The 9 Hawks In Michigan (And How To Identify Them)

The 9 Hawks In Michigan

Michigan, a state known for its diverse landscapes and rich wildlife, is home to a fascinating array of hawks.

These birds of prey are not just essential to the ecological balance but also a source of awe and inspiration for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. From the dense woodlands to the sprawling open fields, Michigan’s skies and tree lines are graced by various hawk species, each with unique characteristics and behaviors.

We take a close look at the 9 species of Hawks found in Michigan, including what they look like and where you can spot them!

1. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

If you are a birdwatcher in Michigan, you may have encountered the Cooper’s Hawk, a common woodland hawk that can zip through the trees in pursuit of other birds.

The Cooper’s Hawk is the second most frequently seen hawk in the state, after the Red-tailed Hawk, and can be found year-round in most areas.

  • Wingspan: 24.5″ – 35.5″
  • Weight: 7.8 – 24.0 oz
  • Body length: 14.6″ – 17.7″
  • Species name: Accipiter cooperii

Cooper’s Hawks have a slate-gray back, dark head, and red-barred chest. They have long, rounded tails with thick black bands, and yellow eyes and legs.

The males and females look similar, but the females are larger and have more brown on the back.

Some of the most distinctive features of Cooper’s Hawks are:

  • Large head and short neck that give them a “big-headed” look
  • Long, rounded tail that is almost as long as the body
  • Relatively short, rounded wings that allow them to maneuver through dense vegetation

Cooper’s Hawks can be found in a variety of habitats, but they prefer woodlands, forest edges, and suburban areas with mature trees. They are less common in open habitats, such as grasslands and marshes.

Some of the specific locations where you can spot Cooper’s Hawks in Michigan are:

State parks and recreation areas, such as Waterloo Recreation Area, Pinckney Recreation Area, and Island Lake Recreation Area. Urban and suburban parks and gardens, such as Belle Isle Park, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and Nichols Arboretum.

Cooper’s Hawk Range Map:

Cooper’s Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Cooper’s Hawks are active during the day and can be seen at any time of the year. However, they are more conspicuous during the breeding season, which lasts from March to August, when they perform aerial displays and call loudly to attract mates and defend their territories. They are also more visible during the fall and winter when they migrate or disperse to new areas.

Cooper’s Hawks have a variety of vocalizations, but the most common one is a loud, repeated “cak-cak-cak” that sounds like a car alarm. They use this call to communicate with their mates, warn off intruders, and announce their presence. They also make a softer “kip” or “whit” sound when they are perched or flying.

Cooper’s Hawk Call:

NathanFrench, XC488305. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/488305.

2. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

If you live in Michigan, chances are you have seen a Red-tailed Hawk at some point. These large raptors are widespread and common in the state and can be found in a variety of habitats, from open fields to urban areas. They are easily recognized by their distinctive short, wide red tail, which gives them their name.

  • Wingspan: 44.9″ – 52.4″
  • Weight: 24.3 – 51.5 oz
  • Body length: 17.7 – 25.6″
  • Species name: Buteo jamaicensis

Note that males and females are similar in size and appearance, but females are slightly larger and heavier than males.

Red-tailed Hawks are brown on the back and pale underneath, with a dark band across the belly. The tail is usually reddish-brown, but can vary in color and pattern depending on the age and subspecies of the bird. Some Red-tailed Hawks have a dark morph, which means they are mostly dark brown or black all over. The most distinguished features of the Red-tailed Hawk are:

  • The red tail, which is visible in flight and when perched
  • The broad, rounded wings, which are held in a slight dihedral (V-shape) when soaring
  • The dark patagial marks, which are the dark areas on the leading edge of the wing near the body
  • The pale throat and chest, contrast with the dark belly band

    Red-tailed Hawks are year-round residents in Michigan, except for some northern populations that migrate south for the winter. They can be found in almost any habitat that has open spaces for hunting and tall perches for resting, such as fields, farms, woodlands, wetlands, and even cities.

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, Michigan offers several awe-inspiring locations to spot the majestic Red-tailed Hawks. Here’s a list of some of the best locales that you should definitely add to your itinerary:

Kensington Metropark: This park is a haven for Red-tailed Hawks, as they make their nests and hunt over the expansive lake and fields. You can often catch sight of these raptors soaring in the sky or perched on trees.

