

Their nests, which are generally lined with twigs and bark to provide proper insulation for their eggs, are a point of pride for them. 

However, these ruthless birds have little respect for nests otherwise and are known for their unique trait of abducting baby birds from nests and plucking their feathers off of them before eating them.

If you are looking to spot one of these vicious predators, you can find them comfortably during the Fall migration.

Though they can be spotted in Winter as well, they are more common during the transitional periods between seasons when they are generally seen moving in incredibly high numbers.

Their migratory nature makes them easy to spot around the country.

For years, the Sharp-Shinned Hawk was one of the most prominent hawk breeds in North Carolina.

However, with time those numbers have begun to fade. Though they are still fairly common, you generally only find them along the coast and against the mountains.

Either of these places is an excellent place to start when it comes to tracking down these beautiful birds, particularly in the Fall.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk





Life Expectancy

Up to 12 years


Small Birds, Mice & Squirrels

The Cooper’s Hawk is a unique bird that is known for its proud stance and medium-size.

You can spot this particular hawk happily building its nests in a wide variety of trees including pines, oaks, spruces, and more.

These beautiful birds enjoy making reliable nests that are incredibly well protected from other birds.

It might be the fact that they themselves are known to feast on smaller birds, but they prefer to keep their eggs and babies safely tucked away.

Spotting the Cooper’s Hawk in Pennsylvania is a thankfully warm affair.

These birds are most easily seen in the Summer months when it is nice and warm out, making it perfect as a focus for a warm birdwatching excursion or camping trip.

This bird can be found year-round but is known to make a much broader appearance when it is nice out.

Like many other hawks in the area, the Cooper’s Hawk is a proud fan of wooded areas.

They prefer to spend their time in forests and in other natural areas that give them plenty of animals to feast on.

Since they are very particular about their nests, it comes as no surprise that these birds also prefer to be in areas with plenty of nice and tall trees.

3. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk





Life Expectancy

7 Years


Mammals, reptiles & insects

The Northern Goshawk is a unique bird that can be spotted in part because of its massive size.

Though not all variations of this bird are too big, some of them can be a few pounds, which is quite a lot for a single bird to be.

Their nests are generally considered to be quite a work of art. They are known for using particularly thin sticks to create a sort of bowl that is then insulated with greenery and tree bark.

Locating the Northern Goshawk is a difficult task quite simply because they have no real interest in being seen.

What few encounters are had with this bird tend to be in wooded areas during the Summer months.

It is believed that a few might have been nesting in North Carolina during this time, but no nest could ever be located to determine if this was accurate or not. Still, people continue to search.

If you want to see the Northern Goshawk, the reality is that you would be better suited to visit a sanctuary.

Though these birds have been spotted in wooded areas around the state, the fact is that they are incredibly elusive and difficult to track.

Some have claimed to have spotted these birds in nearby forests, but it is almost never a confirmed sighting because these birds hide away within trees and at higher elevations. Very few confirmed cases have occurred. 

4. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk





Life Expectancy

2 years


Small mammals, reptiles & amphibians

This beautiful hawk is easily identified by its stunning copper feathers, making it one of the best looking hawks around.

Every year, these daring birds are known to spend up to five full weeks preparing a proper nest for their babies.

Ever the dedicated parents, they work hard to chase perfection with their nesting efforts.

When it comes to finding the Red-Shouldered Hawk in North Carolina, timing can go a long way.

These birds are most prominent in the state during the end of Winter as well as early Spring. This is because they are actively seeking mates during this time of year and are generally much more active.

They are known to be more visual and somewhat loud during these times.

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a proud resident of North Carolina and can be found in many different areas.

Most commonly, they are spotted in counties that are known for having swamps and forests.

This is what makes it easier to spot them on the eastern side of the state, but they have been known to venture into other areas as well. Some residents have reported seeing them nesting in the suburbs.

In fact, their loud presence in populated suburban areas is one of the reasons that a law has been passed against killing them in the state.

5. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk” by ‘Felipe Uribe‘ is licensed under CC BY 2.0





Life Expectancy

Up to 20 years


Small mammals & insects

As far as hawks go, this is one that is particularly interested in natural areas.

When nesting, the Broad-Winged Hawk prefers to spend its time hidden away in full and dense forests that will allow it a ready supply of food to snack on.

This is important for mating processes, nesting, and raising young. Despite their bold appearance, they prefer nesting far away from humans.

Seeking out the Broad-Winged Hawk is a feat best reserved for the warmer months. This particular hawk is known for its incredible migratory habits.

In the colder months, it doesn’t just move a little bit. This unique bird bails on the United States entirely when winter sets in.

After the cold front sweeps in, you can spot these birds as they fly in large numbers to places with more warmth.

The easiest way to see a Broad-Winged Hawk is without question at the Carolina Raptor Center. They are known to generally have a few of these beautiful birds in residence.

Otherwise, they can be found in deeply forested areas most of the time. However, during their migratory times, it is easier to see them as they venture off on their travels.

There have been confirmed sightings in Charlotte over the years, though this is generally too populated of a location for them to stay in.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk


4 feet



Life Expectancy

16-19 years


Mammals & Insects

The Swainson’s Hawk, also known as the grasshopper hawk, is a unique bird known for its preference for insects as a primary food source.

This bird likes to live the high life, often building its nests up towards the top of trees. Most of the trees are medium-sized in nature, but these hawks don’t mind.

They like being high enough to not be bothered, but not so high that they have to go far away from their favourite bugs to eat.

Spotting the Swainson’s Hawk in North Carolina is difficult during the winter season as they migrate South towards South America. 

This particular hawk is another one that can be found at the Carolina Raptor Center.

It is a beautiful bird with an interest in areas that are composed of open woodlands and grassy areas.

This is because they like to eat plenty of juicy bugs and need a good open area to locate and hunt them. You might get lucky and spot one of these birds snatching up a nice big grasshopper on a cold day!

7. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk





Life Expectancy

10-15 years


Small mammals, mice & voles

The Red-Tailed Hawk is an intimidating bird known for its enormous wingspan.

Ever the hunter, this bird can be found soaring the skies with an almost comically large wingspan.

It comes as no surprise that it can intimidate and feast on almost any small creature given its mass.

These birds are known to nest in areas that allow them an easy view of the area below so that they can simply drop to snatch up a good meal.

If you are looking for the Red-Tailed Hawk, you will want to look around during the day.

These incredible birds are up first thing in the morning and enjoy hunting right away.

Since they are a migratory species, you can often find them moving across the skies in the middle of the day in an attempt to stay warm as the temperatures begin to drop.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a massive bird that is very easy to spot. Perhaps because of its intimidating stature and large size, it has no qualms about being highly visible.

In fact, they can be spotted on telephone poles, fences, and other prominent areas.

In the evening, you can find them hiding out on the edges of a forest waiting for a meal to show up on the ground below.

8. Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk





Life Expectancy

Up to 18 years


Small rodents

The Rough-Legged Hawk is a proud and protective bird that takes its nesting and mating very seriously.

It is known for creating nests that are high up in the sky and looking down on the world below.

One reason that these birds likely build their nests so high is to avoid being bothered by other birds in the area.

Their sturdy nests are often reused every single year, so they are made to be incredibly durable to require minimal upkeep.

The Rough-Legged Hawk is a bit of an adventurer and can often be found exploring the world in search of its next meal.

They tend to be more interested in areas that don’t have many trees. Instead, they prefer open spaces with vegetation on the ground like grasslands, marshlands, and other open areas.

If you’re struggling to find one, you can always visit the Carolina Raptor Center to meet one of their local residents.


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About Us

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!

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