All 13 Birds of Prey in Arizona! (Species ID Guide) (2024)

All Birds of Prey in Arizona-template

Birds of prey are a varied group of raptors that differ in size and behavior but share the common tendency to hunt and eat live animals. If you’re looking for birds of prey in Arizona, here is a list of some of the easiest ones to find.

Birds of prey in Arizona include hawks, falcons, owls, and vultures, and they are a sight to behold when they’re soaring in the skies with all their glory.

If you live in the Grand Canyon State or are visiting with family and friends, go through this article to learn about the appearance, behavior, and habitat of the different birds of prey found here.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articles: Best Horse Rescues in Arizona and Best Cat Rescues in Arizona.

1. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Size: 18.9-22 inches
  • Weight: 1.5-3.0 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 46-54 inches
  • Lifespan: 7-8 years
  • Conservational Status: Threatened

The Swainson’s Hawk can be spotted throughout Arizona during summer.

These hawks have long, narrow bodies, wings, and a characteristic brown chest with contrasting white chin and underwings.

Moreover, the hawks have short tails, pointed wingtips, and gray or brown spotted backs.

In flight, a Swainson’s Hawk flaunts black feathers on the lower edges of its wings.

Swainson’s Hawks frequent open areas and dry prairies. They perch on high posts such as poles and fences and scour the area for prey.

If a high vantage point isn’t available, they can be seen in grasslands and fields looking for insects.

These raptors are picky eaters and hunt Burrowing Owls if they are abundant, including snakes, bats, lizards, mice, crickets, rabbits, and dragonflies.  

2. Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 7.5–11.0 inches
  • Weight: 0.32-0.53 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 20–24 inches
  • Lifespan: 6-8 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

Burrowing Owls spend their breeding season in Arizona, but some are spotted throughout the year in the State’s south.

These long-legged Owls feature spotted dark-brown wings with light-brown chests that can be plain, barred, striped, or spotted.

They have no ear tufts but have characteristic yellow eyes and bills.

Moreover, Burrowing Owls have a white patch on their chins, which becomes apparent when they are agitated or bobbing their heads.

Unlike most owl species, Burrowing Owls live underground, hence their name, and remain active day and night.

They inhabit deserts, prairies, open grasslands, and agricultural areas and nest in underground lairs.

They usually hunt small rodents and insects by flying low or running on the ground.

However, they can also be seen perched on fences and poles, waiting to glide and catch small rabbits, gophers, lizards, bats, and birds.

These raptors also wade through shallow water, looking for prey.

3. Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteogallus anthracinus
  • Size: 17-21 inches
  • Weight: 2.05 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 50 inches
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

Although they’re named ‘Common’ Black Hawks, these large birds of prey are rarely seen in the United States.

Only about 250 pairs are believed to exist in the country and migrate to the south for the winter.

Common Black Hawks have broad wings, long legs, and a short tail.

They can easily be identified by their soot-like color and contrasting white bands on the base of their tail.

Usually perched low in trees, Common Black Hawks are frequently spotted around canyons with wooded streams and water bodies.

Being opportunistic hunters, they hunt whatever’s available, including small mammals, rodents, fish, reptiles, amphibians, crabs, and birds.

4. California Condor

California Condor Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus
  • Size: 46-52 inches
  • Weight: 22.3 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 72-108 inches
  • Lifespan: 60 years
  • Conservational Status: Critically Endangered

The California Condor is mostly spotted in northwest Arizona during summer.

Among the birds of prey in Arizona, this raptor is labeled as ‘critically endangered’ with about 347 remaining in 2022.

When in flight, these huge birds of prey resemble airplanes since they barely flap their broad wings.

California Condors are primarily black, and their undersides feature white patches.

The yellow skin on their heads and necks changes color to red during courtship or when angry or stressed.

They have brownish-red eyes and pinkish sacs near their breast and the throat.

These giant raptors can be spotted in open grasslands, woodlands, and scrublands.

Moreover, they require about 6000 ft. of elevation and cliff edges or exposed branches to perch and launch for flight.

California Condors feed mainly on carrion, preferably recently killed or dead large-sized animals, including sheep, elk, deer, horses, whales, and sea lions.