Belle Isle Park: Located right in the heart of Detroit River, this park is another prime location. The hawks can be seen perching on trees and buildings, and if you’re lucky, you might witness them soaring over the river.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: This is a unique spot where the hawks glide along the ridges and cliffs, offering a stunning view against the backdrop of Lake Michigan.

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge is a veritable buffet for Red-tailed Hawks, with abundant rodents and waterfowl populating the marshes and grasslands. Here, you can observe their hunting prowess in action.

You can find Red-tailed Hawks at any time of the day, but they are most active in the morning and evening, when their prey is more active. They are also more visible in the winter, when the leaves are gone and the snow makes them stand out. You can find Red-tailed Hawks in all seasons, but they are more abundant in the summer, when they breed and raise their young.

Red-tailed Hawk Range Map:

Red-tailed Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/



Red-tailed Hawks have a distinctive call that is often used in movies and TV shows to represent any bird of prey. It is a high-pitched, descending, raspy screech that can be heard from a long distance. They use this call to communicate with their mates, defend their territory, and announce their presence. They also make other sounds, such as whistles, squeals, and barks, depending on the situation.

Red-tailed Hawk Call:

Peter Ward and Ken Hall, XC603734. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/603734.

3. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

If you are a bird watcher in Michigan, you may have seen a slim, long-tailed hawk gliding low over a marsh or grassland, holding its wings in a V-shape and sporting a white patch at the base of its tail.

This is the Northern Harrier, a distinctive and widespread raptor that can be found in the state all year round.

  • Wingspan: 38″ – 48″
  • Weight: 10 – 26 oz
  • Body length: 17″ – 23″
  • Species name: Circus hudsonius

Note that females are heavier and larger than males, and have different plumage colors.

Northern Harriers have a slender body, long legs, and a long tail. They also have an owl-like face that helps them hear their prey under the vegetation. Their plumage color varies depending on their sex and age.

Adult Northern Harriers showcase distinct sexual dimorphism in their plumage. Males, on one hand, display a pale gray coat on their upper parts, complemented by a pristine white underbelly. Notable features include their black wingtips and a distinctive white patch on the rump.

Females, contrastingly, are adorned with a brown coat above, while their underparts exhibit a buff color interspersed with brown streaks. Like the males, they too possess a white rump patch.

Juveniles of this species share similarities with the adult females, possessing a brown upper body and a buff-colored underbelly. Their distinguishing trait is a cinnamon wash that graces their underparts, in addition to the characteristic white rump patch.

Some of the most distinctive features of Northern Harriers are:

  • Their V-shaped wing posture when flying
  • Their white rump patch that contrasts with their dark tail
  • Their low and slow flight over open habitats
  • Their hovering behavior when hunting

Northern Harriers can be found in a variety of open habitats dominated by herbaceous vegetation, such as marshes, prairies, grasslands, fields, and wetlands.

Northern Harriers are resident in the southern part of Michigan, but migrate in the fall from the northern part. They can be seen in the state throughout the year, but are more common in the winter when they gather in communal roosts. They are mostly diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, but they may also hunt at dusk or dawn.

Northern Harrier Range Map:

Northern Harrier Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/



Northern Harriers are usually silent, but they may make some vocalizations during the breeding season or when alarmed. Some of the sounds they make include a” ke-ke-ke or chek-ek-chek-ek” call, usually given by males during courtship or territorial displays.

A “whii-whii-whii or wheer-wheer-wheer” call, usually given by females during courtship or when soliciting food from males and a “kak-kak-kak” or “kik-kik-kik” call, usually given by both sexes when threatened or disturbed.

Northern Harrier Call:

Thomas Magarian, XC349475. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/349475.

4. Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk


If you are a bird watcher in Michigan, you may have encountered a small hawk that zooms through the woods or near your bird feeders, hunting for songbirds and mice. This is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, the smallest hawk in North America and a resident of Michigan all year round.

