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Do Hawks Migrate? (Hawks During the Winter)

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Some hawks do migrate, while others don’t. It comes down to where they live. If they live in a climate that gets too cold in the winter, they will migrate south during the cold months and return in the Spring.

Hawks are some of the most captivating birds around. They are impressive hunters, and their aerial acrobatics never fail to amaze. 

But do hawks migrate?

In this article, we’ll discuss whether hawks migrate, which hawks do so, and what hawk watching is all about.

Do Hawks Migrate?

Some hawk species migrate, while others stay in the same area for the entire year. The short answer is, it depends on the species and their location[1].

Migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one region to another. In other words, animals seek out favorable living conditions depending on the season.

Most people associate migration with birds. It’s difficult to miss a flock of birds flying south for the winter. 

Some species of hawks do also migrate. It depends on where they live. Hawks that live in very northern habitats will fly south for the winter, as it becomes too cold for them. However, some hawks do live far enough southward, that they don’t have to move.

Most migratory hawks migrate because they are unable to survive the harsh winter conditions.

Flock of migratory hawk

Do Hawks Go Away in the Winter?

Northern species of hawks fly south for the winter, while southern species stay in the same area the entire year. 

While southern species have adapted to live in warm temperatures all year round, northern species are better suited for colder weather. But when it becomes too cold, they’ll leave.

Many bird species migrate when winter comes. They do this because of a few reasons:

  1. First, the weather gets too cold for them to survive in their current area if they do not migrate. 
  2. Second, they have a shortage of food supply in some areas. Some birds do go away but return when the weather has gotten better and there is more food available.

So do hawks go away in the winter? 

It very much depends on their location and species.

Hawk in winter

When Do Hawks Migrate?

Hawk migration takes place from September to mid-November, though most hawks fly off in October. This depends on a few factors, such as temperature, wind, and more[2].

Migration is most likely to occur when it’s getting cold outside. The time of departure is difficult to pinpoint; some hawks fly off in September, but most do leave in October.

Do All Hawks Migrate?

No, not all hawks migrate, but most do. Examples of migratory hawks include Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and Sharp-shinned hawks.

Some hawks migrate to find better resources such as food. The Swainson’s hawk migrates to eat and survive[3]. In the winter, this hawk migrates toward areas where there is a higher concentration of doves.

hawk in the snow

What Kind of Hawks Do Migrate?

Northern hawk species migrate before and after winter. They do this because the temperatures drop too low in the winter. Some species, mostly southern species, don’t migrate.

Most hawks migrate. A good example is a broad-winged hawk.

Broad-winged hawks are considered complete migrants because they travel thousands of miles to do so[4]. They do this to escape the cold winter temperatures of their native North America, where it gets very cold.  

It’s typically the northern hawk species that migrate, as these live in areas that get very cold during the winter.

Here are some of the most common hawks that migrate:

  • Red-Tailed Hawks[5]
  • Cooper’s Hawks[6]
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawks[7]
  • Northern Goshawk[8]
  • Red-Shouldered Hawk[9]
Red tailed hawk

Where Do Hawks Go In the Winter?

Hawks do not all go migrate to the same areas in winter. Most hawks from Alaska, Canada, and other northern parts of America stay in the United States. However, as few fly to Central and South America.

These species are considered “complete migratory hawks”, as they fly thousands of miles to find better living conditions in the winter.

An example of a complete migratory hawk is the broad-winged hawk.

Flock of migratory hawk on tree branch

Migratory Patterns of Different Species

Migration is a crucial part of the life cycle for many species. Hawks travel south to warmer climates during winter and return north in spring. 

Most hawks follow a regular migration pattern, meaning their departure is somewhat predictable. Their migration does depend on species though.

Here’s an overview of the migration patterns of some of the most common species in North America.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) do migrate during the year but do not take part in very elaborate flights. Instead, they tend to do shorter flights, which is also reflected in their migration pattern.

In the fall (around October), they’ll fly to a southern part of the United States. In the early Spring, they’ll fly back again.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are generally within their breeding range in Canada by late March or early April.

Related: Do Hawks Fly In Groups?

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter Cooperii) can be found throughout North America. It is one of the few raptors (animal bird-of-prey) that makes long-distance migrations[10].

These hawks do not typically migrate in large flocks or groups. They are usually seen migrating alone or with a mate.

When winds are strong, they migrate at a lower altitude but may reach very high altitudes when winds are weak.

coopers hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

The migration of red-tailed hawks does occur from Northern parts of America, though they do stay in North America. During the winter months, Red-Tailed Hawks migrate to more southern areas such as Mexico and even some of Central America.

Some Red-tailed hawks stay in the same area all year round. These are typically situated in the central U.S.

In the Spring, these hawks will travel back up north to start a new breeding season or to do some work on their nests. 

A male hawk will migrate back up North to do the work on a new nest, while a female hawk will stay behind in order to do most of the incubating and caring for the young.

Red tailed hawk solo

How the Weather Affects Hawk Migration

Hawks migrate largely because of the weather. Cold temperatures force them to fly south. However, the weather conditions, such as wind or rain, can also directly affect their migration.

Every year, hawks migrate to warmer weather. Depending on temperature, wind, and rain, they may change up their flight schedule.

Hawks often use the wind to aid in their flight. Scientists have observed that migration occurs mostly during cold, dry days. When air is cold and dry, it tends to be more still than air on warm, humid days.[11]

Thus, these conditions are ideal for flying by soaring instead of flapping. 

By catching a current in the air with their wings, hawks can soar and conserve energy to cover more miles in a shorter period of time.

Another weather condition that is beneficial to migrating hawks is wind. For example, when a hawk is flying south, it will typically fly with the wind rather than fight against it. This allows them to move faster.

The wind may also affect their attitude. During strong winds, some hawks need to stay at lower altitudes, as they’re too weak to handle very great winds.

Related: How fast can a hawk fly?

northern harrier hawk

What Is Hawk Watching?

Hawks watching is an activity where people head out to spot migrating hawks. There are several ways to go about doing so.

Every autumn, raptors move south to more temperate climates. These are birds of prey, including but not limited to hawks, falcons, and eagles.

Many people believe the sight of migratory hawks to be beautiful; hence, the activity hawk watching was born.

There are 3 ways that these birds can be spotted during migration:

  1. Hawk watching towers
  2. Platforms with spotting scopes
  3. Landmarks where migrating raptors congregate or fly by frequently (such as along highways, parks, etc.)

At these locations, groups of birdwatchers (and sometimes trained professionals) will monitor the migration for raptors and record their sightings.

Related: Why do hawks circle?

Conclusion

Hawks are migratory birds. They fly south for the winter, and north for the summer. Some of the more common migrating birds include red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, and Cooper’s hawks.

In the fall, typically in October, hawks will fly south. Some stay in the U.S., while others fly as far as Central or South America.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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