Hawks in Georgia

Is a goshawk the same as a hawk? What is a Buteo? How many hawks are there in Georgia? Well, in this article we try to answer those tricky questions about the Accipitridae family that you have always wondered about.

The State of Georgia

The Peach State of Georgia is so named for the quality of fruit it produces and that gives an indication of its geography.

Georgia only has around 100 miles of coastline but within that are numerous barrier islands and estuaries and the biggest swamp in the United States: the Okefenokee Swamp. The Blue Ridge Mountains are in the north-east and the Appalachian Plateau in the north-west. All of these environments enable a myriad of wildlife species to thrive in Georgia.

Georgia is relatively low on the eBird rankings of bird species in the States at 32. A respectable 438 species have been seen here and 10 states are within 10 species of that number.

What are Hawks?

Right, this is tricky. Trying to understand how families of birds work drives me mad. The layers and crossovers are hard to get to grips with. But let’s try.

Accipitriformes are the family of birds that includes most birds of prey.

Accipitridae is the subfamily of Accipitriformes that is known as Hawks, Eagles and Kites.

Accipitrinae is the subfamily of Accipitridae that includes true hawks.

There are 5 orders within the Accipitrinae: Accipiter, Microspizias, Erythrotriorchis, Megatriorchis and Circus.

Hawks in Georgia

There are 4 members of the Accipitrinae subfamily that are listed on eBird as having been sighted in Georgia. However, for our purposes, we will also include members of the Buteo family. The Buteo hawks are not in the true hawks group but as they are largely considered hawks (and called hawks) we include them on a technicality.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Identification and Size

Distinctive rufous coloring defines this hawk. It is present throughout the breast and head and across the shoulders. Beautiful black and white checks cover the underside of the wing and tail.

Length: 16.9 – 24.0 inches
Wingspan: 37.0 – 43.7 inches
Weight: 17.1 – 27.3 ounces


As seen on the eBird range map above and distribution chart below, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a resident of Georgia and can be seen throughout the state in appropriate environments.

Interesting Fact

The Red-shouldered Hawk prefers forest environments where they hunt for any moving prey like mice, small rabbits and snakes.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Identification and Size

The Cooper’s Hawk is a lovely dark gray on top with an orange front. Pale barring runs down the chest to a pale belly. Both sexes are alike but the female is bigger. Juvenile birds are brown with streaks. The eyes are distinctive and staring.

Length: 14.6 – 17.7 inches
Wingspan: 24.4 – 35.4 inches
Weight: 7.8 – 24 ounces


The Cooper’s Hawk is migratory in other parts of the United States, but in Georgia, it is resident and seen all year round. It is seen slightly less than the Red-shouldered Hawk, perhaps because it inhabits the canopy of the forest.

Interesting Fact

The Cooper’s Hawk kills its prey with its powerful talons, squeezing it until it dies.

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Identification and Size

The Sharp-shinned Hawk looks very similar to the Cooper’s Hawk but comparing the sizes shows this hawk is smaller. It is also paler on the breast. Again, the female is larger than the male.

Length: 9.4 – 13.4 inches
Wingspan: 16.9 – 22.1 inches
Weight: 3.1 – 7.7 ounces


The Sharp-shinned Hawk is migratory and spends the non-breeding season in Georgia. It leaves for breeding grounds in Canada during the fall. When present, it is widespread but as it prefers dense forests, it is less seen in the south.

Interesting Fact

The Sharp-shinned Hawk hunts for smaller birds and crushes them with its claws. Then, it will sit somewhere and pluck the bird to get to the meat.

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Identification and Size

Arguably the most common raptor in the Unites States and if you can get a look at the back of the bird, it should be easy to identify with that red tail. However, there is a wide range of plumage colors so it can still be tricky. Birds in Georgia do have a bright red tail and is pale underneath with some minimal red and brown markings. The male is smaller than the female.

