All 7 Birds of Prey in Florida! (Species ID Guide) (2024)


Florida, renowned for its nautical tourism, is also home to various animals and birds. If you’re looking for birds of prey in Florida, grab your binoculars and read on.

The state’s warm climate and diverse landscape, with its 45 terrestrial ecosystems, create the ideal conditions for wildlife to thrive all year round.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversion Commission, the state hosts 196 species of birds, including birds of prey, in its territory.

With the help of this guide, you’ll be able to recognize the birds of prey in the sunshine state.

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1. Red-Tailed Hawk


Red-Tailed Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo Jamaicensis


  • Length: 7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
  • Weight: 3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
  • Wingspan: 9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)


  • Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
  • Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)

One of the largest hawk species in Florida, the red-tailed hawk has typical Buteo proportions – they’re broad with rounded wings and have a wide but short tail.

It has a wingspan of up to 52in (4.5 ft.) and can be found all year round in peninsular Florida, going as far as Tampa Bay in the North and down to the Florida Keys in the South.

Adults are multi-colored with dark-and-white wings, usually checkered, with reddish breast feathers. Their tail is short and black with white streaks.

The Florida red-tailed hawk typically has a lighter head and chest than red-tailed hawks in other states.

This raptor feeds on rodents, rabbits, reptiles, and other small animals. You are most likely to find this bird circling over fields to catch small animals.

Moreover, they attack their prey slowly with their legs stretched out. You’ll find them floating in the air with still wings during high winds.

Their habitat is usually out in the open – you will find these raptors on tall trees, fence posts, fields, or open canopied woods.

An easy way to identify the red-tailed hawk is by its red tail and hoarse, screaming kee-eeeee-arr sound.

2. Sharp-Shinned Hawk


Sharp-Shinned Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter Striatus
  • Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
  • Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)

The sharp-shinned hawks, or sharpies, are the smallest species of hawks in Florida and are easy to identify from their narrow and short wings, long tails, and small heads.

The sharp-shinned hawks are found in Florida during autumn, winter, and spring. However, once the weather gets warm, these tiny raptors make their way up north.

Adult sharp-skinned hawks are blueish-gray from the top with small rusk-like bars on their breasts.

Moreover, their underbelly has rough vertical stripes with dark bands on their short tails. Their head is small and dark from the top.

The sharp-shinned hawk feeds on tiny birds, such as sparrows and robins. It also preys on small animals like rodents, lizards, and squirrels.

The sharp-shinned hawk prefers to ambush its prey; it will watch its target patiently from a distance and ascend quickly with great speed from cover to catch it unawares.

This raptor is mostly found in coniferous or mixed forests, woodlands, field edges, or thickets.

The sharp-shinned hawks tend to be quiet, possessive of their territory, and difficult to find during the breeding season.

They also hang around in pairs in deep forests to prevent themselves from falling prey to predators. Therefore, you will often find them traveling in a flock.

Sharp-skinned hawks have snappy wingbeats and are only caught fluttering them rapidly when they are chasing prey.

They may also appear out-of-balance when flying.

An easy way to identify the sharp-shinned hawk is through its narrow but long tail, rounded wings, tiny head, and high-pitched, frantic kik-kik-kik sound.

3. Cooper’s Hawk


Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter Cooperii


  • Length: 6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
  • Weight: 8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
  • Wingspan: 4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)


  • Length: 5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
  • Weight: 6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)

Cooper’s hawk is a relatively large bird with an erect posture, a long tail, small rounded wings, and a small head.

With a wingspan of 29cm– 30cm, Cooper’s hawk is one of the most expert fliers in the world.

These raptors are typically found in South Florida when the winter hits, but you can also find them year-round through the Panhandle and down the Peninsula to the North of the gorgeous Lake Okeechobee.

Adult Cooper’s hawks are iron gray-blue with rusk-brown streaks on the underbelly and black bands on the tail.

On the other hand, young Cooper’s hawks are brown from the top with brown streaks on the upper chest.

Cooper’s hawks have a pale nape with a black cap and red eyes. In addition, young Cooper’s hawks usually have a yellowish eye color.

These alert raptors are skillful hunters, and they usually feed on small and medium-sized birds and animals, including rodents, reptiles, starlings, thrushes, and jays.

The Cooper’s hawk prefers to take its prey by surprise and uses its feet to kill the prey by squeezing it repeatedly.

It’s also known to catch prey by drowning them underwater until it stops moving.

Being a forest lover, the Cooper’s hawk can be found in mixed and coniferous forests, small and open woodlands, pinyon woodlands, and mountainous areas with forests.

They have a unique flying style – you will see them using a few wingbeats followed by a graceful glide.

An easy way to identify the Cooper’s hawk is to focus on its tail, which has a white terminal band on it.

4. Eastern Screech Owl


Eastern Screech Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops Asio
  • Length: 6.3-9.8 in (16-25 cm)
  • Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz (121-244 g)
  • Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in (48-61 cm)

One of the most common species of owls in Florida, the eastern screech owl, is a small-sized owl with an adorable appearance. It is a compact bird with a rather big head and almost no neck.

The eastern screech owl sports striking yellow eyes, round wings, a wide but short and square tail, and pointed ears.

Typically, these owls are either gray or rusk, a reddish-orange. They have beautiful, patterned bodies with lines and spots.

These patterns also offer eastern screech owls an opportunity to camouflage themselves against tree barks and hide from predators.

The eastern screech owl feeds on rodents, insects, birds, earthworms, frogs, lizards, and other small animals.

