7 Small Hawk Species

When it comes to the size of hawks, small is relative seeing how these predatory birds are by nature generally larger specimens than many other bird species.

Even so, there are a few hawk species that don’t stand as tall as their larger cousins. This article will take a look at the hawks that are on the smaller side.

Tiny Hawk

Tiny Hawk photo Photo by Félix Uribe CC BY-SA 2.0

As its name suggests, the Tiny Hawk is a small hawk species that has a length of only 20- 26.5 cm (7.9-10.5 in), with males being about the size of a starling.

They’re not the smallest Accipiter, however. They share their position for smallest hawk species with the little sparrowhawk of Africa which is of similar size to the Tiny hawk.

The Tiny Hawk can be found only in Central America and the northern regions of South America. Their plumage features white underpants with fine gray barring, the back and cap are a darker gray. Juveniles are a warmer rufous.

Birds, including hummingbirds and small passerines, make up the Tiny Hawk’s main source of food. Besides birds, rodents and bats may also be hunted by some specimens.

Their mode of catching or hunting for their prey is either by ambushing them or by darting out from a concealed spot.

Tiny Hawks are mostly seen perched solitary when at forest edges, where it may be seen sunning itself on a high open branch. But overall, they prefer to stay in the forest, where they hunt for their prey.

They’re known as a fairly sedentary species that’s secretive and rarely soars adobe the forest canopy, preferring the middle story of a forest, where they do most of their hunting.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

With a length of only 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm), the Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species of North America.

Male adults of the species feature white and pale orange bars on the breast and throat, while the wings, back and the back of the head are a gray brown. The underpants are white.  Immature males and females are mostly brown with coarse streaks throughout.

Their diet is made up mostly of small songbirds but also small mammals like mice. During the breeding season, they’ll choose the deep forest habitat as their breeding grounds.

In the fall, Sharp-shinned Hawks migrate south mostly to Mexico and Central America. You’ll occasionally see them at bird feeders, where they forgo feeding on seeds and choose to hunt songbirds gathered there to feed.

If you notice that the Sharp-shinned Hawk has made a habit of attacking songbirds gathered to feed, you’ll need to remove your feeders to discourage their presence in your yard.

Female Sharp-shinned hawks are about a third larger than the males, which is normal in hawk species but not the norm in the avian world.

They’re agile flyers and even more agile at hunting and killing their prey. Because of the difference in size between the sexes, females usually hunt larger prey, while males hunt smaller prey.

Roadside Hawk

A small bird of prey found in the Americas, the Roadside hawk is a vocal species that’s around 12–16 in (31–41 cm) long. Like with other hawks, the female of the species is about 20% larger than the male.

The plumage of this hawk species is mainly brown or gray, depending on the subspecies. The lower side of the breast and underpants are barred with brown and white. Four or five gray bars adorn the tail. The eyes are a piercing yellow or whitish, while the beak is relatively large.

The diet of this hawk consists of small mammals like the common marmosets or other small monkey species. The roadside hawk also feeds on insects, lizards, and snakes

While it will sometimes take birds too, birds aren’t of particular interest to this species.

Within its range, it can adapt to a variety of habitats with the exception of dense rainforests. It’s so adaptable that it’s one of the most common hawk species seen in the urban areas of its range.

Because the roadside hawk becomes aggressive during the breeding season, it will often attack humans who approach the nest.

Cooper’s Hawk

The adult male Cooper’s Hawk measures about 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm) in length. Females, however, are larger reaching a length of 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm).

The shape of these hawks is typical of accipiters – very long tails with broad, rounded wings. The color scheme is also easily recognizable with tones of blue and gray on the back, dark bands of the tail, and a lighter warm orange and white bars on the breast.

Juveniles are mostly brown and heavily streaked on the breast. There are regional differences when it comes to the size of the Cooper hawk, with specimens in the east being larger than those in western North America.

The Cooper Hawk looks quite similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the two are often mistaken for each other. However, the Cooper Hawk is the larger one of the two.

As a skillful flier, the Cooper hawk will hunt its prey, dashing even through the thick canopy of trees. Birds are the primary source of their diet.

They kill their prey not by picking their heads off or picking at their bodies, but by repeatedly squeezing them until they die. Sometimes, they’ll go about killing their prey by holding them underwater until they cease to move.

Broad-winged Hawk

Not the smallest hawks, but still not as large as other hawks, the Broad-winged Hawks measures 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm).

Dark brown above with a reddish-brown head and barred underpants, this hawk features a black banded tail and a wingspan that does justice to its name with its wingspan measuring 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm).

Found in the eastern parts of North America, the Broad-winged Hawk will migrate in large flocks soaring along the coastlines and forest edges. Flocks that make their way southward contain thousands of birds at a time, making for an impressive sight.

They build their nests in trees preferring the dense forest habitat. They prey on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Sometimes they’ll even hunt for fish like crayfish.

When migrating, they soar at heights from 550 to 1,300 m (1,800 to 4,270 ft) and travel around 100 km (69 miles) per day to complete a journey of 3,000–6,000 km (1,900–3,700 mi).

Not all Broad-winged Hawks migrate through. Those subspecies that are endemic to the Caribbean will stay there year-round.

Short-tailed Hawk

Another small hawk species measuring 15.3-17.3 in (39-44 cm) in length, the Short-tailed Hawk breeds in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.

In the United States, you’ll find it along the Arizona-Mexico border and in Florida. It can be found in Central America and in South America, where its range extends to southeastern Brazil.

Despite its name, the Short-tail Hawk doesn’t have a particularly short tail compared to other members of the Buteo genus, but it does have a shorter tail than the Cooper’s Hawk, for example.

As for their nesting habits, the Short-tail hawk builds its nest in trees at heights of about 2.5 to 30 m (8.2 to 98.4 ft). In Florida, the bald cypress is one of their preferred nesting sites.

Crane Hawk

Closely associated with water, the Crane Hawk is distributed mainly at the edge of forests and tropical lowlands in coastal Central America and northeastern South America.

The crane hawk has a small head and long legs, which come handy in hunting for prey. The bird has a length of around 20 inches. Its plumage is mostly gray with some specimens having white or light gray horizontal streaks throughout their bodies.

There’s also a difference in eye color between different specimens. Crane Hawks of Central America and northern South America have red eyes, while those distributed elsewhere within their range have yellow eyes.

Rodents, lizards, snakes, bats and even small birds are the main sources of food for the crane hawk. It also eats larger insects and various other arthropods and snails.

This hawk builds its nest in tree canopies, choosing clumps of epiphytes, most often orchids. Eggs are white or bluish tinged, usually a clutch containing one or two eggs.

Except for the genus of African harrier-hawk Polyboroides, the Crane hawk is the only other hawk that can reach into tree cavities and extract their prey.


Of all the small hawk species I listed in this article, the Tiny Hawk is truly the smallest followed by the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Some of these hawks have long tails which add a lot of inches to their size, others have long wings or wingspans, which make them look larger than they are.

Some can be aggressive towards humans; others will stay deep in the forests and are rarely seen.

Because some of these hawks will find it easy to hunt for birds at bird feeders, make sure to keep an eye on your feeders, and remove your feeders if you notice hawks swooping down on birds gathered there.

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