They even eat the bones of smaller animals to fulfill their calcium requirements.

5. Harris’s Hawk

Harris's Hawk

Harris’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Parabuteo unicinctus
  • Size: 18.1-23.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.14-1.94 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 inches
  • Lifespan: 15-20 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

Harris’s Hawks can be spotted all year round in southern central Arizona.

These birds have long tails and legs; their plumage is mainly dark brown and chestnut-red.

A distinguishing feature of this Hawk is its white-tipped tail, which can be seen when this raptor soars in the sky on thermal currents.

Unlike most Hawks, Harris’s Hawk is an extremely social species and prefers to hunt in groups of three or more.

Scientists claim that this cooperative hunting technique helps Hawks find prey more successfully than hunting alone.

Their diet mainly consists of medium-sized mammals such as rodents, squirrels, and rabbits, so you won’t generally spot them around bird feeders.

6. Osprey

Osprey Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Size: 18.1-23.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.14-1.94 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.9 inches
  • Lifespan: 7-10 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

The Osprey is a one-of-a-kind bird of prey in central Arizona.

These huge and fierce-looking raptors are also called Sea Hawks or Fish Hawks because of their powerful talons and spiny, scaly feet that help grasp large, slippery fish.

Ospreys have white heads with slight brown streaks on their foreheads and crowns and a characteristic wide brown line that strikes their yellow eyes.

They have black and very hooked bills with pale, sometimes dark, bands on their breasts.

Ospreys can adapt to any habitat, but they ideally prefer accommodations around large bodies of water with an accessible and abundant supply of fish.

They hover over water, and once suitable prey is spotted, they dive, talons and feet first, to catch it.

Occasionally, Ospreys also hunt rodents, frogs, rabbits, snakes, and birds, mainly when there is a scarce supply of fish.

7. Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco mexicanus
  • Size: 14.5-18.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.94-2.44 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 35.5-44.5 inches
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

Prairie Falcons are similar to Peregrine Falcons and share a common ancestor.

However, the Prairie Falcon is significantly lighter and thus requires considerably less food.

These birds of prey in Arizona have a segmented appearance with pale brown backs and a much lighter tail.

They have white chests featuring vertical dark-brown stripes, while their necks are plain white, and their face is somewhat buff.

Prairie Falcons can be easily spotted around open spaces, specifically grasslands, farm fields, shrubby deserts, and pastures.

They hover at low altitudes and pounce on unsuspecting prey roaming the grounds.

These raptors aren’t very picky eaters and prefer whatever is abundant; in summer, they eat small mammals, and during winter, they mainly hunt birds.

They will also store food if it becomes scarce.

8. Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Caracara plancus
  • Size: 19.7-25.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.8-3.3 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 48-52 inches
  • Lifespan: about 24 years
  • Conservational Status: Not Extinct

Although the Crested Caracara belongs to the Falcon family, it has a significantly distinctive appearance: a flat head, long legs, and a large bill.

They can often be spotted walking on the ground, flaunting their white neck, orangish skin around the face, and yellow legs.

Regarding eating habits, Crested Caracaras behave similarly to vultures – they feed on carrion.

These raptors can be observed perched on tall trees or hovering low over the ground, canvassing the area for injured animals or dead carcasses.

It is also common for these birds to hunt down live prey, such as insects, reptiles, and small mammals.

9. Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis
  • Size: 16-19 inches
  • Weight: 1.30 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 40 inches
  • Lifespan: 16-17 years
  • Conservational Status: Near Threatened

You can find the Mexican Spotted Owl in Arizona, among three subspecies of the Spotted Owl in North America.

As per their name, the plumage of these medium-sized Owls features dark brown and white spots.

They have well-defined facial disks, a dusky border flaunting dark eyes, white eyebrows and whiskers, and a hooked yellow bill.

Their bellies are dark-brown and have white horizontal bars or lines.  

Spotted Owls inhabit large, old trees and dense forests.

Due to habitat losses from timber logging, these Owls have a very irregular distribution in Arizona, which makes them very difficult to spot.