  • Wingspan: 16.9″ – 22.1″ (male), 23.6″ – 27.6″ (female)
  • Weight: 3.1 – 7.7 oz (male), 7.1 – 16.8 oz (female)
  • Body length: 9.4″ – 13.4″ (male), 11.4″ – 15.4″ (female)
  • Species name: Accipiter striatus

Adults of this species exhibit an elegant display of solid gray upperparts, contrasted by barred underparts in a warm shade of reddish-brown.

Juveniles, on the other hand, are adorned with brown upperparts and streaked, buff-colored underparts.

Both age groups possess long, square tails, intricately patterned with gray and black bars and finished with very narrow white tips. Their long, slender legs and yellow eyes add to their distinctive appearance.

Females, interestingly, are larger than their male counterparts.

However, what truly sets this species apart are their unique features:

  • Their small size coupled with a compact body structure.
  • The elongated, slender wings and tail that give them an aerodynamic edge.
  • The chest and belly are marked by reddish barring, lending a vibrant touch to their overall hue.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk, a versatile bird of prey, thrives in an array of habitats. However, it shows a particular preference for wooded areas adjacent to open spaces. This includes the edges of forests, parks, suburban locales, and farmlands.

These hawks are predominantly diurnal creatures, with their hunting activity peaking during morning and evening hours. Throughout most of Michigan, Sharp-shinned Hawks are year-round residents. The exception to this is the northernmost tip of the state, where they breed during the summer months and migrate southwards as winter approaches.

Their presence becomes especially noticeable in the fall. During this season, they join large congregations of migrating raptors, creating an impressive spectacle along ridgelines and coastlines.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map:

Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/



Sharp-shinned Hawks are usually silent, except during courtship and nesting. Their most common vocalization is a high-pitched, repeated “kik-kik-kik” or “kip-kip-kip” call, which can be heard from a distance. They may also make a shrill, whistled “wheee” or “whee-oo” call, which is similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, a larger and closely related species.

Sharp-shinned Hawk Call:

Denise Wight, XC600053. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/600053.

5. Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

You may have heard the loud, whistled calls of the red-shouldered hawk, a medium-sized raptor that inhabits wooded wetlands across Michigan.

This elegant hawk is named for its striking red shoulders, which are often hidden by its wings.

  • Wingspan: 35″ – 50″
  • Weight: 16 – 24 oz
  • Body length: 17″ – 24″
  • Species name: Buteo lineatus

The Red-shouldered Hawks, while similar in appearance for both genders, showcase females that are slightly larger and heavier. Their most distinguished features include:

  • A captivating color palette of reddish-brown underparts and wing linings, contrasted by dark brown upperparts. This is further enhanced by the white spots on their chest and belly, along with reddish patches on their shoulders and upper wings.
  • An impressive black and white barred tail, hosting 5 – 6 narrow white bands. This pattern pairs strikingly with their dark brown head, featuring a white throat and a bold black eye stripe.
  • Unique flight characteristics marked by the display of crescent-shaped translucent patches at the bases of the outer wing feathers, fondly referred to as “windows”. This spectacle, coupled with their yellow legs and feet armed with long, curved talons, makes them a fascinating presence in the sky.

Red-shouldered Hawks are a familiar sight in Michigan, where they reside year-round in the southern half and breed in the northern regions. Their preferred habitats are mature forests interspersed with wet meadows, swamps, and riparian areas – perfect for hunting their prey which includes frogs, snakes, mice, and other birds.

These hawks can frequently be spotted perched on tree branches or power lines, vigilantly scanning the ground for food. They are most active during the day, particularly at dawn and dusk when their vocalizations fill the air. However, their presence diminishes in winter as they may migrate to warmer climates or gather in communal roosts.

Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map:

Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

As for their communication, Red-shouldered Hawks are known for their distinctive call – a loud, rapidly repeated “kee-yer”. This call serves multiple purposes: communicating with mates, defending territories, or simply announcing their presence.

They also employ a range of other sounds such as whistles, squeals, barks, or hisses, depending on the context. Interestingly, their calls are often mimicked by Blue Jays, leading to occasional confusion among bird watchers.

Red-shouldered Hawk Call:

John A. Middleton Jr., XC557418. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/557418.

