Minnesota is known as a state having 10,000 lakes, but that is not the only remarkable thing about this state. Mighty birds of prey in Minnesota sweep the lakes, looking for prey and fish. If you hold still, you might spot one.
Let’s look at the physical appearance, distinguishing features, habitats, and behaviors of Minnesota’s 13 most popular raptors.
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- Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 21 to 24 inches
- Weight: 3.1 to 4.4 pounds
- Wingspan: 5 to 6 feet
Ospreys are recognizable by their white underside, brown upper body, and dark eye stripes.
There is no difference in color for both male and female ospreys.
The outstanding feature of Ospreys is their reversed outer toes, which they use to catch their prey easily.
Ospreys have narrow and long wings, giving them a distinct appearance while flying.
They can be easily spotted near water bodies and in large stick nests that they build near these lakes or rivers.
Also known as Fish Hawks, Ospreys are fish hunters, as fish is their primary diet.
They dive feet first when they spot their prey while hovering above the water’s surface.
During the breeding season, female Ospreys lay 2-4 eggs incubated by both parents for 35-40 days.
2. Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
- Length: 18 to 26 inches
- Weight: 2 to 4 pounds
- Wingspan: 3.5 to 4.8 feet
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common birds of prey nationwide because of its stable population in numerous states.
Red-tailed hawks can be recognized through their distinct piercing and reddish-brown tails.
Red-tailed hawks have short-hooked beaks and robust bodies. Their nests can be located on cliffs, in tall tree branches, and on high perches.
Female Red-tailed hawks lay 2-3 eggs once in a clutch during the breeding season, which are under incubation of both parents anywhere between 28-35 days.
Red-tailed Hawks primarily eat mice, rabbits, and other small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
They have a sharp vision, allowing them to detect their prey while soaring high in the sky. Once located, they dive down speedily and catch it almost instantly.
3. Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Circus Hudsonius
- Length: 18 to 20 inches
- Weight: 10 to 26.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 40 to 46 inches
Also known as ‘Marsh Hawk, Norther Harriers are known for their facial disk and distinctive hunting technique known as ‘sky dancing.’
Both male and female Northern Harriers have different plumage.
Male Northern Harriers have a white underside and a grey body. In comparison, female raptors have brown bodies and streaks on them.
The slim body, broad wings, and long tails of Northern Harriers support the ability to hover over marshes.
They usually nest on the ground and build their nests in tall vegetation.
In each clutch, female Northern Harriers lay 4-7 eggs, which are only incubated by them for 30-32 days, while the male Harrier hunts for food.
An interesting fact about Northern Harriers is that male Harriers display aerial acrobatics during courtship to impress and attract a mate.
They are a species of least concern because of their stable population.
4. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
- Length: 14 to 20 inches
- Weight: 8.8 to 24.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 24 to 35 inches
Cooper’s Hawks are known for their woodland hunting and incredible speed.
They can make their way through forests and shrubs at an unmatched speed in pursuit of prey.
While their ambush techniques are unique, Cooper’s Hawks can be recognized by their bluish-gray medium-sized body and long tail.
They have reddish-brown barred breasts and a dark crown.
They prey on birds and build their nests in trees with sticks.
During the breeding season, female Cooper’s hawks lay around 2-6 eggs, and both parents incubate them for 30-36 days.
These young birds fledge at 4-5 weeks but continue to rely on their parents for a while.
5. Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus
- Length: 9.4 to 13.4 inches
- Weight: 3.1 to 7.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.9 to 22.1 inches
Although small in their build, Sharp-shinned hawks have a great ability to navigate through dense vegetation.
They are recognizable through their bluish-gray backs, red eyes, and barred underparts. They have a squared-off tail and short, rounded wings.
Sharp-shinned Hawks have a streamlined shape, which makes them such formidable predators.
Their diet resembles Cooper’s Hawks as they also prey on small songbirds. They can hunt down their prey even in thick fields or forests.
They build their nests using sticks, which are found in tall trees.
During the breeding season, female Sharp-Shinned hawks lay 4-5 eggs once, and then both parents incubate these eggs for 30-35 days.
6. American Kestrel
American Kestrel Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
- Length: 8.7 to 12.2 inches
- Weight: 2.8 to 5.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 20.1 to 24 inches
North America’s smallest falcon, American Kestrel, is one of Minnesota’s most common birds of prey.
It is common throughout the US and is native to numerous other states. American Kestrels are skillful hunters easily recognizable through their vibrant plumage.
Plumage in American Kestrel is different for both males and females.
A male Kestrel will have a rusty back, reddish-brown tail, black bars or thick stripes, and blue-gray wings. In comparison, female American Kestrels have subdued brown bodies.
American kestrels have long wings and a distinctive pattern on their faces. Their slender body and notched tail make them easily recognizable.
These birds nest in tree holes and empty cavities and lay 3-7 eggs during the breeding season.
They usually hunt from wires and fence posts and prey on small mammals, insects, and birds.
7. Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
- Length: 14.2 to 19.3 inches
- Weight: 20.5 to 49.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 39.4 to 43.3 inches
Known to be the fastest bird in the world, the Peregrine Falcon is an incredibly speedy bird of prey commonly found on cliffs, ledges, tall buildings, and other tall structures in wooded and urban areas.
A dark gray-blue back, dark head, and pale underside are the features that can help you identify a Peregrine Falcon.
Peregrine Falcons have slender bodies with long and pointed wings that can help them achieve a speed of 240 miles per hour.
During the breeding season, they lay 3-4 eggs once, which are incubated under both parents for 29-33 days.
