All 14 Birds Of Prey in South Carolina! (Species ID Guide) (2024)

All Birds Of Prey in South Carolina-template

Are you curious about the types of birds of prey in South Carolina? You are not the only one!

Birders and non-birders in North America are equally interested in the wildlife in South Carolina. And why wouldn’t it be?

Raptors are fascinating creatures, and South Carolina has an abundance of them! Raptors, or predatory birds, hunt and eat other animals, mainly reptiles, smaller birds, mammals, and fish.

Some hunt during the day, and some during the night. South Carolina is home to many birds of prey with amazing and unique characteristics. Large, powerful talons, keen eyesight, hooked bills, incredible speed – you name it.

Before you scroll further down this guide, check out these other animal-related articlesTop Cane Corso Breeders in South Carolina and Best Poodle Rescues in South Carolina.

1. Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Characteristics:

  • 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 Bald Eagle is one of the most commonly found birds of prey all over South Carolina. It is also the national bird of the United States.

With a wingspan reaching up to 7 feet and a distinctive white-feathered head contrasting its dark body, the Bald Eagle is a magnificent sight soaring over the waterways and coastal regions of South Carolina.

Regarding hunting, the Bald Eagle mainly feeds on fish, making the state’s abundant lakes, estuaries, and rivers the perfect hunting grounds.

In South Carolina, numerous protected areas and wildlife refuges have been established, providing vital nesting and breeding grounds for these regal birds.

Today, the sight of a Bald Eagle soaring through the South Carolina skies is a symbol of strength and freedom and a testament to the importance of safeguarding our natural heritage for generations to come.

2. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Characteristics of Red-Tailed Hawk:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo Jamaicensis
  • Size: 18 to 26 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 to 3.3 pounds
  • Wingspan: 3.3 to 4.8 feet
  • Life span: 10 to 20 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the most frequent raptors in South Carolina is the red-tailed hawk.

On long country journeys, it’s common to observe these big raptors swooping through the air or sitting on a fence post.

Coloration is not a good predictor because a Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage can range in color from practically white to almost black.

The easiest way to recognize them is to keep an eye out for their distinctive red tail.

These hawks are extremely flexible, and since they appear to feel at home, it is difficult to pinpoint their favorite habitats.

Red-tailed Hawks are widely distributed around the world.

You can find them prospering in various habitats, including fields, deserts, parks, pastures, woodlands, scrublands, and rainforests.

3. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter Striatus
  • Size: 10 to 14 inches
  • Weight: 3.5 to 8.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 17 to 22 inches
  • Life span: 5 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the smallest birds of prey in South Carolina, Sharp-shinned Hawks are very agile and acrobatic.

These raptors frequently pass by your bird feeders or zip through the woods in a flash.

Sharp-shinned Hawks can be recognized by the orange stripes on their upper chest, which fade towards the belly, and by their blue-grey wings and back.

They have long tails and very short, rounded wings used for flight.

Males and females are vastly different in size. In South Carolina’s forested regions, these raptors are common.

They are most frequently observed near bird feeders, where they seek and feast on visiting songbirds.

These raptors wait patiently before bursting out of cover at high speed to pursue birds, which account for 90% of their food.

4. Osprey


Osprey Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Pandion Haliaetus
  • Size: 21 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 3.1 to 4.4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 5.9 to 6.6 feet
  • Life span: 15 to 20 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

First and foremost, you should be aware that ospreys are NOT hawks.

Scientifically speaking, they have been granted their own Group (Pandionidae) and Genus (Pandion), distinct from all other birds of prey. They are not eagles, either.

Ospreys may not be hawks, but they resemble them. They have large but slender bodies, brown wings, white undersides, and white and brow head feathers.

They have yellow eyes and black feet. Their beaks are dark and curved, perfect for catching prey.

Additionally, these raptors have received nicknames like “Sea Hawk,” “Fish Hawk,” and “River Hawk,” which alludes to the similarity between an Osprey and a hawk.

Even this bird’s talons are created specifically to grab fish.

If you look closely, you can see that they are incredibly curled and even intersect when they are completely closed, which makes them ideal for grabbing onto slick fish!

Ospreys fly with broad, even strokes. They circle high above the water to spot their prey and may hover before diving and catching fish.

They can also dive down into the water, as far as 3 feet, to grab their prey and get out without trouble.

5. Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops Asio
  • Size: 6.3 to 9 inches
  • Weight: 4.3 to 8.6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 18 to 24 inches
  • Life span: 4 to 5 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Due to their low stature, stocky build, and lack of a neck, screech owls could make you think of professional wrestlers.

They measure 6.3- 9.8 inches in length, 4.2-8.6 oz, and have a wingspan of 18-24 in.

About one-third of all Eastern Screech-Owls are red but can also be grey.

