Do you want to learn about the LARGEST birds found in Iowa?
Well, you have come to the right place. 🙂
Below is a list of birds that are large, either in weight, height, length, or wingspan. I’ve included a variety of species, such as hawks, herons, corvids, owls, and geese.
23 LARGE Birds That Live in Iowa:
#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 large birds are often seen in Iowa 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.
In fact, people are so enamored with their screams it’s common for directors to use the sounds of a Red-tailed Hawk to replace Bald Eagles that appear in movies. In case you have never heard one, Bald Eagles don’t make sounds that live up to their appearance (putting it nicely!).
- RELATED: 10 Types of Hawks Found in Iowa!
#2. 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 large birds in Iowa.
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!
Generally speaking, these owls tend to eat larger animals to sustain their bigger bodies. They seek rabbits, geese, groundhogs, many species of birds, rats, and even other raptors!
But these owls also have no problem eating small prey, such as frogs, insects, invertebrates, reptiles, mice, and scorpions. Interestingly, a Great Horned Owl’s sense of smell is so weak that they even attack and eat skunks!
- RELATED: 9 Owl Species That Live in Iowa!
#3. Wild Turkey
- Meleagris gallopavo
- Length: Males 39-49 in (100–125 cm). Females are a little smaller.
- Weight: Males 11 to 24 lb (5 – 11 kg). Females 5.5–11.9 lb (2.5-5.4 kg).
- Wingspan: 4 to 4.75 ft (1.25 – 1.44 m)
Everyone knows what this large bird looks like in Iowa!
Wild Turkeys cannot be confused with any other animal. Many people even think they look like little dinosaurs as they strut around.
To find Wild Turkeys, wake up early in the morning, and you will often find them foraging in clearings and along roadsides. Luckily, they aren’t shy and are often spotted while driving.
Wild Turkey Range Map
Believe it or not, despite their hefty size, Wild Turkeys can fly! It surprises many people when they come across them roosting high in a tree. In addition, these talented birds can also swim by folding their wings, extending their tails, and using their legs to propel themselves.
Interestingly, only male turkeys make the famous gobble call. This sound is used to announce themselves to females while competing with other males for the ladies’ attention. LISTEN BELOW:
#4. 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 Iowa 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!
- RELATED: 4 Types of Falcons Found in Iowa!
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, 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.
At the high speeds that these falcons can travel, their lungs should inflate and burst. But because they have a bony bump in their nose, it disrupts the airflow just like the dome shape on the front of a jet engine. Nature never ceases to amaze!
#5. Bald Eagle
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- 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 Iowa, 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!
#6. Canada Goose
- Branta canadensis
- Length: 30 – 43 in / 75 to 110 cm
- Weight: 5.75 – 14.25 lb / 2.6–6.5 kg
- Wingspan: 50–73 in / 127–185 cm
Canada Geese are extremely common.
I’m sure you probably recognize these large birds, as they are very comfortable living around people. Look for them wherever there are grasses or grains to eat, such as lawns, parks, farm fields, and golf courses. I know I have been guilty of stepping in their “droppings” at least a few times in my backyard as they come to eat corn from my feeding station. 🙂
Canada Goose Range Map
In fact, these geese are now so abundant that many people consider them pests for the amount of waste they produce! If you have a manicured lawn that is maintained all the way to the water’s edge, you have an open invitation for these birds to visit.
The Canada Goose is also easy to identify while flying overhead. If you see a flock of large birds in a V-formation, then it’s most likely them. Flying this way helps conserve energy, and different birds take turns leading the way.
- RELATED: 8 types of Geese in Iowa!
These large birds are easy to hear in Iowa.
Listen for a wide variety of loud honks and cackles. Listen above!
#7. American Crow
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Length: 16–20 in / 40–50 cm
- Weight: 11 – 21 oz / 300 – 600 g
- Wingspan: 33 – 39 in / 85 – 100 cm
American Crows are large, adaptable birds and are common in almost every habitat. The places they can be found include woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.
