Are you interested in discovering the fascinating birds of prey in Florida? This state is a habitat for various predatory birds like Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Vultures, Raptors, and Owls. These birds have a remarkable ability to hunt and consume animals larger than themselves. While identifying them is exhilarating, it’s crucial to have the appropriate equipment and exercise caution for safety. Remember, these birds can become aggressive if provoked, posing risks to people and pets. Check out our comprehensive list of 25 remarkable Florida birds of prey and get ready to explore the world of these captivating hunters.
List of 25 Birds of Prey in Florida
- Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
- Lifespan: 10-15 years
- Origin: Native to North America
- Size: Length 18-26 inches, wingspan 45-52 inches
The Red-tailed Hawk is a magnificent bird of prey with a wingspan of up to 52 inches, making it one of the larger hawk species in Florida. Its coloration varies from dark brown to nearly white, but it is easily recognizable by its rusty red tail. This majestic bird can be found in open grasslands and urban areas, often perched on roadside posts or fences, patiently waiting for its prey. Its diet consists mainly of rodents and other small animals, which it captures by swooping down from its perch when they venture into the open. The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawk species in Florida and can be observed throughout the Sunshine State year-round.
- Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
- Lifespan: 4-5 years
- Origin: Native to North America
- Size: Length 9-13 inches, wingspan 16-22 inches
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk species found in Florida. Recognizable by its blue-gray wings and back and distinctive orange feather patterns on its chest, this agile hunter is often seen stalking songbirds in backyards across the state. Although they don’t breed in Florida, they are regular visitors during the non-breeding season, with many migrating from Canada to enjoy Florida’s milder climate.
- Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
- Lifespan: 7-12 years
- Origin: Native to North America
- Size: Length 14-20 inches, wingspan 24-35 inches
The Cooper’s Hawk is a nimble hawk species known for its remarkable skill in catching small birds in mid-flight. These hawks have reddish-orange bars on their underside and grayish-blue upperparts, with piercing vermillion red eyes. They are often spotted perched on branches, showcasing their orange chest and underside. Cooper’s Hawks are well adapted to dense forests and shrubby areas, utilizing their long tails and small, rounded wings for sharp turns and quick maneuvers. Once shy woodland raptors, they are now commonly found in urban areas such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where they prey on pigeons and songbirds, even making surprise attacks at bird feeders. While they are winter visitors in the southern half of Florida, they can be found year-round in the rest of the state.
- Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
- Lifespan: 4-8 years
- Origin: Native to North America, found in parts of the United States and Mexico
- Size: Length 17-24 inches, wingspan 37-43 inches
The Red-shouldered Hawk has two distinct populations – one in the eastern US, including Florida, and another in California and Mexico. The Florida population of these hawks can be found in lowland forests, particularly favoring mature woods near water sources. They are non-migratory, with adult hawks staying in their nesting territories year-round.
- Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
- Lifespan: 4-5 years
- Origin: Native to North America
- Size: Length 13-17 inches, wingspan 31-34 inches
The Broad-winged Hawk is a long-distance migratory species that spends its winters in South America. During fall migration, large flocks, known as “kettles,” can be observed soaring together using thermal currents on their way southward. While they are scarce breeding birds in the northernmost parts of Florida, they are more frequently seen during migration throughout the state. In the southernmost regions, they are year-round residents and prefer extended forests as their habitat.
- Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
- Lifespan: 8-10 years
- Origin: Native to Central and South America
- Size: Length 15-18 inches, wingspan 37-41 inches
The Short-tailed Hawk is primarily a species of Central and South America, but it has a small breeding population in Florida. The Florida population consists mainly of dark morph individuals, numbering around 500. While Short-tailed Hawks in central Florida are migratory, they are year-round residents in the southern parts of the state. Great places to observe these medium-sized raptors are the Florida Keys, especially Key West, and the Everglades National Park. Unlike many other buteo hawks, Short-tailed Hawks specialize in hunting small birds, which they attack with high-speed dives from high altitudes.
- Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
- Lifespan: 7 years (on average)
- Origin: Native to North America
- Size: Length 18-24 inches, wingspan 40-48 inches
The Northern Harrier is a breeding bird of the northern parts of North America but spends the winter in the southern USA and Central America. In Florida, it is a winter visitor from October through April, often frequenting open grasslands and marshes. Northern Harriers are easily identified by their unique foraging behavior of flying slowly, just above the ground, to pounce on rodents caught outside their burrows.