They have a unique style when it comes to hunting their prey. The eastern screech owl likes to sit patiently and wait for the perfect moment to ambush its prey.

When the moment arrives, they swoop down from their perch and capture their target in one fell swoop.

The eastern screech owl flies in a unique style.

You will rarely spot the eastern screech owl gliding; rather, it flies at a fast pace with a balanced wingbeat (around 5 strokes a second).

However, you might find their flying style a little erratic, particularly when flying in wooded areas.

The eastern screech owl is found all over Florida in urban and suburban locations in a variety of habitats, including swamps, pine and oak forests, and woodlands.

An easy way to identify this species is through its sound rather than appearance.

Your best chance of spotting the eastern screech owl is to keep an ear out for excited voices of songbirds when they’re trying to run away from an owl they have come across.

5. Great Horned Owl


Great Horned Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 1-24.8 in (46-63 cm)
  • Weight: 1-88.2 oz (910-2500 g)
  • Wingspan: 8-57.1 in (101-145 cm)

The Great Horned Owl is another common owl species found in Florida. It is a majestic, big raptor with strong claws, pointy ear tufts, and beautiful yellow eyes.

The Great Horned Owl has gray and brown feathers on its torso, chestnut brown and gray feathers on their face, and white feathers on their neck. In comparison, their breast is pale and patterned.

The Great Horned Owl has short, wide wings with velvety and serrated tips.

The soft feathers allow the Great Horned Owl to keep itself warm in the harsher weather and fly without making a sound.

Its ability to glide in the air without a sound makes this owl species deadly for small animals like rodents, insects, amphibians, and even small fish.

This owl is an excellent hunter; it uses its powerful leg muscles and talons to grasp the prey, killing it instantly.

The Horned Owl may swallow its kills if the target is small. Its aggressive way of hunting prey has earned it the nickname “tiger owl.”

The Great Horned Owl is found throughout Florida in various habitats across the Sunshine State, including tall trees, forests, wetlands, and even cities.

You can spot a Great Horned Owl by the two prominent feathered tufts on its head.

6. Turkey Vulture


Turkey Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
  • Length: 2-31.9 in (64-81 cm)
  • Weight: 5 oz (2000 g)
  • Wingspan: 9-70.1 in (170-178 cm)

The turkey vulture or turkey buzzard is a common sight in Floridian skies. It appears black from afar but is actually dark brown with a white-feathered underside.

Other notable aspects of its appearance are a small, featherless head, a light, pale bill, gray-brown eyes, and pink legs and talons.

Turkey vultures are commonly seen throughout the Florida Treasure Coast communities of Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River Counties.

Turkey vultures, known as ”nature’s garbage disposal,” will eat almost anything.

Although they feed primarily on mammals, they also like to eat carcasses of reptiles, invertebrates, and other birds.

These vultures are known to roost in large communities and are often found in trees, nesting in caves and thickets.

They migrate in the fall to spend winters in subtropical and tropical areas where they can find some warmth.

Turkey vultures fly by holding their wings in a ”V-shape” position; they fly at low altitudes and remain steady by teetering side to side when flying using a few wingbeats.

Try to spot the turkey vulture by focusing on its flying style, as it is a larky bird with teetering flight, unlike the black vulture.

7. Black Vulture


Black Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
  • Length: 23.6-26.8 in (60-68 cm)
  • Weight: 56.4-77.6 oz (1600-2200 g)
  • Wingspan: 53.9-59.1 in (137-150 cm)

The black vulture is a large bird with jet-black feathers, a featherless black head, and white patches under its wingtips.

It is a broad bird with a short and square tail. When flying, a black vulture may appear similar to a bat. They use fast, heavy wingbeats with short glides.

Black vultures are found year-round in Florida, but their numbers increase during winter from November to March.

Vultures are known to migrate South in winter.

Like the turkey vulture, a black vulture’s preferred diet comprises carcasses of large mammals.

They also consume decaying meat, eggs of other birds, turtles, and lizards. Some black vultures also hunt prey, such as sick or weak animals and birds.

Black vultures are found in dark, open areas such as scattered trees, thickets, brush piles, caves, or stumps.

You can spot black vultures by looking out for big black birds flying in groups near dark and shady areas in Florida.

All Birds of Prey in Florida


All the birds of prey on the beautiful Florida skies exemplify nature’s beauty and the complex yet beautiful balance of the ecosystem.

From their dashing physical appearance to their skilled hunting abilities, these birds are an exemplary record of the wonders of nature.

By cherishing and safeguarding their habitats, we can ensure that future generations will also get to experience the wonderful experience of having these majestic birds in our world.

FAQs About Birds of Prey in Florida


What types of birds of prey can be found in Florida?

The red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, eastern screech owl, Great Horned Owl, turkey vulture, and black vulture are Florida’s most common birds of prey.

How do birds of prey hunt in Florida?

Birds of prey use diverse techniques ranging from patiently waiting before pouncing to smooth swoops to catch their prey.

Can I observe birds of prey up close in Florida?

Yes, Florida offers great opportunities for birdwatchers to visit and observe birds in their natural habitat. You can visit local nature reserves and parks for birdwatching.

Canaveral National Seashore – a National Seashore located between New Smyrna Beach and Titusville, is an excellent place to visit to observe migrating and resident birds of prey and also photograph them.

What is the best time of year to spot birds of prey in Florida?

Migrating patterns and nesting seasons of birds may vary, but generally, the best birding season in Florida is from December to March.

The dry winter season pushes birdlife around bodies of water, which makes them easy to observe and photograph.

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