40 Birds of Prey Found in the USA! (2023)

What kinds of birds of prey can you find in the United States?

common birds of prey and common raptors

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.

40 Birds of Prey IN THE UNITED STATES:


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

  • Owls (#12 – #27)


HAWKS


#1. Red-tailed Hawk

  • Buteo jamaicensis

large birds in north america

  • 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 the United States 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 found in United States

  • 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 the United States.

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 the United States. 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

large birds in north america

  • 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 North America 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!

cooper vs sharp shinned hawk - types of hawks in the united states


#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 North America 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. Red-shouldered Hawk

  • Buteo lineatus

large birds in north america

  • Length: 15-19 in / 38-48 cm
  • Weight: 1.1-1.9 lbs. / 500-860 g
  • Wingspan: 38-42 in / 96-107 cm

Distinctly marked, Red-shouldered Hawks have a barred rufous chest, mostly white underwings, a strongly banded tail, and, of course, red shoulders that are visible when perched.

Red-shouldered Hawks are primarily forest dwellers. Their favorite places are woods with an open upper canopy since this extra space allows them to hunt more efficiently. These raptors are also common in suburban areas where houses have been mixed into woodlands.

I see Red-shouldered Hawks frequently, especially in winter, hunting in my backyard for squirrels.

Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map

Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map

Speaking of food, these hawks primarily eat small mammals but will feast on snakes, lizards, and amphibians when available. When hunting, these raptors drop onto their prey directly from overhead, making their hunting style unique.

You can see this behavior below, as a Red-shouldered Hawk tries to catch a squirrel in my backyard! Don’t worry; the hawk is unsuccessful.

Red-shouldered Hawk hunting in my backyard!


#7. Broad-winged Hawk

  • Buteo platypterus

United States 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 the United States 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 the United States, 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!


#8. Ferruginous Hawk

  • Buteo regalis

ferruginous hawks

  • Length: 20-27 in / 51-69 cm
  • Weight: 2-5 lbs / 900-2270 g
  • Wingspan: 47-60 in / 1.2-1.5 m

Ferruginous Hawks are beautiful raptors that live in the open deserts and prairies of the West. They are the largest hawks in North America and have long, broad wings and a wide gray, rusty, or white tail.

These birds of prey have two color forms you may observe.

  • The light morph birds have a rusty brown (ferruginous) back and pale underparts.
  • The dark morph individuals are dark brown and chestnut-colored on both their back, chest, and belly. Dark morph birds are much rarer to see than light ones.

Ferruginous Hawk Range Map

Ferruginous Hawk Range Map

Somewhat social, Ferruginous Hawks may roost in groups during winter, which can contain between 6-12 individuals. Mated pairs seem to be mostly monogamous and are incredibly adaptable nesters. For example, these hawks will use trees, rock outcrops, ledges, haystacks, nest platforms, power poles, and the ground for nests.

Their alarm call sounds like “kree” or “kaah” and is typically given when defending territory or frightened. Some people think it sounds similar to a gull.


#9. Swainson’s Hawk

  • Buteo swainsoni

swainsons hawk

  • Length: 18-22 inches / 46-56 cm
  • Weight: 24-48 oz / 680-1360 g
  • Wingspan: 46-54 inches / 117-137 cm

Swainson’s Hawks are raptors of the west and can often be spotted soaring or perched on fence posts, telephone poles, or trees in open areas.

These birds of prey arrive each April in the United States and spend their summers breeding and raising their young here. Towards the end of summer, they begin a LONG distance journey to Argentina!

If you’re keeping score, that is around 6,000 miles (9,600 km) one way and takes up to two months. And remember, they make this trip twice per year.

Swainson’s Hawk Range Map

Swainson's Hawk Range Map

As they are migrating, Swainson’s Hawks often form large “kettles,” where they join with other species, such as Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures. As they catch wind from the north and rise with the thermals, using them to conserve energy, it’s possible to see THOUSANDS of raptors soaring together at once, which resembles an actual river of birds.

The call of the Swainson’s Hawk is a harsh alarm call that sounds like “kreeeeer,” which often lasts 2-3 seconds.


#10. 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 raptors in the continental United States 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.

These raptors are typically silent, except they make a mewing sound near the nest. (Listen below!)


#11. 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 the United States.

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


#12. Great Horned Owl

  • Bubo virginianus

large birds in north america

  • 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 the United States.

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!


#13. 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 the United States. 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.


#14. 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 the United States!

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.


#15. Eastern Screech-Owl

  • Megascops asio

types of owls in north america

  • Length: 6.3– 9.8 in (16–25 cm)
  • Weight: 4.2–8.6 oz. (120–244 g)
  • Wingspan: 18–24 in (46–61 cm)

Screech-owls may remind you of professional wrestlers since they are short, stocky, and have no necks!