6. Broad-winged Hawk

The Broad-winged Hawk

For avian enthusiasts in Michigan, the thrill of sighting a Broad-winged Hawk is unparalleled. This medium-sized raptor, a proud member of the Buteo genus alongside the Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, breeds within the state.

Renowned for their expansive wings and tails, these hawks exhibit remarkable soaring and gliding capabilities.

  • Wingspan: 32″ – 39″
  • Weight: 9 – 20 oz (male), 11 – 24 oz (female)
  • Body length: 13″ – 17″
  • Species name: Buteo platypterus

Broad-winged Hawks bear a distinctive appearance with a brown head, back, and upper wings, contrasted by a white throat and chest. Reddish-brown horizontal bars adorn their chest and belly, while their black tail features one or two white bands. Dark brown eyes, yellow legs and feet, and a black beak with a yellow cere complete their striking look.

Both sexes share similar markings, but females tend to be slightly larger and heavier. Juveniles mirror this pattern, albeit in duller shades, and their tails display more white bands. Distinguishing Features of Broad-winged Hawks:

  • Expansive wings and tail
  • Reddish-brown bars on chest and belly
  • White band(s) on the tail

Broad-winged Hawks favor wooded habitats like forests, woodlands, and swamps, often nesting in trees near water sources. They hunt small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, typically perching on a branch before swooping down on their unsuspecting prey.

In Michigan, Broad-winged Hawks are primarily summer residents, arriving in late April and departing in September for their winter migration to Central and South America. They often travel in large flocks known as ‘kettles’. Prime viewing times in Michigan coincide with the breeding season from May to July, and the fall migration period from late August to early October.

Key sighting locations include Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Hiawatha National Forest, Waterloo Recreation Area, and Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.

Broad-winged Hawk Range Map:

Broad-winged Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

The Broad-winged Hawk’s distinctive high-pitched “pee-ee” whistle is a familiar sound, particularly during the breeding season. This call can echo over long distances, aiding in locating these hawks within the trees. Additionally, they produce other sounds such as chirps, squeaks, and screeches to communicate with their mate or offspring.

Broad-winged Hawk Call:

Lawrence F Gardella, XC571399. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/571399.

7. Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk

For bird enthusiasts in Michigan, the sight of a medium-sized hawk gracefully soaring over open fields or perched on a pole, surveying the terrain for prey, is a familiar winter spectacle.

It’s the Rough-legged Hawk, a raptor of distinctive elegance that graces the state during the colder months.

  • Wingspan: 52″ – 54″
  • Weight: 17 – 26 oz
  • Body length: 18″ – 22″
  • Species name: Buteo lagopus

Rough-legged Hawks distinguish themselves with their slender bodies, elongated wings, and lengthy tails. They sport a white head and underparts, accentuated by dark brown streaks adorning their bellies and flanks. Their plumage coloration varies with their sex and age:

Adult males exhibit a pale gray plumage on top, contrasting with white undersides, and are characterized by black wingtips and a dark tail.

Adult females, on the other hand, are adorned with dark brown feathers above, offset by white below, and share the same black wingtips and dark tail as their male counterparts.

Juveniles mirror the appearance of adult females but can be identified by the buffy streaks that grace their head and neck.

Rough-legged Hawks are recognized by several unique features:

  • Long wings held in a V-shape while soaring
  • Contrasting white head and underparts juxtaposed with dark wings and tail
  • Kestrel-like hovering behavior while hunting
  • Migratory nature, breeding in the Arctic tundra and wintering in temperate zones

These hawks favor open habitats dominated by grassland and wetlands, such as fields, marshes, prairies, meadows, and coastal areas. In Michigan, specific locations to spot Rough-legged Hawks include Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

Rough-legged Hawks grace Michigan as winter visitors, arriving in November and departing in March. They’re largely diurnal, active during the day, but are known to hunt at dusk or dawn.

Rough-legged Hawk Range Map:

Rough-legged Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Despite being generally silent, Rough-legged Hawks do vocalize during the breeding season or when alarmed. Their calls include a “klee-klee-klee” or “klee-ee-ee” call, typically by males during courtship or territorial displays. A “kak-kak-kak” or “kik-kik-kik” call, usually by both sexes when threatened or disturbed.