Length: 17.7 – 25.6 inches
Wingspan: 44.9 – 52.4 inches
Weight: 24.3 – 51.5 ounces


As can clearly be seen by the almost total covering of the map, the Red-tailed Hawk is very common across the state all year round.

Interesting Fact

The Red-tailed Hawk has such a distinctive shrill call that it is often used in scary Hollywood films as a sound effect.

Broad-winged Hawk
(Buteo platypterus)

Photo by Julie Waters

Identification and Size

A short-bodied hawk with wide wings. The Broad-winged Hawk is brown above and barred on the breast. The wings are rufous towards the shoulders and black or brown and white toward the wing tips and on the tail.

Length: 13.4 – 17.3 inches
Wingspan: 31.9 – 39.4 inches
Weight: 9.3 – 19.8 ounces


The Broad-winged Hawk is a summer visitor to Georgia where it breeds. In the winter months, it returns to Central and South America.

Interesting Fact

When the Broad-winged Hawk is travelling on its migration, it gathers in large flocks known as kettles and they circle around each other high in the air creating a natural spectacle.

Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)

Photo by Dario Sanches

Identification and Size

Easily identifiable, this hawk has dark patches across the face surrounding a white throat. There are dark and light morphs. A full dark body defines the dark morph, with some white under the wings. The pale morph is white underneath with some black barring.

Length: 15.3 – 17.3 inches
Wingspan: 32.7 – 40.5 inches
Weight: 13.6 – 16.9 ounces


A rare visitor to the south of the state. The Short-tailed Hawk has an established population in south Florida and breeds to the north. Less than 15 sightings have been reported to eBird for Georgia.

Interesting Fact

The Short-tailed Hawk population in Florida is predominately dark morphs so this is most like the form seen in Georgia.

Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

Identification and Size

A distinctive looking hawk with dark gray backs and pale, intricate markings on the front. A red eye and strong white brow make it easy to identify. The juvenile has varied brown plumage.

Length: 20.9 – 24.0 inches
Wingspan: 40.5 – 41.1 inches
Weight: 22.3 – 48.1 ounces


A very rare sighting in Georgia with only 3 reports on eBird. The north-western border of Georgia is right on the outside range for this bird.

Interesting Fact

When mating, the Northern Goshawk will have up to 8 nesting sites and will build nests in each. They may alternate or use the same nest from year to year depending on the success found there.

Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Identification and Size

The Northern Harrier is a rather elegant and attractive bird. It is gray above with strong markings around the face. Thick barring under the wings seem to accentuate the length of the wings. The tail is long.

Length: 18.1 – 19.7 inches
Wingspan: 40.2 – 46.5 inches
Weight: 10.6 – 26.5 ounces


Georgia is within the non-breeding range of the Northern Harrier so it is present in appropriate habitats in spring, autumn and fall.

Interesting Fact

The Northern Harrier prefers habitat of open fields, grasslands and marshes where it hunts for small mammals.


So there we have it, 8 species of ‘hawk’ in Georgia. To recap, we found 4 species of Buteo (Red-shouldered, Red-tailed, Broad-winged and Short-tailed Hawks), 3 species of Accipiter (Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned Hawks and the Northern Goshawk) and 1 Circus species – the Northern Harrier.

I thought that the geography and topography of Georgia would support more species of hawk. However, there are 3 species of eagle (Bald, Golden and Osprey) and 3 falcons (Peregrine, Kestrel and Merlin) reported in the state, so there is still a lot to see!


What is the large bird of prey in Georgia?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the largest on our list and just pips the Northern Harrier.

How do you tell if a bird is a hawk or a falcon?

Falcons have a notch on at the top of their bill to help kill prey, hawks do not.
Falcons tend to be smaller than hawks, more slender and agile.

Can a hawk lift a dog?

In theory, large hawks could carry small dogs or cats away but they are unlikely to come to a backyard to do that.

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