American Crow Range Map
These corvids are one of the smartest birds found in Iowa. For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it is easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.
American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)
- Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 20-25.5 in / 50-65 cm
- Weight: 3-4.4 lb. / 1.4-2 kg
- Wingspan: 59-71 in / 150-180 cm
Despite their appearance, the first thing you should 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.
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. Even an Osprey’s talons are perfectly adapted for catching fish. If you take a close look, you will see they are extremely curved and even intersect when fully closed, which makes them perfectly designed for holding onto slippery fish!
Even more interesting, their outer toe is reversible, which lets them rotate the toe so they can have two in front and two in back. Only Ospreys and owls have this unique ability, which allows them to be more efficient hunters.
And these guys don’t just skim the surface and grab their prey near the top like an eagle. Ospreys hit the water HARD and plunge right in to assure themselves of a catch. Amazingly, they can then take off while submerged and with a fish in their talons!
#9. Great Blue Heron
- Ardea herodias
- Length: 36–54 in / 91–137 cm
- Height: 45–54 in / 115–138 cm
- Weight: 4.0–7.9 lb / 1.82–3.6 kg
- Wingspan: 66–79 in / 167–201 cm
These large birds are typically seen in Iowa along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it is pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “s” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, nearly all the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!
#10. Cooper’s Hawk
- Accipiter cooperii
- 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 Iowa 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
Because of their incredible flying abilities, these raptors primarily eat songbirds and are common to see 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.”
In contrast to many other birds, males are usually responsible for building the nest. The female seems to just sit back, relax, and make minor adjustments when the male does something she doesn’t like. 🙂
#11. Pileated Woodpecker
- Dryocopus pileatus
There are not many birds that will make you stop what you’re doing quite like a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are HUGE, and adults can be up to 19 inches (48 cm) long and have a wingspan of 30 inches (76 cm)! For reference, this is about the size of a crow.
In addition to their large size, these birds are mostly black but with white stripes on their face and neck. Look for a large triangle red crest on the top of their heads. Males have a red stripe on their cheek, whereas the stripe is black on females.
Pileated Woodpecker Range Map
Pileated Woodpeckers are common in large, mature forests with lots of dead and fallen trees. They rely on rotting wood consisting of ants, wood-boring beetles, and termites to find food. Additionally, they will supplement their diet with fruits and nuts.
Incredibly, Pileated Woodpeckers will visit bird feeders! Yes, it’s possible to attract these stunning birds to your backyard. They are most often seen dining on suet. The below video was taken from my bird feeding station.
- RELATED: 7 Woodpeckers Found in Iowa!
#12. 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 and large owl found in Iowa. 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 that 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 just about 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.
#13. Turkey Vulture
- Cathartes aura
- 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 black bird that is incredibly common in Iowa. 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 actually 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. Remember that even if they miss, they are vultures eating rotting meat, so try to imagine the odor.
#14. 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 large birds are widespread in Iowa 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.
#15. Tundra Swan
- Cygnus columbianus
- Length: 45–59 in / 115–150 cm
- Weight: 7.5–21.2 lb / 3.4–9.6 kg
- Wingspan: 66–83 in / 168–211 cm
During summer, you will not see Tundra Swans near people, as they spend the breeding season in the remote Arctic. Look for them in winter and migration, where they are visitors to many large bodies of water. They also visit farm fields in large flocks, looking for food.
Tundra Swans form long-term, dedicated relationships. Typically, by the time they are 2 or 3, they have found a partner. Once that happens, these two birds will breed, feed, roost, and travel together year-round.
The most common sound these birds make is a “hoo-ho-ho” bugle, with the second syllable being emphasized. (Listen below)
Another typical sound associated with Tundra Swans is the whistling of their wings. Lewis and Clark initially called them “whistling swans” when they first encountered them, and many people still use this name today.
