All 14 Birds of Prey in Oklahoma! (Species ID Guide) (2024)


Known for its scenic natural marvels, Oklahoma is home to various majestic raptors. These birds of prey in Oklahoma play a vital role in the regional ecosystem.

While some of the birds listed here are migratory, most of them are native to Oklahoma. Each of these birds has distinct features, personalities, and behaviors.

Here we will discuss 14 unique birds of prey in Oklahoma to help bird watchers and nature enthusiasts easily identify the raptors.

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

1. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo Swainsoni
  • Length: 18 – 22 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 – 2.6 pounds
  • Wingspan: 4.3 – 4.9 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Swainson’s Hawk is a migratory bird, and Oklahoma is its home in the summer. This Hawk can travel thousands of miles in search of warmer climates.

To recognize a Swainson’s Hawk, look for a bird with a medium-sized body, tapered tail, broad wings, a white underbody, and brown plumage.

Swainson’s Hawks prey on small mammals, birds, and insects.

They nest on cliffs and trees. During the breeding season, the female lays 2-4 eggs and incubates them. During this time, the male raptor hunts for food.

2. Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Ictinia mississippiensis
  • Length: 12 – 15 inches
  • Weight: 8.8 – 14 ounces
  • Wingspan: 35 – 39 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Mississippi Kite is a migratory raptor that visits Oklahoma during the summertime. Bird watchers can easily recognize it by its inky gray and black plumage and white underbody.

Mississippi Kites have long-pointed wings, a forked tail, and a slender body.

Their build allows them to display aerial aerobatics while they hunt down their prey. Insects are their primary food source, but they also eat carrion and amphibians.

Mississippi Kites nest in tall trees. An interesting fact about Mississippi Kites is that they are social birds, and they do not nest alone.

They nest in colonies where there are multiple pairs in the area. During the breeding time, they lay 2-3 eggs which are incubated by both parents.

3. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo regalis
  • Length: 22 – 27 inches
  • Weight: 2.4 – 4.4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 4.7 – 5.8 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Ferruginous Hawk is one of the biggest birds of prey in Oklahoma. It is an apex predator that feeds on small mammals such as rabbits and prairie dogs.

While the plumage can be white, pale yellow, and reddish-brown, Ferruginous Hawks can be identified by their large body, short tail, and broad wings.

Like the Rough-Legged Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks also have feathered legs.

They build their nests in tall trees and on cliffs. Their nests are usually massive and are made from sticks.

During the breeding season, the female lays 2-5 eggs incubated by her, whereas the male hunts to provide food for the young birds.

Ferruginous Hawks are the largest Northern American hawks.

4. Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos
  • Length: 30 – 40 inches
  • Weight: 8.8 – 15.4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 6 – 7.5 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Golden Eagle is native to Oklahoma. The characteristic stocky build, large head, broad wings, and short but spread-out tail are the distinctive features that can help you identify a Golden Eagle.

The plumage of the Golden Eagle is dark brown on the body and the wings, but their head and neck have a golden sheen.

Young Golden Eagles have defined white patches on their tail. Golden Eagles build massive nests atop cliffs and tall structures.

During the breeding season, the female lays 1-4 eggs in each clutch incubated by both parents.

Golden Eagles primarily prey on small mammals, birds, and sometimes larger animals like deer. They are renowned for their incredible flight and hunting prowess.

5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Length: 7 – 8 inches
  • Wingspan: 16 – 18 inches
  • Weight: 2.3 – 5.3 ounces
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

A secretive and relatively small nocturnal predator, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a remarkable hunter with large yellow eyes and a distinct facial pattern.

Moreover, it has a large round head and brown-gray plumage featuring white spots and streaks.

Northern Saw-Whet owls get their name because of their specific sound that serves as one of their recognition features.

The sound of Northern Saw-Whet Owls is like that of a sharpening saw. Their unique vocalizations make them excellent hunters as well.

Like most owls, Saw-Whets don’t build nests from twigs and sticks but nest in empty tree cavities. In one clutch, the mother owl can lay up to 7 eggs.

