10 Types Of Hawks In South Dakota

If you’re a birdwatcher or simply enjoy observing wildlife, South Dakota is a great place to spot a variety of hawks. With its diverse terrain and ample food sources, this state is home to ten different types of hawks that can be seen throughout the year.

From the majestic Bald Eagle to the fierce Cooper’s Hawk, each species has unique characteristics that make them fascinating to observe.

Whether you’re hiking in the Black Hills or driving through the Great Plains, keep your eyes peeled for these magnificent birds of prey.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of the ten types of hawks found in South Dakota, examining their physical characteristics, habitats, and behaviors.

Key Takeaways

  • South Dakota is home to ten different types of hawks, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, and Broad-winged Hawk.
  • Each type of hawk has its own unique characteristics, habitat preferences, and hunting techniques.
  • Ospreys and Bald Eagles are also raptors found in South Dakota, with distinct features and threats to their populations.
  • Conservation efforts have helped the Bald Eagle population recover, but habitat loss and hunting still pose a threat to many bird species in South Dakota.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk, with its distinct reddish-brown tail, is one of the most common and widely recognized hawks in South Dakota, often seen soaring high in the sky searching for prey.

This species is known for its keen eyesight and ability to spot small rodents from great distances.

Red-tailed Hawks prefer open habitats, such as grasslands, deserts, and agricultural fields where they can hunt for food and easily spot their prey. Their hunting behavior is characterized by their agility and speed, with Red-tailed Hawks being able to dive at speeds of up to 120 mph.

They use their sharp talons to catch and kill their prey, which can range from small mammals like rodents and rabbits to birds and reptiles.

Red-tailed Hawks mate for life and build their nests in tall trees, often using sticks and branches to construct a sturdy platform. These nests can be used for several years and can grow to be quite large.

Overall, the Red-tailed Hawk is a fascinating bird of prey that is essential to the ecological balance of South Dakota’s ecosystems.

2. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Spotting a Sharp-shinned Hawk soaring through the sky is a breathtaking sight. These small hawks are known for their agility and speed, making them a thrilling sight to see in action. Although they are often mistaken for other small hawks, their unique features and behavior set them apart.

When it comes to migration, Sharp-shinned Hawks are known to travel long distances. They typically breed in Canada and Alaska, then migrate to the southern United States and Central America during the winter months.

As for their habitat preferences, these hawks can be found in a variety of environments, including forests, woodlands, and even urban areas.

They prefer areas with dense vegetation, which provides cover for their hunting and nesting activities.

Here are some interesting facts about Sharp-shinned Hawks:

  • They have short, rounded wings and long tails, which allow them to maneuver through dense vegetation and catch prey in flight.
  • These hawks are known to hunt birds, often ambushing them in mid-air.
  • Sharp-shinned Hawks are one of the smallest hawks in North America, with a wingspan of about 2 feet.
  • Their breeding season typically takes place from April to July, during which they build nests in trees using sticks and other materials.
  • Although they’re not considered endangered, Sharp-shinned Hawks are still susceptible to habitat loss and other environmental threats.

3. Cooper’s Hawk

You’ll be amazed by the speed and agility of the Cooper’s Hawk, a bird of prey that’s found across North America. The Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized hawk that’s known for its remarkable hunting skills.

This bird has a long tail and short wings, which enable it to maneuver quickly through dense vegetation and catch prey on the ground or in the air.

The Cooper’s Hawk is a common breeding species in South Dakota and can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and suburban areas. These birds typically build their nests in the forks of trees, and they prefer tall trees with good visibility.

During breeding season, the male hawk performs elaborate courtship displays to attract a mate. After mating, the female lays 3-5 eggs, which she incubates for about a month. The young hawks fledge after about a month and a half, and they become independent after another month or so.

Overall, the Cooper’s Hawk is a fascinating bird that’s well-adapted to life in South Dakota’s diverse habitats.

4. Northern Harrier

Get ready to witness the elegant flight of the Northern Harrier, a bird of prey known for its distinctive hovering hunting technique.

This hawk species is commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, and fields. They tend to avoid heavily forested areas, preferring to hunt in areas where they can easily spot their prey.

The Northern Harrier’s hunting behavior is quite unique and effective. They fly low over the ground, often hovering in one spot, scanning the ground for small mammals such as rodents and rabbits.

They also have the ability to hear their prey from a distance, allowing them to locate them even when they are hidden.

Once they spot their prey, they swoop down and catch it in their talons.

Overall, the Northern Harrier’s habitat preferences and hunting behavior make it a fascinating and successful predator in the wild.

5. Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, with its distinctive feathered legs, is a skilled hunter that frequents open areas such as tundra and grasslands.

This bird of prey is known for its remarkable hunting abilities, which include hovering in mid-air and scanning the ground for prey.

