What kinds of birds of prey can you find in Alaska?
This question is common, both for birders and non-birders alike. Raptors are popular animals that tend to catch people’s interest more than most other species. Luckily, there are many different species in all sorts of habitats.
22 Birds of Prey IN Alaska:
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Here is how the below list is organized. Click the link to jump straight to that section!
- Hawks (#1 – #6)
- Owls (#7- #16)
- Falcons, Eagles, & Vultures (#17+)
#1. Red-tailed Hawk
- Buteo jamaicensis
- Length: 18-26 in / 45-65 cm
- Weight: 1.5-3.5 lbs. / 700-1600 g
- Wingspan: 43-55 in / 110-140 cm
Red-tailed Hawks are probably the type of hawk that people are most familiar with. These birds of prey are often seen in Alaska on drives in the countryside, either soaring in the sky or perched on a fence post.
The plumage color of Red-tailed Hawks can be anything from nearly white to virtually black, so coloration is not a reliable indicator. The best way to identify them is by looking for their characteristic red tail. 🙂
Red-tailed Hawk Range Map
These hawks are highly adaptable, and there is no real description of their preferred habitats because they seem to be comfortable everywhere. I have seen Red-tailed Hawks backpacking in the deep wilderness to urban cities to my own suburban backyard! Pick a habitat, such as pastures, parks, deserts, roadsides, rainforests, woodlands, fields, or scrublands, and you’ll find them thriving.
Red-tailed Hawks have impressive calls that are easily identified. Listen below to these intimidating sounds below.
#2. Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9-13.5 inches / 23-37 cm
- Weight: 3-8 oz / 82-220 g
- Wingspan: 16.5-26.5 inches / 42-68 cm
Sharp-shinned Hawks are one of the smallest birds of prey in Alaska.
They are incredibly athletic and acrobatic. It’s common to see these raptors zipping through the woods or by your bird feeders in a blur of motion!
To identify these birds, look for bars of orange on their upper chest that fade towards the belly and blue-gray back and wings. When flying, their wings are relatively short and rounded but with a long tail. Females are considerably bigger than males.
Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map
These raptors are common in forested areas in Alaska. They are most often seen around bird feeders, hunting and preying on the songbirds that come to visit. These raptors are ambush predators, sitting patiently and then dashing out from cover at high speed to chase birds, which make up 90% of their diet.
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One way to verify you have seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk is to listen for their sounds. Individuals give a high-pitched shrill “kik-kik-kik,” which is typically repeated several times.
#3. Northern Goshawk
- Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 16-27 in / 41-69 cm
- Weight: 22-50 oz / 630-1400 g
- Wingspan: 35-50 in / 89-127 cm
Northern Goshawks are secretive birds that are hard to see, as these birds of prey prefer living in large forests away from civilization. Many people mistakenly think they have seen one in their backyard when it was just a Cooper’s Hawk, which looks similar.
But look closely, and you will see a dark-colored head that is usually paired with deep red eyes, which makes the Northern Goshawk hard to mistake. The underbody is often a bluish-white to light gray with barring. The upper body is blue-gray or even brown with certain morphs.
Northern Goshawk Range Map
These raptors are widespread in Alaska but are hard to see, especially in the suburbs and cities. Some individual birds are short-term migrants during colder months, heading south until adequate food can be found. Other birds stay in the same place all year.
Opportunistic and fierce hunters, Northern Goshawks eat a wide variety of foods. The list includes insects, mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Listen for a harsh “ca-ca-ca” sound. As it calls, they turn their head from side to side slowly, which gives the vocal effect of a ventriloquist.
#4. Northern Harrier
- Circus hudsonius
Northern Harriers are one of the most unique birds of prey you will find in the USA!
First, most hawks rely on their incredible eyesight to find and capture prey. But Northern Harriers also use their hearing to find food, similar to owls. Even their disc-shaped face resembles an owl. 🙂
Northern Harrier Range Map
The best places to find a Northern Harrier are open grasslands, fields, or marshes. Look for a slim, long-tailed raptor that flies low and has a white rump. Watch an example below!