Whether rufous or grey, the feathers of these owls are heavily patterned with complex designs.

The patterns resemble tree barks, making it easy for the owls to hide while hunting.

In South Carolina’s forested regions, one can find these little raptors.

They don’t bother people too much because they seem at ease making their nests inside crowded buildings adjacent to busy roads and highways or on top of street lamps.

6. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon Characteristics:

  • 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

Peregrine Falcons are raptors that can be found throughout South Carolina and, except for Antarctica, on every continent.

These raptors are ubiquitous in cities and can even become local celebrities because they love making nests on the sides of towering structures!

Individual birds and different sexes of birds do not significantly differ in color. The backs of both sexes are slate bluish-black with light barring.

Their breast ranges from white to tan and has faint, black markings.

Also, these birds are one of the fastest. Never believe rumors that the cheetah is the quickest animal.

Yes, they can increase the speed to 75 mph (120 kph), which is incredible for anything on the ground. But a Peregrine Falcon can fly up to 200 mph (320 kph) when it dives!

7. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Saw-Whet Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Aegolius Acadicus
  • Size: 7 to 8 inches
  • Weight: 2.3 to 5.3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16 to 22 inches
  • Life span: 3 to 5 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

In South Carolina, Northern Saw-whet owls are an incidental species. They are uncommon in the state and were last seen 2018 near Lake Leroy.

Being about the size of a robin, these owls are among the tiniest owls in North America. Brown and small, they have rounded heads with faint white streaks.

With strong white wings creating a “Y” in between their vibrant yellow eyes, they have dazzling yellow eyes.

Their backs and wings have white dots on a brown background. They have white bellies and chests that have brown stripes.

Juveniles have brown facial discs, simple brown heads, and extremely noticeable white eyebrows.

You can locate Northern Saw-whet Owls in dense coniferous forests, where they roost concealed among the tall branches and foliage.

However, they prefer to live near a field and a body of water where they may hunt.

8. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 7 to 8 inches
  • Weight: 2.3 to 5.3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 16 to 22 inches
  • Life span: 3 to 5 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

In South Carolina, Snowy Owls are another rare species. In 2022, they were seen in the area of Hobcaw Barony.

Male Snowy Owls are either entirely white or have a few little brown markings on them.

In contrast to the more white males, female Snowy Owls have dark brown to black specks on their wings, backs, and sides.

Compared to the males, they also have thicker and more extensive barring on their tails.

To protect themselves from the icy, savage weather of the Arctic, Snowy Owls have brilliant yellow eyes and fully feathered legs and feet.

A juvenile’s body is covered in heavy brown barring except for the face, legs, feet, and underwings.

The broad Arctic tundra is where you’ll find Snowy Owls, and they like to set up camp at vantage points like ridges, bluffs, knolls, and hummocks so they can keep a careful eye on their surroundings.

9. Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Characteristics of Golden Eagle:

  • Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos
  • Size: 30 to 40 inches
  • Weight: 6.6 to 14 pounds
  • Wingspan: 6 to 7.9 feet
  • Life span: 20 to 30 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

South Carolina does not see many Golden Eagle sightings. Although, between October and March, Golden Eagles can be spotted in this southern state.

The most common eagle in the world is the Golden Eagle. When illuminated properly, their golden-brown crown and (neck) are a sight.

Although the feathers on their wings are pale, their bodies are a darker brown color.

From bright yellow to dark brown, their eyes are variable. Their bill is dark at the tip and has a yellow cere, the skin connecting the beak to the forehead.

Similar to adults, juveniles have a deeper tint that can occasionally appear black on the back.

Additionally, they have some white coloring on their tail and white spots on the bottom of their wings.

The Iberian Golden Eagle, European Golden Eagle, Japanese Golden Eagle, North American Golden Eagle, Asian Golden Eagle, and Kamchatkan Golden Eagle are the six subspecies of the Golden Eagle.

Their size and the tiny variations in the color of their feathers distinguish them from one another.

10. Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Black Vulture Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus
  • Size: 22 to 27 inches
  • Weight: 2.6 to 4.4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 4.9 to 5.6 feet
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

All year long, Black Vultures live in South Carolina. The Black Vulture has a black body. They are vultures with the darkest plumage.

Although they have silvery spots on the underside of their wings that give them the appearance of having fingers when they are in flight, their breasts, wings, back, tails, and bellies are all black.

Brown eyes and grayish-white legs characterize them. To reach the meatiest areas of deceased animals, Black Vultures must bury their heads in their bodies, which is why they are “bald.”

When bits and parts of the carrion adhere to their feathered heads, it will be challenging for them to tidy themselves up.

Although American Black Vulture is not the official name of the Black Vulture, it is a widespread nickname.

It only sets it apart from Aegypius monachus, the Eurasian Black Vulture.

Black Vultures can be found in open spaces. They frequently inhabit forested areas and spend the night in woody areas near bodies of water.

