All 12 Birds of Prey in Michigan! (Species ID Guide) (2024)


Michigan, the state of great lakes, has many majestic raptors. From the bald eagle to ospreys and black vultures, native and migratory birds of prey in Michigan can be spotted year-round.

In this detailed species guide, we discuss the characteristics through which you can easily spot a raptor in the Michigan skies.

Here we highlight the identifiable features of 12 of the most widespread raptors in Michigan. Let’s get started.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articles: Best Bird Rescues in Michigan and Best Shih Tzu Rescues In Michigan.

1. Osprey


Osprey Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Length: 21-24 inches
  • Weight: 49-70 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6-6 feet

The osprey is a raptor with easily distinguishable features; its dark brown back, white underbelly, small head, and bright yellow eyes make it easy to spot.

Also known as the fish hawk, the osprey is an incredibly skillful hunter. It hovers above water to catch its prey at great speed.

They have an excellent aerial spy eye that allows them to target their prey in the air and then jump in the water to catch the fish.

To be able to do that, they have reversible outer toes and barbs on their foot pads to hold down fish.

Ospreys are migratory birds that can cover distances up to thousands of kilometers.

Since ospreys prey on fish, they are mostly found around water bodies, but they build their nests in high places.

2. American Bald Eagle

American Bald Eagle Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Length: 28-40 inches
  • Weight: 5-14 pounds
  • Wingspan: 1-7.8 feet

The mighty American bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S. for a reason!

With its dark brown body, white neck and head, yellow beak, and pale eyes, it is one of the most impressive raptors found in Michigan.

You can spot the American bald eagle around the abundant lakes and rivers in the state, as fish is its primary prey.

Apart from fish, the bald eagle also feeds on small mammals, waterfowl, and other small birds.

They are opportunistic birds of prey that can hunt down their prey while they are flying high in the sky.

American bald eagles have giant nests which are not abandoned by these birds easily as they keep coming back to them every season.

They make their nests with sticks and line the inside with soft materials.

Female American bald eagles lay 1-3 eggs at one time which both male and female incubate with their warmth for 34-36 days.

The young birds remain under the care of their parents for a longer period, even if they are big enough by 10-12 weeks.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk


Red-Tailed Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Length: 18-26 inches
  • Weight: 31-51 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6-4.8 feet

The red-tailed hawk is one of those birds of prey in Michigan that is easily recognizable because of its piercing scream and brick-red tail.

Known for their high flight, red-tailed hawks have sharp eyesight that helps them target their prey from a higher altitude.

They mainly feed on small mammals and even birds and amphibians. Their diet mainly includes rodents and squirrels.

Their sharp curved beaks can allow them to kill their prey in an instant.

When it comes to mating, red-tailed hawks mate for life, and the pairs that are breeding, build massive nests on either cliffs or tall trees.

At one time, the female red-tailed hawk lays around 1-3 eggs which the pair keeps under incubation for 28-35 days.

Since the red-tailed hawk is a common species, their population is stable across the U.S. and is on the least concern conservation status.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 14-20 inches
  • Weight: 8-24 ounces
  • Wingspan: 7-3.5 feet

A high-pitched screeching call is a sure-shot way to recognize a Cooper’s hawk.

Among the common birds of prey in Michigan, Cooper’s hawk is one of the most agile predator birds with a long tail and blue-gray body.

Cooper’s hawks usually build their nests in woodlands or open areas. Their nests are massive in size and are located high from the ground.

To communicate with the birds from their clan, Cooper’s hawk uses a variety of vocalizations, one such being a cackling call that is distinct to this species.

Cooper’s hawks are one of the most urban adaptive birds found in suburban areas and city parks.

Their urban adaptability makes them partially migratory birds, as they do not migrate if they have enough resources.

They usually consume small to medium-sized birds such as sparrows, pigeons, and finches, and in urban settings, they have ample access to these small birds.

5. American Kestrel


American Kestrel Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
  • Length: 8-12 inches
  • Weight:8-5.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6-2.4 feet

The American kestrel is one of the smallest falcons among birds of prey in Michigan.

Often found near open fields and grasslands, the American kestrel is a colorful falcon with rust-colored feathers and blue-gray wings.

Adult male American kestrels have wings with black spots, a pale underbody that has black vertical streaks, a blue head, and a rusty orange back.

Female American kestrels have rufous facial markings and brown-toned bodies.

As they have a small size, they usually feed on small mammals and insects. To locate their prey, they typically hover and then pounce.

Their slight build and agility make them highly adaptable to urban areas.

American kestrels do not build their nests as much because they nest in cavities in the trees.

Female kestrels lay 3-7 eggs at one time which remain under incubation by the parents for 30 days.

Their high population keeps their status of conservation as ‘least concern.’

6. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Circus Hudsonius
  • Length: 18-20 inches
  • Weight: 19-26 ounces
  • Wingspan: 40-46 inches

Northern harrier is among the medium-sized hawks of Michigan.

Also known as marsh hawks due to their preference for marshes and grassland, northern harriers are similar to owls because of their facial disks.

Adult male northern harriers have a gray body, pale gray head, and black wingtips, whereas adult female northern harriers have brown bodies with streaks and bars.

Northern harriers can be observed in meadows, prairies, and fields during the breeding season.

Unlike most birds, northern harriers build their cup-shaped nests on the ground, and they fly low to catch their prey.

They usually feed on small animals such as rodents and small birds. At one time, a female northern harrier can lay up to 6 eggs which the parents incubate for 30 days.

7. Black Vultures


Black Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
  • Length: 24-27 inches
  • Weight: 48-67 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9-6.3 feet

Native to America, black vultures are one of the largest birds found in urban areas as well as forests, grasslands, and forests.