- Scientific name: Elanus leucurus
- Lifespan: 6 years
- Size: 14.5 inches
- Native to: The Americas, breeding as far south as Chile and Argentina. A closely related and very similar species, the Black-shouldered Kite, occurs across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The White-tailed Kite, also known as the Black-shouldered Kite, is a stunning raptor with a striking appearance. Adult White-tailed Kites have a pristine white underside, head, and tail, while their upper side is adorned with light gray feathers and dark gray patches on the shoulders. Their eyes are a deep red, adding to their allure. Juvenile birds have a more brownish coloration with light streaks.
These beautiful birds of prey are skilled hunters, known for their expertise in catching small rodents, insects, and reptiles in open grasslands. They exhibit a kestrel-like hovering behavior, patiently waiting for a chance to snatch a rodent emerging from its burrow. White-tailed Kites are relatively scarce breeding residents along Florida’s coast, where they can be observed year-round.
Swallow-tailed Kites (Large white birds in Florida)
- Scientific name: Elanoides forficatus
- Lifespan: 6 years
- Size: 2 feet
- Native to: Southeastern United States to eastern Peru and northern Argentina
The Swallow-tailed Kite is a graceful and easily recognizable raptor, distinguished by its bright white underparts and deeply forked tail. The rear margins of its wings and tail are black, providing a stunning contrast against the white. When perched on a tree, the Swallow-tailed Kite’s white head and chest stand out against the dark grayish-black upperparts.
Like other kites, this Florida bird is a skilled hunter, capable of catching insects in mid-air. It prefers feeding on small reptiles, rodents, and insects. The Swallow-tailed Kite is a summer visitor to Florida and migrates to Central and South America for the winter. Florida boasts the largest population of breeding Swallow-tailed Kites in North America.
- Scientific name: Ictinia mississippiensis
- Lifespan: Typically 5-7 years
- Size: Medium-sized raptor; about 12-15 inches (30-38 cm) in length, wingspan of 33-37 inches (84-94 cm)
- Origin: Native to the southeastern United States and parts of Central and South America.
The Mississippi Kite is a sleek and agile raptor with pointed wings resembling those of a falcon. It is a highly skilled aerial hunter, often observed hovering before swooping down to catch flying insects on the wing. In northwestern Florida, the Mississippi Kite is a breeding bird, and you can spot it between April and September.
These social birds often nest in small colonies and can be seen foraging together. They prefer habitats like wet woodlands and even urban areas such as golf courses or playing fields.
- Scientific name: Rostrhamus sociabilis
- Lifespan: Around 8-10 years
- Size: Medium-sized raptor; approximately 15-18 inches (38-46 cm) in length, wingspan of 39-43 inches (99-109 cm)
- Origin: Native to the Americas, including parts of the southeastern United States, Central America, and South America.
The Snail Kite is a fascinating bird specializing in a unique diet of freshwater snails found in marshes. Using its thin, hooked bill, the Snail Kite skillfully removes the meat of the snail from its shell after snatching it from aquatic vegetation in shallow marshes.
Male Snail Kites have a dark shade of grayish-black plumage, except for their white-tipped tail. This tropical kite species breeds exclusively in Florida and can be commonly found in the Everglades. Their distinctive hunting behavior and specialized diet make them a fascinating addition to Florida’s avian diversity.
- Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Lifespan: 20 – 30 years
- Size: 28 to 38 inches in height
- Native to: North America
The majestic Bald Eagle boasts an impressive wingspan of up to 8 feet, making it a magnificent sight when soaring in the skies of the Sunshine State. One of the most easily recognizable birds in Florida, the Bald Eagle stands out with its striking white head and tail, in stark contrast to its dark brown body. Juvenile Bald Eagles have a dark brown plumage with light streaks all over their bodies and a buff white belly.
Although not a common breeding bird throughout Florida, the Bald Eagle can still be spotted as a year-round resident in the state. Often seen gliding gracefully on thermal currents, these eagles primarily feed on fish, birds, and small mammals, with carrion forming a significant part of their diet.
- Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
- Lifespan: 10 years
- Size: 20-inch
- Native to: throughout the planet, except in Antarctica, Africa, and South America,
The Osprey, though not an eagle, rivals the Bald Eagle in size, boasting an impressive wingspan of up to 69 inches (5.5 feet). Its distinctive appearance includes a white belly and chest that contrasts with its blackish gray upperparts, along with black wrist patches on its lower wings.
