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If you’re a bird enthusiast in Nebraska, you’re in luck! This state is home to a variety of hawk species, each with unique characteristics and behaviors. From the majestic Red-tailed Hawk to the speedy Sharp-shinned Hawk, there’s plenty to observe and appreciate.
So, let’s take a closer look at ten of the most common hawk species found in Nebraska and what makes each one unique.
- Nebraska is home to a diverse array of hawks, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.
- The American Kestrel is a small bird of prey that can be found in open fields, grasslands, and deserts, and feeds on insects, small mammals, and birds. It is known for its acrobatic displays during breeding season and migrates to Central and South America during winter.
- The Mississippi Kite is a cooperative breeder that nests in tall trees and feeds primarily on insects, particularly grasshoppers and cicadas. It is known for its aerial acrobatics and spends winters in South America before returning to breed in the southern United States.
- Hawks play an important role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems by preying on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Their diverse habitats and hunting techniques make them a fascinating and essential part of Nebraska’s wildlife.
1. Red-tailed Hawk
You’ll love spotting the Red-tailed Hawk soaring through Nebraska’s skies. It has a majestic wingspan and breathtaking beauty. This bird of prey is one of the most common hawks in North America and can be easily identified by its distinctive red tail feathers.
The Red-tailed Hawk is a large bird, with a wingspan of up to 56 inches and a body length of up to 25 inches. Its plumage is mostly brown, with a white belly and a dark band across its belly. It is a versatile bird that can thrive in a variety of habitats.
It is commonly found in open fields, forests, and along the edges of wetlands. This hawk is a skilled hunter, feeding on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
It is also known for its distinctive hunting behavior, which includes soaring high in the sky before diving down to catch its prey.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a Red-tailed Hawk in Nebraska, remember to look for its red tail feathers. Also, watch it hunt with its impressive aerial acrobatics.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
The Cooper’s hawk is a fierce predator, with sharp talons and a distinctive dark cap on its head. This bird of prey is a medium-sized hawk that can be found in Nebraska and throughout North America. It is known for its agility and speed, which it uses to catch its prey in mid-flight.
The Cooper’s hawk is a monogamous bird that breeds in Nebraska from March to June. The female lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated for about 30 days. The young birds fledge after about 5 weeks and are independent after about 2 months.
The Cooper’s hawk feeds primarily on birds, but will also eat small mammals, such as mice and squirrels. It hunts by stealth, often perching in a tree and waiting for its prey to come within range.
When it spots a potential meal, it swoops down and catches it in its sharp talons.
The Cooper’s hawk plays an important role in controlling populations of smaller birds and mammals in Nebraska’s ecosystems.
3. Ferruginous Hawk
With its impressive wingspan and striking coloration, the Ferruginous hawk is a formidable predator that commands attention in the skies.
This species is known for its distinctive rusty-red feathers, which cover its body and wings, and its bright yellow eyes. In addition to its stunning appearance, the Ferruginous hawk is also a fascinating bird to study due to its interesting behavior.
Ferruginous hawks are known for their unique hunting style. Unlike other hawks, they prefer to hunt on the ground, where they can catch prey such as rabbits, squirrels, and even snakes. They also use their powerful talons to catch birds in mid-air.
Conservation efforts for the Ferruginous hawk have been focused on preserving its habitat, which includes grasslands and shrublands. This species is considered a threatened species in some areas due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
In order to protect the Ferruginous hawk, conservationists have worked to preserve and restore grasslands and shrublands, which are essential for the hawk’s survival.
They have also conducted research on the hawk’s behavior and migration patterns to better understand its needs and how to protect it.
Overall, the Ferruginous hawk is a fascinating bird that is both beautiful and impressive in its behavior. Its conservation is crucial to preserving the grassland and shrubland ecosystems that are essential for its survival.
4. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned hawk, often seen darting through trees with lightning speed, is a stealthy predator that requires dense forest cover for its survival. This bird of prey is small in size, with a wingspan of only about two feet, and is commonly found in Nebraska during the fall migration.
Its habitat preference is for mature, deciduous forests with a dense understory, which provides cover for hunting and nesting.
The sharp-shinned hawk is a skilled hunter, preying mainly on small birds and mammals, such as sparrows, finches, and mice. Its hunting behavior is characterized by quick, agile flight and surprise attacks from concealed perches.
It is known to use its sharp talons to capture and kill its prey, then consume it whole or tear it into smaller pieces.
Despite its small size, the sharp-shinned hawk is a fierce predator that plays an important role in maintaining the balance of its ecosystem.