The primary prey of Peregrine Falcons are birds that they can target mid-air and catch with the technique called ‘stooping.’
- Scientific Name: Falco columbarius
- Length: 9.1 to 10.6 inches
- Weight: 5.6 to 8.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 20.5 to 26 inches
Merlin is a small falcon found near shorelines and open country areas in Minnesota.
These small raptors excel at catching their prey midflight because of their incredible speed and agile build.
If you see a small bird with a bluish-gray back, dark streaking, and rusty-colored breast, it’s a male Merlin.
In contrast, female Merlins have brown plumage with streaked patterns.
A Merlin has short wings and a long tail with a compact body.
They fly swiftly with speed and are known to be great hunters. They usually feed on small birds and insects.
Merlins don’t usually build their nests, but when they make one, it’s in tall trees. Mostly, Merlins nest in abandoned crow or hawk nests.
A female merlin lays 3-6 eggs at one time, and then these eggs stay under the incubation of both parents for 28-32 days.
9. Rough-Legged Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
- Length: 18.5 to 20.9 inches
- Weight: 24.7 to 49.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 52.8 to 57.1 inches
Rough-Legged Hawk is one of the migratory birds of prey in Minnesota. You can see these feathery-legged raptors in Minnesota during the winter.
They are seen near prairies and open fields where they hunt small animals.
Rough-legged hawks are recognized through their light-colored body except for their dark wings and belly band.
Their feathered legs equip them to survive through the harsh winter season.
Rough-legged hawks have a long tails and broad wings that make them appear similar to an owl.
They usually prey on mice and voles but consume other small mammals. During winter time, they also scavenge on carrion.
Female rough-legged hawks lay 3-5 eggs at once during the breeding season, and the eggs are under incubation by both parents for 32-35 days.
10. Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18 to 25 inches
- Weight: 32 to 88 ounces
- Wingspan: 3.3 to 4.8 feet
The Great Horned Owl is easily recognizable by its distinct ear tufts and yellow eyes. Great Horned Owls are inhabitants of woodlands and forests.
They are nocturnal hunters that prey on mammals and birds aided by their sharp talons and powerful beaks.
Both male and female Great Horned Owls have a large, rounded head, a short tail, and broad wings.
They have a mottled brown and grey appearance that allows them to camouflage.
A Great Horned Owl catches its prey swiftly and quietly. They can nest in abandoned nests of large birds and trees since they do not make their nests.
At one time, female owls lay 2-3 eggs that both the parents incubate for 30-37 days.
11. Barred Owl
Barred Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Length: 16.9 to 19.7 inches
- Weight: 16.6 to 37 ounces
- Wingspan: 39 to 43.3 inches
The Barred Owl is among the denizens of Minnesota’s forests. Known to many through its haunting hoot, the Barred Owl is heard more than seen by avid bird watchers.
Barred owls have medium-sized bodies, short tails, and a round head covered in patterned plumage.
They have a brown body with vertical bars on the belly and horizontal barring on the chest. Their dark marble-like eyes help them spot their prey even at night.
Barred owls can be found nesting in cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes.
They prey on small mammals and even eat birds, amphibians, and reptiles as opportunistic hunters.
Their hearing ability remains unmatched, allowing them to locate their prey through sound cues.
12. Short-Eared Owl
Short-eared Owl Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13.4 to 16.9 inches
- Weight: 7.3 to 16.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.5 to 40.5 inches
The piercing bright yellow eyes and distinct facial disks are prominent features of a Short-eared Owl, and it uses these features the best when locating its prey.
These predators hunt small mammals, such as voles and shrews.
To trick their prey, they have a wavering-low flying technique. Their keen eyesight and alert sense of hearing make it easy to detect their prey and hunt it down.
Unlike other owl species, short-eared owls hunt during the daytime.
Short-eared Owls are recognizable through their medium-sized bodies, short tails, and broad wings.
Their plumage is mottled, and they have a brown body with streaks and bars. In addition, they have dark, patchy eyes and a pale face.
Since they do not build their nests, they nest in natural depressions and abandoned nests of other big birds.
When they do make their nests, it is usually on the ground. At one time, they lay 4-9 eggs under the incubation of both parents for 24-28 days.
13. Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk Characteristics:
- Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis
- Length: 20.9 to 26.4 inches
- Weight: 22.9 to 48 ounces
- Wingspan: 40.6 to 46.5 inches
Northern Goshawk may not be one of Minnesota’s most widely sighted birds of prey as it lives in old and dense forests.
It can easily navigate through dense vegetation because of its long tail and broad wings.
The features one must remember to identify a Northern Goshawk are a blue-gray back, white eyebrows, and a lighter underside with fine stripes or bars.
Northern Goshawks have powerful, sturdy legs and talons that allow them to pray on medium-sized birds such as woodpeckers and pigeons.
They chase their prey through speedy flight and their talons. Northern Goshawks nest in trees by making nests with sticks.
During the breeding period, they lay 2-4 eggs at one time, remaining incubated by both parents for 28-38 days.
All Birds of Prey in Minnesota
Minnesota is not just a state of hundreds of lakes, but you will also find a diverse variety of birds of prey that will make you want to discover more about these mighty raptors.
From owls to hawks and falcons, Minnesota’s sky is a field for these fierce birds that are known for their speed and sharp sight.
Although many of them are of least concern conservation status, all of them play a vital role in sustaining the ecosystem of Minnesota. Therefore, all efforts should be made for their protection.
If you find this guide, “All Birds of Prey in Minnesota,” informative and helpful, you can check out these other bird-related articles from our team:
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