All 13 Birds Of Prey In San Diego! (Species ID Guide) (2023)


San Diego is very well known for having unique predator birds. If you’re looking for birds of prey in San Diego, get your binoculars ready for a show!

For those who don’t know, birds of prey are a group of hypercarnivorous birds consisting of eagles, owls, hawks, vultures, condors, and falcons.

These birds actively hunt and eat other vertebrates, including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

While some raptors hunt during the day, others are nocturnal, so they hunt at night. In addition to this, the sizes of each bird vary.

In this blog, we will review some of the most commonly found birds of prey in San Diego and dive into how to identify them. Let’s get into it.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articles: Best Cat Rescues in San Diego and Best Pug Breeders in San Diego.

1. Bald Eagle


Characteristics of Bald Eagle:

  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Size: 28 to 40 inches
  • Weight: 6.6 to 13.9 pounds
  • Wingspan: 5.9 to 7.5 feet
  • Life span: 20-30 years
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The American Bald Eagle can be seen around lakes in San Diego during winter.

This magnificent bird has an imposing presence in the sky, as it is one of the biggest raptors in North America.

Since they prefer fishing over hunting, Bald Eagles are frequently seen close to bodies of water.

If fish are not readily available, these opportunistic predators also hunt small mammals and shorebirds, and they are not above snacking on some roadkill.

If you imagine Bald Eagles are hairless on the head, you would be wrong! They do not have bald heads.

This name’s root is the Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch,” denoting the animal’s white head.

Apart from the white head, the Bald Eagle also has a white tail. Its big brown body is sandwiched between the white head and tail.

The characteristic yellow eyes, talons, and big pale eyes give the Bald Eagle a fierce look.

Young Bald Eagles do not look like adult Bald Eagles; their plumage is in varied shades of brown, and they do not get the characteristic white head until they are five years old. Being able to recognize them at that point in their lives is challenging.

Furthermore, the calls of the Bald Eagles are yet another surprise.

Bald Eagles don’t sound like eagles, contrary to what most films would have you believe, but rather like seagulls.

2. Osprey

Characteristics of Osprey:

  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Size: 20 to 26 inches
  • Weight: 2.6 to 4.4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 5 to 5.6 feet
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years.
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The Osprey population dwindled in San Diego in the 1970s but has since seen a remarkable resurgence.

Now, you can see a sufficient number of Ospreys along the coasts and lakes of San Diego.

This bird is identifiable by its huge brown body, white head with a prominent brown stripe beginning behind the eye, and black tail.

Ospreys only consume fish. They are skilled fishermen who search the broad seas below for food and then hover over the target before diving in feet first to catch the fish.

They are shallow divers (approximately 3 feet or below), but when they encounter fish near the water’s surface, they will take it. They strongly impact the water, making large splashes surrounding them.

They have unusual toes that reverse to grab prey, with two toes in front and two toes in the back. 

Even though a Bald Eagle with a white head is sometimes mistaken for an Osprey, the two birds differ greatly.

Ospreys are significantly smaller than our national bird, with dark, banded tails (instead of white), and have a completely different flight pattern.

Ospreys often fly with their wings bent, whereas eagles fly flat.

3. American Kestrel


Characteristics of American Kestrel:

  • Scientific Name: Falco sparverius
  • Size: 8 to 12 inches
  • Weight: 2.8 to 5.3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 20 to 24 inches
  • Life span: 5 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The American Kestrel is yet another bird of prey that thrives in San Diego!

It is also one of the smallest falcons in North America, weighing only 3.6 ounces.

This tiny raptor is also a fantastic eye-catcher thanks to its blue, red, grey, brown, and black feather designs!

Along with being attractive, American Kestrels have incredible aerial skills. Kestrels are excellent hoverers, along with a select few other raptors.

The Kestrel, despite its small size, has the power, agility, and endurance needed to maintain this motionless flying.

American Kestrels hunt by hovering in the air or perching on a tall tree to look for prey.

A Kestrel will perform a “stoop” when it spots its prey to catch it. Kestrels can also catch animals in the air; however, they often catch their victims on the ground.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Characteristics of Cooper’s Hawk:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Size: 14 to 18 inches
  • Weight: 10.6 to 24.7 ounces
  • Wingspan: 24 to 37 inches
  • Life span: 5 to 12 years
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Say hello to another formidable bird of prey – the Cooper’s Hawk.

These woodland hunters possess a sleek and agile build, perfectly suited for maneuvering through the California dense forests.

This raptor uses a “contour-hugging flight” technique to stalk its prey, mainly small birds and animals.

