Trees cover more than half of Mississippi’s area, so the U.S. state is home to one of the most diverse bird populations in the country.
Of the more than 400 bird species found there, there are several types of hawk soaring around the Magnolia State.
A relatively temperate climate and bountiful rivers have allowed these ‘roadside raptors’ to become more comfortable with human contact than other places in the U.S.
For those hoping to catch sight of this bird-of-prey during your bird watching adventures, the list below provides some information about where and when to find them:
What Hawks can be seen in Mississippi?
Table of Contents
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Robins and Thrushes
The smallest of the Mississippi hawks, the sharp-shinned family inhabits the coniferous areas of the state, mating for life and hunting in familiar areas.
Like many hawks, this bird flies south for the winter, though not necessarily out of state.
The sharp-shinned hawk resembles the Cooper’s hawk in shape and color, only it’s about a third as big with a rounded tail, making it one of the smallest of Mississippi’s hawks.
Like the Cooper’s, its back feathers are so dark brown or red as to appear black, and the lighter colors of its face and chest make for a stark contrast.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Up to 12 years
Small Birds, Mice & Squirrels
Named for ornithologist William Cooper, this hawk is similar to the harrier in its tendency to hunt in and around water sources.
Fortunately, conservation efforts have slowed what had been a troubling decline post-2000.
Today, the bird can be seen in places like the Bienville National Forest, and many of the unnamed forests in between.
These locations include residential areas where smaller birds frequent backyards and bird feeders, where this bird-hunting hawk can often be seen in the trees or sky above them waiting to feed.
Physically, the Cooper’s hawk is like a larger version of the sharp-shinned hawk listed below, with dark feathers on its wings and light ones on its body.
3. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Small mammals, reptiles & amphibians
Not to be confused with their red-tailed counterparts, red-shouldered hawks like to group near tall trees, like the cyprus forests in Madison.
This is another year-round bird that heads to the lowlands when in the cold seasons.
A tendency to remain in the same area for much longer than most birds makes the red-shouldered hawk a good candidate for long-term birdwatching.
The bird’s distinctive name comes from the red gathering of red plumes that adorn the part of its wing that connects to the body, which is usually contrasted with deeper browns, grays, and reds in varied checkered patterns.
4. Broad-Winged Hawk
Up to 20 years
Small mammals & insects
Like their red-tailed cousins, this is another hawk that can be found all year round among the pines of Mississippi, though they are much less adapted to human contact.
The hawk can be recognized by its reddish-brown heads, stout bodies, and dark tail bands, as well as the trademark broad wings of its namesake.
Broad-winged hawks are everywhere in the state’s forests during the spring and summer, migrating out of state toward South America when the weather gets cold.
It is during these migrations that the broad-winged hawk is most visible, as they come out of their hiding places in the woods and flock together in large swarms called ‘kettles’ in the fall.
5. Red-Tailed Hawk
Small mammals, mice & voles
One of the most popular hawks that can be found in the U.S., the Red-Tailed Hawk is the most abundant species found in the Hospitality State.
A quintessential roadside hunter, this hawk can be seen year-round in forests, mountains, lowlands, and even residential areas.
The hawk also has a helpful tendency to perch on man-made signs on the open road, usually near meadows and open fields they’ve claimed as hunting grounds.
Most of the red-tails in Mississippi simply move from the northern to the southern end of the state in the winter.
Despite their names, red-tailed hawks can vary so widely in dark reds and shades of brown that it can be difficult to spot the ‘red’ in their tails.
Generally, the size of the red-tail is enough to distinguish it from the rest, particularly in females, who are closer to eagles in size and shape than their male counterparts.
6. Northern Harrier
Rodents and small birds
Harriers can be observed gliding over marshland areas like those surrounding the Mississippi River, where shallow waters make for ideal hunting grounds.
Unlike the red-tailed hawk, harriers do fly to the far south when the weather gets cold, but they are abundant in Mississippi during the warmer seasons.
Their plumage ranges across the spectrum from whitish-gray to deep brown with countless combinations in between.
More distinguishing is the harrier’s head and frame – with the same prominent ring of feathers encircling its beak and eyes, called a ‘facial disc’ – which make this hawk almost indistinguishable from an owl.
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