Discover the 8 Types of Hawks in New Mexico

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: May 26, 2022
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New Mexico boasts over 300 bird species, including hawks that dwell in the high-elevation forests, riparian woodlands, and desert scrubs, among other habitats. Hawks are a large group of predatory birds with good eyesight, sharp talons, and curved beaks. They are similar to owls and eagles but have several distinct differences.

In this article, we’ll look at eight types of hawks that are commonly found in New Mexico. Many species of hawks are found within the state year-round, while others are only sighted during the breeding seasons, non-breeding seasons, or in the winter months. Nevertheless, they make an appearance at some point during the year.

1. Red-tailed Hawk

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed hawks possess a distinctive bigfoot relative to other species, and a darker belly band.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

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Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific nameButeo jamaicensis
Weight1.5-3.5 lbs (680-1586 g)
Height18-26 in (45-65 cm)
Wingspan43-56 in (110-141 cm)

New Mexico is home to several species of red-tailed hawks. Most of them are predominant in the highlands of New Mexico, from Rio Arriba County and Sierra County to San Miguel and Quay County. 

Red-tailed hawks have white collared necks, rufous-brown heads, and dark-red wings. They possess a distinctive bigfoot relative to other species and a darker belly band. These hawks live in open country and prefer nesting on cliffs. Females lay 2-3 eggs, sometimes 4. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs.

Red-tailed hawks feed on a diet of smaller birds, small reptiles, and invertebrates like crabs. They have a unique hunting technique that involves their loud screech vocalizations. The prey’s first reaction is to run for safety once the red-tailed hawk lets out a loud screech. The hawk then flies down to attack the prey once it’s exhausted.

2. Northern Goshawk

Goshawk
Northern goshawks build their nests using sticks that are lined with foliage.

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Northern Goshawk
Scientific nameAccipiter gentilis
Weight1.4-4.8 lbs (635-2177 g)
Height18-27 in (46-69 cm)
Wingspan40-46 in (103-117 cm)

Northern goshawks are seen as a more robust and larger version of Cooper’s hawks. These hawks are referred to in some cultures of Mexico and America as a “symbol of strength.” They are the largest hawks of the genus Accipiter. Northern goshawks are solitary as well as migratory in New Mexico, where they relocate to areas with lower elevations during the cold winter weather. In some areas, they are known to dwell within the nesting areas for their entire lives. They live in diverse deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests with high tree concentrations where they can hunt in and below the canopies. 

These hawks feed primarily on a diet of smaller birds, such as crows and grouse. They may also eat rodents, squirrels, rabbits, snowshoe hares, and large insects. In turn, they are preyed on by eagles, wolves, and great-horned owls. Juvenile northern goshawks are brown on their upper body parts and light underneath with dark streaks. Mature northern goshawks possess a wedge-tipped tail, rounded wings with gray upperparts, and whitish bellies.

Northern goshawks build their nests using sticks that are lined with foliage. The nest may be used for more than a season. Females lay between 2 and 4 bluish-white eggs that hatch in about 32-38 days.

3. Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged hawks are vulnerable to predation by American black bears, porcupines, and raccoons.

©pr2is/Shutterstock.com

Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific nameButeo platypterus
Weight9.3-19.8 oz (264-561 g)
Height13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
Wingspan31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)

Broad-winged hawks are highly migratory small hawks with broad wings that are commonly found in New Mexico. They have brown upper wings, and their necks are whitish with cinnamon-colored stripes on the belly.  They often migrate south to winter in the neotropics, from New Mexico down to southern Brazil.

These hawks are very territorial and solitary birds. They prefer breeding in deciduous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forests. On some occasions, they improvise on abandoned crow or squirrel nests. Females lay 2-3 eggs, sometimes 1-4. The male provides food for the female during incubation, with chicks hatching at 28 to 32 days.

Broad-winged hawks feed on small mammals, reptiles, insects, and other small birds. They hunt for prey from a raised concealed perch. They swoop down rapidly to catch prey upon spotting one. In turn, these hawks are vulnerable to predation by American black bears, porcupines, and raccoons.

4. Harris’s Hawk

harris hawk in flight with claws ready
Harris’s hawks prefer to hunt late in the day when it’s cooler.

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Harris’s Hawk
Scientific nameParabuteo unicinctus 
Weight18-31 oz (515-880 g) 
Height18-23 in (46-59 cm) 
Wingspan41-47 in (103-120 cm)

Harris’s hawks are social birds of prey that are well-known for hunting as a pack. They are commonly found in New Mexico all year. They are often seen in areas of the state with cactus deserts, river woods, or a medium elevation.

These hawks are brown with reddish patches on their shoulders. They have long tails with white feathers at the tip and are unique for performing back stacking, where several of them align themselves in a pyramid-like formation when they do not have enough space to perch.

Harris’s hawks prefer to hunt late in the day when it’s cooler. Their diet consists of small mammals such as mice, reptiles, and other birds. They can also feed on dead animals, especially during winter. In turn, they are hunted by great-horned owls.

