7 Fierce Hawks in Alaska to look out for

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Hawks in Alaska

Hawks in Alaska are thrilling and hardy birds of prey that dominate the state’s vast and rugged landscapes. With their sharp eyesight and mighty wings, these majestic raptors are a sight to behold.

Whether exploring the remote wilderness, hiking through the towering mountain ranges, or observing from your backyard or cabin, encountering a hawk in Alaska is a truly exhilarating experience.

What Are The Most Common Hawks In Alaska?

The most common Hawks in Alaska include the Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, American Goshawk, Osprey, and Swainson’s Hawk.

This article will cover Alaska’s seven hawk species, from the iconic Red-tailed Hawk to the small and agile Sharp-shinned Hawk, each with unique behaviors and appearance.

With helpful tips and insights for identifying these birds and understanding their unique appearance, behaviors, and habitat, this post will provide valuable insight for beginners and seasoned birdwatchers.

We have organized our list from most likely seen to the least likely to be seen for your convenience.

Alaska Hawks

According to the latest data from ebird, there are seven observed species of Hawks in Alaska. This data has been collected from over 15,700 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.

Here are some quick facts:

  • The Northern Harrier is the most commonly observed hawk in Alaska
  • Swainson’s Hawks are the least widely observed species in the state.
  • Osprey are the largest in Alaska
  • Sharp-shinned Hawks are the smallest in Alaska

7 Types Of Hawks In Alaska

1. Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is a medium-sized bird of prey that people can see throughout North and Central America and is a resident of Alaska during their summer breeding season.

They are also commonly known as Marsh Hawks for their specific hunting behavior.

  • Length: 46-50cm (18.1-19.8 inches)
  • Weight: 300-750g (10.5-26.5oz)
  • Wingspan: 102-118cm (40-46.5 inches)
  • Northern Harrier Scientific Name: Circus cyaneus

Appearance

Northern Harriers are medium-sized birds with a wingspan of up to 4 feet. They have long, broad wings and a long, rounded tail. They have tiny, hooked beaks, and their face is “owl-like.”

Males have a gray back, gray wings with black wingtips, black horizontal bands on their tales, and white underparts.

Females are brown on their back and wings, with a white underside streaked with brown. Juveniles appear similar to adult females.

Males and females also have a distinctive white rump patch visible when flying.

Habitat

You can spot a Northern Harrier in various open habitats, such as marshes, grasslands, and agricultural fields

Diet

Northern Harriers are predatory birds that feed on various marsh-living prey, including small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They may even feed on ducks and rabbits if given a chance. 

They hunt by flying low over the ground, using their keen eyesight and hearing to locate prey. 

They are also known for their ability to hover in place while scanning for prey.

Nesting

Northern Harriers build their nests on the ground, typically in dense marsh vegetation such as reeds and tall grass. They may use sticks, grasses, and other plant materials to create a platform. 

They typically lay 4-5 eggs, which hatch after about a month. The female takes primary responsibility for incubating the eggs and caring for the young.

Interesting facts

  • Northern Harriers are among the few bird species exhibiting sexual dimorphism in which Males are smaller than females.
  • They can also be polygynous, with a single male mating with two or more females in a breeding season.
  • These birds are known for their distinctive hunting behavior, which involves flying low over the ground and using their hearing to locate prey.
  • These birds have been known to mob potential predators, such as eagles or owls, to protect their nests and young.

2. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is a large bird of prey native to North America and can be seen in Alaska during the summer breeding season.

They are one of the most iconic and identifiable hawks in North America.

  • Length: 45-65cm (17.7-25.6inches)
  • Weight: 690-1460g (24.3-51.5oz)
  • Wingspan: 114-133cm (44.9-52.4inches)
  • Red-tailed Hawk Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis

Appearance

Red-tailed Hawks are large birds with a wingspan of up to four feet. They are brown above and pale below with a streaked belly. As their name suggests, their most distinctive feature is their red tail, which you can often see as they soar through the skies.

Habitat

Red-tailed Hawks are common throughout North America, from as far north as Alaska to as far south as Panama. They prefer to live in open areas like fields, prairies, and deserts, but you will also see them in wooded areas. 

They are highly adaptable and can also live and hunt in urban and suburban areas. Look for them perched on high trees and telephone poles at the edge of fields.

Diet

Red-tailed Hawks are predatory birds that feed on a variety of prey. They hunt during the day, using their keen eyesight to spot their food from high in the sky. They eat small mammals like mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, birds, snakes, and other reptiles.

Nesting

Red-tailed Hawks build their nests high above the ground, usually near open areas where they can hunt. These can be tall trees, billboards, towers, and buildings. 

They use sticks and twigs to build a large platform, which they line with soft materials like grass and leaves. They typically lay 2-3 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • Red-tailed Hawks are known for their distinctive call, often heard in movies and TV shows.
  • These birds can fly at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour!
  • They are famous in falconry, a sport that involves training birds of prey to hunt.
  • In some Native American cultures, the Red-tailed Hawk is considered a symbol of strength and courage.

3. Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is a small bird of prey that people can see throughout much of North America. They can be seen on the south coast of Alaska all year round and in the state’s interior during the summer breeding season.

They are known for their agility and speed in flight and are skilled hunters of small birds and mammals.

  • Length: 24-34cm (9.4-13.5 inches)
  • Weight: 87-218g (3.1-7.7oz)
  • Wingspan: 87-218cm (17-22 inches)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus

Appearance

They are small birds with a wingspan of up to 2 feet. They have long, squared-off narrow tails and short rounded wings. 

Females are larger than males and look similar to Cooper’s Hawks but considerably smaller, just a bit larger than a Blue Jay.

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks are bluish-gray above, with a dark barred tail and a rusty-colored chest and belly. 

Habitat

You can spot a Sharp-shinned Hawk in various wooded habitats, from mature forests to suburban parks and backyards. They live in areas throughout North America, from Alaska to Central America.

Diet

Sharp-shinned Hawks are predatory birds that feed primarily on small songbirds but will also eat small rodents, lizards, and large insects.

They are skilled hunters, using their agility and speed in flight to pursue and catch their prey. You can see them hunting in Alaska’s backyards that, attract songbirds to bird feeders.

Nesting

Sharp-shinned Hawks build concealed nests in trees, using sticks and twigs to create a platform. They typically lay 4-5 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Females mostly incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • Sharp-shinned Hawks are known for their speed and flight agility, allowing them to catch small birds and mammals easily.
  • These birds are sometimes referred to as “sharpies” by bird enthusiasts.
  • The Sharp-shinned Hawk is one of the few bird species that exhibit sexual size dimorphism, with females being larger than males.
  • These birds are sometimes preyed upon by larger birds of prey, such as Cooper’s Hawks or American Goshawks.

4. Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk is a large bird of prey that can be found in the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. Residents can spot these raptors in Alaska during the Spring, summer, and fall.

They are known for their distinctive feathered legs, which help them stay warm in their cold northern habitats.

  • Length: 47-52cm (18.5-20.5 inches)
  • Weight: 715-1400g (25.1-49.5oz)
  • Wingspan: 132-138cm (52-54 inches)
  • Rough-legged Hawk Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus

Appearance

Rough-legged Hawks are large hawks with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. They have relatively long, broad wings and long tails. Their legs are covered in feathers, which helps them stay warm in their cold northern habitats. 

They are dark brown above, with a lighter chest and belly. They also have a white tail with a black band near the end. Females have paler heads and dark bellies.

Light morphs have white or pale underwings with dark areas at the end of their shoulders. Dark morphs are primarily dark brown, with silvery white flight feathers and dark wingtips.

Habitat

You can spot a Rough-legged Hawk in various open habitats, including deserts, tundra, prairies, fields, and grasslands. They breed in northern Canada and spend their winters in the lower 48 states of the US.

Diet

Rough-legged Hawks are predatory birds that feed primarily on rodents such as voles and mice but will also eat other small mammals, birds, and insects. They hunt by hovering over fields, using their keen eyesight to scan for prey from high in the sky.

Nesting

Rough-legged Hawks primarily build nests on cliffs or sometimes even on the ground, using sticks and twigs to create a platform. They typically lay 3-5 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Females incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • Rough-legged Hawks are one of the few bird species that change the color of their feathers with the seasons. During the summer, their feathers are brown, but in the winter, they become primarily white.
  • These birds are sometimes called “Arctic hawks” due to their northern habitat.
  • Rough-legged Hawks are known for their distinctive hovering flight, which allows them to stay in one place while scanning for movement below.

5. American Goshawk

American Goshawks are large hawks that people can see in forests and woodlands throughout much of North America and are year-round residents of Alaska.

Formerly known as the Northern Goshawk, in 2023, the American Ornithological Society split the Northern Goshawk into the American Goshawk and the Eurasian Goshawk.

They are known for their fierce hunting skills and impressive size compared to other accipiter hawks species.

  • Length: 53-64cm (21-25 inches)
  • Weight: 631-1364g (22-48oz)
  • Wingspan: 103-118cm (40-46 inches)
  • American Goshawk Scientific Name: Accipiter atricapillus

Appearance

American Goshawks are large birds with a wingspan of up to 4 feet. They have long tails and broad rounded wings. 

Adults are slate gray above and a grayish-silver with faint dark barring below. Their head is darker, with a white stripe above their reddish-orange eyes.

Juveniles are brown above and white with heavy streaking below.

Habitat

You can spot American Goshawks in various forested habitats, such as mature forests and mountains in much of North America.

Diet

American Goshawks are stealthy predatory hawks that feed primarily on medium-sized birds such as crows and field grouse and small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels

They will occasionally catch smaller birds and mammals, insects, and reptiles if possible.

They are skilled hunters, using their agility and speed in flight to pursue and catch their prey through dense trees and thickets.

