Indiana’s diverse ecosystem makes it an ideal landscape for a variety of raptors. Naturally, bird watchers love to spot birds of prey in Indiana.
From majestic eagles to wizened owls, Indiana is home to many fascinating birds of prey that impress with their aerial prowess and hunting skills.
This species identification guide will provide in-depth knowledge about the 13 most popular raptors that call Indiana home.
Table of Contents
1. Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo Jamaicensis
- Length: 7-25.6in (45-65 cm)
- Weight: 3-51.5 oz (690-1460 g)
- Wingspan: 9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
The red-tailed hawk can be found year-round in Indiana. The red-tailed hawk is the largest in Indiana, measuring up to 65 cm in length and weighing up to 1460 g.
It has deep brown feathers on the top of its body, whereas the underbelly is a pale auburn and streaked.
The red-tailed hawk has yellow legs, feet, and cere (the soft and way skin at the base of a bird’s beak).
It has large rounded wings, a broad body, and a wide yet short, red-colored tail, which gives a red-tailed hawk its name.
This bird’s favorite habitats include woodlands, prairie groves, plains, roadsides, and mountains.
It is usually found anywhere you can find open hunting grounds and high perches.
Like most hawks, the red-tailed can be aggressive when protecting its territory.
It spends much of its time hunting for its prey by circling and soaring with its eyes fixed on the ground.
When flying, a red-tailed hawk soars in wide circles. However, it rarely flaps its wings to consume less energy.
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)
An all-year Indiana resident weighing no more than 114 g, the sharp-shinned hawk is the smallest in the state.
This tiny bird has a long, square tail, short yet rounded wings, and a small head that may not even be visible in flight.
The sharp-shinned hawk is colored with a gorgeous gray-blue from the top and has auburn, orangish streaks on its breast with dark gray bands on its tail. It also has thin, yellow-colored legs. The bill is dark-black with a yellow cere.
This small hawk is commonly found in mixed or softwood forests, woodlands, and thickets.
It usually builds nests in deep broad-leafed trees and groves of coniferous trees. You can look for them during migration season in open skies or along ridgelines.
When hunting, it perches around and inside greenness, waiting for small birds to stop by, or it may even stealthily approach its prey using a dense foliage cover.
Its flight style is known to be rather agile; it flaps and glides when flying through open areas and speeds through dense woods to catch its prey by surprise.
3. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Accipiter Cooperii
- Length: 6-17.7 in (37-45 cm)
- Weight: 8-24.0 oz (220-680 g)
- Wingspan: 4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
A medium-sized bird that can be found all year round in Indiana, the Cooper’s hawk weighs up to 566 g.
As in most bird species, the females are larger than the males.
It has a flat-topped, black head, and its eyes are close to its beak. Moreover, it has short yet rounded wings and a rather long tail.
Adult Cooper’s hawks are either blue-gray from the top with thick dark bands on their tail and reddish streaks on the underparts, whereas fledglings are brown-gray from the top and have brown or auburn streaks on their breasts. Juveniles are also pale and cream in color as compared to adults.
A Cooper’s hawk is a forest species that can be spotted in diverse habitats.
Some of its favorite habitats include open woodlands, broad-leafed and mixed forests, woodlots, tall trees, trees along rivers, and other forested mountain regions.
They’re rather reckless hunters, often catching their prey by surprise as they fly low to the ground and use vegetation as their cover.
They’re known for hunting from perches and on the wings. They fly in a “flap-flap-glide” style with continuous wing beats and short glides.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-Shouldered Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo Lineatus
- Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
- Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
- Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
The red-shouldered hawk can also be found all year round in Indiana. It weighs around 610 g and is considered a medium-sized raptor.
It has broad wings, white spots on the upper body, and a medium-sized, fan-shaped tail. Adults are multi-colored with a brown-and-white check-like pattern on their wings and an auburn or reddish barring on the breasts.
Their shoulders are rust-colored, and their tail is black with tiny white patches. It has a small head gray-brown head with thin streaks of white feathers and a white throat.
Being forest raptors, they’re primarily found in dense forest areas or mountain foliage.
However, in Indiana, you will likely find the red-shouldered hawk in upland and lowland riparian areas with ponds, streams, and creeks.
Red-shouldered hawks can even be found in suburban areas in Indiana.
Red-shouldered hawks are perch hunters. They often hunt flying low over their prey, approaching it speedily, and using the wind to get ahead.
When flying, they soar and glide with a sequence of quick wingbeats.
5. Broad-Winged Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
- Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
- Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
- Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
The broad-winged hawk is a migratory bird that can be spotted in Indiana skies in the fall while migrating.
