All 13 Birds of Prey in PA! (Species ID Guide) (2024)


Have you spotted a bird in your backyard? Maybe you need to know the birds of prey in PA. This article has all the information you need to learn about the characteristics, features, habitats, and feeding behaviors of the magnificent raptors in PA.

Pennsylvania is a state that is rich in natural beauty and has diverse wildlife, including predatory birds.

These birds are natural hunters – with the help of their powerful eyesight, talons, and aerial abilities, they can capture any prey they set their eyes on.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articles: Best Rabbit Rescues in Pennsylvania (PA) and Best Horse Rescues in Pennsylvania (PA).

1. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 13½-20 inches
  • Weight: 8-24 oz
  • Wingspan: 24½-35½ inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Cooper’s Hawk is easily found in the Pennsylvanian woods or near the edge of the fields.

These birds are famous for their agile flight. Because of this flight agility, these raptors commonly hunt songbirds.

People mostly find them around bird feeders in their backyards.  

The Cooper’s Hawk resembles the Sharp-Shinned Hawk because of their steel blue-grey appearance.

They also have a black cap and rufous-collared chest similar to the Sharp-Shinned Hawks. The only way to tell them apart is the difference in size.

Cooper Hawks are larger; however, the difference is hardly noticeable when both raptors are in flight.

The Cooper’s Hawk’s most common sound is an alarm call. This call sounds like a ‘Kuck-Kuck-Kuck’.

The sound is similar to the Sharp-Shinned Hawk but slightly higher in pitch.

2. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 15-19 inches
  • Weight: 1.1-1.9 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 38-42 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Red-Shouldered Hawks have distinct markings on their body.

They also have a barred rufous chest, white underwings, and a banded tail.

Red shoulders are also very prominent among these unique markings, especially when the raptor is perched.

Red-Shouldered Hawks live in forests which is quite the opposite of Red-Tailed Hawks that live in open areas.

They are most commonly available in the open upper canopy. The extra space in that areas allows them to hunt efficiently.

These birds of prey in PA are available in places where homes intermix with woodland or suburban areas.

Red-Shouldered Hawks have a unique hunting style.

Once they spot prey, they drop directly from overhead. The loud call from this raptor sounds like ‘Kee-aah,’ which it repeats several times.

3. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 18 – 25 inches
  • Weight: 2 – 3 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 57 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Great Horned Owls are commonly known as ‘Tiger Owls’ or even ‘Hoot Owls.’

The owls have contrasting white and black lines resembling a tiger.

They also have an orange face. It also has horizontal bars on its underside resembling tree branches to attack its prey without being seen.

Great Horned Owls are large and fierce, and they have long tufts of feathers that look like they have ears on their head.

These owls have a weak sense of smell since they even attack skunks. People can hear the territorial calls of male owls for miles at night.

In Pennsylvania, the Great Horned Owl begins its nesting period at the start of the year.

This owl starts nesting at the start of the year and lays its eggs around the same time.

4. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6–9 inches
  • Weight: 0.37-0.43 Lbs.
  • Wingspan: 18–24 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Eastern Screech Owls have small bodies but big heads. Their wings are round, and they have a short square-shaped tail.

They have tufted ears that are pointed and look elevated. Those who observe them may notice that they have no necks.

These owls are either red or grey, with almost one-third of the population being red.

Eastern Screech Owls live in woodlands. However, since they do not mind being near the human population, they nest near lamp posts or street lamps on highways.

Unlike owls with only one type of call, these can do it all.

Most commonly, they use an even-pitched trill that is called a tremolo.

The tremolo helps the pairs to contact one another, lasting for about three to six seconds.

5. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Length: 20.7–25.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.2–4 lb.
  • Wingspan: 48–60 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Snowy Owl is one of the most magnificent and eye-catching raptors of Pennsylvania.

It has a stunning white feather coat that has dark lines all over their bodies. Just like humans, the plumage of these owls also keeps getting whiter with age.

Snowy Owls migrate depending on the season. They usually mate and breed in the Arctic Tundra during summer.

But as soon as winter arrives, these raptors travel to the South. These owls travel long distances. Some of these owls may appear as far as the Northern US.

Snowy Owls defend their territory or search for their mates by making a loud ‘Hoo, Hoo’ sound.

The male owls make these sounds; females do not hoot. The owls make other sounds like cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill snapping.

6. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Length: 13–17 inches
  • Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Short-Eared Owls migrate from one place to another, depending on the season.

These owls mate in Pennsylvania but like spending their winters in the southern States. They are identifiable by their faces and brown-mottled bodies.

The false ears of these owls are not visible at all times. They only become prominent when the owls want to look intimidating to others.

People can spot these owls in open fields, grasslands, or meadows.

Short-Eared Owls display a unique behavior of pooping in their eggs as it helps to keep the predators away from the nest.

They also hop away from their nest and appear crippled, a habit similar to a Kildeer. These owls are very vocal, and their call sounds like a cat looking for a mate.

7. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Length: 16-25 inches
  • Weight: 1.8 – 2 pounds
  • Wingspan: 37 – 49 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Barred Owls, also called hot owls, have light brown and dark brown horizontal stripes on their body.

These stripes spread all over their wings, back, and tail. It is one of the most easily observed owls in the wild in PA.

They are curious creatures and may even watch people pass and walk past them.

