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Hawks are one of several types of raptors, or birds of prey. Although you might not want to see them in your garden, picking off the songbird population, they're impressive and elegant birds to observe. There are five hawk species commonly found in Georgia, and one further species -- the rough-legged hawk -- that's seen there occasionally.
Red-tailed hawks are large birds, measuring between 17 and 25 inches long, with females slightly larger than males. They're mostly a rich brown on top, with pale feathers on their chests and undersides. They're happy to live in any kind of open habitat, where it's easy for them to spot prey. They mostly hunt for mammals, such as rabbits, mice, rats and hares.
With an average length of 16 inches, broad-winged hawks are relatively small members of the buteo genus. Adults can either be dark brown or light brown, with pale flight feathers and dark edging to their wings. They like to live in dense forests -- with all deciduous or a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees -- near to open land for hunting. They eat a varied carnivorous diet, including smaller birds, small mammals, frogs and lizards.
Measuring between 16 and 24 inches, red-shouldered hawks are medium-sized raptors. They're fairly colorful hawks, with checkered black-and-white wings and backs, and reddish-brown chests and undersides. They live in forests or wooded areas, but prefer places with open sub-canopies, as this allows them to hunt more efficiently. They sit on perches until they spot their prey, then swoop to catch it. They mostly eat small mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Cooper's hawks tend to measure between 14 and 20 inches. They have blue-gray backs and tails and mottled brown and white undersides. They like to live in open woodlands and deciduous or mixed forests. They mostly hunt for smaller birds, but will also tackle small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. They hunt by sitting on perches, ambushing their prey as it moves past them.
At between 9 and 13 inches in length, sharp-shinned hawks are the smallest of all North American hawk species. They're also the acrobatic fliers. On their backs, they're blue-gray in color and have a pale breast with reddish-brown bars running across. They prefer to live in the forest or on the forest's edge. Roughly 90 percent of their diet is made up of songbirds, but they'll also eat small rodents and insects.
Rough-legged hawks spend much of the summer -- their breeding season -- in arctic regions, but move further south for the winter. They measure between 18 and 20 inches in length and are normally pale all over, with dark streaks, but can also be mostly dark colored, with pale flight feathers. They prefer open grasslands or barren areas, although they nest in trees or on cliffs. They mostly eat small mammals, but also some birds.
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources: Raptor Fact Sheet
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Red-Tailed Hawk
- National Geographic: Broad-Winged Hawk
- Animal Diversity Web: Buteo Platypterus
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Animal Diversity Web: Accipiter Cooperii
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Rough-Legged Hawk
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images