A remarkable hunter, the Osprey is the only raptor species known for plunging into water to catch fish, and it can even become entirely submerged in its pursuit. As a result, Ospreys are commonly found near water, especially during their regular breeding season in Florida. Although not extremely common, they can be spotted throughout the state during the breeding season.
- Scientific name: Falco sparverius
- Lifespan: About 5-10 years
- Size: Small falcon; around 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) in length, wingspan of 20-24 inches (51-61 cm)
- Origin: Native to North and South America, often found in a variety of habitats including open fields and grasslands.
The American Kestrel holds the distinction of being the smallest falcon in North America, yet it is one of the most widespread raptors across the continent. Male American Kestrels sport a colorful appearance, with rufous orange upperparts and tail, blue-gray wings with dark pointed tips, and a reddish-orange cap on their crowns. They also have a distinctive dark mustache and a dark bar behind the eye. Females, while less vibrant, also display rufous orange upperparts.
When foraging, the American Kestrel hovers above fields and meadows or hunts from perches such as telephone poles or tree branches. Spotting its prey, it swiftly dives down to seize it with its talons. Their diet varies with the seasons, preferring insects and worms during spring and summer and favoring rodents and small birds in colder months.
The American Kestrel is a common breeding bird in northern Florida and can be seen throughout the state during the colder months. It often nests in abandoned Woodpecker holes or crevices in buildings and readily accepts nesting boxes installed by humans.
- Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
- Lifespan: Typically 8-15 years
- Size: Medium-sized falcon; approximately 13-20 inches (33-51 cm) in length, wingspan of 2.5-3.5 feet (76-107 cm)
- Origin: Found worldwide, often residing in a wide range of habitats including coastal cliffs and urban areas.
The Peregrine Falcon holds the impressive title of being the fastest animal in the world, capable of diving from the sky at speeds exceeding 200 mph. This remarkable falcon, often observed in Florida during the non-breeding season, is a highly skilled bird of prey that predominantly feeds on other birds. Sadly, the extensive use of the pesticide DDT once caused a severe decline in the Peregrine Falcon population due to eggshell-thinning effects. However, since the ban on DDT, these falcons have made a remarkable recovery, and they are now a common and magnificent sight in Florida during the winter months.
- Scientific name: Falco columbarius
- Lifespan: Around 5-10 years
- Size: Small falcon; roughly 9-11 inches (23-28 cm) in length, wingspan of 20-26 inches (51-66 cm)
- Origin: Native to North America, Europe, and Asia, often inhabiting open landscapes.
The Merlin is a small and highly migratory falcon, primarily known as a breeding bird in far northern regions, including Canada and Alaska. During the winter months, these tiny falcons venture southward, making regular appearances in Florida. Merlins are commonly spotted flying at low altitudes over open areas as they seek to flush out small birds for food. They favor habitats adjacent to water, such as seashores, tidal flats, rivers, and lakeshores. Moreover, Merlins have adapted to urban environments, making appearances in city parks, golf courses, and cemeteries.
- Scientific name: Caracara plancus
- Lifespan: over 30 years
- Size: 26 inches
- Native to: Tierra del Fuego in southernmost South America to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America
Though belonging to the falcon family, Crested Caracaras boast a distinct appearance characterized by their large bills and long legs, often seen walking on the ground like vultures. While they are rare breeding birds in central Florida, their numbers have been on the rise in recent times. Similar to vultures, these raptors frequently feed on carcasses and are often observed perched on tall trees or flying low over the ground. Their presence in Florida adds to the diversity of the state’s avian population.
- Scientific name: Cathartes aura
- Lifespan: Up to 20 years
- Size: Approximately 64-81 centimeters (25-32 inches)
- Origin: North and South America (found in regions such as the United States, Mexico, and Brazil)
The Turkey Vulture is the largest vulture species that breeds in Florida, boasting an impressive wingspan of up to 6 feet. This big black raptor is easily recognizable with its red head and dark gray rear margins on its wings, visible during flight. In the air, a soaring Turkey Vulture displays its characteristic wings in an upright V shape, with light wingtips.