The female is responsible for incubating the eggs while the male brings food. They usually feed on birds, insects, and small mammals.

6. Merlin

Merlin Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco Columbarius
  • Length: 9 – 12 inches
  • Weight: 5 – 8.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 20 – 26 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Merlin is a compact falcon with incredible speed and agility to take on darting flights and swiftly catch its prey mid-air.

Their muscular build, short wings, and long tail give their body a streamlined shape, making them one of the best aerial hunters.

To recognize a Merlin, remember that they have an ink gray to black plumage on the upper body, whereas their underbody is white.

Merlins usually take over abandoned nests, and at one time, they lay 3-7 eggs which are incubated by the female, while the male falcon hunts for food.

They usually lay eggs on top of the nest rather than inside it. Merlins are fierce aerial forages known for their incredible speed despite a slight build.

They usually feed on small birds and can navigate through dense vegetation to catch their prey.

7. Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco mexicanus
  • Length: 14 – 19 inches
  • Weight: 18 – 26 ounces
  • Wingspan: 3.4 – 3.7 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Resident birds of prey in Oklahoma, Prairie Falcons are well-adapted birds to open grasslands and arid regions.

They are often seen on cliffs, where they usually make their nests.

You would immediately become aware that you have stumbled into their territory from loud courtship calls during the breeding season.

Prairie Falcons have slim, streamlined bodies with long wings and short tails. While they fly, you can see their telltale dark armpit feathers.

They have an upper body plumage that is dark brown-gray, while their underbody is light cream and pale yellow.

Prairie Falcons are unbeatable in their precision when they hunt.

They are open aerial foragers that prey on small mammals and birds. During the breeding season, they lay 2-5 eggs per clutch, which both parents incubate.

8. Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Length: 13 – 16 inches
  • Weight: 8.5 – 15 ounces
  • Wingspan: 35 – 39 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

If you spot a bird with distinctive ear tufts and mottled brown plumage, it’s probably a Long-Eared Owl.

These raptors are medium-sized owl species that primarily feed on small mammals and usually hunt down their prey during the night because of their evolved sense of hearing.

The prominent orange-yellow eyes are the most distinct feature of Long-Eared Owls. Don’t let their large head, long ears, and gray-black feathers scare you!

They are beautiful birds with an incredible ability to camouflage themselves, which comes useful while hunting.

Long-Eared Owls do not build their nests but rather nest in abandoned nests of other birds. They lay 3-8 eggs at one time, and the female owl incubates the eggs.

An interesting fact to remember about these owls is that the tufts on their head are not ears but feathers. They communicate through these tufts.

9. Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
  • Length: 13 – 17 inches
  • Weight: 9 – 20 ounces
  • Wingspan: 31 – 37 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Broad-Winged Hawks are migratory birds that migrate in large groups called Kettles.

They fill the sky in huge flocks, and you can often see hundreds of Broad-Winged Hawks flying around at a time.

This also signifies that these birds are social birds that live in groups.

They are recognizable through their medium-sized body, short tail, and broad wings.

They have a combination of dark and light brown upper body plumage, pale underside, and a banded tail.

In addition, they have a high pitch, two-parted whistling call that is unique to them.

Broad-Winged Hawks nest in trees and make their nests through sticks.

During the breeding season, the female hawk lays 2-4 eggs, which remain under the incubation of both parents until they hatch.

They hunt using aerial diving techniques and target small mammals, rodents, and birds.

10. Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco rusticolus
  • Length: 20 – 25 inches
  • Weight: 2.6 – 4.8 pounds
  • Wingspan: 3.9 – 4.9 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Gyrfalcon belongs to the large falcon species usually found in the Arctic.

Their incredible adaptiveness allows them to adjust to the arctic environment. They primarily feed on birds such as waterfowl and ptarmigans.

Gyrfalcons can be recognized through their broad wings, long tail, and robust body.

The color of their plumage varies in shades of white and dark gray. Some falcons have mottled patterns on their body, but mainly, their plumage is strikingly white.