These raptors build their nests on top of trees, bushes, cacti, or artificial structures. Females lay 3-4 white eggs, sometimes 1-5, depending on conditions like favorable weather and food availability. The incubation period lasts about 33-36 days.

5. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk
Swainson’s hawks are susceptible to predation by coyotes, eagles, and great-horned owls.

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Swainson’s Hawk
Scientific nameButeo swainsoni
Weight1.1-3.7 lbs (499-1678g)
Height17-22 in (43-56 cm)
Wingspan46-54 in (117-137 cm)

Swainson’s hawks are named after the British scientist, William Swainson. They are medium-sized birds of prey, also known as locusts or grasshopper hawks, owing to their fondness for these insects. They are brown or gray on top with a dark or reddish-brown chest.

These hawks are mostly found in the eastern and southern parts of New Mexico year-round. They are highly migratory birds whose habitat preference is open country-like cultivated areas and savanna grasslands.

Apart from insects, they also feed on small mammals such as rats, ground squirrels, and rabbits. They often forage on foot with partly stretched wings as they run after insects. Swainson’s hawks are susceptible to predation by coyotes, eagles, and great-horned owls.

Choosing the tree in which to build a nest is usually the prerogative of the female Swainson’s hawk. Twigs, sticks, and debris are all used to build the nest. Females lay between 2-3 pale bluish-white eggs that hatch in about 34-35 days.

6. Sharp-shinned Hawk

cooper's hawk vs sharp shinned hawk
Sharp-shinned hawks are preyed upon by peregrine falcons and other larger hawks.

©Wyatt W/Shutterstock.com

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific nameAccipiter striatus
Weight2.9-7.7 oz (82-219 g)
Height9.1-15 in (23-37 cm)
Wingspan17-27 in (42-68 cm)

Sharp-shinned hawks are named after the sharp keel on the leading edge of their long legs. They are the smallest hawks in New Mexico. Juveniles are brown on the upper body and light underneath, while adults are blue-gray on the upper body with orange-colored bars on the breast and belly. They have a distinctive flap and glide style of flying.

Their habitat is in deep forests and open areas. They are often sighted, soaring and gliding in forested areas of New Mexico. They are most visible during migration. During the breeding season, these hawks prefer areas of dense vegetation in tandem with their secretive nature.

Sharp-shinned hawks feed on songbirds, rodents, squirrels, snakes, lizards, insects, frogs, and other small mammals. They usually perch on foliage and wait for small birds to approach. You may also spot sharp-shinned hawks chasing after songbirds in the backyard and near bird feeders. They are, in turn, preyed upon by peregrine falcons and other larger hawks.

7. Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk on a white background
Adult Cooper’s hawks are blue-gray on top with reddish bars underneath.

©Richard G Smith/Shutterstock.com

Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific nameAccipiter cooperii
Weight7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
Height14-20 in (35-50 cm)
Wingspan24-39 in (62-99 cm)

Cooper’s hawks were named after William Cooper by Charles Bonaparte. Cooper collected specimens used to describe the bird’s species. These hawks are often spotted throughout New Mexico. You will likely run into them in the backyards and near the bird feeders, actively searching for songbirds.

These hawks are medium-sized birds of prey, almost the size of a crow. Adults are blue-gray on top with reddish bars underneath. They have dark bands on their bellies and tails. The immatures are brown above.

Their diet consists mainly of small birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other small mammals. When hunting, they move towards prey stealthily and burst into high speed to close in. In turn, these hawks are susceptible to predation by raccoons, great-horned owls, and other large hawks.

Cooper’s hawks nest in deciduous or coniferous trees. Males are responsible for building the nests using sticks and twigs. Nests are built between 20 and 60 feet from the ground. Females lay between 3 and 5 eggs, sometimes 1 to 7, depending on the conditions. The incubation period takes around 34-36 days.

8. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged hawks hunt by hovering over open fields or by watching for movement from a perch.

©Eivor Kuchta/Shutterstock.com

Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific nameButeo lagopus
Weight1.32-3.66 lbs (599-1660 g)
Height18-24 in (46-60 cm)
Wingspan52-54 in (132-138 cm)

Rough-legged hawks are highly migratory birds of prey often sighted in New Mexico. They are relatively large hawks with fairly large heads, broad wings, and a long tail that is boldly patterned in dark brown. Adults are generally mottled dark and light on the lower side of their body.

These hawks are named after their feathered legs and are well adapted to the cold climate. They hunt by hovering over open fields or by watching for movement from a perch. Their main targets are small mammals such as lemmings, ground squirrels, voles, birds, and reptiles. 

Rough-legged hawks nest on treetops and cliff ledges. Females lay 3-5 eggs, sometimes 2-6. Females mostly incubate the eggs, and it takes about 31 days. Males may temporarily sit on the eggs, though their primary duty is to provide food for the females during this period.


The Featured Image

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) in flight
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I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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