These owls can either be grey or red, with about a third of all individuals being red.  

These small raptors are found in wooded areas in the United States. They don’t seem to mind people too much as they are comfortable nesting on top of streetlamps, next to busy roadways/highways, or inside spaces in populated buildings.

Eastern Screech-owl Range Map

eastern screech-owl range map

Eastern Screech-owls make a variety of hoots, calls, and songs, but their most popular is an even-pitched trill, often called a tremolo. The tremolo is used by pairs to keep in contact with each other and lasts between 3 to 6 seconds. I think this tremolo call sounds a lot like mating toads, and I sometimes get the two confused!


#16. Western Screech-Owl

  • Megascops kennicottii

types of owls in north america

  • 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 the western United States.

Western Screech-owl Range Map

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.


#17. Snowy Owl

  • Bubo scandiacus

common owls in north america

  • 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 the United States!

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 the 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.


#18. Great Gray Owl

  • Strix nebulosa

great gray owl

  • 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 the United States!

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

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.


#19. American Barn Owl

  • Tyto furcata

barn owl

Barn Owls (aka Church Owl, Ghost Owl, and Monkey-faced Owl) have a heart-shaped face that is sandy-colored with a dark brown edge. Interestingly, the shape of an owl’s face steers sound to their ears, which helps make them efficient hunters.

Their hearing is so good that they can locate small animals under dense brush or snow with ease, and they even hunt bats!

Barn Owl Range Map

barn owl range map

Barn Owls are non-migratory and tend to inhabit abandoned barns (hence the name). Though seriously endangered in many parts of their range, farmers love them because they keep surrounding property fairly rodent-free, protecting other animals from the diseases that mice and rats carry.

They do not “hoot” in the classical fashion of other owls. Their unique screechy sound is far more reminiscent of a red-tailed hawk. When showing off for a female, males sometimes clap their wings together a couple of times while flying.


#20. Burrowing Owl

  • Athene cunicularia

burrowing owl

  • Length: 7.5–11.0 in (19–28 cm)
  • Weight: 5–8.5 oz. (147–240 g)
  • Wingspan: 20–24 inch (51–61 cm)

Unlike other birds of prey that spend their time in trees, Burrowing Owls live underground!

They either excavate their homes themselves or, quite frequently, take over underground shelters from squirrels or prairie dogs. These underground dens provide a lot of space to gather food. They’ve been known to have hundreds of mice in storage in case of a food shortage!

Burrowing Owls have comparatively long legs since they spend a lot of time navigating on the ground.

Burrowing Owl Range Map

burrowing owl range map

While Burrowing Owls can make a wide variety of sounds, they are not especially vocal. The most common is a two-syllable that sounds like “who-who” or “coo-coo-roo,” which is primarily made by males during mating and defending territories.


#21. 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 the United States, and they are cute as a button. Northern Saw-whet Owls are typically colored in pale browns and tans.

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.


#22. Northern Pygmy-Owl

  • Glaucidium californicum

northern pygmy owl

  • 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 the United States at higher altitudes, primarily pine with a few deciduous trees.

Northern Pygmy-Owl Range Map

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!


#23. Flammulated Owl

  • Psiloscops flammeolus

flammulated owl

  • Length: 6 inches (15 cm)
  • Weight: 1.8–2.3 oz. (50–65 grams)
  • Wingspan: 14 inches (36 cm)

A bird is called “flammulated” when it has flame-shaped markings. Looking closely at the Flammulated Owl, you can see where it gets its name. The feathering looks like an ash-covered log in a campfire where flecks of ember show through.

It’s a beautiful coloration, but it also makes this small raptor particularly hard to spot in the western United States.

Flammulated Owl Range Map

flammulated owl range map

Flammulated Owls live at the top of the forest, specifically in coniferous forests. They will also nest in deciduous forests as long as there are some conifers as part of the mix.

Because of their small size, Flammulated Owls hunt almost exclusively for insects (butterflies, moths, crickets, and beetles) and invertebrates. But occasionally, small rodents are taken and eaten.

Flammulated Owls have a very large windpipe. This adaptation allows them to make a deep base hoot that sounds like a much larger bird. People seldom see these owls, but you can hear their strangely deep call from among the treetops.


#24. Spotted Owl

  • Strix occidentalis

spotted owl

  • Length: 17 inches (43 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs (600 grams)
  • Wingspan: 39–49 inches (1–1.25 meters)

Unfortunately, Spotted Owl populations continue to decline due to habitat loss and competition with Barred Owls. These threatened birds of prey only live in mature forests in the western United States.