The Rough-legged Hawk is often seen flying low, using its keen eyesight to spot small mammals such as voles, mice, and rabbits. When it comes to habitat preferences, the Rough-legged Hawk has a preference for open areas such as grasslands, tundras, and marshes.

This bird of prey can be found in many parts of North America, including South Dakota.

During the breeding season, the Rough-legged Hawk will build its nest on a high cliff or tree, and it will typically lay two to six eggs.

As for hunting behavior, the Rough-legged Hawk is known for its patience and persistence. It will hover for long periods of time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to swoop down and catch its prey.

Despite its small size, the Rough-legged Hawk is a formidable hunter and a fascinating bird to observe in the wild. The Rough-legged Hawk’s striking feathered legs make it stand out from other hawks.

Its ability to hover in mid-air and scan the ground for prey is impressive. The Rough-legged Hawk’s preference for open areas such as grasslands and tundras makes it perfectly adapted to its environment.

Watching a Rough-legged Hawk hunt is a thrilling and unforgettable experience.

6. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk, known for its distinctive brown and white plumage, is a migratory bird that travels long distances from Argentina to North America. The hawk is named after William Swainson, an English naturalist who discovered and described the species in 1834.

Swainson’s Hawk has a wingspan of approximately 47 inches and weighs between 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. It has unique migration patterns. During the winter, the hawk migrates to South America, and during the summer, it migrates to North America.

The hawk breeds in North America, specifically in the western region of the United States. During breeding season, Swainson’s Hawks build their nests on tall trees or shrubs, and the female lays two to five eggs. The hawk primarily feeds on small mammals, reptiles, and insects.

7. Ferruginous Hawk

Now that we’ve talked about Swainson’s Hawks, let’s move on to the Ferruginous Hawk, another common hawk in South Dakota. You may have already spotted this large bird of prey, with its distinctive rust-colored feathers on its back and wings.

The Ferruginous Hawk is known for its unique behavior of building the largest nests of any North American raptor, constructing them on cliff ledges or in tall trees.

Its habitat preferences include open grasslands, shrublands, and deserts, where it can find prey such as small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

These hawks are also skilled hunters, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from high in the air before swooping down to catch it. Overall, the Ferruginous Hawk is an impressive bird that plays an important role in the ecosystem of South Dakota.

8. Broad-winged Hawk

Did you know that the Broad-winged Hawk is a migratory bird that can travel up to 4,500 miles from South America to North America?

These birds can be found in South Dakota during their breeding season, and they often prefer to nest in deciduous forests near water sources such as rivers or lakes.

During the winter months, they migrate to Central and South America, where they spend their time in tropical forests or wooded areas. Broad-winged Hawks are small to medium-sized raptors, with a wingspan of about 2 feet.

They are known for their distinctive high-pitched calls, which can often be heard during their migration. These birds feed on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

They have also been known to eat insects, especially during their breeding season. Understanding the migration patterns and habitat preferences of these birds is important for conservation efforts, as loss of habitat and hunting pose significant threats to their populations.

9. Osprey

The Osprey, also known as the fish hawk, can be seen hovering over bodies of water before diving feet-first to catch fish. This bird of prey has a unique behavior that makes it stand out from other hawks.

Their talons are specially adapted to catch fish, with sharp spines pointing backwards to prevent the slippery prey from escaping.

They are also able to close their nostrils while diving, which allows them to submerge their entire head underwater without inhaling water.

Ospreys can be found in a variety of habitats, but they prefer nesting near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, or coasts. They construct large nests made of sticks and other materials, usually on top of trees or on man-made structures such as telephone poles or channel markers.

These nests can be reused for many years, and can grow up to 6 feet in diameter.

Despite their preference for water, ospreys are also known to inhabit areas near deserts and other arid regions.

10. Bald Eagle

You’ll love seeing the majestic Bald Eagle in its natural habitat, soaring through the skies with its impressive wingspan. The Bald Eagle is a bird of prey that can be found throughout South Dakota, and is one of the most iconic birds in the United States.

It is known for its distinctive white head and tail feathers, and its powerful talons that can grip onto prey with incredible strength.

Despite being an emblem of American pride, the Bald Eagle was once on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, hunting, and the use of pesticides like DDT.

However, its conservation status has improved significantly over the years, thanks to efforts by conservationists and government agencies.

Today, the Bald Eagle is classified as a species of least concern, and its population is slowly recovering. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, wetlands, and near bodies of water like lakes and rivers.

Keep your eyes peeled for this magnificent bird during your next visit to South Dakota!

Brian Koller

Growing up on a farm in eastern PA, I’ve grown fond of wildlife and the woods and learning about the critters and firewood and everything else in-between. I made this site to share my experiences and knowledge.

Other Articles