Hawks are diurnal raptors with keen eyesight, sharp talons for capturing and killing their prey, and sharp hooked beaks used to tear their prey into bite-sized pieces. In Kentucky, the most common hawks are the Red-Tailed Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk and Cooper's Hawk. Occasionally, you might find Broad-winged Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks or Northern Harriers in the right habitat. Some hawks remain in Kentucky year-round, while others migrate each fall.
Most species are monogamous, often for life. The build nests of sticks, lined with vegetation. Males and females are the same color, but females are usually up to 1/3 larger than the male. They eat a variety of prey, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates such as insects. The provide natural rodent control, but are often poisoned by eating poisoned rats and mice.
Buteos are soaring hawks with long, broad wings and wide, fanned tails. Buteos are built to glide effortlessly on air currents. They can soar for long stretches without flapping their wings. Their soaring ability lets them hunt for prey while circling over open areas. They will perch on trees and utility poles and wait for unsuspecting prey to move below. Buteos include the Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk.
Accipiters have short, round wings, long, rudder-like tails, and are agile forest hawks. These birds, which are adept at maneuvering in thick woods, dart through trees hunting birds on the wing. Although they sometimes soar like buteos, their typical flight pattern is several flaps followed by a glide. Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are examples of accipiters.