Hawks are often the most commonly seen raptor, but that doesn’t make them any less special! Watching them soar overhead or swoop low to catch prey is always fascinating. These large raptors are excellent hunters that rely on their strong talons and flying skills to catch prey. Just how big are hawks, though? Let’s learn: Hawk Wingspan & Size: How Big Are They?
Hawk Wingspan & Size: How Big Are They?
Before we get into the details, it’s important to know that there are multiple types of hawks. There are 16 hawks in the United States, all of them with different sizes and wingspan dimensions. Here are a few of the most common hawks that you might encounter in the United States.
The different hawks and their wingspans
Red-tailed hawks are the most widespread and common hawks here in the US. They are beautiful to see in the air, and they are easily identifiable with their red tails. On average, a red-tailed hawk’s wingspan is between 3 foot 7 inches and 4 foot 7 inches. They can weigh up to 3.5 pounds and measure a little over two feet tall. Their coloration is variable, so the most common identifier is their tail.
Sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest hawks in the US, but that may make them some of the best hunters due to how nimble they are! They can be identified from their orange bars of feathers across their chest and black to blue wings. Sharp-shinned hawks have wingspans of up to 2 feet 3 inches. They only weigh up to 8 ounces and stand at 1 foot 2 inches tall.
Cooper’s hawks are also found throughout most of the US and tend to prey on songbirds near bird feeders and in backyards. They look incredibly similar to sharp-shinned hawks, only they have red eyes and are larger. A Cooper’s hawk’s wingspan can measure up to 3 feet. It can weigh up to 1.5 pounds and stand 1 foot 8 inches tall.
Red-shouldered hawks live in the eastern United States and can be identified by their distinctive red shoulder feathers and barred chest. Their coloration is most visible when they are perched. Red-shouldered hawks have a wingspan of up to 3 foot 6 inches. They weigh up to 2 pounds and measure 1 foot 7 inches in length.
Broad-winged hawks live throughout the eastern and midwestern United States. They aren’t often seen since they prefer deep woods but are still rather common. A broad-winged hawks wingspan can measure up to 2 feet 9 inches. They weigh up to 1 pound and are 1 foot 6 inches tall.
Where do hawks live?
Hawks live worldwide, and their specific species are usually the best indicator of their preferred habitat. Generally, hawks frequent places where they can see their prey, often in fields or deserts. There are also quite a few hawk species that prefer forested habitats and avoid human establishments. The red-tailed hawk is the most common in the United States and can be seen everywhere, especially while driving.
Hawks are found almost anywhere humans can be found, and many places that we aren’t. One of the rarest hawks in the world is the Ridgeway hawk, found on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). They almost went extinct when slash and burn agriculture wiped out most of their habitat and prey sources. Thankfully, conservation efforts have been made to help restore their populations.
In Europe, “buzzard” is often the term used to refer to hawks. This can be confusing, especially since buzzard often refers to vultures in the United States. Common hawks (buzzards) across Europe include:
- The rough-legged buzzard.
- The Eurasian buzzard.
- The European honey buzzard (although this bird is closer to the kite family than the hawk family).
What hawk has the largest wingspan?
The hawk with the largest wingspan in the world is the ferruginous hawk (its name means rust-colored). The ferruginous hawk lives in the western United States, mostly in deserts and prairies. They have gleaming white bodies with a rusty red coloration on their backs and necks. They prey on prairie dogs, small mammals, and squirrels. Famous for their hunting strategy, they will sit outside of a hole and wait for hours for their prey to emerge.
The ferruginous hawk has a wingspan of up to 4 feet 8 inches and weighs up to 5 pounds at its heaviest.
How fast and far can a hawk fly?
A red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk, can fly at speeds in excess of 120 mph. While they are calmly soaring, they generally cruise between 20 and 30 mph. They are likely some of the fastest hawks in the world. Peregrine falcons are often confused for hawks, but they aren’t part of the buteo group that hawks are classified in.
When it comes to distance, hawks are known to fly between 200-300 miles a day when migrating. With these incredible distances, they can cross the entire country in a matter of days. When a hawk is in its home range, however, they rarely leave the few square miles they use to hunt.
What birds are bigger than hawks?
Hawks are some of the best predators in the world, but they aren’t the largest. Eagles are generally larger than any hawk species. A hawk’s other cousins, falcons, are similar in appearance but are generally much smaller. There are many species within each taxonomical branch, however, but overall a hawk is in between the size of an eagle and a falcon.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Jay Pierstorff
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.