11. American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel Characteristics:

  • 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

Although occasional sightings are here throughout the year, American Kestrels spend the winter in South Carolina.

They are listed in 5% of the winter bird checklists that the state receives from bird observers.

American Kestrels are the tiniest and most vibrant falcons in North America. Colors and markings differ between males and females.

Mature male American Kestrels have white throats, blue-black bills, and distinctive diagonal slashes on their white faces—one under and one behind the eyes.

Their heads are dark gray with various degrees of rufous on the crown. Given that most Falcons have just one, this is noteworthy.

Their backs are reddish-brown, their wings are blue-gray with white markings, and they have yellow feet and legs. Their belly and breasts are orange with brown patches.

Their underwings have spots on them. Their tails have a white tip, a single broad black band, and a reddish-brown color.

Male and female American Kestrels both have rufous crowns, white faces, gray heads, and two vertical black slashes on the face.

Additionally, both of them have two black spots on their skulls that fool would-be assailants when approaching from behind.

12. Merlin


Merlin Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco columbarius
  • Size: 9.5 to 12 inches
  • Weight: 5.3 to 8.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 20 to 26 inches
  • Life span: 5 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The best winter months to see Merlins in South Carolina are from September to April.

There are up to nine subspecies of the little but ferocious Merlin, three of which are found in North America and the other in Europe and Asia.

These three subspecies differ in color depending on where they are found in North America.

The undersides of the Black Merlin, Coastal Forest, or Pacific Northwest Merlins are striped with brown or white.

The Prairie Merlins are the lightest of the three, while the Taiga Merlins have an intermediate hue.

Although this might range from white to brown, they are invariably whiter on the underside and brighter on the back.

All Merlin species have little hooked bills, yellow skin surrounding their dark eyes, and dark skin at the base of their dark bills.

Merlins typically hunt tiny birds, depending on which species are most plentiful in their environment.

They launch an aerial attack and aggressively pursue their victim until the prey is worn out.

Breeding pairs also engage in cooperative hunting, with one bird bringing up disturbed prey from the ground while the other catches it from above.

Additionally, they will add other creatures, such as reptiles and insects, to their main diet.

13. Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Caracara cheriway
  • Size: 19 to 23 inches
  • Weight: 2.6 to 4.2 pounds
  • Wingspan: 45 to 52 inches
  • Life span: 10 to 15 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

In South Carolina, Crested Caracaras are an accidental species.

They have only ever been seen twice in the state, once in the vicinity of Awendaw in 2015 and once again in the vicinity of Hunting Island in 2022.

Huge, dark-bodied falcons with characteristic flat heads, black scruffy crowns, and enormous orange bills with gray ends are called crested caracaras.

These large birds, which eat carrion, are violent toward other birds, such as vultures, which try to swoop in and take their prey.

Although their breasts are white, they have black fine barring on their throats, rumps, and breasts.

Crested Caracaras have black wings and bellies. Their tails are white with strong black bands at the tips and black barring on the sides. Moreover, they have yellow legs and feet.

Crested Caracaras live in somewhat open habitats like deserts, agricultural fields, and prairies.

They are typically perched on high vantage points like trees, cacti, and fence posts as they scan the area for potential prey, making them simple to spot.

14. Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Elanoides forficatus
  • Size: 19 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 12 to 21 ounces
  • Wingspan: 3.6 to 4.2 feet
  • Life span: 6 to 10 years
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The last raptor on our list of the 14 birds of prey in South Carolina is the Swallow-tailed Kite.

In South Carolina, where they breed, Swallow-tailed Kites are found on 2% of summer checklists.

They can be seen in large numbers around South Carolina between March and September.

Large and thin birds of prey, Swallow-tailed Kites are most frequently spotted hovering in the sky.

Similar in appearance to females, males have black bills, flying feathers, tails, and feet, as well as white heads and underparts.

They have black and white underwings. The term “swallow-tailed” refers to their lengthy forked tails resembling a swallow’s.

Comparatively speaking, juveniles have paler coats and less pronounced forking in their tails.

Although they breed along the US Gulf Coast, Swallow-tailed Kites are primarily found in South America.

When searching for Swallow-tailed Kites, it is preferable to gaze upward because they spend practically all of their time in flight.

Additionally, since they travel to South America for the winter, July is the greatest time to watch them.

Birds of Prey in South Carolina

Conclusion For Birds of Prey in South Carolina

As you can see, South Carolina’s diverse landscape offers a haven for an impressive array of birds of prey, making it a captivating destination for both birdwatching enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

By understanding and appreciating the importance of conserving these majestic birds, we can contribute to the preservation of South Carolina’s natural heritage for future generations.

Let us be stewards of the skies and protectors of these majestic creatures, cherishing their existence and the remarkable natural world they represent.

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