If you are a bird watcher and would like to know the different birds of prey present in Florida, you are in the right place. This article will introduce you to various birds of prey and suggest some spots you can find these birds in Florida.
A bird of prey, or predatory bird, is a bird that hunts other animals. Common prey includes fish, squirrels, chipmunks, and many more smaller species. These birds are also known as raptors — borrowed from “rapio” which means ‘take by force’ in Latin.
There are many diverse kinds of raptors in Florida including, Eagles, Owls, Kites, Falcons, Hawks, and Vultures. These birds inspire awe in many bird watchers. However, for your safety, you should be cautious when observing birds of prey. Birds of prey can attack pets of people if provoked.
Below is a comprehensive list of Florida birds of prey and what you need to know about each of them.
1. Bald Eagle
Scientific name: Haliaeetus Leucocephalus
The bald eagle is the US national symbol. Contrary to its name, this eagle isn’t bald; it gets its name from its conspicuously white-feathered head.
A fully grown male Bald Eagle weighs 3.5-4kg, while a female weighs 4.5-6kg. On average, Bald Eagles are approximately 3ft in height, and they have a wingspan of 7 ft.
Bald Eagles’ tail and head are white; their body is brown; and they have a yellow, curved, and large bill. The tail and underside of juvenile Bald Eagles mostly contain white blotchy patches.
This bird prefers a habitat near lakes, coastlines, rivers, or wet prairies. It mostly preys on swimming fish, but it also feeds on wading birds, small mammals, waterfowls, and carrion.
Bald Eagles breeding in the North migrate south in early winter to search for food when their hunting grounds start to freeze over. They return to their breeding area when the weather is more favorable and prey is in abundance.
2. Golden Eagle
Scientific name: Aquila Chrysaetos
Golden Eagles are among the largest Florida birds of prey. They have wings with the same broadness as that of the Red-tailed hawk, although the Golden Eagle’s wings are longer. When you watch them from a distance, the Golden Eagle has a relatively small head and a long tail that projects farther behind than its head stretches in front.
The average measurements for this bird of prey include a length of 2-3ft, a wingspan of 6-7ft, and a weight of 3-6.1kgs. A fully grown Golden Eagle is dark brown, and its neck and back of the head contain a golden sheen.
This bird commonly favors a habitat in completely or partially open country-sides. Golden Eagles feed on medium-sized animals, including rabbits, rodents, birds, and reptiles. They also prey on other birds of prey, including falcons and owls, and when food is scarce, Golden Eagles feed on carrion.
Golden Eagles in the Northern areas of Canada and Alaska are known to migrate to wintering grounds when the first signs of lasting freeze up, snowfall, or scarcity of prey. Southern breeders, however, tend to be year-round residents.
3. American Kestrel
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
The American Kestrel is the most popular falcon on earth despite it being the smallest. This bird is somewhat similar in shape and size to the Morning Dove, but its head is larger.
Both male and female American Kestrel measure an average of 22-31cm in length, weigh 0.08-0.165kgs, and have a wingspan of 51-61cm. When you see them from a distance, these bird appears pale. But from above, they are rusty brown with black spots.
Their wings are slate-blue for males and reddish-brown for females. Black vertical slashes are present on the sides of the male’s and female’s faces.
American Kestrels like to habituate in diverse areas, including grasslands, deserts, and alpine meadows. They mainly prey on insects, but they also feed on small rodents, reptiles, birds, and amphibians.
Most American Kestrels live in the southern parts of the US during winter, but some migrate to Central America.
Scientific name: Falco columbarias
Merlins are smaller but broader and stockier falcons as compared to American Kestrels. These birds may be small but they are strong and fierce.
Male and female adult Merlins average 24-30cm in length, weigh approximately 160-240g, and have a wingspan of 53-68cm. They have a commonly streaky and dark appearance, although their color patterns vary with gender and geographic disposition. Fully grown male Merlins tend to be slaty to dark gray, while females and juveniles tend to be brownish.
These birds mostly nest and live along rivers and forested openings. Merlins prey on small birds, although they are also known to feed on rodents, reptiles, bats, and large-sized insects.
During winter, most prairies Merlins migrate into central and southern US or northern Mexico, while some northwest Merlins tend to be year-round residents.
5. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
Peregrine Falcons are the largest known falcons on earth. They can be identified by their long-winged shape, owing to long primary feathers.
Adult Peregrine Falcons of both sexes measure approximately 36-49cm long, weigh 530-1600g, and have a wingspan of 100-110cm. Fully-grown Peregrine Falcons tend to have blue-gray color patterns, a dark head, and thick sideburns.