Rough-legged Hawk Call:

Thomas G. Graves, XC691202. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/691202.

8. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk

For birdwatchers in Michigan, the thrill of spotting the elusive and impressive Northern Goshawk is an unmatched experience. This magnificent raptor, a year-round resident, is a rare sight thanks to its secretive nature and preference for dense woodlands.

  • Wingspan: 40″ – 46″ (male), 43″ – 50″ (female)
  • Weight: 22 – 32 oz (male), 32 – 48 oz (female)
  • Body length: 20″ – 24″ (male), 22″ – 26″ (female)
  • Species name: Accipiter gentilis

The Northern Goshawk is the largest member of the Accipitridae family found in Michigan, and one of two goshawk species in North America.

Adult Northern Goshawks exhibit a striking blue-gray plumage above, complemented by a streaked white breast and belly. They sport a black cap contrasted by a distinctive white eyeline. Their long, rounded tail is barred with gray and black, and they possess yellow eyes and a black hooked bill.

Immature goshawks, on the other hand, are brown on top with heavy streaking below. They have dark eyes and a pale yellow bill, with white and fluffy undertail coverts, particularly visible during the breeding season.

Distinguishing features include:

  • Pronounced white eyeline
  • Large size and powerful build
  • Long tail
  • Broad wings.

Northern Goshawks thrive in large, undisturbed forests, favoring mature coniferous and mixed woodlands across Michigan. They are predominantly found in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

They construct their nests in the tallest trees, often near water sources, and are most active during the morning and evening hours. Their diet includes squirrels, rabbits, grouse, and crows.

Northern Goshawk Range Map:

Northern Goshawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Northern Goshawks are particularly vocal during the breeding season, from March to July. They may also be visible during winter incursions as they move southward in search of food.

The distinctive call of a Northern Goshawk is a sharp, repetitive “ki ki ki” or “kak kak kak,” used for mate communication, territory defense, and intruder warnings. They may emit a loud “wheee” or “wheer” when flying or diving. Generally silent when hunting, they may release a low “kek” when approaching prey. Other sounds include hisses, growls, whines, and squeaks.

Northern Goshawk Call:

Lars Edenius, XC817758. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/817758.

9. Swainson’s Hawk

The Swainson's Hawk

The sight of a Swainson’s Hawk in Michigan is a rare and exciting event. This large raptor, which breeds in the western plains and migrates to South America for winter, is an infrequent visitor to the state.

While sightings of the Swainson’s Hawk in Michigan are few and far between, they have been reported sporadically, particularly in the southwestern region.

  • Wingspan: 46″ – 54″
  • Weight: 18 – 37 oz
  • Body length: 17″ – 22″
  • Species name: Buteo swainsoni

Both males and females share similar physical attributes, although the female tends to be slightly larger and heavier.

Swainson’s Hawks exhibit two primary color variations: light and dark. The majority are light-morph, characterized by a white or pale belly, reddish-brown chest, and a white throat and face. The dark-morph, more prevalent in the far west of their range, features a dark brown or black body contrasted by a lighter head and neck.

Common traits for both morphs include long, narrow wings with pointed tips, a short, rounded tail adorned with dark bands, yellow legs and feet, and dark bill and eyes.


Preferring open habitats interspersed with scattered trees, such as grasslands, prairies, and agricultural fields, Swainson’s Hawks are not Michigan residents.

However, they may pass through during their extensive migration periods, from late August to November and March to May.

Sightings are most likely in southern and western parts of the state, particularly near the Lake Michigan shoreline. Reported locations include Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Allegan State Game Area, Muskegon Wastewater System, and Pointe Mouillee State Game Area.

Swainson’s Hawk Range Map:

Swainson’s Hawk Range Map:
Credit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/



Swainson’s Hawks are generally not very vocal, but they may emit certain calls during courtship, nesting, or migration. Their most common call is a high-pitched, whistled “kree-eee” or “pewee”, audible from a distance. When alarmed or threatened, they may produce a harsher, raspy “kraa” or “kree-a”.

Swainson’s Hawk Call:

Julia Wittmann, XC438511. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/438511.

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