So when the large trees that these owls prefer are cut down, the habitat can’t be replaced for potentially hundreds of years.

Spotted Owl Range Map

spotted owl range map

Like many other owls, this species doesn’t build its nests. Instead, Spotted Owls take over nests that other birds made in years past, or they use a broken-off treetop or hollow tree cavity.

The most common sound that a Spotted Owl makes is a series of four-note soft hoots. This call is given by both sexes and used to defend and mark their territory, although it can also be heard when males deliver food to females.


#25. Boreal Owl

  • Aegolius funereus

types of owls in the united states of america

  • 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 raptor found in the United States.

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 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.


#26. Northern Hawk Owl

  • Surnia ulula

northern hawk owl

  • 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

northern hawk owl range map

These birds of prey are found in the boreal forests of North America.

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.


#27. 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 the United States 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


#28. Peregrine Falcon

  • Falco peregrinus

large birds in north america

  • 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 North America 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.


#29. 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 the United States 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!


#30. Prairie Falcon

  • Falco mexicanus

prairie falcon

  • Length: 14.5-18.5 in / 37-47 cm
  • Weight: 15-39 oz. / 425-1106 g
  • Wingspan: 35.5-44.5 in / 90-113 cm

You’ll find this raptor in the openness of the western United States.

Specifically, look for Prairie Falcons in grasslands, shrubby deserts, farm fields, and pastures. If there are too many trees around, then you probably won’t find this beautiful bird of prey!
The Prairie Falcon and Peregrine Falcon look similar to each other. In fact, these two species diverged from a common ancestor about 4 million years ago. Although approximately the same size, the Prairie Falcon is a considerably lighter bird and requires less food as a result.

Prairie Falcon Range Map

prairie falcon range map

Prairie Falcons like to play! They have been observed picking up manure, carrying it up high, and then dropping it, only to catch the cow waste before it hits the ground. It’s thought that this activity may help sharpen their hunting skills.

Prairie Falcons are generally silent, but they will sound an alarm call (kik-kik-kik-kik) when defending their nest or territory.

#31. Bald Eagle

  • Haliaeetus leucocephalus

large birds in north america

  • Length: 28-40 in / 70-102 cm
  • Weight: 6.5-15 lbs / 3-7 kg
  • Wingspan: 71-91 in / 1.8-2.3 m

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!

These large raptors are now quite prevalent in the United States, but that wasn’t always the case.

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. They are most commonly seen around bodies of water.

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!


#32. Merlin

  • Falco columbarius

types of falcons in the united states

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 the United States.

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.


#33. Golden Eagle

  • Aquila chrysaetos

species of eagles

  • 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.

golden eagle vs bald eagle juvenile - common eagles

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 the United States, 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

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.


#34. Turkey Vulture

  • Cathartes aura

common vultures

  • Length: 25-32 in / 64-81 cm
  • Weight: 2-5 lbs / 0.8-2.4 kg
  • Wingspan: 63-72 in / 160-183 cm

The Turkey Vulture is a large bird of prey incredibly common in the United States.

In fact, it is the most abundant vulture in the entire country. They are relatively easy to identify, as they are all black, with a bald red head and a pinkish bill. The name derives from their loose resemblance to a Wild Turkey.

Turkey Vultures use their highly developed sense of smell to locate carrion. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect dead meat from 8 miles (13 km) away. These birds prefer to eat fresh food, and they try to get to animals as quickly as possible after their death.

Turkey Vulture Range Map

These birds are dark, and they absorb heat easily. To cool themselves off, they defecate on their legs to cool the blood and help them moderate their body temperature. Let’s collectively say “Ewww” and move on!

When these raptors are frightened, they can be so full of meat that they cannot rapidly fly away. In this case, you may see them projectile vomit what they’ve eaten to lose weight and escape. If they target the predator’s face, the material can be blinding.


#35. Black Vulture

  • Coragyps atratus

black vulture - common vulture species

  • Length: 22 – 29 in / 56 – 74 cm
  • Weight: 3.5 – 6.5 lbs / 1.6-3 kg
  • Wingspan: 51 – 66 in / 1.3 – 1.7 m

Black Vultures primarily eat carrion, but unlike most other vultures, they are known to kill animals to feed on fresh meat. It is not uncommon for them to prey on living skunks, opossums, and livestock, such as baby pigs, calves, and lambs.

Black Vultures are monogamous and will stay with their mate for many years. The loyal pair are excellent parents and will defend their nest, eggs, and young vigorously. Interestingly, these vultures build their nests on the ground in stumps, caves, thickets, brush piles, or hollow trees. No nesting material is used either!