The Cooper’s Hawk moves quickly and dynamically through dense undergrowth, expertly weaving in and out and precisely following the contours of the terrain.

The Cooper’s Hawk is widespread across San Diego, living in various environments that offer sufficient cover and a plentiful supply of prey.

Moreover, the Cooper’s Hawk often favors nesting in mature woods with a combination of open spaces for hunting and thick foliage for concealment during the breeding season.

It may also be seen in marshes and around rivers throughout the winter as it hunts for waterfowl and other water-related prey.

5. Northern Harrier


Characteristics of Northern Harrier:

  • Scientific Name: Circus Hudsonius
  • Size: 16 to 20 inches
  • Weight: 12.3 to 18.7 ounces
  • Wingspan: 39 to 47 inches
  • Life span: 5 to 10 years.
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Next is the Northern Harrier, sometimes known as the ring-tailed hawk and the marsh hawk.

Northern Harriers are medium-sized raptors with long, broad wings and a long rounded tail.

Their face looks similar to an owl’s, but a little flat and small with a sharply hooked bill.

Their hunting technique is unique. They search for their prey in open habitats while flying close to the ground.

While hunting, they have a flapping flight. They also prefer hunting in mixed vegetative covers. Another unique quality of Harriers is that they never hunt while perched.

The Harrier’s distinctive slim and elongated body shape makes it easy to identify.

Adult male Harriers flaunt a grayish body, pale gray head, white rump, and black shoulder patches.

Their unique flight pattern, called “hunting on the wing,” and hovering and gliding techniques to search for prey also make them easier to spot.

A Harrier’s call includes a long and rapid series of Kek notes.

6. Peregrine Falcon

Characteristics of Peregrine Falcon:

  • Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
  • Size: 13 to 20 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 to 3.3 pounds
  • Wingspan: 29 to 47 inches
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

The Peregrine Falcon is rare in San Diego skies; you may see them in winter.

The Peregrine, sometimes known as the duck hawk, belongs to the Falconidae family.

It’s a crow-sized falcon with a black head, bluish-grey back, a black tear stripe on the cheeks, and barred white underparts.

They have a hooked beak and a strong talon.

A Peregrine uses its infamous diving technique to hunt for its prey.

The moment it finds its target, it folds its wings, dives, stoops, and then gains speed. It closes its feet and knocks the prey out of the sky.

Regarding speed, Peregrines are known for their high-speed dives or “stoops.” When pursuing prey, they can reach incredible speeds of over 240 miles per hour!

They may live for as long as 20 years; however, an average Peregrine Falcon’s lifespan is between 6 to 8 years.

Besides their pointed wings, squared-off tail, and body colors described, their stooping technique (rapid wing vibrations while hunting) makes them easier to identify.

7. Red-Tailed Hawk


Characteristics of Red-Tailed Hawk:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Size: 18 to 26 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 to 3.5 pounds
  • Wingspan: 43 to 57 inches
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

Next in line among the top birds of prey in San Diego is the Red-Tailed Hawk.

The Red-Tailed Hawk has a rich brown appearance on the top and pale below, with a streaked belly and a dark bar between the shoulder and wrist.

These birds of prey range from light auburn to dark brown, with a darker underbelly than the rest of the body.

The tail is a combination of pale and cinnamon-red. Their brownish-red tail gives them the name “Red-Tailed Hawks.”

A Red-Tailed Hawk hunts from perches and the air. They use a variety of hunting techniques depending on the type of prey.

The coolest trait of these hawks is that they can spot prey from 100 feet up in the air!

Once it spots its target, it swoops downs and grabs the prey from the big claws on its feet.

What differentiates a Red-Tailed Hawk from other hawks is its tail. They also have a distinctive high-pitch screech-like call that verifies their presence.

8. Rough-Legged Hawk

Characteristics of Rough-Legged Hawk:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
  • Size: 18 to 22 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 to 3.3 pounds
  • Wingspan: 52 to 56 inches
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern.

Rough-Legged Hawks, also known as Rough-Legged Buzzards, spend their summers living and reproducing in the Arctic tundra.

These big raptors only come to San Diego in the winter before they head south.

Unlike most hawks, this species of hawk has feathers down to their toes, which aids in keeping them warm in the chilly regions they choose to reside in.

These bulky, huge raptors can be seen in wide spaces. They hunt unusually, hovering and peering into the wind for prey.

9. Broad-Winged Hawk


Characteristics of Broad-Winged Hawk:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
  • Size: 1S3 to 17 inches
  • Weight: 9.3 to 20.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 31 to 39 inches
  • Life span: 4 to 8 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Broad-Winged Hawk is yet another addition to our list. The small and chunky bodies of Broad-Winged Hawks make them perfectly suited to living in the forest.