These birds make their nests on tall structures like skyscrapers, cliffs, water towers, and power pylons. Their prey includes gulls, pigeons, ducks, shorebirds, and songbirds. They are also known to snatch prey from other predatory birds.
When it comes to migration, these birds have a name, peregrine, which means wanderer. Peregrine Falcons nesting in the Tundra can move 25,000 km yearly, and they use South America for wintering.
6. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Zoological name: Accipiter striatus
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in the US and Canada in size. It is infamous for its acrobatic flying maneuvers, long tails and legs, and short wings.
Adult male and female sharp-shinned hawks measure averages of 82-220 in weight, 23-37cm length, and a wingspan of 42-68cms. When fully-grown, Sharp-shinned Hawks tend to have red-orange streaks on their breasts and an overall slaty blue-gray color pattern above.
Sharp-shinned Hawks use deep forests as breeding grounds. They mainly prey on songbirds, but they may also small mammals, lizards, frogs, and large-sized insects.
Some of these hawks are migratory, while some are year-round dwellers. Some North-American Sharpshins winter as far as Central America and the West Indies.
7. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Cooper’s Hawks are hawks of medium size; that have a very long tail and broad, rounded wings. They also have larger heads than stick out when they are in flight.
On average, male Cooper’s Hawks have a length of 37-29cm, a weight of 220-410g, and a wingspan 62-90cm. Female Cooper’s Hawks, on the other hand, measure 42-45cm in length, weigh 330-680g and have a wingspan of 75-90cm. From above, these birds have a steely blue-gray pattern. Their underparts contain reddish bars, and their tails have dark, thick bands.
These hawks can live in different habitats, ranging from backyards to leafy subdivisions and deep forests. Their prey includes small animals and medium-sized birds. They may also feed on large-sized insects and reptiles.
Northern Breeders in this category are more migratory than southern ones. Cooper’s Hawks from the Northern parts of America winter in Southern and central USA or southern Mexico.
8. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
The Red-tailed Hawk is among the largest hawks in existence. You can distinguish them by their general “buteo” properties, including short, wide tails and broad, rounded wings.
Male Red-tailed Hawks measure an average of 45-46cm in length, weigh 690-1300g and have a wingspan of 114-133cm. Female Red-tailed Hawks measure 50-65cm in length, weigh 900-1460g, and their wingspan stretches between 114-133cm.
The color pattern of Red-tailed hawks includes a rich, brown top and a pale appearance below. They also have a dark bar between wrist and shoulder, and their underwing and belly have streaks.
These hawks mostly live in open countries. They mainly prey on such mammals as rabbits and rats, but they are also known to feed on reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds. They may also feed on carrion when prey is unavailable.
Red-tailed hawks are partial migrants. Some of these hawks migrate while others are year-round dwellers. Most Red-tailed Hawks living in northern parts of the US and southern Canada migrate to southern areas during wintering.
9. Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
The Broad-winged Hawk can get identified by its short and square tail, broad wings, large heads, and small but chunky bodies. These hawks have a slightly smaller size as compared to the Red-shouldered Hawk.
Both male and female Broad-winged Hawks measure between 34-44cm in length, weigh 265-560g and have an 81-100cm wingspan. When they are fully grown, these hawks appear to have barred underparts, reddish-brown heads, and white and black, broad tail bands. On the other hand, juveniles have a lighter brown, streaked color part on the underparts.
Broad-winged Hawks habituate in forests and favor the cover of canopies. Their food includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. These hawks sometimes also feed on earthworms, centipedes, crayfish, and fish.
Broad-winged Hawks are also among the most migratory birds in the buteo category. They migrate over long distances, sometimes flying from breeding grounds as far as Canada to winter in Brazil.
10. Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized hawk with rounded wings and a tail medium in length. You can easily identify these birds in flight because they tend to possess a distinct posture that looks like they are reaching for something, with wingtips pushed forward as they soar or glide.
Both male and female Red-shouldered Hawks tend to measure averages of 43-61cm in length, weigh 486-774g, and have a wingspan of 94-111cm. When fully grown, these birds tend to have wings checkered with black and white. Their breast has reddish bars and a black tail with thin white bands.
Red-shouldered Hawks mostly live and nest in deciduous woodlands. Their prey consists of medium-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, large-sized insects, and small birds. In some regions, the diet of these birds mainly includes crayfish.
These hawks are also partial migrants, with those in the Western parts preferring sedentary lives.
