The Best Hawk Identification Books ● For beginner, intermediate and advanced hawk watchers

The Best Hawk Identification Books ● For beginner, intermediate and advanced hawk watchers

Having the best hawk identification book on your bookshelf (or in your pocket) is totally underrated! 

Seeing a hawk soaring high above is totally different than seeing them up close. And what about all the different color variations, not to mention that juvenile hawks have different plumage than adults! 

Fortunately, there are hawk books out there that have just the information you need, whether you are a beginner looking to hone your hawking skills, an intermediate who wants to expand your horizons, or a dedicated hawk watcher.

And, do you need a book to take in the field? Or to read at home before you go hawk watching?

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The best background on hawks: Hawks in Flight

Hawks in Flight: Second Edition by Pete Dunne, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton gives bird watchers a fantastic background on hawks, their habits, where they live,  common behaviors and more. Read it before you go bird watching and you’ll have a great set of tools in the back of your mind to identify hawks!

  • Drawings and black and white photos
  • Covers 23 species
  • Learn flight patterns, body shape and likely places to identify hawks
  • Very readable and makes learning fun
  • Great to read before you go bird watching 

More details

  • Hardcover 
  • 352 pages
  • Weight: 2 pounds 
  • 6 x 9 x 1 inches

Ready to test your bird of prey identification skills? Try our beginner hawk identification quiz!

The best hawk identification book to take into the field: Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

The Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark is a small book perfect to take with you when you go birdwatching! It has tons of photos.  But it does lack more detailed information on hawk’s habits, nesting locations, how their nests look, typical behaviors, and so on that you’ll find in other guides

  • Large, full cover photographs
  • Shows various plumages
  • Covers 43 species
  • Small and easy to take into the field
  • Side by side comparisons of similar species 
  • Decent guide, but fewer photos and less text than other options
  • This means less information on the bird’s range, habits, nesting, mating, etc

More details

  • Available in hardcover or paperback
  • Includes 365 photos
  • 198 pages (paperback) 
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds 
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches

If you only plan to buy 1 book: Field Guide to Hawks of North America

Field Guide to Hawks of North America by William S. Clark and Brian K. Wheeler is the jack of all trades when it comes to the best hawk identification books. It has some information about identifying hawks when they are perched versus soaring, and some information on their habits.

It doesn’t go as in depth as other guides, but you’ll learn enough to get you started!

Note that you will want the second edition, published in 2001- the first edition was published in 1987 and is pretty outdated, including black and white photos! 

  • Illustrations show hawks up close, perched, and in- flight
  • Teaches about field markings with handy indicators pointing out key identifying characteristics 
  • Best if you only plan to buy one book


  • Vinyl bound
  • 316 pages
  • 1.5 pounds 
  • 4.5 x 0.75 x 7.25 inches 

Best books for hawk watchers: Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight and Hawks at a Distance  by Jerry Liguori are perfect for dedicated hawk watchers. 

Have you ever seen a bird flying so far away it just looks like a speck? Or at a weird angle? Or in unusual lighting? These two books are a great resource for those situations. 

These concise and practical books include photos and tips completely focused on identifying hawks from a distance.

These are a must have for anyone interested in hawk migrations. 

Note that these books only focus on hawks that migrate. So if you’re interested in species that don’t, like the white hawk, you’ll need another resource.

Discover places to watch hawk migration in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

In addition, be aware that this book does not  have stunning, majestic photos of the birds you’ll see! 

  • 339 photos of hawks in flight
  • Does not cover flight behavior- you’ll likely want another book to learn about this 
  • Good if you plan to hawk watch
  • Includes hawk migration information 
  • Recommended for more advanced bird watchers
  • Only includes migratory species
  • If you’re looking for gorgeous bird photos, this book is not for you! 

Steps on how to identify a red tailed hawk will get you started before your new book arrives!