It is a relatively small member of the Buteo species, and the females tend to be larger than their male counterparts.
Like all Buteos, the broad-winged hawk is chunky in its appearance, with short yet broad wings. It also has a large head and a short tail.
Adults are brown with reddish-brown heads, patterned underparts, and wide black and white bands on their short tails.
The wings are brown from the top and a patterned white from below with a brown border on the underside.
During the mating season, the broad-winged hawk migrates to broad-leafed forests or coniferous-deciduous forests in Indiana.
If you’re looking for these beauties in Indiana, know that the fall might be your best chance to spot them.
The broad-winged hawk hunts small mammals such as mice and voles.
It is known to observe its prey from trees perches quietly in search of ground-bound prey. When flying, it soars on stable wings while turning in small circles.
6. Rough-Legged Hawk
Rough-Legged Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo Lagopus
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
The rough-legged hawk is found in Indiana during the winter. Weighing up to 1400 g, it is one of the largest hawks in the state.
The rough-legged hawk has a large head, a tiny beak, with relatively long but narrow wings. Its tail is also long as compared to other hawks.
The rough-legged hawk comes in two varieties; light morph and dark morph.
The light morphs are boldly patterned dark-brown hawks with a dark tail at the tip and pale at the bottom. They have pale trailing underwings with black or brown spots.
On the other hand, dark-morph rough-legged hawks are grayish brown from the top.
The males have a black underside, whereas females are brownish from their underparts.
The rough-legged hawk is mostly found in open areas like fields and marshes; it also prefers nesting on cliffs and outcrops in low-lying forests.
This large hawk prefers to hunt from perches or aerially by hovering over its prey and approaching it suddenly. It also has a unique flying style; its wings make a ”V” shape when they soar or glide.
- Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 21.3-22.8 in (54-58 cm)
- Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz (1400-2000 g)
- Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in (150-180 cm)
Indiana’s osprey population has grown significantly since the Indiana DNR and private groups attempted to install nesting platforms for this gorgeous bird.
From afar, an osprey appears to be a large, long bird with black and white feathers. They’re multicolored, brown from above and white from below; their legs are also white.
Their wings are also white from underneath and have visible white patches on the wrists. The head is also white and includes a brown colored stripe through the eye.
Ospreys are found in rivers, coasts, or lakes. It primarily hunts for fish by spotting from while flying or perching over them above the water.
Then it drives into the water to get a hold of its prey and take it out.
Ospreys have strong wings that give them extra lift to fly, dive, or plunge in and out of the water with fish.
They also fly using their steady wingbeats and can often be spotted circling high over shallow water bodies.
8. 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)
One of the largest owls in Indiana, the great-horned owl, can be found in the state all year round. It can weigh up to 2.5kg.
They’re large birds with a chunky appearance and have two horn-like feathered tufts on their head.
The great-horned owl is a gorgeous matt gray-brown in color; it has an ash or red-brown face with a white patch on its throat.
Their overall appearance is usually a mottled brown with complex patterns and a light brown, barring underbelly. However, the overall color tone may vary regionally.
Great-horned owls are usually found in forests, grasslands, wetlands, streamsides, or open country.
It is known to hunt at dusk or night from perches while flying low over the ground or paddling into the water to catch its prey quietly. This silent hunter uses its great eyesight and hearing ability to catch prey.
Since the feathers of this owl have a soft fringe with the shape of a comb, the sound of air rushing through the feathers is almost non-existent. So, they’re more likely to glide than flap their wings.
9. Barred Owl
Barred Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Strix Varia
- Length:9-19.7 in (43-50 cm)
- Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz (470-1050 g)
- Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in (99-110 cm)
Found throughout Indiana, the barred owl is one of the largest owl species. On average, barred owls weigh about 850 g.
The barred owl has a rounded head with no tufts, atypical eyes, and medium-length tails that are rounded in shape.
Predominantly, these gorgeous owls are brown and white.
The upper part of their body is brown with white horizontal stripes, whereas the underbelly is white with brown streaks.
Their wings and tails are barred brown and white, and their eyes are black or dark brown.
The barred owl’s favorite habitat includes wooded river bottoms, old deciduous mixed forests, thick woods, or coniferous trees.
It hunts for its prey by seeking it from high perches and swooping to catch it in one move.
Sometimes, it may even look for it while flying low through the forests and hovering aboveground before dropping to clutch its prey.
It is an opportunistic hunter meaning it will catch and eat just about anything it can whenever it can.
Like all other owls, barred owls fly without a sound. Their broad wings help them glide through the sky without flapping their wings repeatedly.