Black Vulture Range Map

Look for Black Vultures in the United States in both forested and open areas. They prefer to roost and nest in dense forests but forage for food along roads, fields, and other open spaces. Black Vultures are commonly seen hanging around Turkey Vultures, and it’s not because they are best friends.

Between the two species, Turkey Vultures have a MUCH better sense of smell. Black Vultures use this fact to their advantage and follow Turkey Vultures to a carcass. Often, the more aggressive Black Vultures will chase away their vulture cousins to have the food all to themselves. I wonder if Turkey Vultures ever feel used? 🙂


#36. 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 “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.

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.


#37. Crested Caracara

  • Caracara plancus

crested caracara

  • Length: 20–26 in / 50–65 cm
  • Weight: 2.9 lbs / 1.3 kg
  • Wingspan: 47–52 in / 120–132 cm

Crested Caracaras are incredibly unique. While they are technically falcons, most people think they look like hawks. But to make things more confusing, they act like vultures, as their primary food source is carrion. As a result, they are often seen scavenging on carcasses next to vultures.

caracara and vulture

As if you are not already confused about Crested Caracaras, one of the best places to find these birds of prey in the southern United States is ON THE GROUND, as they spend a lot of time here walking around. It is also fairly common for these falcons to run down live prey, which includes reptiles, insects, and small mammals.

Crested Caracaras are not that common in North America and are seen more often in Mexico and South America. But if you come across one, there is no other bird that looks similar!


#38. California Condor

  • Gymnogyps californianus

types of vultures

  • Height: 36-42 in / 91-107 cm
  • Weight: 17-25 lbs / 80-165 g
  • Wingspan: 114 in / 290 cm

California Condors have the LARGEST wingspan of any raptor found in the United States, stretching over 9 feet from tip to tip.

One of the rarest species of birds on the planet, the California Condor went extinct in the wild in 1987 when all of the remaining birds were captured. These birds were then raised and bred in safe environments with the hope of releasing the offspring back into the wild.

To increase numbers, biologists needed to encourage females to lay a second egg since condors only produce ONE egg naturally. To accomplish this feat, the first egg laid was removed and raised by humans who used puppets to mimic the parents!

California Condor Range Map

Luckily, the program worked, and condors were released back into the wild in California in 1991 and Arizona in 1996. Since then, they have slowly been increasing their numbers. In March 2020, there were 337 birds in the wild and 181 in captive breeding programs.


#39. Swallow-tailed Kite

  • Elanoides forficatus

swallow tailed kite

  • Look for the deeply forked black tail and pointed wings flying in the sky.
  • Long and slender.
  • The white head and underparts contrast with the black back and tail.

These birds of prey are unmistakable when flying over the United States!

First, seeing the large forked tail is a dead giveaway that you’re watching a Swallow-tailed Kite. In addition, these raptors are incredibly acrobatic and perform all sorts of aerial turns, rolls, and dives!

Unfortunately, Swallow-tailed Kites are not in North America long. After a few months of raising their young during summer, they migrate back to South America for the winter.

Swallow-tailed Kite Range Map

swallow tailed kite range map

Interestingly, these white birds commonly eat insects that sting! They are known to bring entire wasps’ nests back to their nest for a feast.


#40. White-tailed Kite

  • Elanus leucurus

white tailed kite

  • A small raptor that has a white head. Pale grey on their back and shoulders.
  • White in flight, they are white underneath with black feathers appearing toward their wingtips.
  • As the name suggests, a long white tail.

The best places to find these raptors in the United States are near grasslands, marshes, or open woodlands. You’ll likely see them hunting for small mammals, lizards, or birds in the early morning.

White-tailed Kite Range Map

white tailed kite range map

White-tailed Kites have an incredibly distinct way of hunting. They face the wind while hovering in place while scanning for prey to eat! This behavior is so distinctive it has been nicknamed “kiting.” Check it out below!


Do you need help identifying raptors in the United States?

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


To learn more about other birds in the United States, check out these guides!


Which of these birds of prey have you seen before in the United States?

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. I have seen many of those raptors pictured. They are always an exciting find. A Northern Goshawk has visit our backyard twice! The eye stripe was an undeniable identifier. We are in Northern Oklahoma almost on the Kansas border and in the center of the state line. What a sight. He got a dove each time he dropped by. An Arctic cold spell 2 winters ago killed out our 15’ fotenia bushes, so we have no cover for nesting birds. Several kinds of birds are still visiting our feeders, nesting birds will have to wait on more cover as new bushes mature. Thank you for all the pictures and informative articles. God bless you.