hawks in michigan

In the skies above Michigan, a group of fascinating birds of prey, known as hawks, soars majestically. These impressive hunters play a crucial role in the state’s ecosystems, showcasing the diversity of wildlife that calls Michigan home.

Let’s take a closer look at seven hawks in Michigan, discovering their unique characteristics and understanding the impact they have on the natural balance of this beautiful region.

Northern Hawk Owl 

Scientific name: Surnia ulula

The Northern Hawk Owl, a striking and distinctive bird of prey, inhabits the northern boreal forests of North America, including parts of Michigan. With a medium-sized build and a wingspan of about 24 inches (61 centimeters), this owl stands out with its unique appearance.

It is known for its remarkable adaptation, resembling a hawk both in its behavior and appearance. Its plumage features a combination of dark markings and subtle shades of brown, helping it blend seamlessly with the forest environment.

Northern Hawk Owl 

Unlike many other owl species, the Northern Hawk Owl is diurnal, meaning it is active during the day. Equipped with exceptional vision and sharp talons, it preys on small mammals and birds, often perching prominently on tree branches to survey its surroundings.

This owl’s distinctive hunting style, combined with its ability to hover like a hawk, adds to its allure, making it a sought-after sighting for birdwatchers in the northern regions.

Ferruginous Hawk 

Scientific name:Buteo regalis

The Ferruginous Hawk, a regal raptor with a wingspan reaching up to 55 inches (140 centimeters), is a magnificent bird of prey that can be found in the grasslands and prairies of North America, including parts of Michigan. 

Known for its striking appearance, this hawk displays a predominantly light coloration, with rust-colored markings on its plumage, particularly on its legs. It is the largest hawk in North America, and its robust build reflects its adaptation to open habitats where it soars gracefully in search of prey.

Ferruginous Hawk 

 Specializing in hunting small mammals such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, this hawk employs keen eyesight and powerful talons for efficient predation. Its preference for expansive grasslands makes it a notable species in regions where such habitats are prevalent.

It stands as a majestic symbol of the diverse avian life that thrives in the expansive landscapes of North America, including the grassy expanses of Michigan.

Northern Harrier 

Scientific name:Circus hudsonius

The Northern Harrier, a bird of prey renowned for its distinctive hunting style, can be found in various habitats, including marshes, grasslands, and open fields throughout North America, including Michigan. With a wingspan of around 40 inches (102 centimeters) and a characteristic white rump patch, this harrier is easily recognizable in flight. 

Northern Harrier 

One of its unique features is its facial disk, resembling an owl, aiding in sound localization as it glides low over the ground in search of small mammals and birds.They often hover over their prey before executing precise and agile dives to capture it.

These raptors are known for their adaptability and can be spotted in diverse landscapes, showcasing their mastery of different hunting techniques in their quest for sustenance.


Scientific name:Pandion haliaetus

The Osprey, a bird of prey with a specialized diet of fish, is a captivating sight near bodies of water in Michigan and across the globe. Recognizable by its striking appearance, featuring a dark eye stripe and distinctive white head, this large raptor has a wingspan that ranges from 59 to 67 inches (150 to 170 centimeters). 


They are well-adapted to their piscivorous lifestyle, possessing sharp talons and reversible outer toes that enable them to grasp fish securely. They are often seen hovering over water, keenly observing the surface below before executing a powerful dive to snatch a fish with their talons. 

They construct large nests, typically atop structures like utility poles or artificial platforms, showcasing their ability to adapt to human-altered landscapes. As ambassadors of aquatic ecosystems, these birds of prey play a vital role in maintaining the balance of freshwater environments in Michigan and beyond.

Buteo Jamaicensis 

Scientific name:Red-tailed Hawk

It is one of the most widespread and recognizable hawks in North America, including Michigan. With a wingspan ranging from 43 to 57 inches (109 to 145 centimeters), these hawks are characterized by their broad wings and a distinctive red tail, especially prominent in adults. 

They exhibit various color morphs, but they generally have a mottled brown appearance on their upperparts and a lighter underside with a belly band.

Buteo jamaicensis 

As versatile hunters, they prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles, often soaring high in the sky or perching on elevated vantage points to spot potential prey. Their unmistakable cry, often associated with open landscapes and soaring heights, adds to their iconic presence in the diverse ecosystems of Michigan.

Buteo lagopus 

Scientific name: Rough-legged Hawk

The Rough-legged Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo lagopus, is a majestic raptor that breeds in the Arctic tundra and migrates south during winter, making it a seasonal visitor to parts of North America, including Michigan. 

Buteo lagopus michigan hawks

Recognizable by its feathered legs, a characteristic not common among other hawks, this bird of prey has a wingspan of approximately 52 to 54 inches (132 to 137 centimeters). During the breeding season, the Rough-legged Hawk displays a dark plumage on its upperparts and a light underside. 

Its adaptive nature allows it to thrive in open landscapes, and it is often observed perched on utility poles or gliding over fields, searching for small mammals. In the winter, these hawks can be spotted in more southern regions, offering birdwatchers in Michigan a chance to witness their graceful flight and hunting techniques.

Buteo lineatus 

Scientific name:Red-shouldered Hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk, scientifically known as Buteo lineatus, is a woodland hawk that inhabits various forested areas across North America, including parts of Michigan. 

With a wingspan ranging from 37 to 43 inches (94 to 109 centimeters), these hawks are characterized by their striking red-brown shoulders and a distinctive loud, piercing call. Red-shouldered Hawks prefer dense wooded habitats, where they can be observed perching on tree branches or soaring above the canopy. 

Red-shouldered Hawk

They feed on a diverse diet of small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Nesting in the vicinity of water sources, these hawks play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of wooded ecosystems. Their enchanting presence and vocalizations make them a notable and cherished species for bird enthusiasts in Michigan.


As we wrap up our glimpse into the world of hawks in Michigan, it’s clear that these magnificent birds contribute significantly to the state’s ecological tapestry. From the Red-tailed Hawk, with its distinctive tail markings, to the Cooper’s Hawk, known for its agile hunting skills, Michigan’s hawks embody the spirit of the wild. As they continue to glide and swoop across the skies, these birds of prey remain an essential part of Michigan’s natural heritage, inspiring awe and appreciation for the intricate interconnectedness of the state’s diverse ecosystems.


What are the biggest hawks in Michigan?

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is one of the largest hawks in Michigan, known for its broad wingspan and distinctive red tail feathers, especially in adults. Another notable large hawk in the region is the Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), recognized for its feathered legs and preference for open landscapes.

Are there hawks or falcons in Michigan?

Yes, both hawks and falcons can be found in Michigan. Common hawk species include the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Peregrine Falcons are one of the notable falcon species present in Michigan, often seen in urban areas and along the Great Lakes.

What is the rare hawk spotted in Michigan?

The Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is considered a rare and majestic falcon that can occasionally be spotted in Michigan during migration. Known for its large size and distinctive plumage, the Gyrfalcon is a captivating sight for bird enthusiasts fortunate enough to witness it in the state.

Where do hawks live in Michigan?

Hawks in Michigan can be found in various habitats, including forests, grasslands, and urban areas. They are often seen perched on tree branches or soaring in open skies. Red-tailed Hawks, for example, thrive in diverse landscapes, while Cooper’s Hawks may be observed in wooded areas. The diverse habitats of Michigan offer suitable environments for different hawk species.

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