#5. Rough Legged Hawk
- Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5-23.5 inches / 46-59 cm
- Weight: 25-49 oz / 715-1400 gm
- Wingspan: 52-54 inches / 132-138 cm
Rough-legged Hawks spend their summers living and breeding on the Arctic tundra.
You can only see these large birds of prey in Alaska during the winter when they migrate south.
Unlike most hawks, this species has feathers all the way down to their feet, which helps keep them warm in the cold environments they choose to live.
Rough-legged Hawk Range Map
Look for these chunky, large raptors in open areas. They have a unique hunting style where they hover while facing the wind, looking for food. In fact, they are one of the few birds of prey that truly hovers in place.
Rough-legged Hawks are typically silent, except they make a mewing sound near the nest. (Listen below!)
- Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 20-25.5 inches / 50-65 cm
- Weight: 3-4.4 lb. / 1.4-2 kg
- Wingspan: 59-71 inches / 150-180 cm
The first thing you need to know about Ospreys is they are NOT hawks! They are not eagles either and, scientifically speaking, have been given their own Family (Pandionidae) and Genus (Pandion), separate from all other birds of prey.
Even though Ospreys are not hawks, they certainly look similar to one. These raptors have also been given nicknames, such as Sea Hawk, River Hawk, and Fish Hawk, which hint at the association between an Osprey and a hawk.
Osprey Range Map
When you think of an Osprey, you should think of fish because that is what these birds eat 99% of the time. Because of their specialized diet, you will almost always find these birds of prey living, breeding, and raising their young around water in Alaska.
Listen for Ospreys next time you are around a large body of water. Their alarm call is a series of short, high-pitched whistles that descend in pitch. The noise has been compared to a teapot taken off a stove.
#7. Great Horned Owl
- Bubo virginianus
- Length: 17-25 in (43 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 2.5 to 4 lbs (1134 – 1814 g)
- Wingspan: 3 – 5 feet (91-153 cm)
Great Horned Owls are common birds of prey in Alaska.
In fact, these raptors can actually be found almost anywhere in North America, from the Arctic to the tropics. Its habitat is practically unlimited as long as there are trees and rocky nesting sites available. It is hard to find a bird that can adapt better than a Great Horned Owl.
Great Horned Owl Range Map
These owls are large and look fierce! To identify them, look for their long tufts of feathers that resemble ears on their head.
Also, check out their intimidating eyes. I know I would not want to have a staring contest with one!
Both sexes hoot, but males are lower-pitched than females. Males give territorial calls that can be heard a few miles away at night. I don’t think there’s another owl species that does hooting better than a Great Horned Owl!
#8. Barred Owl
- Strix varia
- Length: 16–25 in (40–63 cm)
- Weight: 1–2.75 lbs (500–1250 g)
- Wingspan: 38–49 in (96–125 cm)
Barred Owls are a common raptor found in Alaska. The name “barred” derives from the horizontal stripes of alternating light brown and dark brown on the wings, back, and tail.
Barred Owls are the type of owl I have observed the most in the wild. They are inquisitive and will often stay and watch as you walk past them. Even if they get nervous as you approach, they typically fly off to another nearby tree to continue observing.
Barred Owl Range Map
Barred Owls rely on mice and other small rodents but eat almost anything made of meat! They will readily grab rats, rabbits, bats, squirrels, moles, minks, weasels, opossums, a variety of birds, frogs, snakes, fish, and turtles, and will even hunt around your nightly campfire to catch some sweet, juicy insects.
And speaking of classical noises, their hoots are the classic sounds featured in movies and scary Halloween tales. It is easy to recognize their call as it sounds like they are asking, “Who cooks for you.” Barred Owls will sound off during daylight hours, too, and they mate for life.
#9. Western Screech-Owl
- Megascops kennicottii
- Length: 7.5–10 inches (19–28 cm)
- Weight: 3.5–11 oz. (100–300 grams)
- Wingspan: 22–24 inches (55–62 cm)
Once upon a time, Western Screech-owls were thought to be the same bird as the Eastern Screech-owl, but research has determined that they are two distinct species.