Although these raptors are extremely frequent and dwell in San Diego, it is uncommon to observe them because they prefer to spend their time in remote areas away from people.

These birds migrate south for the winter to Central and South America while spending the fall here in San Diego.

Most people know about Broad-Winged Hawks from their spectacular fall migrations.

Moreover, the average bird is thought to fly about 4,000 miles in total, just one way, and they have to make this journey twice a year.

10. Great Horned Owl

Characteristics of Great Horned Owl:

  • Scientific Name: Bubo San Diegonus
  • Size: 18 to 25 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 to 5.5 pounds
  • Wingspan: 3.3 to 4.8 feet
  • Life span: Up to 13 years or more
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern.

Although Great Horned Owls live in San Diego all year round, winter is when they are most frequently seen.

They are listed in 1% of the winter bird checklists from bird observers. These owls are one of the most commonly found owls in North America.

Their “Great Horns,” which are ear tufts instead of horns, are their most distinctive physical feature.

They disguise themselves by using these feather tufts to resemble tree branches.

Their hooked bills are dark grey, with greyish to reddish-brown cheeks and huge yellow eyes that are highlighted in black.

The Great Horned Owl’s coloration and patterning serve mostly as camouflage. Black, white, brown, or grey spots are scattered across their wings and back.

Depending on the region they originate from, they might be darker or lighter and smaller in the South than in the North.

11. Peregrine Falcon


Characteristics of Peregrine Falcon:

  • Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
  • Size: Peregrine Falcons are about 14 to 19 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 to 2.3 pounds
  • Wingspan: 39 to 47 inches
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

San Diego’s coast has seen sightings of peregrine falcons throughout the year, but between mid-September and mid-November is when they are most frequent.

The Peregrine Falcon is very famous in San Diego and has many worth-mentioning achievements.

For starters, it is regarded as the world’s fastest bird. Secondly, it is known as the most common raptor in the world.

The heads of peregrine falcons appear to have grayish-to-black hoods, and their backs are darker than their undersides.

Their tails are bluish-black with white bars, rims, and a back tip. Their feet and legs are yellow. There are many peregrine falcons throughout the world.

They move to coastal and southern areas in North America, where they primarily breed in the Arctic.

Except for Antarctica, you can find peregrine falcons wherever in the world.

They favor cliffy, open environments with mountains, coasts, as well as, more lately, cities.

They typically stay in environments where there is a plentiful supply of prey.

Expert hunters, peregrine falcons dive-bomb birds of almost any size at great speeds.

12. Turkey Vulture

Characteristics of Turkey Vulture:

  • Scientific Name: Cathartes Aura
  • Size: 25-32 inches
  • Weight: Around 4-5 pounds
  • Wingspan: Roughly 5.6-6.4 feet
  • Life span: Up to 20 years or more in the wild
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

In San Diego, Turkey Vultures can be seen all year round.

The name “Turkey Vultures” is quite fitting. With their large, red upper necks, bald heads, and brownish-black bodies, they do resemble turkeys.

They are bigger than turkeys, though, and as they fly, their broad wings form a “V” shape, with their tips lifted significantly.

They appear to be two-toned because of the grey hue under their wings. They have dark-brown eyes and light-colored bills.

Three of the six Turkey Vulture subspecies are found in North America, which is why they are occasionally referred to as “Northern” Turkey Vultures.

The only real distinctions between them are in the underwing feather colors and wing and tail dimensions.

Although Turkey Vultures can be found in a variety of environments, semi-open and open areas near woodlands are the most frequent.

Foraging requires open spaces like deserts, marshes, shrublands, and grasslands.

Additionally, they require intermediate to high elevations, like hilly terrains, to offer them a height advantage when flying, as well as woods with tall trees for breeding and roosting.

Birds of Prey In San Diego


So that concludes our list of the top 13 birds of prey in San Diego.

The diverse habitat of San Diego offers an ideal environment for these magnificent predators to thrive.

They soar over fields, maneuvering through dense woodlands, and patrolling the coastlines and rivers.

Due to their exceptional hunting skills, these birds have been regarded as some of nature’s most formidable hunters.

So, if you plan to explore the wild bird life of San Diego, educate yourself on the bird’s behavior, habits, and needs.

Also, stick to a safe distance to avoid getting caught up in a mess.

Moreover, by being cautious, you can enjoy observing and appreciating these incredible creatures while minimizing any negative impacts on their natural habitats.

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

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