What Do Chicken Hawks Look Like? A Comprehensive Guide

When we hear the term “chicken hawk,” various images might spring to mind. However, what do these birds actually look like? This article delves into the fascinating world of chicken hawks, offering a detailed description for bird enthusiasts and the curious alike. Understanding these birds is not just about satisfying curiosity; it’s about appreciating a significant part of our natural ecosystem.

What Do Chicken Hawks Look Like

What Are Chicken Hawks?

Firstly, it’s essential to clarify that “chicken hawk” is not a scientific term but a colloquial one, often used in North America to describe several raptors that are perceived as threats to chickens. This term commonly refers to three types of hawks: the Red-tailed Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

1. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is perhaps the most famous bird labeled as a chicken hawk. These majestic birds are known for their striking appearance.

  • Appearance: Adult Red-tailed Hawks are notable for their rich brown color above and pale below, with a streaked belly and a characteristic reddish-brown tail. Juveniles, however, lack this red tail. They have broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail.
  • Size: They are large hawks, typically weighing between 2 to 4 pounds, with a wingspan of about 4 to 5 feet.
  • Habitat: These birds are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, grasslands, roadsides, fields, and even urban areas.

2. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are agile flyers that are often seen darting through dense woodland.

  • Appearance: They have a more elongated body with a rounded tail and a prominent white tip. Adults have a blue-gray back and a reddish-orange barred chest and belly. The head appears large with a flat top.
  • Size: They are medium-sized hawks, smaller than the Red-tailed Hawk, with a length of 14-20 inches and a wingspan of about 24-35 inches.
  • Habitat: Cooper’s Hawks are primarily woodland birds, often found in forests and wooded urban areas.

3. Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Canada and the United States.

  • Appearance: They have a similar shape to the Cooper’s Hawk but are noticeably smaller. Adults have slate gray backs and barred reddish-orange underparts. Their legs are exceptionally thin, leading to the name “sharp-shinned.”
  • Size: Their size ranges from 9 to 13 inches in length, with a wingspan of 17-22 inches.
  • Habitat: These birds are also found in dense forests but are less likely to be seen in open areas.

Behavior and Diet

Despite their reputation, these hawks do not primarily prey on chickens. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They are skilled hunters, using their sharp talons and beaks to capture and kill prey.

Conservation Status

Red-tailed Hawks are widespread and their population is stable. However, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks have faced challenges due to habitat loss and pesticides, but conservation efforts have helped in stabilizing their populations.


Understanding what chicken hawks look like helps in appreciating these magnificent birds and their role in the ecosystem. While they may occasionally prey on domestic fowl, their presence is vital for maintaining a balanced environment. By learning about these creatures, we foster a deeper connection with the natural world around us.


  1. Are chicken hawks dangerous to pets?
    While they primarily hunt wild prey, small pets could be at risk, especially in areas where natural prey is scarce.
  2. How can I prevent chicken hawks from attacking my poultry?
    Keeping poultry in covered areas or using scare tactics can help deter these birds.
  3. Can I see these hawks in urban areas?
    Yes, especially Red-tailed Hawks, which have adapted well to urban environments.