They build their nests on cliffs and lay 3-4 eggs per clutch. They are fierce predators that catch their prey through aerial dive techniques.

They rarely visit open areas or grasslands but rather are found on remote cliffs in Northern America.

11. Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl

Western Screech-Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Length: 8 – 10 inches
  • Weight: 4 – 8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 18 – 24 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Western Screech-Owl is a small owl with an unmatched camouflaging ability, making it difficult to find even by avid bird watchers.

They have blotchy gray and brown plumage that allows them to survive in woodlands. Although their name suggests that they screech, these owls make hollow toots.

Western Screech-Owls prey on small mammals and birds and catch them through aerial diving techniques of hunting.

They have a small body, a large head, ear tufts, and yellow eyes. They nest in empty cavities and, at one time, lay 2-6 eggs incubated by the female owl.

They have a diverse diet that includes worms, crayfish, and even bats.

They usually hunt in woodlands, but if you are keen on watching one, they can readily take over nest boxes in the backyards during the breeding season.

12. Zone-Tailed Hawk

Zone-Tailed Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo albonotatus
  • Length: 18 – 20 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 – 2.2 pounds
  • Wingspan: 3.9 – 4.6 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Zone-Tailed Hawks are one of the most unique birds of prey in Oklahoma.

Unlike any other raptor, Zone-Tailed Hawks use mimicry to find and hunt down their prey. They mimic the flight pattern of Turkey Vultures.

They are aggressive defenders of their nests and can fight with birds larger than them.

Zone-Tailed Hawks have black plumage and a medium-sized body. The tail feathers have white bands that allow them to fly along with vulture flocks.

These raptors feed on small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Zone-Tailed Birds inhabit forests and soar high in the sky to spot and catch their prey.

They build their nests in trees and cliffs. During the breeding season, they lay 1-3 eggs which both parents incubate.

13. Swallow-Tailed Kite


Swallow-Tailed Kite Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Elanoides forficatus
  • Length: 19 – 24 inches
  • Weight: 12 – 15 ounces
  • Wingspan: 3.4 – 3.7 feet
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Known as the ‘coolest bird on the planet,’ Swallow-Tailed Kites have slender bodies, deeply forked tails, and long wings that give them a majestic appearance in flight.

You can recognize them easily by their black and white plumage.

Swallow-Tailed Kites primarily consume flying insects but feed on small vertebrates such as lizards and snakes.

They hunt down these animals from trees. They capture these insects on their wings and show exemplary fly-catching techniques.

The Swallow-Tailed Kite is a migratory bird that migrates to the south in winter and spends its summers in North America.

They display aerial acrobatics while they fly in the sky.

14. Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Length: 6 – 7.5 inches
  • Weight: 2.3 – 2.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 14 – 16 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Pygmy Owl has a small size but unmatched ability to hunt down its prey.

Unlike many nocturnal owls, Northern Pygmy Owls remain active day and night to catch their prey.

Northern Pygmy Owls are among the small birds of prey in Oklahoma that are recognizable through their small body, smooth round head, and striking yellow eyes.

They have brown plumage with white spots and streaks.

They nest in empty cavities and lay 3-7 eggs in one clutch,  which the female owl incubates.

Their ability to hunt is incredible, as they can hunt down prey almost their size. Although tiny, they are fierce predators with aggressive behavior toward bigger birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common hawk in Oklahoma?

The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in the state.

What is the small bird that looks like a hawk?

The American Kestrel looks something like a hawk, and is a bird of prey.

Why is there always a small bird flying with a hawk?

This is called mobbing. Birds often follow predators to keep themselves safe.

All Birds of Prey in Oklahoma


Oklahoma’s beauty is incomplete without the magnificent birds that adorn its skies.

While some look scary, they are to be appreciated and preserved the same way as other birds.

These large and small birds have unique features, such as their speed or calls, making them an interesting and worth-preserving part of the natural ecosystem.

Most of these birds have a stable population, but preservation of their habitat should be prioritized to ensure conservation.

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

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