Thanks to Washington’s unique geography, a diverse selection of hawks can be found and observed in the state.
In this article, we’re going to go through eight of the most stunning hawks in Washington State. Let’s dive right in!
- Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
- Length: 14 – 20 inches
- Weight: 18 – 20 ounces
- Wingspan: 29 – 37 inches
Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized accipiters that are commonly found in northeastern Washington. Accipiters are hawks that have short wings and long legs. Cooper’s Hawks have a relatively large head, broad rounded wings and shoulders, and a rounded long tail.
Despite popular belief, Cooper’s Hawks didn’t get their name from their warm, copper-like bars. Instead, they were named by Charles Bonaparte in honor of his friend William Cooper, who was also a fellow ornithologist.
Most of Washington’s Cooper’s Hawks are believed to migrate south for the winter. Although Cooper’s Hawk populations are more or less stable in the West, the Washington Gap Analysis added them to their “at-risk” list.
- Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5 – 20.5 inches
- Weight: 25.2 – 49.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 52 – 54.3 inches
Rough-legged Hawks are among the few winter hawks found in Washington. They migrate to eastern and western Washington from early October throughout November. They prefer large, open habitats.
Compared to most other buteo hawks, Rough-legged Hawks have long but narrow wings, which is why they’re often mistaken for eagles. Their tails are likewise much longer than common buteos.
Rough-legged Hawks got their name from their fluffy, feathered legs. They’re boldly patterned and mostly dark in color, with white undersides.
These winter residents often appear singly or in pairs; rarely in large groups. Their diet primarily consists of lemmings, voles, squirrels, and mice, but they won’t say no to carrion if their food source is especially scarce.
- Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 20.9 – 25.2 inches
- Weight: 22.3 – 48.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 40.5 – 46.1 inches
Northern Goshawks are among the most aggressive and fierce hawks found in Washington State. Although they’re relatively uncommon year-round, you can spot a Goshawk or two near the eastern slope of the Cascades and higher points of the Olympic Mountains.
For the most part, Northern Goshawks are non-migratory. Although their population is steadily increasing, they’re still listed as a species of concern by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Northern Goshawks can be especially dangerous when defending their nests. Intruders as far as half a mile from their territory might be attacked without mercy, regardless of the species.
These hawks were once called “the cook’s hawk” because they used to feed on farmers’ ducks, hares, and grouse. Today, they mostly indulge in woodpeckers, squirrels, corvids, and medium to large songbirds.
- Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
- Length: 18 – 22 inches
- Weight: 1.8 – 2.5 pounds
- Wingspan: 47 – 57 inches
Swainson’s Hawks are among Washington’s summer residents. They usually appear at the beginning of April and will migrate to warmer states at the first sign of winter.
Although large, Swainson’s Hawks weigh less than common buteos. They’re often described as having reddish-brown chests, brown upperparts, and grayish-white bellies.
Compared to their Rough-legged Hawk cousins, Swainson’s Hawks are almost always found in large groups, even outside the breeding season. You can find them in wide-open spaces such as farmlands, prairies, sagebrush deserts, and other moist areas.
- Scientific name: Circus cyaneus
- Length: 16 – 19.6 inches
- Weight: 12 – 26 ounces
- Wingspan: 38 – 48 inches
Northern Harriers, formerly known as Marsh Hawks, are one of the most common hawks in eastern Washington. They’re typically found soaring low throughout much of the state’s farmlands, parks, and steppe habitats.
These hawks are often mistaken for owls due to their disk-shaped facial features. Male Northern Harriers have gray backs and whitish chests, while females are almost entirely brown with streaked, whitish undersides.
Like owls, Northern Harriers rely on hearing and sharp vision to capture prey. They’re not especially picky when it comes to diet, and will eat almost anything based on availability.
Unfortunately, Northern Harriers are on a steady decline due to ground predators and lack of habitat. Although they seem to be fairly stable in North America, they’re still listed as a “threatened” species.
- Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
- Length: 17.7 – 25.6 inches
- Weight: 24.3 – 51.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 44.9 – 52.4 inches
Red-tailed Hawks live in all of Washington State throughout the year. Due to forest fragmentation, Red-tailed Hawk populations in the State have, thankfully, steadily increased.
Like most hawks, Red-tailed Hawks eat a variety of small mammals; primarily rodents, birds, and rabbits. They also eat fish and large insects, and won’t hesitate to steal prey from other raptors if the opportunity presents itself.
Red-tailed Hawks got their name from their broad copper-red tails. Their tails are most identifiable when viewed from above, as they’re mostly pale below.
- Scientific Name: Buteo regalis
- Length: 20 – 26 inches
- Weight: 2.4 pounds
- Wingspan: 48 – 56 inches
Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks found in Washington State and most of the United States. They’re often found in great concentrations around Franklin and Benton Counties.
Compared to Swainson’s Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks are mostly observed in dry, open plains, grasslands, and deserts. Although largely migratory, a decent percentage remain as permanent Washington residents each year.
The population size of Ferruginous Hawks in Washington is relatively low due to human intervention. Even though they’re listed as a species of “least concern”, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has observed a declining trend.
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9.5 – 13.5 inches
- Weight: 3 – 7.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5 – 24.5
Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest among the three North American accipiters. They’re not as big as crows, but not quite as small as common robins.
These predators are mostly seen during their migration on Washington’s rivers, coastlines, and mountain ridges. They’re uncommon breeders, so they can rarely be found during the breeding season.
The conservation status of Sharp-shinned Hawks in Washington state is poorly sampled. They’re believed to have greatly dropped in numbers during the mid-20th century but may have increased in recent years. Regardless, as sample sizes are too small, the data provided aren’t a true reflection of their number.
Washington is home to a variety of birds and animals, most of which are found year-round. We hope you enjoyed our list of Washington’s most beautiful hawks! If you’d like to learn more about the state’s birdlife, check out our list of Woodpeckers found in Washington!