10 Hawks With White Heads (Photos And ID Info)

If you’re looking for help to identify hawks with white heads, this will be the best article you read today. 

In this post, you will find photos, identification info, calls, and all the fun information you need. 

Examples of hawks with white heads include the white hawk, osprey, white-necked hawk, rough-legged hawk, Hawaiian hawk, Ferruginous hawk, and many others. 

Here are 10 of the most interesting ones.

Hawks With White Heads

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
  • Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
  • Lifespan: 15 years
  • Size: 18-24 in
  • Wingspan: 47-60 in

Rough-legged hawks are also known as rough-legged buzzards. 

These medium-sized raptors breed in the tundra of the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America, and migrate south to spend the winter in open fields and grasslands. 

They nest in trees and cliffs, lay 1-7 bluish-white eggs with brownish spots, and males feed the females as they incubate the eggs – the species is monogamous. 

Females are bigger than males and weigh from 2.3 to 2.8 pounds; males are 1.8 to 2.2 pounds heavy. 

Look for their leg feathers that go down to toes (where their name comes from), black wrist patches, and white at the base of their tails. 

Rough-legged hawks have several morphs – the light ones have pale whitish-streaked heads, dark belly bands, black patches on wings, and white tails. 

Dark morphs have brown-black plumage with banded tails and white flight feathers. 

Rough-legged hawks are carnivores and hunt small mammals (lemmings and voles) which make up most of their diet. 

They have an interesting adaptation for locating their prey – rough-legged hawks have UV vision

Some small mammals, like voles and mice, leave trails of urine as they move. Those urine trails reflect ultraviolet light – rough-legged hawks see them glowing bright yellow which helps them locate their next meal and highlight hunting areas with high prey densities.

Identify these hawks by downward slurring whistles that sound like “kiu-wiyuk“. 

They will often hover in the sky flapping their wings while scanning the ground or perch on branches and tree tops. 

In North America, rough-legged hawks can be seen from November to April in southern parts of Canada and the northern half of the USA (as far south as Arizona and New Mexico).


Osprey

osprey
  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Size: 19.7-26 in
  • Wingspan: 50–71 in

Ospreys are large diurnal birds of prey found on every continent, except Antarctica.

Due to their small white heads, wide wingspans, and sharp beaks and talons, people sometimes mistake them for bald eagles. 

They are dark brown above, white below, have M-shaped wings when soaring, and white heads with a broad brown stripe through the eyes. 

In North America, ospreys breed from Alaska and Newfoundland south to the Gulf Coast and Florida.

When the winter comes, they move south to winter from the southern parts of the USA to Argentina.

They are widespread there and can be found around the coast, lakes, rivers, and swamps. 

Ospreys have several vocalizations: a slow whistled “kyew-kyew” guard call and a short clear whistle “cheereek” alarm call. 

Source: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ospreys are piscivorous and fish makes up 99% of their diet, hence their nickname “fish hawk.” 

They will hover above the water, locate their prey and then swoop down for the capture with their talons extended. Their toes are covered with short spines which help grasp slippery fish better. 

During their 20-year-long lifetime, these migratory birds can travel over 160,000 miles!

Ospreys nest near water, on top of dead trees, and use branches, sticks, twigs, moss, and fish bones as material. The female will lay a clutch of 3 eggs that both partners incubate.

Among other US states, ospreys are found in Ohio, Florida, Texas, and Michigan.


White Hawk

White Hawk
Source: dominic sherony, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Pseudastur albicollis
  • Lifespan: 20 years
  • Size: 18-22 in
  • Wingspan: n/a

White hawks are stunning short-tailed hawks of Mexico, Central, and South America. 

These birds of prey measure from 18 to 22 inches in length and weigh from 1.4 (males) to 1.8 pounds (females). 

White hawks have very broad wings and white plumage – the head, body, and underwings are white while the wings and tails have black feathers. 

Identify them also by their “kerwee” calls. 