Barred Owls prey on mice and other small rodents but may eat anything that has meat.

Sometimes, campers also find them hunting for insects around the campfire. Initially, this bird of prey only lived in North America.

However, now it has spread its population westward.

Barred Owls are easiest to identify because of their characteristics hoots.

Their hoot almost sounds like someone asking, ‘Who cooks for you?’ You may even find them hooting during day time.

They prefer to stay in forests or swamps near a forest. Bird watchers have even seen them nesting in nesting boxes in old trees.

8. Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Length: 6 – 9 inches
  • Weight: 6.3 to 15.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 18 – 24 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Long-Eared Owls are called the ‘Lesser Horned Owl’ or ‘Cat Owl.’ These are medium-sized owls that are good hunters.

However, they mostly rely on rodents and voles as their prey. These owls can also feed on insects and birds.

Long-Eared Owls have erratic migration routes, often termed nomadic due to their partial migration behavior.

They are very well camouflaged and like to live in densely wooded areas.

These owls have a very sharp sense of hearing; they can hear their prey many miles away, which helps them sneak up on them.

Long-Eared Owls have long wings and ear tufts that are always visible.

Male species have a dull plumage, whereas females have a bright one. These owls produce a sound that resembles ‘yip, yip’ or ‘jaiow.’

9. Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Circus cyaneus
  • Length: 18.1-19.7 inches
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5  inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Harriers have slender, medium-sized bodies with long, rounded tails. Their face almost resembles an owl, and they have a sharp hook-like bill.

These birds have a white rump patch, a characteristic identification sign of these species.

Northern Harriers eat on the ground and perch on low posts or trees. These raptors breed in various habitats, from tundra to grasslands.

They migrate towards the South in winter, far from areas that receive snow.

10. Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis
  • Length: 20.9-25.2inches
  • Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Goshawk is one of the largest raptors with broad wings and a long tail that rounds at the end.

The upper body of the bird is brown-grey to slate grey. It has a black cap on the head with a prominent white eye line.

Northern Goshawks use forests as their habitats; occasionally, they live in pine plantations. They have swift flights with which they take their prey by surprise.

These raptors feed on small mammals or medium-sized birds such as crows and hares. Goshawks have a characteristic call that sounds like ‘ki ki ki’ or ‘kak kak kak’ on repeat.

11. Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo swainsoni
  • Length: 17-22 inches
  • Weight: 1.1–3.7 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 46-54 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Swainson’s Hawks belong to the buteos species. It means that they are large hawks with broad wings and short tails.

However, these hawks are less bulky in comparison to other buteos. These hawks are slimmer and have long wings forming a V-shape when they soar.

Swainson’s Hawks have a characteristic feature of white lining on their underwings that strongly contrast with blackish feathers.

Male hawks have grey heads, whereas the female has brown heads.

These hawks are very social and fly in groups. They soar in kettles and forage on grasshoppers or dragonflies.

Swainson’s Hawks spend summers in open areas, their typical nesting sites. However, their nests can only be visible in trees from miles.

12. Merlin

Merlin Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco columbarius
  • Length: 9.4-11.8 inches
  • Weight: 5.6-8.5 ounces
  • Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Merlins are small and compact hawks that have a robust body structure.

They are slightly smaller than American Kestrels, but have pointed wings and a broad chest with a tail that is medium length.

These birds are dark and have streaky feathers. Bird watchers may also refer to Merlins as Pigeon hawks.

Merlins are fast-flying, so they can easily prey on small birds like sparrows. It is also because of this reason that Merlin is now easily found in urban areas.

These raptors even nest on northern prairies during the winter, where they can get a steady supply of sparrows. Besides small birds, it feeds on insects, rodents, and bats.

13. Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Cathartes aura
  • Length: 25-32 inches
  • Weight: 2-5 pounds
  • Wingspan: 63-72 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Turkey Vultures are easily spotted in northern Pennsylvania during their breeding season.

They migrate to southern states after the breeding season. These vultures get their name because of their appearance.

Their distinct red-colored head makes them look like a turkey. However, they are larger and have broader wings.

Turkey Vultures have six subspecies with minor differences in appearance, such as tail or wing proportions or the color of the underwing.

These birds of prey in PA live and breed in diverse habitats. However, the most common is open areas next to the woodlands.

They like to spend most of their time in grasslands, deserts, or wetlands, where they forage for food.

Turkey Vultures prefer high-elevation areas, such as hills or mountains, for nesting.

Female vultures tend to lay one to three cream-colored, with brown or lavender spots on the ground near the nesting site.

They are usually silent but may make hissing sounds.

All Birds of Prey in PA

Conclusion For All Birds of Prey in PA

The birds of prey in PA that grace the skies of Pennsylvania exemplify nature’s beauty and the intricate balance of the ecosystem.

From their striking physical features to their extraordinary hunting abilities, these birds are a testament to the wonders of the natural world.

Through conservation efforts, we must ensure that future generations will be lucky enough to witness the beauty of these majestic birds in Pennsylvania.



When is the best time to spot birds of prey in PA?

Although the majority of birds of prey stay throughout the year in Tennessee, their numbers truly increase during the fall and winter seasons.

Are eagles common in PA?

Yes. Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are common in PA and can be spotted year-round.

What factors endanger the lives of these birds of prey?

The common factors that threaten the survival of these birds include deforestation, urbanization, the use of pesticides, and adverse weather patterns.

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