11. Short-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
The Short-tailed Hawk is one of the most uncommon hawks when it comes to Florida birds of prey. It is a relatively small-sized tropical hawk that likes to nest in the central parts of Florida.
Male and female Short-tailed Hawks tend to have a length of 39-44cm, weigh 390-520g, and have a wingspan of 83-103cm. They have a dark color pattern above and a white one below.
These hawks live in areas where wetlands, farmlands, or open grasslands meet forests. Their diet consists of small birds, but they are also known to prey on small reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and large insects.
Most Short-tailed Hawks tend to be year-round residents. However, some in the northern parts migrate to the south for wintering.
12. Black Vulture
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Black Vultures have sooty-black feathers, a black and bare head, and their wingtips are speckled with white starts underneath. Their wing-beats tend to be powerful, wings are broad, and tails are somewhat short.
You can distinguish a black vulture from a Turkey Vulture using the features above. Plus, Black Vultures have a poor sense of smell, so they are known to find carcasses from following Turkey Vultures. Black Vultures are well known for being social and generous; they share food with relatives.
Both male and female Black Vultures measure averages of 60-68cm in length, weight 1600-2200g and have a wingspan of 137-150cm. They prefer open habitats in forested landscapes.
Black Vultures mainly feed on carrion. They are also known to feed on newborn animals and eggs. They rummage garbage dumps in areas with human settlements.
These vultures are mostly sedentary birds. However, most leave the northern parts and migrate south in flocks during particularly harsh winters.
13. Swallow-Tailed Kite
Scientific name: Elanoides forficatus
These raptors are exceptionally buoyant Florida birds of prey. They are slender and possess long pointed wings and long forked tails. They often get referred to as the coolest birds on earth.
Male and female Swallow-tailed Kites measure 50-64cms in length, a weight of 370-600g, and their wingspan is 122cm. They are a combination of black and white colors- black back, tail, and wings; white underparts and head.
Swallow-tailed Kites mostly habituate over marshes, swamps, and large rivers. They are very common birds of prey in Florida.
Their diet consists of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and large-sized insects. These birds also feed on fruit, especially in Central America.
When summer ends, all Swallow-tailed Kites migrate south to South America from the US. They are known to be long-distance migrants. However, you can find large flocks of Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida during late summer.
14. The Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
The Great Horned Owl is a large bird with a thick body and two conspicuous tufts of feather on its head. It also has broad, rounded wings and an intimidating yellow-eyed gaze.
The average measurements of both male and female Great Horned Owls include a length of 46-63cm, 910-2500 weight, and 101-145cm wingspan. They mostly have a color pattern consisting of a gray-brown mottled body, reddish-brown face, and a white-patched throat.
These nocturnal birds habituate mostly in woods. They are notorious for their appetite for any medium-sized or small animal. Their menu includes squirrels, moles, rodents, marmots, ducks, gulls, or even fellow birds of prey like Red-tailed Hawks.
Great Horned Owls are very adaptable, and they can permanently live in most areas. However, you may find some migrating from the Northern parts during winter.
Scientific name: Aramus guarauna
Limpkins are birds that somewhat resemble juvenile Night-herons or larger Rails. They have a long, bent bill with a twisted tip for fishing snails from their shells. These birds are popular for their haunting, alien cries that most people report hearing at night.
This Florida bird of prey tends to live in marshes and fresh swamps. You can find them in the freshwater marshes of Florida. They mostly feed on large snails and sometimes prey on frogs, lizards, worms, and insects.
Male and Female Limpkins average 64-73cm length, weigh 900-1300g and have a 101-107cm wingspan.
Most migratory Limpkins are also present in South America, where they mostly move around with dry or wet seasons. However, Limpkins mostly tend to be year-round residents.
Hotspots for Watching Florida Birds of Prey
You can watch Florida birds of prey in any of the following hotspots:
• Florida Everglades National Park
• Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
• Fort Desoto County Park
• Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
• Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area
This article proves that Florida has numerous diverse predatory birds that you can enjoy your time birdwatching. We have also listed a few hotspots that are ideal for this activity. However, as we mentioned before, raptors can be aggressive when they feel threatened.
To avoid getting attacked by predatory birds in Florida, make sure you are aware of their nesting and feeding locations. You should avoid these places if necessary.
- We already covered birds of prey in Florida, how about birds that make a lot of noise? Check out our article on the woodpeckers in florida.
- Florida made our list of the best places to live for birders. Check out our article to see the other hotspots in the US where birders like to live: Best Places To Live For Birders.