These white-headed hawks inhabit lowland forests and woodlands, ranging from southern Mexico, through Central America, down to Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. 

White hawks are carnivores and feed on lizards, snakes, some insects, and small mammals like rats, bats, opossums, and squirrels.

They can be rather inventive when hunting; white hawks will follow capuchin monkeys or coatimundis and fly down and capture tree snakes and other prey these animals drive out.

White hawks will build their nests using sticks and twigs and lay 1 blue-white egg that females incubate while males feed them. 


White-necked Hawk

White-necked Hawk
Source: Hector Bottai, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Buteogallus lacernulatus
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 17-19 in
  • Wingspan: 35.8-39.7 in

White-necked hawks are medium-sized raptors found in forests and plantations of South America. 

They are endemic to Brazil, inhabiting areas from Alagoas and southern Bahia south to Parana and Santa Catarina.

White-necked hawks have pure white heads and underparts, black-gray upperparts, white tails with black bands, and yellow bases of their beaks. 

They are omnivores and have a diet consisting of insects and other invertebrates, small rodents, birds, and reptiles. 

Similar to white hawks, these opportunistic feeders will catch prey flushed by monkeys and other animals. 

Due to habitat loss, white-necked hawks are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to some estimates, they have a total population of 2,500-10,000 individuals.


Mantled Hawk

Mantled Hawk
Source: Mcalvet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Pseudastur polionotus
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 18.5-20.2 in
  • Wingspan: 46.4-50.7 in

Mantled hawks are medium-sized birds of prey found in South America. 

Similar to other birds on our list of hawks with white heads, females are larger than males. 

Mantled hawks have white heads, bellies, and tails, and barred black backs. Their white rounded heads seem disproportionately larger than the rest of the body. 

Notice the pale gray beaks with black tips, brown eyes, and orange-yellow toes. 

Identify mantled hawks also by their piercing whistle “weeuw” calls. 

They are endemic to Brazil and can be also found in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. 

They prefer humid forests, secondary growth, and plantations, inhabiting altitudes ranging from sea level to 4,500 feet. 

Mantled hawks are so-called “sit-and-wait-predators”. 

They love to perch above the ground where they can scan the area for their next meal before swooping down and grabbing the prey. 

Mantled hawks are carnivores and feed on small birds, lizards, snakes, and small rodents. 

Because of habitat loss, mostly due to iron exploration, urbanization, and agricultural development, mantled hawks are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, and their total population is estimated to be from 3,500 to 15,000 birds.


Hawaiian Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Buteo solitarius
  • Lifespan: up to 17 years
  • Size: 16-18 in
  • Wingspan: 34-39.7 in

Hawaiian hawks are known as “ʻio” in Hawaii. 

They are native to the state, and only breed on the Big Island, from March to September. 

They have a clutch of 1-3 eggs that females incubate while males hunt and feed them.

These medium-sized hawks with broad wings measure from 16 to 18 inches long and weigh 1.3 (females) and 0.9 pounds (males). 

There are two morphs – juvenile Hawaiian hawks with a light morph have creamy-white heads with brown streaks and dark brown upperparts

These hawks are common in dense forests, forest edges, and plantations where they hunt insects, rodents, and birds. 

They have 3 forward-facing toes and a backward-facing one – together with sharp talons, this helps grab the prey better.

Identify Hawaiian hawks by their high-pitched “eee-oh” calls their Hawaiian name comes from. 

They are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. 

Back in the 1950s, their numbers significantly decreased due to illegal hunting and habitat loss. Since then, thanks to the Endangered Species Act, Hawaiian hawk populations have increased from several hundred to around 3,000 birds.


Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
  • Scientific Name: Buteo regalis
  • Lifespan: up to 20 years in the wild
  • Size: 20-27 in
  • Wingspan: 48-60 in

Ferruginous hawks are large raptors found in the open country of North America. 

Their scientific name “ferruginous” comes from Latin and means “iron-rust color” and refers to their reddish-brown plumage. 

They are one of the largest North American raptors and due to their size, behavior, and proportions, people might mistake them for eagles. 