Hawks from Every Angle 

  • Paperback 
  • 129 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Weight: 1 pound

Hawks from a Distance

  • Paperback or hardcover 
  • 216 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.75 x 8.5 inches
  • Weight: 1 pound

If you’d really like to see some of these raptors up close, install a bird of prey nest box in your own backyard!

Practice your hawk identification skills with The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan makes learning about raptors fun! 

Learn how to ID and age the raptors. Then take the “quiz” at the end of the book. It has dozens of bird pictures of all different species and ages for you to practice! 

And of course, the answers and detailed explanations are at the end of the book so you can see how you did!

This book is big- the size of a coffee table book. So read through it and practice at home but don’t take it into the field

  • Great all-around book for those looking to learn more and hone their skills
  • Photos of different ages, genders, and morphs (colorations) in flight and perched
  • This guide has the most photos of each species 
  • Includes 32 pages of “mystery raptors” to practice identifying birds
  • This book makes studying raptors fun!
  • Covers all species except for owls
  • Large- read this book at home before you go birding!


  • Paperback or vinyl
  • 288 pages
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Dimensions: 7.75 x 1 x 10 inches

Any of these books make fantastic gifts for bird watchers. Find more gift ideas for backyard bird watchers here.

The best guide for beginners: Hawks: All the day-flying birds of prey seen in North America

This road map- sized guide to identifying hawks is perfect for beginners! Hawks: All the day- flying birds of prey seen in North America will fit easily into your pocket. And since it’s laminated, it’s durable enough to take into the field. 

Of course, it doesn’t have the detailed text and images that other hawk identification books have. But it’s a great addition for your backpack! 

  • Laminated guide that fits in your pocket
  • Simple guide perfect for beginners 


  • Laminated book
  • 12 pages 
  • Dimensions: 4.75 x 0.25 x 8.75 inches
  • Weight: 1 pound

If you’re ready for facts about red tailed hawks now, read some right here on this blog!

More hawk identification books

The books above are the best hawk identification books. But there are a few more books on the market that you may be interested in. Here are the pros and cons, and why they may not be the best hawk identification books.

How to Spot Hawks and Eagles

How to Spot Hawks and Eagles teaches techniques for identifying these birds and how to go about looking for them. 

It also includes information about breeding habits and migration. 

  • Natural history book about the types of raptors and how they differ 
  • Read and study this book before you go into the field


  • Paperback or hardcover 
  • 144 pages 
  • Weight: 0.75 pounds 
  • Dimensions: 7.25 x 0.5 x 9 inches

Out of print: The Wheeler Guides

The Wheeler Guides: Raptors of Eastern North America, and Raptors of Western North America are old and out of print. But I have to include them because they’re such a great resource. If they were still in print, I’d say they are truly the best hawk identification books.

They have extensive information and illustrations to help with any tricky identifications. And they have the most detailed range maps of pretty much any bird book.

However, since they’re out of print, they may be a bit pricey.

  • THE BEST and most extensive books, especially for tricky identifications
  • Out of print, so can be expensive 
  • Illustrations showing genders, ages, and morphs 
  • Extremely detailed range maps

Birds of Prey of the West and Birds of Prey of the East 

While Birds of Prey has fantastic illustrations, the text is almost too small to read! I recommend Crossley instead. 

  • Extremely extensive plumage depictions 
  • Concise (and very small)  text details more about habitats and behavior
  • The most detailed range maps in any book 
  • The two books are divided by the Mississippi River- east of the Mississippi for East and West for west


  • Vinyl bound
  • 360 pages
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds 
  • Dimensions: 5.25 x 1 x 8 inches

To wrap things up

Even though identifying hawks and other raptors is very difficult, even for experienced birders, others have done the hard work of making wonderful guides for us! 

No matter where you are in your bird watching journey, you’ll find the best hawk identification book for improving your birding skills!

Feel inspired about the gorgeous birds you’ll be seeing with red-tailed hawk quotes.

More reviews of the best hawk identification books

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  1. Pingback: 22 Stunning Places to Watch Hawk Migration in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina ● Plus Blue Ridge Parkway - The Bird Geek

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