10. 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)
The eastern screech owl is a year-round resident of Indiana. It is a small owl weighing around 160 g.
This owl is short but heavily built, with a large head and almost a non-existent neck. It has rounded wings and a short, square tail.
Eastern screech owls are either gray or reddish brown.
They’ve gorgeous patterns, such as complex spots or bands on their bodies that also provide them camouflage when they want to seek refuge in tree barks.
The Eastern screech owl can be found in deciduous or mixed woods or farm grooves, woodlands, and shade trees.
It is a patient hunter; it sits and watches its prey and strikes when the time is right.
It mostly hunts from perches, using short flights or dropping onto prey. It may even hover over its prey to catch it.
When flying, they use steady wingbeats and fly erratically. They’re rarely known to glide.
11. Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
- Length:5-27.9 in (52-71 cm)
- Weight:4-104.1 oz (1600-2950 g)
- Wingspan:6-57.1 in (126-145 cm)
One of the most mesmerizing owls out there, the snowy owl, is a common site in Indiana and other Midwestern states in the winter.
It is a gorgeous white bird with patterns of black and brown markings on its body. It has a small, rounded head with no ear tufts.
Male snowy owls are all white, whereas female and young snowy owls are white with brown terminal bars. Moreover, they have thick feathering on their legs and feet.
Their yellow eyes are the most striking feature of their all-white face.
Their habitat mostly consists of areas with fewer trees, but they can also be found in grasslands and open fields.
When hunting, snowy owls may perch on rocks, grounds, or posts in silent and patient pursuit of their target. They’re known to use their excellent vision and hearing ability to find their prey.
Snowy owls also fly in complete silence, thanks to their extremely soft and feathery wings, as the air makes almost no noise when it passes through their features.
12. American Barn Owl
American Barn Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Tyto Furcata
- Length: 12.6-15.8 in (32-40 cm)
- Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz (400-700 g)
- Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in (100-125 cm)
The American barn owl is not native to the state.
It is occasionally spotted in Northern Indiana during migration season; however, its most recent appearances have been in the southern part of the state.
The American barn owl is a relatively large bird that weighs up to 470 g (males) and 570 g (females).
American barn owls are a ghostly pale color with a long tail and a square-shaped tail.
They have a mixture of gray and light brownish yellow (buff) on their head, back, and underwings.
Their bill is cream in color, and they have blackish-brown eyes.
The American barn owl resides among forest edges, open areas, and farmlands and can also be found in cities. You may also find it roosting in tree cavities or riverbanks.
It hunts on the edges of woodlands and may search for its prey from either a perch or by flying a slow and low flight.
Once it spots its prey, it swoops down in an attempt to catch it or straight away dives into it by extending its talons.
Since they have a relatively low wing loading, they can fly slowly and hover in the slightest lift.
13. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Northern Saw-Whet Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1-8.3 in (18-21 cm)
- Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz (65-151 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in (42-48 cm)
The northern saw-whet owl is a small bird with an average weight of 75 g.
Although its spring migration pattern varies, it is usually found in Indiana from mid-February to March.
Northern saw-whets are brown with white facial disks. They also have a white-spotted, oversized head.
Overall, their body is reddish-brown with white streak-like patterns on the body.
The saw-whet owl hunts for its prey by observing small mammals on the ground in a high place from its perch.
Once it spots its food for the day, it silently swoops to catch it using its butterfly-style wingbeats.
Like all owls, it flies silently due to its soft and fringed fathers, allowing air to pass through them without making noise.
All Birds of Prey in Indiana
Indiana’s birds of prey are a treat for bird watchers; from hawks to owls, there are many raptors in the northern and southern parts of Indiana worth watching.
We hope this in-depth species guide helps you identify the raptors flying in the Indiana skies.
After recognizing these magnificent birds, we hope you will appreciate their role in ecological balance and actively participate in their conservation efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I observe birds of prey up close to Indiana?
Yes, Indiana offers several sights where you can observe birds of prey up close.
One such example is the Indian Raptor Center in Nashville which offers bird shows, silent auctions, food, photo opportunities, and more fun activities for birdwatchers!
What is the best time of year to spot birds of prey in Indiana?
Although migratory and nesting seasons differ by raptors, winter is usually the ideal time for birders to go birdwatching.
Due to fewer leaves on trees, it’s easier to spot your favorite birds!
What is the most common bird of prey in Indiana?
The Red-tailed Hawk is the most commonly found bird of prey in Indiana. It can be found in the state all year round.
If you find this guide, “All Birds of Prey in Indiana,” informative and helpful, you can check out these other bird-related articles from our team:
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