Identify them by their broad tails and wings, large heads, and feathered legs (similar to rough-legged hawks). 

These hawks come in 2 morphs – light-morph Ferruginous hawks have rusty-brown upperparts, pale whitish heads, necks, underparts, and gray upperwings. 

Dark morphs have dark brown plumage overall with some light areas on the wings. 

Listen for their scratchy screaming “kree” alarm calls. 

Ferruginous hawks breed in grasslands, sagebrush, and edges of pinyon-juniper forests, and have a clutch of 4 whitish eggs with red-brown spots. 

They move south to spend winter and during that period, they might roost in groups of up to a dozen birds. 

They are carnivores and have a diet consisting of rabbits, hares, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs – they hunt by scanning their surroundings from a perch, by hunting on the ground, or hovering and kiting in place. 


Gray Goshawk

Gray Goshawk
  • Scientific Name: Accipiter novaehollandiae
  • Lifespan: up to 12 years in captivity
  • Size: 16-22 in
  • Wingspan: 28-43 in

Gray goshawks are medium-sized raptors found in Australia. 

They come in 2 morphs – the all-white morph that is also known as the white goshawk and the gray-and-white morph. 

The white morph has white plumage, including the head, wings, upperparts, and underparts  – people considered them among the rare raptors that are completely white. 

The gray morph has a pale gray head and back, white underparts, and dark wingtips. 

Gray goshawks inhabit forests and tall woodlands along the coast of Australia and Tasmania. 

They are carnivores and have a diet consisting of birds, rabbits, bats, possums, small reptiles, and insects. 

These white-headed hawks are monogamous and pair for life – their breeding season lasts from July to December. 

They nest in tall trees and use sticks, twigs, and leaves as building materials. Females lay 2-3 eggs that they incubate.

Read More: More examples of white-colored birds of prey


Black-faced Hawk

Black-faced Hawk
Source: Hector Bottai, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Leucopternis melanops
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 15.5 in
  • Wingspan: n/a

These conspicuous medium-sized hawks have black and white plumage. 

Black-faced hawks have large white heads with the characteristic black masks they were named after and black backs with a single white band near the tails. 

Try to notice the orange cere (base of the beak) and black tips. 

Black-faced hawks resemble white hawks with the main differences being the black-faced hawks’ smaller size, different head patterns, and beak color (blue-gray in white hawks).

Similar to other hawks, black-faced ones become more vocal during breeding season when they emit high-pitched “peeoh” calls. 

They inhabit lowlands forests and forest edges along rivers and mangroves of South America. 

Black-faced hawks are carnivores and feed on reptiles such as lizards and snakes, insects, and invertebrates.


Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard
Source: Greg Schechter from San Francisco, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Buteo rufinus
  • Lifespan: n/a
  • Size: 20-26 in
  • Wingspan: 44-64.2 in

Long-legged buzzards are large raptors found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

They mostly inhabit open areas, including desert country, open meadows, steppes, coastal cliffs, and croplands. 

There are 3 color morphs; all of them have large beaks, small heads, long wings, and dark carpal patches at the wrist of the wings. 

Pale-morph of long-legged buzzards has dark brown upperparts, pale creamy-white heads, and light rufous-orange tails.

Identify them by their common short “mew” calls. 

These hawks can be mostly found alone or in pairs, they are diurnal (active during the day) and roost at night. 

Long-legged buzzards are top predators, they hunt rodents (voles, rats, gerbils, and ground squirrels), reptiles, birds, insects, and even carrion. 

They nest on rocks, cliffs, or trees, and lay 1-6 whitish eggs with brown marks. 


Summary

This concludes our list of hawks with white heads. 

Examples of white-headed hawks include ospreys, grey goshawks, white hawks, mantled hawks, etc. 

Hopefully next time you see these birds, you will recognize any of them with ease! Just make sure to keep a safe distance.

And if you enjoyed this article, here are our other popular reads on birds: List of falcons with white heads

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