Like most Owl species, it feeds mainly on small mammals and specializes in catching medium-sized dusky-footed woodrats and flying squirrels.

Other prey include red tree voles, mice, bats, snowshoe hares, gophers, birds, amphibians, insects, and other small Owls.

10. White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Elanus leucurus
  • Size: 15-17 inches
  • Weight: 0.75 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 40-42 inches
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

White-Tailed Kites have small, white, narrow faces and underparts featuring red eyes and black hooked bills.

Their gray wings have black patches on the shoulders and are white-gray underneath. Their short tails are square and pale gray.

White-Tailed Kites can be spotted in open savannahs, cultivated fields, desert grasslands, and partially cleared woodlands.

They commonly perch in groups on tall shrubs and trees during non-breeding season.

White-Tailed Kites have a distinctive hunting tactic. They hover above the ground before swooping and grabbing their prey with their powerful talons. 

These raptors mainly feed on rodents, field mice, and gophers but also prefer lizards, small birds, snakes, and frogs.

Moreover, these Kites can also be seen hunting flying insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets and often grab them while flying.

11. Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo nitidus
  • Size: 18–24 inches
  • Weight: 0.86-1.03 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 25-35 inches
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

Gray Hawks are rare in the United States and are only found in the southeastern corner of Arizona.

These Hawks are slightly smaller than the Red-tailed Hawk, and as their name suggests, they have predominantly gray plumage with fine gray and white lines on their chests and belly.

These raptors feature long, gray tails with three distinct white bands. Their wings are short, broad, and comparatively smaller than the Hawks in this family.

Gray Hawks inhabit cottonwood and willow woods, preferably near streams or rivers.

Their favorite prey is lizards, often spotted patiently perched on branches or soaring the skies above open areas looking for them.

12. Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Size: 5.9-6.7 inches
  • Weight: 0.09-0.14 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 inches
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Conservational Status: Vulnerable

Flammulated Owls have a relatively scattered breeding population in Central Arizona.

These birds of prey in Arizona are among the smallest Owls in the Grand Canyon State and North America and have the lowest-pitch hoots.

They flaunt reddish-gray feathers, which help them stay well-camouflaged, and are similar in appearance to screech owls but with shorter ear tufts.

Their heads are rectangular, and their eyes are dark.

Flammulated Owls prefer open habitats with mature trees, especially those with naturally abundant nesting holes. 

Unlike most Owls, these raptors mostly eat insects such as crickets, moths, bugs, beetles, and grasshoppers.

They perch high on treetops and hunt for prey in the dense foliage at night. Occasionally, they’ll snatch a small rodent from the ground.

13. Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Size: 6.3-7.1 inches
  • Weight: 0.13-0.17 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 14.5 -16 inches
  • Lifespan: 7 years
  • Conservational Status: Least Concern

The Northern Pygmy Owl is last on our list of birds of prey in Arizona.

This is the smallest Owl found in the State and is easily identified by its white and brown speckled appearance, yellow beak, and yellow eyes.

However, don’t be fooled by its tiny appearance, for these raptors are aggressive hunters and usually hunt birds much larger than themselves.

Pygmy Owls are diurnal (hunt during the day). They stay hidden on perches and lash out in surprise if they spot a songbird or if one ventures close to it.

A rather exciting scene is when songbirds gang up on a Pygmy Owl and mob it until it flies away!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the biggest hawk in Arizona?

The Ferruginous Hawk is the biggest hawk in the state.

What is the biggest dog a hawk can pick up?

A hawk can easily pick up a dog that weighs less than five pounds.

What looks like a hawk but is bigger?

Eagles are bigger than hawks, but look similar.

All Birds of Prey in Arizona

Conclusion For All Birds of Prey in Arizona

The arid Arizona landscape is home to many magnificent species of birds.

A significant proportion of the State’s rich flora and fauna is taken up by its wonderous birds of prey.

These raptors play a major role in balancing rodents and small wildlife populations as well as clearing the landscape of carcasses.

We hope this article helps educate you about the glorious birds of prey that inhabit the Grand Canyon State and motivates you to appreciate nature a little more!

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