West Virginia is home to a wide variety of wild birds including owls, woodpeckers, eagles, and hawks. With an abundance of mountainous and deep woods, it is a great place to do some bird sighting and hiking. If hawk hunting is your birding specialty, then get ready. In this article, we’re going to discuss eight of the most beautiful hawks in West Virginia!
- Scientific name: Circus cyaneus
- Length: 16 – 19.6 inches
- Weight: 12 – 26 ounces
- Wingspan: 38 – 48 inches
Northern Harriers, also known as Hen Harriers and Marsh Hawks, are fairly common year-round residents of West Virginia. They share a striking resemblance to common owls due to their disk-shaped faces and sharply hooked bills.
Although they mostly feed on small mammals and birds, they’re capable of taking down bigger prey like ducks, rabbits, and chickens. Northern Harriers will subdue particularly feisty prey by drowning them in a nearby lake.
These birds of prey are said to be among the oldest hawks in history. This fact is further corroborated by fossils unearthed in Mexico dating as old as 40,000 years.
Although relatively common in West Virginia, Northern Harriers are facing a global state of decline.
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9.5 – 13.5 inches
- Weight: 3 – 7.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5 – 24.5
Sharp-shinned Hawks, also known as Sharpies, are the smallest hawks found in West Virginia and most of the United States. This common hawk is no bigger than an average bird and just slightly larger than common robins.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk have a striking resemblance to each other. Adult Sharp-shinned hawks have rounded wings, a dark-gray back, red-orange barred breasts, and dark bands across their dark tails. The best way to distinguish between the two is size difference. However, they rarely perch together, so comparing actual sizes can be difficult. You might seek the help of an experienced bird watcher to be sure of what you’ve sighted.
This hawk species likes to spend time in backyards around bird feeders. However, due to their predatory nature, most homeowners discourage this behavior for the safety of smaller birds.
Sharp-shinned Hawks can be found in open habitats and dense woods in pursuit of mice, songbirds and larger prey as needed. They are so agile they often catch their prey in flight before taking it to the ground.
- Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
- Length: 14 – 20 inches
- Weight: 18 – 20 ounces
- Wingspan: 29 – 37 inches
Cooper’s Hawks are another common species of hawk residing in West Virginia. Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks share the same body build and color structure, but Cooper’s Hawks are slightly larger and have a larger head. Their call is also a bassier sound than that of the higher-pitched Sharp-shinned Hawk.
These hawks usually inhabit various types of deciduous and mixed forests. They can also be seen soaring above open woodlands, farmlands, the edge of fields, and floodplains. and their calls are common sounds throughout the state.
Cooper’s Hawks mostly feed on medium-sized birds such as jays, flickers, and robins. However, they have a special taste for chipmunks, ground squirrels, bats, mice, and most reptiles.
Similar to many other hawks, Cooper’s Hawks hunt by stealth. They’ll closely watch prey from afar, moving from perch to perch, and will overtake prey with the element of surprise.
Like Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks occasionally take advantage of backyard bird feeders during winter, especially when food sources are scarce. Removing the feeder for a few weeks will encourage them to seek out other feeding grounds.
- Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 16-27 inches
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 inches
Northern Goshawks are one of the most aggressive types of hawks found in West Virginia. They’re extremely territorial and secretive birds and will attack anyone—human or otherwise—who poses a threat to their environment. They’re very defensive birds, so don’t get too close to their nest.
Although not uncommon, Northern Goshawks are hard to find because they live in deep deciduous and coniferous forests.
Among all accipiter hawks, these woodland hawks are the largest and bulkiest. They have long, rounded broad wings and equally long tails. Most adult Goshawks have a dark-colored head, dark-gray backs and pale-gray underparts.
The name “Goshawk” comes from the Old English word “goose hawk.” For centuries, these hawks were dubbed as the Cooks Hawk because they’re often caught snaring meat from farmers and cooks.
- Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
- Length: 17 – 24 inches
- Weight: 1 – 1.7 pounds
- Wingspan: 37 – 43.7 inches
The colorful Red-shouldered Hawk are currently listed as year-round residents of West Virginia. They’re among the most beautiful hawks in the state, and will often be a primary subject of photographers and painters.
Their color patterns are unique to their name; dark-and-white checkered wings, copper-red breasts, and narrow black-and-white tails. Juveniles are brown above and streaked white below.
Red-shouldered Hawks have a distinctive kee-rah sound that is often used in Hollywood movies and big blockbuster films. In fact, whenever a hawk voice-over plays on screen, chances are it belongs to a Red-shouldered Hawk.
- Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
- Length: 13.5 – 17.4 inches
- Weight: 9.3 – 20 ounces
- Wingspan: 32 – 39.5 inches
Broad-winged Hawks are small, chunky raptors with large heads and short wings. They’re often found in West Virginia during their breeding season and will migrate through the eastern half of the United States during winter. Those who have witnessed a migration describe it as a “river of raptors”.
Most Broad-winged Hawks found in West Virginia are entirely dark brown with banded tails. Broad-winged Hawks have reddish-brown heads with barred underparts and broad black-and-white tails.
This stocky bird hunts small mammals and birds from underneath forest canopies and along the edge of woods and water banks. Once prey is spotted, they’ll quickly swoop down and grab the creature with their sharp talons, often killing on impact.
Their diet includes a variety of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even amphibians. They’ll also eat fish, crayfish, earthworms, and centipedes.
- 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 are common residents of West Virginia. They can be identified by their copper-red tails, chocolate-brown backs, and pale undersides.
Most Red-tailed Hawks are observed flying in a slow circle over fields. Compared to most hawks, Red-tailed Hawks attack in slow, controlled dives with their legs outstretched, rather than jumping on their prey.
You will find individual birds perched atop tall trees, telephone poles, and even fence posts. They’re mostly solitary birds, so you’ll rarely find them in large groups.
- Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5 – 20.5 inches
- Weight: 25.2 – 49.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 52 – 54.3 inches
Rough-legged Hawks, also known as Rough-legged buzzards, migrate to West Virginia during winter. They are one of the only American raptors to have feathers down their legs, which help keep them warm during particularly cold temperatures and are the largest hawks in the state.
These hawks can be found in either light or dark morphs, both of which are abundant in West Virginia. Female hawks have dark belly patches and pale heads, while males have mottled feathers.
Although they primarily feed on rodents, Rough-legged Hawks were a threat to West Virginia’s poultry up until the early 20th century. Today, their diet relies heavily on lemmings, voles, and other small mammals.
Hawks are among the most intelligent raptors in the world, and West Virginia is home to eight of them. You can head to woodland areas or camp out in open fields to find them. If you’re keen to learn more about West Virginia’s wildlife, check out our article about West Virginia’s woodpecker species you’ve got to see!