Western Screech-owls can be found in forests, but you’ll also find them in suburban parkland, deserts, farm fields, and any basic shrubland. They are a relatively common bird of prey in Alaska.
Western Screech-owl Range Map
The primary foods of a Western Screech-owl include rats, mice, and birds. But they are opportunistic hunters and will also eat fish, amphibians, and invertebrates, such as crayfish, insects, earthworms, and slugs.
Western Screech-owl calls are not “screechy,” as the name suggests. The most common sound is a rather quiet, pleasant trill (“hoo-hoo-hoo” or “cr-r-oo-oo-oo”), which speeds up at the end but maintains a constant pitch.
#10. Snowy Owl
- Bubo scandiacus
- Length: 20.7–25.2 inches (52.5–64 cm)
- Weight: 3.2–4 lb. (1,465–1,800 gram)
- Wingspan: 48–60 inches (1.2–1.5 meters)
Snowy Owls get my vote for the most beautiful raptor in Alaska!
Their stunning white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike! Snowy Owls are mostly white, but they do have horizontal dark lines all over their bodies except the face and breast. Interestingly, individuals seem to get whiter with age.
Snowy Owl Range Map
Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During the summer, they mate and breed in arctic tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south.
You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel. Most winters, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as the northern USA. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than normal migrate south.
When defending their territory or searching for a mate, males make a loud “hoo, hoo.” This hoot is so loud that it can be heard up to 7 miles away on the tundra! Females rarely hoot, but other noises (for both sexes) include cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill snapping.
#11. Great Gray Owl
- Strix nebulosa
- Length: 24 – 33 in (61–84 cm)
- Weight: 1.5 – 4 lb (580–1,900 g)
- Wingspan: 5 feet (1.5 m)
Great Gray Owls are the largest owl in Alaska!
If you’re lucky enough to see one, they are stunning raptors. Many people think they look like they are wearing a grey suit with a bowtie around its neck!
These owls cover a lot of territory in their range, but they prefer to live in a forest near a clearing. It’s instrumental in the wintertime, as they need a lot of area for listening to rodents running beneath the snow so they can crash through and catch lunch! Because they are so big, they require a lot of food, eating up to 7 rodents daily.
Great Gray Owl Range Map
Grey Gray Owls NEVER build nests. They just use the ones that other big birds made. Talk about being efficient! However, once they claim a used nest, these owls will defend it courageously, even against black bears!
Their call is reasonably distinctive, bold, and deep, sounding like “whooooo, woo, woo, woo.“ They also have a soft double hoot used when providing food to their babies or defending a territory.
#12. Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 6.5–9 inches (17–23 cm)
- Weight: 1.9–5.3 oz. (54–151 grams)
- Wingspan: 16.5–22.2 inches (42–56.3 cm)
This species is one of the smallest raptors in Alaska, and they are cute as a button.
Their favorite foods are mice, voles, and shrews. But these owls will supplement their diet with small birds, insects, and invertebrates when necessary.
Northern Saw-whet Owl Range Map
Northern Saw-whet Owls prefer dense coniferous or mixed hardwood forests with a river nearby. Because of their need for mature trees, their numbers have been declining.
These owls get their name from the sound they make when alarmed, which resembles the whetting (sharpening) of a saw. But their most common call happens during the breeding season. It sounds like a “too-too-too” emitted at about two notes per second.
#13. Northern Pygmy-Owl
- Glaucidium californicum
- Length: 6.5 inches (16 cm)
- Weight: 2.2-2.5 ounces (62–72 g)
- Wingspan: 15 inches (38 cm)
The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a small, diurnal (daytime) bird. Its chest is white with vertical black stripes, while the remainder is medium to dark brown with spots. Look for two false eyes on the back of the head to dissuade attacks from behind.
These birds of prey generally prefer open coniferous forests or mixed forests in Alaska at higher altitudes, primarily pine with a few deciduous trees.
Northern Pygmy-Owl Range Map
The bird’s call is rather plain. It sounds a lot like a one-note tin whistle (“too-too-too”)!