5. Northern Harrier
You’ll be fascinated by the Northern Harrier, a bird of prey that glides low over open fields and marshes in search of its prey. This species is known for its distinctive white rump patch and owl-like facial disk. The Northern Harrier is a medium-sized hawk, with a wingspan of up to four feet.
The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that prefers open habitats such as marshes, meadows, and prairies. During the breeding season, this species can be found in the northern parts of North America, including Alaska and Canada.
In the winter, the Northern Harrier migrates south, and can be found throughout the continental United States.
This species is unique in that it is one of the few hawks that migrate during the day, often flying in large groups.
6. Swainson’s Hawk
Are you curious about Swainson’s Hawk, a bird of prey that migrates from South America to North America every spring? This hawk is known for its impressive journey, covering over 6,000 miles each way.
Swainson’s Hawks are one of the most common hawk species found in Nebraska during their migration season. They are primarily carnivorous and have a taste for small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and hares, as well as birds, reptiles, and insects.
During migration, they can be seen hunting from great heights or hovering over open fields. They are agile hunters, using their sharp talons to capture their prey and then quickly flying away to consume it.
Their unique migration patterns and hunting techniques make Swainson’s Hawks a fascinating bird species to observe in Nebraska.
7. Broad-winged Hawk
The Broad-winged Hawk is a migratory bird of prey that can be spotted soaring over forests and fields in North America.
Known for its distinctive high-pitched call, this species breeds in the northern regions of the continent, including the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. During breeding season, they form monogamous pairs and build nests in trees, usually near the top.
In the fall, the Broad-winged Hawk migrates to its wintering grounds in Central and South America. This species is known for its impressive migration pattern, often traveling in large flocks called kettles, which can number in the thousands.
The exact route of migration can vary from year to year, but typically they travel along the eastern coast of North America and then fly across the Gulf of Mexico.
Overall, the Broad-winged Hawk is a fascinating species with unique breeding behavior and impressive migration patterns.
8. Rough-legged Hawk
If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll be amazed by the distinctive feathered legs of the Rough-legged Hawk during their winter migration in North America.
These birds of prey are known for their striking appearance, with dark brown feathers covering their body and a white underside.
Their most notable feature, however, is their feathered legs that provide insulation against the freezing temperatures of their preferred habitat. The Rough-legged Hawk is commonly found in open areas such as tundras, prairies, and fields.
During the winter months, these birds migrate south to North America in search of suitable hunting grounds.
They’re skilled hunters, preying on small mammals such as lemmings, voles, and mice. In addition to their feathered legs, they have a wingspan of up to five feet and a distinctive white patch at the base of their tail.
These physical characteristics make them easy to identify in the wild.
9. American Kestrel
You’ll be amazed by the vibrant colors of the American Kestrel, a small falcon commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands and deserts.
The male American Kestrel has a striking blue-gray head, wings, and tail, with rusty-red back and wings. The female, on the other hand, has a rusty-red back and wings, with black bars on the tail. These colors make them one of the most beautiful birds in Nebraska.
American Kestrels breed in hollow trees, rock crevices, and abandoned woodpecker holes. During the breeding season, the male performs acrobatic displays to attract the female. After mating, the female lays a clutch of 3 to 7 eggs, which hatch after 28 to 31 days.
These birds are migratory and travel to Central and South America during winter. They migrate in large flocks and can cover up to 300 miles a day.
American Kestrels are fascinating creatures that add color and beauty to the Nebraska sky.
10. Mississippi Kite
Get ready to be amazed by the Mississippi Kite, a small raptor that can be found throughout the southern United States. Here are some fascinating facts about this bird of prey:
- Breeding Habits: The Mississippi Kite is a cooperative breeder, unlike most birds of prey. This means that multiple individuals, usually family members or pairs, help raise the young. They build their nests in tall trees and often reuse the same nest year after year.
- Diet: The Mississippi Kite primarily feeds on insects, especially grasshoppers and cicadas, but also occasionally eats small mammals and birds. They are known for their aerial acrobatics, catching insects mid-flight and swooping down to grab prey from the ground.
- Plumage: The Mississippi Kite has a distinctive gray head and body, with contrasting black wings and tail. Juvenile birds have a brown head and mottled brown and white body.
- Migration: The Mississippi Kite is a migratory bird, spending its winters in South America and returning to the southern United States to breed in the summer.
The Mississippi Kite is a fascinating bird of prey with unique breeding habits and a diverse diet. Keep an eye out for this small raptor on your next birdwatching adventure!