#16. Great Egret
- Ardea alba
- Length: 31 – 41 in / 80 – 104 cm
- Height: 3.3 ft / 1 m
- Weight: 1.5 – 3.3 lb / 700 – 1,500 g
- Wingspan: 52 to 67 in / 131 to 170 cm
Great Egrets are large birds found in Iowa. These herons are stunning and especially put on a show during breeding season when they grow long feathery plumes called aigrettes, which are held up during courtship displays.
Great Egret Range Map
In fact, these aigrettes are so beautiful that great Egrets were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century because these feathers made such nice decorations on ladies’ hats. The National Audubon Society was formed in response to help protect these birds from being slaughtered. To this day, the Great Egret serves as the symbol of the organization.
Slightly smaller than a Great Blue Heron, this species eats almost anything that may be in the water. The list includes reptiles, birds, amphibians, small mammals, and countless invertebrates.
- RELATED: 9 Types of Herons Found in Iowa
Great Egrets don’t get any awards for their beautiful songs. Listen for a loud sound that is best described as a croak (“kraak”). When surprised, you may hear a fast “cuk-cuk-cuk” alarm call. LISTEN BELOW!
#17. Sandhill Crane
- Antigone canadensis
- Height: 2.6 to 4.5 ft / 80 to 136 cm
- Weight: 6.0 to 14.8 lb / 2.7 to 6.7 kg
- Wingspan: 6.5 ft / 2 m
If you go to the right habitat, Sandhill Cranes are easy to spot in Iowa. These water birds are large, elegant, and put on some fancy dancing while trying to attract a mate! It’s common to see a breeding male pump their wings, bow, stretch their wings, and jump into the air, all in the name of love. 🙂
Sandhill Crane Range Map
Sandhill Cranes are well known for their LOUD bugling calls.
In fact, these sounds can be heard over 2 miles away and are given both on the ground or while flying. They have adapted extremely long windpipes that actually coil into the sternum, which helps produce the low, loud pitch.
One thing that amazes me about Sandhill Cranes is how long they live. The oldest one on record was at least 36 years old, as it was banded originally in 1973 and then found again in 2010!
#18. Trumpeter Swan
- Cygnus buccinator
Trumpeter Swans are the largest bird by weight in Iowa!
They have a wingspan of almost 6 feet (1.8 m) and weigh around 25 pounds (11.3 kg), which is about twice the amount of a Tundra Swan. In fact, they are so big that about 100 yards of open water is needed for them to get enough speed to take off!
Trumpeter Swans were once endangered due to overhunting, but luckily, their population has recovered, and they are increasing their numbers. Unlike Tundra Swans, this species doesn’t travel to the Arctic in summer to nest and breed. Look for them near ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes, and the farther from people, the better!
These large birds typically nest on an existing structure that is surrounded by water, such as beaver dams, muskrat dens, small islands, floating masses of vegetation, and artificial platforms. Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive when breeding and will commonly abandon their nest sites and babies due to human disturbance.
Deep, loud trumpets can be heard when they are alarmed or defending their territory, which is two syllables with the second one emphasized (“oh-O”).
#19. Double-crested Cormorant
- Nannopterum auritum
- Length: 28–35 in / 70–90 cm
- Weight: 2.6 – 5.5 lb / 1.2 – 2.5 kg
- Wingspan: 45 – 48 in / 114 – 123 cm
Double-crested Cormorants are incredibly unique looking, with many people thinking they appear to be a cross between a loon and a goose. These expert divers eat almost exclusively fish, which they catch underwater with their perfectly adapted hooked bills.
Double-crested Cormorant Range Map
One of the BEST ways to find these large water birds in Iowa is to look for them on land with their wings spread out. Double-crested Cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers, so after swimming, they have to dry them.
Large colonies of these birds tend to gather in trees near water, where they all build their nests in a small cluster of trees. Unfortunately, there can be so many birds so close together that their poop ends up killing the trees!
