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Birding has grown in popularity over the years, and there are few birds more sought after and impressive to watch than the hawk. But as all experienced birders know, not all hawks are the same, and they come in tons of variations.
If you’re a birdwatcher in Florida, you can come across a litany of hawks depending on the time of year you go out. That’s why we came up with this comprehensive guide to help you identify what you’re looking at.
From there, we developed the Hawk Breakdown, which will help you knock every hawk off your birding list by letting you know when and where to look!
Below we’ve highlighted the nine different species of hawks that you can find in Florida. While eight of them have their typical migratory routes in the region, the rough-legged hawk sometimes ventures a little too far south, and that’s how you can spot them. It’s rare – but it’s possible.
When you’re trying to spot hawks, you need to know a little more than what they look like. You also need to know when they’re going to be around and where to look. We’ve got you covered here.
While you can find sharp-shinned hawks year-round in some Northern states, you’ll only find them in Florida during non-breeding periods. Once the weather starts to warm up, they head North.
When you’re looking for sharp-shinned hawks, try and set up some bird feeders in the forest then watch from a distance. The hawks like to eat the songbirds that come for the food – so if you’re lucky, you might set yourself up for a show!
Cooper’s Hawk is one of the few hawk species you can find year-round in most of Florida. While they only travel down to the panhandle and the very southern tip of Florida during the winter, they reside throughout most of the state year-round.
If you’re trying to spot a Cooper’s Hawk, you’re in luck. The easiest way to spot them is to set up a bird feeder in your backyard and wait for one to come swooping in for a songbird.
The red-shouldered hawk is another hawk that you can find year-round in Florida. Even better for Florida birders, it doesn’t matter where you’re at in the state, you can find them.
When you’re trying to spot a red-shouldered hawk head to the forest, ideally a location with plenty of canopy. Unlike other hawks that primarily prey on songbirds, the red-shouldered hawk would much rather track down a squirrel or other small mammal to eat.
While you can find a broad-winged hawk anywhere in Florida, you’ll need to know where to look depending on the time of year. If you’re looking during the breeding season, you’ll need to head up to the panhandle, but if it’s the winter you’ll need to head to the very southern tip of the state.
Everything in between is the migratory path. These birds are well known for their migration paths, and if you’re lucky enough to spot them in the middle of it, you can watch them travel by the thousands.
It’s hard to spot a Swainson’s Hawk in Florida, but it’s not impossible. You’re going to have to head down to the southernmost tip of the state during their non-breeding season, and even then that’s not where most of these hawks stay.
While you can see large swarms of these birds in Mexico and into Central America, you’re not likely to see that in Florida. That’s because the Swainson’s Hawks in Florida are actually lost – instead of heading down the Gulf of Mexico, they went the wrong way and got stuck in Southern Florida.
Still, enough of these birds make the mistake every year for you to be able to spot a few.
The red-tailed hawk is one of the common hawk species in the United States, and Florida is no exception. While you can find these birds year-round in Florida, you’ll find that there are far more of them in the winter.
That’s because they breed in Northern climates and make the journey back down for the rest of the year. These birds are highly adaptable, and you can expect to find them just about anywhere.
If you head down to the most southern regions of Florida, you can spot short-tailed hawks year-round. You can spot them everywhere else on the peninsula during breeding seasons, but you won’t find them as far north as the panhandle.
These are warm-weather birds through and through, and they never head too far north to breed. While these hawks are in Florida year-round, it’s extremely hard to spot one. That’s because typically, there are only about 500 short-tailed hawks in the state at one time.
Moreover, they rarely perch out in the open. They soar incredibly high, and that’s how they hunt. It’s a challenge to spot one, but they’re an impressive bird to behold.
If you’re looking for a Northern Harrier in Florida, you’re going to have to head out during the winter. During regular breeding periods, they head back north and head up as far as Canada.
If you’re looking for a Northern Harrier, head out to a field – or preferably a marsh. They like wide-open spaces, and like most hawks, they have excellent vision and hearing.
Rare (Outside of typical migratory range)
If you’re up for a challenge and want to try spotting a rough-legged hawk in Florida – it can be extremely rewarding. You’re only going to find these birds this far south in the winter, and it’s rare for them to travel as far south as Florida.
To improve your chances, you should search as far north in the state as possible. But once again, it’s rare to spot one this far south, they’re Arctic birds and they prefer it a little cooler, even during the winter.
If you’re into a challenge or want a bit of a show while you’re birding, trying to track down hawks is a great place to start. If you’re already in Florida, there’s good news – there’s always a hawk in your region if you know where to look.
Hopefully, this guide gave you everything you need to know to track down your next hawk. Whether you’re trying to spot them all or just want to know what’s out there, we’re confident you have what it takes to spot and identify your next hawk!
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Featured Image Credit: Becky Matsubara, Wikimedia Commons
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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