They are often observed in groups on trees and buildings.

Black vultures are scavengers, and they consume the carcasses of dead animals.

Their extraordinary sense of smell allows them to find their food. Black vultures have a distinct feature of identification which is their bald head.

Known to be sociable birds, they roost and hunt in groups and usually communicate through hisses and grunts.

Black vultures build their nests in abandoned areas, hollow trees, and caves.

During the breeding season, the female black vulture lays 1-3 eggs which remain in the incubation of the parents for 35-40 days.

The conservation status of black vultures is at ‘least concern’ as their population is not threatened in America or anywhere else in the world.

8. Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
  • Length: 25-32 inches
  • Weight: 56-74 ounces
  • Wingspan: 6-6.3 feet

Turkey vultures are massive birds with dark brown or black feathers, a bald red head, and a hooked beak.

Usually found in grasslands and suburban areas, the turkey vulture is a bird that flies high in the sky and can adapt quickly to its surroundings.

Scavengers by nature, turkey vultures feed on dead carcasses and play a vital role in nature’s decomposition process.

Since they have weak talons and legs, turkey vultures cannot hunt down live prey.

Turkey vultures are also observed in groups and have a loose social movement structure while they migrate.

Their roosting and nesting sites include hollow trees and abandoned buildings.

Like black vultures, the female turkey vulture lays 1-3 eggs at one time and is incubated for 30-41 days.

Turkey vultures have a stable population globally, and their status of conservation stands at least concern.

9. Sharp-Shinned Hawks


Sharp-Shinned Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus
  • Length: 9-14 inches
  • Weight: 3-8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9-2.8 feet

Sharp-shinned hawks, as the name suggests, have long and sharp talons and legs, which allow them to hunt down their prey swiftly.

Found mainly in coniferous forests and woodlands, sharp-shinned hawks migrate during the winters to open habitats.

Their primary source of food is small birds, such as sparrows and finches.

They hunt effectively through their ‘accipiter flight’ hunting strategy, which allows them to move in a zigzag manner rapidly through bushes and trees to catch their prey.

This unique flight style, incredible speed, and quick hunting skills have made them famous in the bird kingdom.

Sharp-shinned hawks have streamlined bodies that make them super agile and increase their speed and precision while catching their prey.

During the breeding season, female hawks lay around 3-5 eggs at one time, and then these eggs are under incubation for 30-35 days.

They usually build their nests high in the trees with sticks and twigs.

10. Rough-Legged Hawks

Rough-legged Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
  • Length: 18-22 inches
  • Weight: 25-49 ounces
  • Wingspan: 9-5.9 feet

Known to have feathered legs and a dense layer of feathers on their bodies, rough-legged hawks are highly adaptive to cold environments and can retain their body heat because of their high metabolic rate.

They usually prey on small birds, small mammals such as voles and lemmings.

They hover over the areas where they are likely to find their prey and pounce when they spot a target.

Rough-legged hawks have a monogamous breeding pattern, and they usually breed in their nests which are often located on cliffs, trees, and even on the ground.

At one time, the female hawk lays around 3-5 eggs nested and incubated for 30-35 days by both the male and female hawk.

Rough-legged hawks breed in the Arctic and migrate to Michigan in the winter when it becomes too cold to stay in the artic.

11. Eastern Screech Owl


Eastern Screech Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 3-9.8 inches
  • Weight: 3-8.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 18-24 inches

You can easily spot an eastern screech owl in the woodlands and suburban areas of Michigan due to its unique sound.

Eastern screech owls are identified and have been heard by bird watchers more than they have been seen because of their distinguishable whinnying song.

The eastern screech owl has an incredible ability to camouflage, increasing its survival ability and ability to catch prey swiftly.

They have silent flight and nocturnal vision, which gives them an almost unfair advantage when hunting small mammals and birds.

Eastern screech owls have two colors, grey and reddish-brown, helping them blend with their surroundings. They have a distinct trilling call that they use while they are active.

Eastern screech owls do not make their nests. They nest in tree cavities and also abandoned holes of woodpeckers.

12. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
  • Length: 14-20 inches
  • Weight: 24-48 ounces
  • Wingspan: 3-3.6 feet

The Peregrine falcon is known as one of the fastest birds on the planet, and this speed, coupled with aerial hunting skills, makes it one of the best birds of prey in Michigan.

They have a blue-gray body with pointed wings, making their flight high and fast. A Peregrine falcon can reach the speed of 240 miles per hour.

Due to their high urban adaptability, the Peregrine falcon builds their nests in tall trees and nest on skyscrapers.

They have a streamlined body and muscular chest that allows them to hunt through stooping.

The Peregrine falcon migrates through its ability to interpret effective navigation using celestial and environmental cues.

It can cover thousands of miles migrating to warmer climates in winters and to the north during summers.

Once endangered due to the DDT pesticide, the Peregrine falcon is currently at a stable population, and in many locations, their population has been conserved.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are there raptors in Michigan?

Yes, eagles, falcons, vultures, hawks, and owls are all found in Michigan.

What bird is only found in Michigan?

The Kirtland’s warbler is mostly local to the state of Michigan.

What is the most common bird of prey in Michigan?

The red-tailed hawk is one of the most common birds of prey in Michigan.

All Birds of Prey in Michigan


Michigan has a diverse variety of big and small birds of prey, each significant in its unique way to the ecosystem of the state.

Each of these raptors has remarkable features that make them stand out from others and pique the interest of bird watchers.

Whether located in the skies of Michigan or heard in its forests, each of the birds needs to be appreciated and preserved for its magnificence.

If you find this guide, “All Birds of Prey in Michigan,” informative and helpful, you can check out these other bird-related articles from our team:

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