Table of Contents
You’re in West Virginia, and you’re looking for a bird to watch. But not just any bird – you want to see a hawk. Lucky for you, West Virginia is home to ten different species of hawks, each with their own unique features and behaviors.
From the majestic Bald Eagle to the lightning-fast Peregrine Falcon, there’s no shortage of fascinating birds to observe.
Whether you’re an experienced bird-watcher or a curious beginner, West Virginia’s hawks are sure to provide a thrilling and educational experience.
- West Virginia is home to ten different species of hawks with unique hunting abilities and habitat preferences.
- Bald Eagles, previously endangered, can still face threats such as lead poisoning and habitat destruction.
- The Rough-Legged Hawk has distinctive appearance and skilled aerial hunting abilities, while the Peregrine Falcon is an endangered species with unique physical characteristics that make it an efficient hunter.
- Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect and preserve the Peregrine Falcon.
1. Red-Tailed Hawk
The Red-Tailed Hawk is one of the most commonly spotted hawks in West Virginia, and it’s known for its distinctive red tail feathers. These birds prefer open habitats such as fields, farmlands, and deserts, but they can also be found in forests and urban areas.
Red-Tailed Hawks are skilled hunters, using their sharp talons and beaks to catch prey such as rodents, rabbits, and snakes. They are also known to scavenge for food, feeding on carrion and roadkill.
When hunting, they will perch on a high spot, scanning the area for prey. They will then swoop down and attack their target with great speed and precision.
These birds have excellent eyesight, allowing them to spot prey from great distances. They are also known for their distinctive hunting call, which sounds like a high-pitched scream.
Overall, the Red-Tailed Hawk is a fascinating bird that plays an important role in West Virginia’s ecosystem.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Let’s talk about the Cooper’s Hawk, a prevalent bird of prey in this region. These hawks are medium-sized, with a wingspan of around 2-3 feet.
They have a distinctive dark cap on their head and a rusty-red barred breast. Cooper’s Hawks are known for their agility and speed, making them excellent hunters.
Cooper’s Hawks prefer to live in wooded areas, especially near water sources. They are known to build their nests in the forks of trees, and they tend to be territorial birds.
When it comes to hunting, Cooper’s Hawks are known for their stealth. They will perch in a tree and wait for their prey to come within range before swooping down to catch it.
Their diet consists mainly of small birds, but they have been known to take larger prey such as rabbits and squirrels.
Overall, the Cooper’s Hawk is a fascinating bird of prey that’s well-adapted to its habitat and hunting behavior.
3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are smaller than Cooper’s Hawks, with a wingspan of only about 1-2 feet, and they have a slimmer, more streamlined body.
They are often mistaken for Cooper’s Hawks due to their similar appearance, but can be distinguished by their smaller size and more rounded tail.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are found throughout West Virginia, preferring forested areas with clearings or edges where they can perch and hunt. These hawks are highly skilled hunters, preying on small birds, mammals, and insects.
They are known for their agility and speed, often hunting in a stealthy manner before swooping down to catch their prey.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are also known to migrate south during the winter months, with some individuals traveling as far as South America.
Despite their small size, these hawks are a vital part of West Virginia’s ecosystem and play an important role in controlling populations of small animals.
4. Northern Harrier
You may be surprised to learn that Northern Harriers have a unique hunting technique. They glide low over fields and marshes to catch small mammals like voles and mice.
This technique is known as ‘sky-dancing’ and involves the harrier flying low over the ground, with its wings held in a V-shape, scanning for prey.
The harrier’s facial disc, which acts as a sound collector, helps it locate its prey by the sound of their movements.
Northern Harriers prefer open habitats such as fields, marshes, and grasslands, where they have plenty of space to hunt. They also require areas with tall vegetation for nesting and roosting.
These hawks are found in many parts of North America, including West Virginia.
They are most commonly seen during the fall and winter months. Keep an eye out for their distinctive flight pattern and you may just catch a glimpse of one of these skilled hunters in action.
5. Broad-Winged Hawk
If you’re lucky enough to spot a Broad-Winged Hawk in the wild, you’ll be treated to a sight of one of the most impressive migratory birds in North America. This species is known for its annual fall migration, where thousands of birds from across the continent converge on South and Central America.
Broad-Winged Hawks are also distinctive for their broad wings, which are suitable for soaring and gliding over long distances.
One distinguishing feature of the Broad-Winged Hawk is the difference between juvenile and adult plumage.
Juveniles have a brown back and wings, with a cream-colored breast and belly, while adults have a dark brown back and wings, with a rusty-red breast and belly.
