19 Birds of Prey Found in Nova Scotia! (2024)

What kinds of birds of prey can you find in Nova Scotia?

Types of birds of prey in Nova Scotia

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.

19 Birds of Prey IN Nova Scotia:


Here is how the below list is organized. Click the link to jump straight to that section!


HAWKS


#1. Red-tailed Hawk

  • Buteo jamaicensis

Types of birds of prey in Nova Scotia

  • 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 Nova Scotia 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

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

Types of birds of prey in Nova Scotia

  • 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 Nova Scotia.

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

Sharp-shinned Hawk Range Map

These raptors are common in forested areas in Nova Scotia. 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.

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. Cooper’s Hawk

  • Accipiter cooperii

Types of birds of prey in Nova Scotia

  • Length: 13.5-20 in / 35-50 cm
  • Weight: 8-24 oz / 220-680 g
  • Wingspan: 24.5-35.5 in / 62-90 cm

These large raptors are commonly found in Nova Scotia in the woods or on the edge of fields. Cooper’s Hawks are known for their flying agility. I see them often at my house in high-speed chases through the canopy, going after their prey.

Cooper’s Hawk Range Map

Cooper's Hawk Range Map

Because of their incredible flying abilities, these hawks primarily eat songbirds and are common in backyards around bird feeders. At my feeding station, I have observed these hawks preying on Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and Mourning Doves.

The most common sound a Cooper’s Hawk emits is an alarm call that sounds like “kuck, kuck, kuc” or “cak-cak-cak.”

Visually, a Cooper’s Hawk looks incredibly similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Their steely blue-gray appearance is nearly identical to the Sharp-shinned hawk, right down to the little black cap that both wear and the rufous colored chest.

The BEST way to tell these hawks apart is to look at the size difference. Cooper’s are larger than Sharp-shinneds. But if they are airborne, good luck figuring out which one you are observing!

Types of birds of prey in Nova Scotia


#4. Northern Goshawk

  • Accipiter gentilis

species of hawks

  • 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

Northern Goshawk Range Map

These raptors are widespread in Nova Scotia 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.


#5. Northern Harrier

  • Circus hudsonius

northern harrier

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!


#6. Broad-winged Hawk

  • Buteo platypterus

birds of prey species

  • Length: 13.5-17.5 inches / 34-44 cm
  • Weight: 16 oz / 450 g
  • Wingspan: 33 inches / 84 cm

The bodies of Broad-winged Hawks are short and stocky, which makes them perfectly adapted to life in the forest. These birds of prey live in Nova Scotia and are fairly common, but they are not often seen because they prefer spending their time in the deep woods away from humans.

Broad-winged Hawk Range Map

Broad-winged Hawk Range Map

While these raptors spend their summers here in Nova Scotia, they fly south for the winters to Central America and South America. Broad-winged Hawks are probably best known for their epic migrations each fall.

It’s estimated that the average bird travels over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) total, and that is just ONE WAY, and they have to complete this trip twice per year.

These long-distance flyers often travel south together, soaring on air currents by the thousands! Getting the chance to watch a “kettle” of Broad Winged Hawks is genuinely awe-inspiring, as you can see in the video above!


#7. Rough Legged Hawk

  • Buteo lagopus

rough legged hawk

  • 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 Nova Scotia 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

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!)


#8. Osprey

  • Pandion haliaetus

osprey

  • 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

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 Nova Scotia.

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.


OWLS


#9. Great Horned Owl

  • Bubo virginianus

birds of prey

  • 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 Nova Scotia.

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

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!


#10. Barred Owl

  • Strix varia

barred owl

  • 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 Nova Scotia. 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 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.


#11. Long-eared Owl

  • Asio otus

long eared owl

  • Length: 31 and 40 cm (12 and 16 in)
  • Weight: 288 g – 327 g (10.2 oz – 11.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86 to 102 cm (34 in to 40 in)

Long-eared Owls are also known as the Northern Long-Eared Owl, Lesser Horned Owl, or Cat Owl because of their catlike facial features.

They are secretive and roost in very dense foliage. Combined with their excellent camouflage, these birds of prey are EXTREMELY hard to spot in Nova Scotia!

As you can see, these owls get their name from the long tufts of feathers on their heads. These ear tufts resemble exclamation points, so Long-eared Owls often seem like they have a surprised look on their face.

Long-eared Owl Range Map

long eared owl range map

Among owls, these guys are unique by being quite sociable. They are known to live in clusters and even share roosts!

Since Long-eared Owls can be incredibly hard to see, the best way to locate them is to listen! During the mating season, males are quite talkative. Their typical call is repeated anywhere from 10 to 200 times and sounds like a low “hoo,” evenly spaced every few seconds.


#12. Snowy Owl

  • Bubo scandiacus

common birds of prey

  • 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 Nova Scotia!

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 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.


#13. Northern Saw-whet Owl

  • Aegolius acadicus

northern saw whet owl

  • 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 Nova Scotia, 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 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.


#14. Short-eared Owl

  • Asio flammeus

short eared owl

  • 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 Nova Scotia is at dusk or dawn in open fields, grasslands, meadows, or airports.

Short-eared Owl Range Map

short ear 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.

Short-eared Owls are not particularly vocal. But when they do make noises, these birds have a call, oddly enough, that sounds an awful lot like a cat looking for a mate.


FALCONS, EAGLES, & VULTURES


#15. Peregrine Falcon

  • Falco peregrinus

raptors common

  • 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 Nova Scotia 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 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.


#16. American Kestrel

  • Falco sparverius

common falcons

  • 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 Nova Scotia 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

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!


#17. Bald Eagle

  • Haliaeetus leucocephalus

common raptors” /></p>
<ul>
<li><strong>Length:</strong> 28-40 in / 70-102 cm</li>
<li><strong>Weight:</strong> 6.5-15 lbs / 3-7 kg</li>
<li><strong>Wingspan:</strong> 71-91 in / 1.8-2.3 m</li>
</ul>
<p>The Bald Eagle has been the national symbol of the United States since 1782 and is one of the most recognizable birds in the world!</p>
<h3><strong>These large birds of prey are now quite prevalent in Nova Scotia, but that wasn’t always the case.</strong></h3>
<p>Bald Eagles almost went extinct in the mid-20th century due to DDT poisoning. After years of dedicated conservation work, they have recovered and are a true success story. <strong>They </strong><strong>are most commonly seen around bodies of water.</strong></p>
<h4 style=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!


#18. Merlin

  • Falco columbarius

types of raptors

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 Nova Scotia.

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

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.


#19. Gyrfalcon

  • Falco rusticolus

gyrfalcon

  • 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 “JERfalcon.” 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.

gryfalcon range map

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 Nova Scotia?

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!


To learn more about other birds in Nova Scotia, check out these guides!


Which of these birds of prey have you seen before in Nova Scotia?

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!

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One Comment

  1. Hi Thanks for the great website.
    Wondering if you can answer this question.
    Is the Opsrey the only bird of prey in NS to have long nape feathers? Thx heaps