But don’t let the unimpressive hoots fool you because the Northern Pygmy-Owl is a powerful little raptor. It will take on birds that are more than twice its size. Believe it or not, it has even been known to feast on chickens!
#14. Boreal Owl
- Aegolius funereus
- Length: 9–10.5 inches (22–27 cm) long
- Weight: 3.2–7 oz. (90-200 g)
- Wingspan: 20–24 inches (50–62 cm)
The Boreal Owl is an incredibly small bird of prey found in Alaska.
They can be tricky to identify because they have a variety of colors (from reddish-brown to gray) and patterns. They can possess either dots or streaks and sometimes both on the top or bottom of the body.
Boreal Owl Range Map
Boreal Owls live in the boreal forests and can be seen in stands of aspen, poplar, spruce, fir, and birch trees. Because of their remote locations, these owls are relatively uncommon and hard to study and see, and little is known about their population trends.
Since Boreal Owls are small, voles, bats, frogs, beetles, birds, and baby squirrels are their primary foods.
Their call is a small series of whistled toots that gets progressively louder. Males typically only hoot during the breeding season to attract a female.
#15. Northern Hawk Owl
- Surnia ulula
- Length: 14.2–17.75 inches (36–45 cm)
- Weight: 11–12 oz (300–340 g)
- Wingspan: 31–35 inches (77–89 cm)
As the name suggests, Northern Hawk Owls tend to act more like hawks than owls! These owls sit solitary in tall trees and hunt during the day, which are rare traits in owls.
Northern Hawk Owl Range Map
These birds of prey are found in the boreal forests of Alaska.
Northern Hawk Owls commonly feed on voles since they can be eaten whole and are generally plentiful. They also will eat baby hares, red squirrels, mice, rats, and lemmings.
Males make a rolling, low “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” sound repeated 10 to 200 times. Females have similar calls, but it’s shorter and hoarser.
#16. Short-eared Owl
- Asio flammeus
- Length: 13–17 inches (34–43 cm)
- Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz (206–475 grams)
- Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches (85–103 cm)
This mid-sized tawny-brown mottled owl has false ears that are not always visible. Short-eared Owls typically only erect them when they want to look intimidating.
Your best chance to spot these birds of prey in Alaska is at dusk or dawn in open fields, grasslands, meadows, or airports.
Short-eared Owl Range Map
These owls build their nests on the ground in open areas such as meadows, tundra, savanna, or prairies.
If obliged to flee its nest to draw off a predator, the parent will poop on the eggs so the smell will keep predators away. Like a Kildeer, Short-eared Owls also lure predators away from their nest by hopping away and pretending to be injured.
FALCONS, EAGLES, & VULTURES
#17. Peregrine Falcon
- Falco peregrinus
- Length: 13-23 in / 34-58 cm
- Weight: 12-53 oz. / 330-1500 g
- Wingspan: 29-47 in / 74-120 cm
These large birds of prey are commonly found in Alaska in urban areas.
Because of their fondness for nesting on the sides of tall buildings, these falcons are common in cities where they often become local celebrities!
Peregrine Falcon Range Map
Peregrine Falcons have the honor of being the FASTEST animal on the planet! Don’t be fooled by stories that the cheetah is the fastest creature. Oh sure, they can crank it up to 75 mph (120 kph), and that is amazing for being on the ground.
But when a Peregrine Falcon dives, it can reach speeds of up to 200 mph (320 kph)! And it starts its journey from as high as 3,000 feet (915 m), so it cruises at these high speeds for a considerable distance.
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO BELOW TO SEE THE INCREDIBLE DIVING ABILITIES OF THE PEREGRINE FALCON.
#18. American Kestrel
- Falco sparverius
- Length: 9-12 inches / 22-31 cm
- Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz. / 80-165 g
- Wingspan: 20-24 inches / 51-61 cm
The American Kestrel is the smallest raptor in Alaska and is roughly the size of an American Robin. Don’t let the tiny stature fool you, though, because these birds of prey are accomplished hunters.
In fact, you may have heard of a kestrel’s alternate name, which is the Sparrow Hawk. This name was given because they will take sparrows and other birds of that size right out of the air!