Nesting

American Goshawks build nests in trees about 25-50 feet above the ground, using sticks, twigs, and green foliage to create a platform. Males will provide food for the females, who typically lay 2-4 eggs. The females mostly incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • American Goshawks are known for their fierce defense of their nests and can chase away animals much larger than themselves.
  • Their fearless hunting skills have made them prized birds in falconry for hundreds of years.
  • American Goshawks are sexually dimorphic, which means the females are noticeably larger than the males.

6. Osprey

Ospreys are giant hawks seen on almost every continent and in Alaska during the summer breeding season.

They are also called fish or sea hawks and feed exclusively on fish.

  • Length: 54-58cm (21-23 inches)
  • Weight: 1400-2000g (49.4-70oz)
  • Wingspan: 150-180cm (59-71 inches)
  • Osprey Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus

Appearance

Ospreys are large birds with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They have dark brown feathers on their back and wings, with a white chest and belly. Their heads are white with a distinctive dark eye stripe. They also have long legs with sharp, curved talons for catching fish.

Habitat

You can find Ospreys near bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and coastlines. They are located on every continent except Antarctica, but you can more easily see them in North America and Europe.

Diet

Ospreys are predatory birds that feed almost exclusively on fish. They hunt during the day, using their keen eyesight to spot fish in the water from high in the sky. 

You can see them hovering high above the water to spot their catch. Once they spot a fish, they dive into the water feet first to catch it. They are also known for their ability to shake off excess water before flying away with their catch.

Nesting

Ospreys build large nests of sticks and twigs, usually in tall trees or artificial structures such as poles or platforms. They may use the same nest year after year, adding to it each time. 

They typically lay 2-4 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • Ospreys are the only raptors that exclusively eat fish.
  • These birds have a reversible outer toe that helps them grip their slippery prey more effectively.
  • Once they have caught a fish, they maneuver the fish’s head forward to reduce wind resistance.
  • Ospreys are known for their spectacular fishing dives, reaching up to 80 miles per hour.
  • These birds can migrate up to 160,000 miles in their lifetime, traveling between their breeding and wintering grounds.

7. Swainson’s Hawk

The Swainson’s Hawk is a large hawk that people can see primarily in North and South America. Alaska residents can spot these hawks in the eastern half of the state during the summer breeding season.

They are known for their long migrations and impressive hunting abilities.

  • Length: 48-53cm (19-21 inches)
  • Weight: 680-1361g (24-48oz)
  • Wingspan: 120-132cm (47.2-52 inches)
  • Swainson’s Hawk Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni

Appearance

Swainson’s Hawks are large birds with a wingspan of up to 4 feet. They are typical Buteo hawks with broad wings and short tails—however, their wings and body are somewhat slimmer than other buteo species.

Their coloration varies slightly, but adults are primarily brownish-gray above and white below, with a rusty-brown chest and distinctively white underwings contrasted against black flight feathers. Males have gray heads, and females have brown heads.

Habitat

You can spot Swainson’s Hawks in various open habitats, including grasslands, deserts, and agricultural fields throughout North, Central, and South America.

They spend their summers breeding in North America and migrate down through central and South America to spend their winters in Argentina, stopping along the way in open fields to feed.

Diet

Swainson’s Hawks are predatory birds that feed primarily on large insects such as grasshoppers and dragonflies.

They will also feed on small mammals, birds, and reptiles such as squirrels, mice, snakes, and lizards during the breeding season when they need to feed their young. 

Nesting

Swainson’s Hawks build well-hidden nests in trees or shrubs, typically 15-30 feet off the ground, using sticks, twigs, and weeds to create a platform. They typically lay 2-4 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Females mostly incubate the eggs, and both parents feed the chicks.

Interesting facts

  • Swainson’s Hawks are known for their long migrations, which can take them from their breeding grounds in North America to Argentina in South America.
  • These birds are sometimes called “grasshopper hawks” due to their diet of grasshoppers and other insects.
  • Swainson’s Hawks are social birds, often gathering in large groups during migration.
  • These birds are sometimes preyed upon by larger birds of prey, such as Golden Eagles or Alaskan Great Horned Owls.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are there red-tailed hawks in Alaska?

Yes, Red-tailed Hawks are one of Alaska’s most commonly seen Hawks and are visitors in the state during the summer breeding season.

What hawks live in Alaska?

Seven species of hawk live in Alaska during the year. The most common include the Northern HarrierRed-tailed HawkSharp-shinned HawkRough-legged HawkAmerican GoshawkOsprey, and Swainson’s Hawk.

Keep An Eye Out For Hawks In Alaska

Seven species of Hawks can be seen in Alaska throughout the year. From the well-known Red-tailed Hawk to the lesser-seen Swainson’s Hawk, each has its unique appearance and behavior that fascinate bird watchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or just someone who enjoys learning about nature, taking some time to learn about the seven kinds of hawks in Alaska will provide you with all you need to observe, identify, and enjoy these mighty raptors.

We hope this article has provided all the information you need. If you have questions about identifying more species of birds in Alaska or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!

We would love to help identify new bird species for our readers.

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I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

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