Double-crested Cormorants emit unique, deep guttural grunts, which I think sound more like a large walrus than a bird. Listen below!
#20. American White Pelican
- Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
- It is a GIANT white water bird with a long neck and long bill.
- Yellow patch at the base of the bill that wraps around their eyes.
- Breeding adults have an odd plate that sticks up from the end of the bill.
American White Pelicans are hard to miss due to their massive size. In fact, they are one of the largest birds in Iowa. They typically weigh between 11 – 20 pounds (5.0 – 9.1 kg), but it’s their wingspan that is most impressive.
When fully spread, the wings measure over 9 feet (2.7 m) from tip to tip, which is the second widest in North America, behind the California Condor.
American White Pelican Range Map
Despite what you might think, American White Pelicans don’t dive underwater to catch fish. Instead, they use their giant neck pouches to scoop up fish. Individuals commonly work together to herd fish to shallow areas to make them easier to catch.
Their bill can hold several gallons of water, so before swallowing, they tilt their bill upward to drain out the water!
Interestingly, chicks that are still INSIDE the egg can squawk to convey discomfort if conditions become too hot or too cold! Otherwise, adults are generally silent.
#21. Mute Swan
- Cygnus olor
- Length: 55 – 63 in / 140 – 160 cm
- Weight: 23.4 – 26.2 lb / 10.6 – 11.87 kg
- Wingspan: 79 – 94 in / 200 – 240 cm
Mute Swans are one of the most elegant and beautiful birds you will see in the water. They are also enormous and are one of the heaviest birds that can fly!
But did you know that these large birds are NOT native to Iowa?
Due to their beauty, Mute Swans were imported from Europe and then released in parks, large estates, and zoos. Unfortunately, these individuals escaped and have established an invasive wild population.
Don’t be fooled by their appearance; these swans can be aggressive, and they regularly attack kayakers and other people who get too close to their nest. They also displace native ecosystems due to their voracious appetite, which requires up to 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of aquatic vegetation per day!
Despite their name, these swans are not mute!
While it’s true they are relatively quiet, they make a hoarse trumpet sound when defending their territory. And if they are threatened, expect to hear various barks, hisses, and snorts.
#22. Snow Goose
- Anser caerulescens
- Height: 25 – 31 in / 64 – 79 cm
- Weight: 4.5 – 6.0 lb / 2.05 – 2.7 kg
- Wingspan: 53 – 65 in / 135 – 165 cm
During the breeding season, Snow Geese spend their time in the continent’s northernmost areas, away from human civilization. Most people only get the pleasure of seeing this large goose in Iowa when they migrate south in the fall and winter.
Snow Goose Range Map
Look for Snow Geese in large fields and bodies of water. If they are around, it is usually not hard to find them, as they are almost always seen in huge flocks accompanied by a lot of honking!
One of the most impressive things you will watch today is the video below, which shows an ENORMOUS flock of Snow Geese. It’s hard to fathom how many birds are traveling together!
As you can probably hear from the video above, Snow Geese are one of the noisiest waterfowl you will encounter. Their nasally, one-syllable honk can be heard at any time of day or night, at any time of the year!
#23. Greater White-fronted Goose
- Anser albifrons
- Length: 25–32 in / 64–81 cm
- Weight: 4.4 – 7.4 lb / 1.93–3.31 kg
- Wingspan: 51–65 in / 130–165 cm
These birds breed in the arctic tundra but then migrate south for winter. Look for these large geese in Iowa in large flocks in wetlands, lakes, and farm fields.
Greater White-fronted Goose Range Map
Greater White-fronted Geese have INCREDIBLY strong family bonds. Mated pairs migrate with each other and stay together for many years. Their offspring even stick around for longer than most other species, and it’s not unusual to see the young with their parents through the next breeding season.
Their flight call is relatively easy to identify. Listen for a two to three-syllable sound that resembles laughing.
Learn more about other birds in Iowa!
Which of these large birds have you seen in Iowa?
Let us know in the comments!