American Kestrel Range Map
One of their favorite strategies to catch prey is to hover in the breeze from a relatively low height, looking for insects, invertebrates, small rodents, and birds. But life can be tough when you’re the smallest falcon since they are sometimes eaten as prey by larger raptors, as well as rat snakes and corn snakes!
Kestrels have a distinct call that sounds like it’s saying “klee-klee-klee” or “killy, killy, killy,” which is usually repeated rapidly. Press the PLAY button below to hear an example!
#19. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle Range Map
The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, coasts, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.
Below, you can hear what a Bald Eagle sounds like. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles.
Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!
- Falco columbarius
Length: 9-13 inches / 23-33 cm
Weight: 4.4-10.6 oz. / 125-300 g
Wingspan: 21-23 inches / 53-58 cm
Merlins are small, fierce raptors found in Alaska.
With that being said, they are not that common to observe and are unpredictable in regard to their range. They are a bit larger than the American Kestrel, with a stockier build, sharply pointed wings, and medium-length tails. You can always identify a Merlin by its rapid wingbeats and because it is so small.
But despite its diminutive stature, this falcon is an incredibly fierce bird and uses surprise attacks to bring down its prey. It is so bold that it has been seen attacking trains and cars that enter its territory.
The Merlin is one bird you don’t want to annoy or make nervous!
Merlin Range Map
While generally silent, it’s possible to hear a loud, high cackle that sounds like “klee-klee-klee.” Typically, these calls are made during courtship or when showing aggression. Press the PLAY button above to hear an example.
#21. Golden Eagle
- Aquila chrysaetos
- Length: 26-40 in / 66-100 cm
- Weight: 6.5-16 lbs / 3-7 kg
- Wingspan: 71-91 in / 1.8-2.3 m
Golden Eagles are incredibly fast and agile, which makes them expert hunters. Where Bald Eagles mostly eat fish, these eagles almost always eat mammals. Their favorite prey include rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, marmots, and prairie dogs.
But these raptors have been known to hunt and kill animals as large as small deer, seals, mountain goats, coyotes, and badgers!
Golden Eagles are dark brown with gold feathers on the backs of their necks, which is how they got their name. Juvenile birds have white patches on their wings and tails. Immature Bald Eagles and adult Golden Eagles look similar and can be easily confused.
The distinguishing feature between these two birds is that the Bald Eagle doesn’t mind showing a little leg, whereas the Golden Eagle has feathers down to the top of its feet.
These large birds of prey prefer vast open areas in Alaska, such as landscapes that include cliffs, mountains, or hills. You can also spot these birds in grasslands, farmlands, shrublands, arctic tundra, and coniferous woodlands.
Golden Eagle Range Map
These eagles are not extremely noisy, and their calls sound like whistles that are weak and high. Just like Bald Eagles, for such a powerful raptor, you would think Golden Eagles would have a much more intimidating sound.
- Falco rusticolus
- Length: 19 – 26 in / 48 – 65 cm
- Weight: 1.75 – 5 lbs. / 794 – 2268 g
- Wingspan: 43 – 63 in / 110 -160 cm
The first thing we need to discuss regarding Gyrfalcons is how to pronounce its name! The correct way to pronounce the name is “JER•falcon.” The beginning sounds like the letter “J” and not the letter “G” (Click this link to hear someone saying “Gyrfalcon.”)
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk more about this magnificent raptor! The Gyrfalcon, sometimes known as the Gyr, is the largest falcon species in North America (and the world).
They are birds of the Arctic, and they breed on the sides of cliffs in remote areas of Alaska and Canada. Because they live in secluded areas, Gyrfalcons are typically safe from human disturbances, but they do face challenges from climate change.
During the winter months, Gyrs have to come south from the high Arctic to find food. Depending on the specific year, you never know how far south they may come! As far as sounds go, Gyrfalcons make a few. When they are alarmed, listen for a “kak kak kak” noise, which you can hear below.
Do you need help identifying raptors in Alaska?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!
To learn more about other birds in Alaska, check out these guides!
Which of these birds of prey have you seen before in Alaska?
Leave a comment below!
Some of the range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!