These majestic birds are year-round residents and breed throughout Florida. Specialized in feeding on carrion, they often gather in flocks around roadkill. Their presence and role as nature’s clean-up crew contribute to the ecological balance in the state.
- Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
- Lifespan: Around 20-25 years
- Size: Medium to large; approximately 25-27 inches (63-68 cm) in length, wingspan of 60-70 inches (152-178 cm)
- Origin: Native to the Americas, including North and South America.
The Black Vulture, while less common as a breeding bird in Florida, can be observed year-round in the state. With its predominantly black plumage and white wingtips visible from below, this vulture stands out in the sky. Adult Black Vulture pairs remain in their breeding territories throughout the year.
Unlike Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures lack a keen sense of smell. To find carrion, they often follow Turkey Vultures, relying on them as “scouts.” They might even intimidate the smaller vulture species to claim the carrion for themselves. The coexistence of Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures in Florida adds to the diversity of the avian landscape.
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Life span: up to 13 years in the wild
- Size: length of 18-25 inches, wingspan of 36-60 inches
- Weight: 2-5.5 lbs
- Origin: North, Central, and South America
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species that breeds in Florida, with an impressive wingspan of up to 4 feet. With its large size, brown-colored plumage, and distinctive ear tufts (horns), this owl is easily recognizable. Starting nesting early in the year, as early as January or February, the Great Horned Owl is nearly entirely nocturnal, relying on its exceptional hearing to hunt in complete darkness.
Unlike many other owls, the Great Horned Owl does not build its own nest but often occupies nests abandoned by other large birds, such as herons or raptors. This adaptable owl can be found year-round throughout Florida in various habitats, from woodlands to urban areas. As a formidable hunter, it preys on birds as large as ducks and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes. Its role as a top predator plays a crucial part in the balance of Florida’s ecosystems.
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Life span: up to 20 years in captivity
- Size: length of 12-16 inches, wingspan of 39-49 inches
- Weight: 0.5-1.4 lbs
- Origin: worldwide distribution
The Barn Owl stands out with its white coat of feathers, giving it a softer and friendlier appearance compared to some other owl species. Equipped with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors that can be challenging to spot, but their screeching calls are distinctive. When flying overhead by the light of the moon, their white underside may glow, making them more visible. Found in Florida year-round, they favor open areas and farmland for hunting.
- Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
- Life span: up to 9 years in the wild
- Size: length of 7-10 inches, wingspan of 21-24 inches
- Weight: 5.5-8 oz
- Origin: North and South America
The Burrowing Owl is a rare resident of open areas in Florida, where it digs its own burrows or takes over burrows from other animals. These owls are active both day and night, hunting insects and small rodents in open prairies. Due to their small size, they can be challenging to spot amidst the vast landscape. Often perched on small mounds, they scan their surroundings for food. Their unique nesting behavior and habitat preferences make them intriguing additions to Florida’s avian diversity.
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Life span: up to 10 years in the wild
- Size: length of 13-17 inches, wingspan of 33-43 inches
- Weight: 7-16 oz
- Origin: North and South America, Europe, and Asia
The Short-eared Owl is a migratory species that doesn’t breed in Florida but is regularly observed in the state outside of the breeding season. Unlike many other owl species, Short-eared Owls are more often seen hunting in daylight. Flying low over open areas, they are relatively easy to spot in various landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land. Their migratory behavior adds to the excitement of spotting these owls in Florida.
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Lifespan: Typically 5-7 years
- Size: Small owl; about 6.3-9.8 inches (16-25 cm) in length, wingspan of 18-24 inches (46-61 cm)
- Origin: Native to North America,
Eastern Screech-Owls, once birds of open woodlands, have successfully adapted to urban habitats, often found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses. They breed in tree cavities and are recognizable by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots. Common throughout Florida year-round, they have a diverse diet, feeding on worms, insects, and rodents. Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, making them potential visitors to backyard nest boxes.
- Scientific name: Strix varia
- Life span: up to 24 years in captivity
- Size: length of 16-25 inches, wingspan of 38-49 inches
- Weight: 1-2 lbs
- Origin: North America
Originally an eastern North American bird, the Barred Owl has expanded its range westward over the past century. In Florida, they can be encountered throughout the state, particularly in mature forests and forests bordering swamps. The Barred Owl is identified by its characteristic hooting call. They readily accept nest boxes set up in old trees, making them an interesting species to attract to suitable habitats.