This species is also known for its vocalization, which includes a high-pitched, whistling call that can be heard during their migration. Overall, the Broad-Winged Hawk is an impressive and fascinating bird that’s worth looking out for during the fall migration season.
6. American Kestrel
Now that you’ve learned about the Broad-Winged Hawk, let’s move on to another fascinating hawk species that can be found in West Virginia: the American Kestrel.
This small but mighty bird of prey is known for its stunning coloring and impressive hunting abilities.
If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll notice its rusty-red back, blue-gray wings, and white and black striped face.
The American Kestrel is a common sight in West Virginia and can be found throughout the state. These hawks prefer open habitats such as fields, meadows, and grasslands, where they can hunt for small prey such as rodents, insects, and small birds.
They are also known to use man-made structures such as telephone poles and nest boxes for breeding purposes.
Speaking of breeding, the American Kestrel is unique in that it is a cooperative breeder, meaning that young from previous years may assist their parents in raising new broods.
With a geographic distribution that spans from Alaska to South America, the American Kestrel is truly a remarkable bird that can be appreciated by birders and non-birders alike.
When you gaze out over the water, scanning for movement, you may catch sight of the magnificent Osprey, swooping down to grab a fish with its powerful talons.
These birds of prey are also known as fish hawks, and they are found throughout West Virginia, especially near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.
Ospreys are skilled hunters, using their keen eyesight to spot fish from a great distance. Once they have located their prey, they will hover over the water before diving headfirst into the water to catch their meal.
Ospreys are unique in that they are able to close their nostrils to prevent water from entering their airways while they are submerged.
They are also able to adjust the position of the fish in their talons mid-flight to ensure that it is aerodynamically balanced.
When it comes to habitat preferences, Ospreys prefer nesting near water, usually on tall structures such as trees, utility poles, or even artificial nesting platforms. They are known for their large stick nests that can be up to six feet in diameter and three feet deep.
If you’re lucky, you may spot one of these impressive birds in action during your next outdoor adventure in West Virginia.
8. Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle, a symbol of American strength and freedom, is a majestic bird of prey often found near bodies of water. They are typically found near rivers, lakes, and coastlines where they can hunt for fish, their primary source of food.
Bald Eagles are also known for their distinctive appearance, with their white head and tail feathers contrasting against their dark brown body. Despite being a national symbol, the Bald Eagle’s population has faced significant threats in the past.
Habitat loss due to human development, hunting, and pollution led to a sharp decline in their numbers.
However, thanks to conservation efforts, their population has been steadily increasing. The Bald Eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, and their population is now stable.
Although their population has rebounded, Bald Eagles are still threatened by lead poisoning from eating contaminated prey and habitat destruction.
Conservation efforts, such as habitat protection and the use of non-lead ammunition, continue to be important in ensuring the survival of these magnificent birds.
9. Rough-Legged Hawk
Get ready to be amazed by the Rough-Legged Hawk, a bird of prey that can be found in the northern parts of North America. This hawk is a medium-sized raptor with a wingspan of 4-5 feet and a length of around 18-20 inches.
It has a distinctive appearance, with a dark brown body, white underparts, and black markings on its wings. Its legs are feathered all the way down to its toes, giving it the name ‘rough-legged.’
The Rough-Legged Hawk typically nests in open tundra or taiga regions. During the winter, it can be found in more southern areas, such as grasslands and agricultural fields.
When it comes to hunting strategies, this hawk is known for its aerial hunting skills. It will soar high in the sky, scanning the ground for potential prey, which can range from small mammals like voles and rabbits to larger birds like grouse.
Once it spots its prey, it will dive down at incredible speeds, using its sharp talons to catch and kill its meal.
Overall, the Rough-Legged Hawk is a fascinating bird that is well-adapted to its environment and a skilled hunter in its own right.
10. Peregrine Falcon
Now that we’ve learned about the Rough-Legged Hawk of West Virginia, it’s time to turn our attention to another majestic bird of prey – the Peregrine Falcon. This species is truly a marvel of nature, with its incredible hunting techniques and unique set of characteristics.
One thing to note about the Peregrine Falcon is that it’s currently considered an endangered species.
Due to habitat loss, pollution, and other factors, their numbers have declined significantly over the years. However, there’ve been many conservation efforts put in place to help protect and preserve this amazing bird.
These efforts include breeding programs, habitat restoration, and legal protections. Despite the challenges they face, the Peregrine Falcon remains a symbol of resilience and determination in the face of adversity.