The Piney Woods, bottomland swamps, and coastal prairies and savannas of East Texas play host to a wide variety of raptors, from pint-sized kestrels to huge bald eagles. Along with falcons, vultures, owls, caracaras, ospreys, kites and eagles, hawks are important avian hunters here. While “hawk” is sometimes used very broadly, in North America it often refers to three groups of raptors: the accipiters, sometimes called the goshawks or sparrowhawks; the harriers, represented here by one species; and the buteos and their allies, also known -- particularly in the Old World -- as "buzzards."
Small forest hawks, the accipiters of East Texas include the Cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawk. Telling the two apart isn’t easy, even for experts, particularly if all you have is a brief glimpse. Both are long-tailed birds with stubby, rounded wings -- ideal for cruising through the thickets and heavy woods they favor. They commonly hunt birds, taking rodents with somewhat lesser frequency. The Cooper’s hawk is roughly crow-sized, while the sharp-shinned is somewhat smaller; nonetheless, a male Cooper’s and a female sharp-shinned can roughly overlap in size. In flight, the tip of an accipiter’s tail can reveal the species: sharp-shinned hawks have flat-edged tails, while Cooper’s hawks have rounded tips.
The northern harrier, mainly a winter inhabitant of East Texas, glides in swooping flight over open fields, prairies and savannas, coursing for rodents. It has a dished face reminiscent of an owl’s, reflecting the importance of both vision and hearing to its hunting. Females are mostly brown, while the smaller males are blueish-gray. Their meandering, low-to-the-ground flight style and long, slender wings make them fairly unmistakable -- especially with a bit of practice.
Buteos and Allies
Buteos are heavier-bodied hawks, exemplified by the widespread red-tailed hawk. Somewhat smaller than that near-ubiquitous bird are the broad-winged, Swainson’s, rough-legged and red-shouldered hawks. The latter is a common hunter of swamp and bottomland forests, commonly seen perched in a treetop staring straight down. A Lone Star specialty found on Coastal Plain savannas is the white-tailed hawk, a handsome buteo with black, gray, white and rufous patterns. The Harris’s hawk, a unique group-hunting raptor closely related to buteos, inhabits southern Texas. The ferruginous hawk -- biggest of the buteos -- is mainly a bird of Texas’s western half. A few southern and western Texas species -- the gray hawk, zone-tailed hawk and the common black-hawk, which is not a true buteo -- might stray on occasion into East Texas.
Hawk Lookalikes: East Texas Kites
Several species of kite may be found in East Texas depending on the season: the white-tailed, Mississippi and swallow-tailed, the latter one of the world’s most beautiful and graceful birds of prey. The swallow-tailed kite’s range in the American Southeast has been greatly reduced; the bird, which winters in South America, still nests in southeastern Texas, especially in bottomland forests along the lower Trinity, Neches and Sabine drainages. A fourth species, the mostly tropical hook-billed kite, is a Rio Grande Valley resident.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds -- Cooper's Hawk
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds -- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds -- Northern Harrier
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Red-shouldered Hawk
- The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: White-tailed Hawk
- The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: Harris's Hawk
- The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: Ferruginous Hawk
- Texas Parks & Wildlife: Swallow-tailed Kite in Texas
- The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: Hook-billed Kite
- Photo Credit passion4nature/iStock/Getty Images
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