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Are you interested in the magnificent birds of prey that soar through the Virginia skies? Virginia is home to seven species of hawks, each with its unique characteristics and behaviors.
From the small and agile Sharp-shinned hawk to the larger and more aggressive Northern goshawk, these birds are a sight to behold.
As a bird enthusiast, you can increase your chances of spotting these magnificent creatures in the Virginia skies with the help of binoculars or a spotting scope.
Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a beginner, exploring the different habitats and behaviors of these seven species of hawks in Virginia is sure to be an exciting and rewarding experience.
- Virginia is home to 7 species of hawks, each with unique characteristics and behaviors.
- The Sharp-shinned hawk is small and agile, while the Northern goshawk is larger and more aggressive.
- The Red-tailed hawk is common in North America and known for its migratory habits.
- Habitat loss and fragmentation have led to a decline in the population of the Sharp-shinned hawk.
1. Sharp-Shinned Hawks
You’re going to be amazed when you spot the petite Sharp-shinned hawk, which only visits Virginia during the winter months and migrates away in the fall.
These small raptors have short, rounded wings and long tails, making them agile and efficient hunters. Their hunting behavior is characterized by quick bursts of flight, followed by sudden stops and turns to catch their prey, which mostly consists of small birds and mammals.
Sharp-shinned hawks build their nests in tall trees, usually near the edges of forests. They prefer to nest in coniferous trees such as pines and firs, where they can hide their nests from predators.
As for their prey preferences, Sharp-shinned hawks have been known to eat a variety of small birds, including sparrows, finches, and warblers.
Unfortunately, their population trends have been declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
2. Cooper’s Hawks
If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a Cooper’s hawk in the wild, your heart will race as you witness its powerful wingspan and fierce hunting abilities up close.
These hawks are becoming more common in populated areas, often seen perched on power lines or soaring over suburban neighborhoods.
Cooper’s hawks are larger than their Sharp-shinned counterparts and can be identified by their rounded tail and dark cap on their head.
They are known for their impressive hunting techniques, often chasing prey through dense vegetation or swooping down from above to surprise their prey. They primarily hunt birds, but will also eat small mammals and reptiles.
These hawks have a unique tracking behavior, where they will often perch in a hidden location and wait for their prey to come into view.
Cooper’s hawks prefer habitats with a mix of open spaces and trees, making them common in urban and suburban areas with large parks or wooded lots.
While there is no official population estimate for Cooper’s hawks in Virginia, their population trends appear to be stable.
3. Northern Goshawks
Get ready to feel your heart race as you witness the Northern goshawk’s incredible size and aggressive hunting behavior during their winter visits to Virginia.
These hawks are larger and more aggressive than the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, and are easily spotted during the winter months after their migration.
The Northern goshawk has a wingspan of up to 40 inches and can weigh up to 3 pounds. They have sharp talons and powerful beaks that they use to catch their prey mid-flight.
During their winter sightings in Virginia, the Northern goshawk can be seen hunting in open areas such as fields and meadows. They are known for their stealthy hunting behavior, using their keen eyesight to spot prey from above and then swooping down to catch them.
In terms of nesting behaviors, Northern goshawks are typically found in dense forests and build their nests in the tops of trees.
While their population in Virginia is not currently threatened, it’s important to continue monitoring their migration patterns and population trends to ensure their continued survival in the area.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawks
When walking through wet forests in Virginia, keep an eye out for the light, reddish barred undersides of these magnificent birds, as they perch on branches above you – they’re the red-shouldered hawks.
These birds are easily identified by their barring patterns and reddish hues on their pale undersides.
Unlike other hawk species, the red-shouldered hawks are seen year-round in Virginia, making them a common sight in the state’s wet forests. The red-shouldered hawks are known for their distinctive calls, which sound like ‘kee-yer’ or ‘keer.’
These birds are skilled hunters, preying on small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians in their wet forest habitats.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a red-shouldered hawk, take a moment to appreciate their beauty and impressive hunting skills.
5. Red-Tailed Hawk
Spotting a red-tailed hawk in North America is a thrilling experience, as these majestic birds are one of the most common raptors in the region. They can be identified by their distinct red tail and white breast with dark belly banding.
Red-tailed hawks prefer habitats with open spaces such as fields, deserts, and grasslands, but can also be found in forests, along rivers, and near roadsides.
They are known to perch on tall vantage points, such as trees or telephone poles, to scan their surroundings for prey.
As skilled hunters, red-tailed hawks primarily feed on rodents, but will also prey on rabbits, snakes, and birds. They use their sharp talons and hooked beaks to capture and kill their prey, often swooping down from above to surprise them.
During breeding season, pairs of red-tailed hawks will build nests high up in trees or on cliffs, and will fiercely defend their territory.
These hawks are also known for their migratory habits, with individuals from northern regions of North America migrating south for the winter.
6. Rough-Legged Hawks
You’re in for a treat when you spot a rough-legged hawk in North America. These majestic birds are known for their fully feathered legs and distinctive black and white patterned tail.
Unlike other hawks in Virginia, rough-legged hawks are only seen during winter, as they breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate south to hunt.
Rough-legged hawks are known to have unique hunting habits compared to other hawks. They prefer to hunt small mammals, such as mice and voles, by hovering over an area and then diving down to catch their prey.
Their migratory patterns are also interesting, as they travel long distances from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra to Virginia and other southern states during the winter months.
Keep an eye out for these magnificent birds during your winter sightings in Virginia!
7. Broad-Winged Hawks
If you’re lucky enough to visit Virginia during breeding season, keep an eye out for the bold, white and black banded tails of broad-winged hawks.
These hawks are known for their distinctive markings and can be found in the state from April to August. During this time, they are busy building nests and raising their young.
Broad-winged hawks are known for their unique breeding habits. They typically mate for life and will return to the same nesting site year after year.
They also have a unique migration pattern, traveling in large groups called kettles. These hawks prefer a diet of small mammals, reptiles, and insects, and can often be heard making high-pitched vocalizations while hunting.
Keep an eye out for these impressive birds during your next visit to Virginia.