All 11 Birds of Prey in Tennessee! (Species ID Guide) (2024)


Are you a bird enthusiast looking for information about birds of prey in Tennessee?

Regarded as “the most biodiverse inland state,” Tennessee hosts various raptors.

These birds of prey provide a unique experience for birders and non-birders alike.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig in and find out more comprehensive information and insights about the species of birds of prey in Tennessee.

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

1. Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Length:  34 – 43 in (86 – 109 cm)
  • Weight: 168 oz (4761 g)
  • Wingspan: 72 – 96 in (183 – 244 cm)
  • Life Span: 20-30 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

A feisty raptor and the national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle is found in large numbers throughout the year in Tennessee.

They become more commonplace in Tennessee during winters when they migrate to the state from Canada and Alaska.

The majestic Bald Eagle has a white head that contrasts beautifully with the chocolate-brown feathery body.

The yellow legs with vicious talons and sharp yellow eyes give it a fierce look.

Male and female Bald Eagles look similar, although the females are about 25% larger.

The plumage of the juvenile Bald Eagles is a dark brown carpeted with white streaking until the fifth year when it reaches sexual maturity.

You can spot Bald Eagles near large water bodies with abundant food sources and find them nesting in tall coniferous or hardwood trees.

Bald Eagles build the largest nests of all North American birds in secluded areas with the least human activity.

Although their main prey is fish, Bald Eagles are opportunistic feeders notorious for being snatchers or harassers.

They obtain their food via a method known as kleptoparasitism, by which they harass small raptors like Ospreys and steal away their prey.

Bald Eagles in the wild tend to live for almost 25 years, but those in captivity have been found to live for about 30 years.

Bald Eagles are known to mate for life. They usually produce one to three eggs per mating season.

However, those in captivity may produce up to seven eggs. You can identify a Bald Eagle through its whistling call.

2. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Bald Eagle Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 16.9-24.0 in (43-61 cm)
  • Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz (486-774 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in (94-111 cm)
  • Life Span: 10-20 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Found year-round in Tennessee, the Red-Shouldered Hawks are found in woodlands near water bodies.

They are primarily forest dwellers and reside on tree tops from where they keep a watchful eye and uniquely drop onto their prey.

Red-Shouldered Hawks have brown heads with distinctive reddish breasts and pale bellies with reddish marks.

They have tails with white streaks and red shoulders. In flight, translucent crescents near the wingtips accentuated by sun rays help to identify the species.

These forest raptors reside in areas with open sub canopies, making hunting easier. They commonly prey on small mammals, like rodents, frogs, and snakes.

They are known for reusing their nesting areas year after year.

One of the best ways to identify a Red-Shouldered Hawk is through its distinctive whistles.

They are the most vocal American hawks. They also make the distinctive “kee-aah” calls for territorial or courtship purposes.

Red-Shouldered Hawks can live up to 20 years.

Until the start of the 20th century, the Red-Shouldered Hawks were abundant but excessive deforestation, use of pesticides, namely DDT, and hunting have decreased their population.

However, conservation measures have caused a resurgence in their population.

3. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Length: 18-26 in (45-65 cm)
  • Weight: 24-56 oz (700-1600 gm)
  • Wingspan: 43-55 in (110-140 cm)
  • Life Span: 25-30 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

One of the most common birds of prey in Tennessee, the Red-Tailed Hawk is a movie star, at least its voice is—the famous soaring call used by movie directors to replace those of the Bald Eagles.

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a permanent resident of Tennessee and can be easily spotted year-round.

The plumage of Red-Tailed Hawks varies greatly across subspecies from brown to grey with a whitish underbelly and broad, rounded wings.

The best way to identify a Red-Tailed Hawk is by its distinctive short, wide crimson tail.

They also exhibit sexual dimorphism, with ‌‌females usually being 25% larger than males.

Red-Tailed Hawks are known for inhabiting non-ideal environments, from dense forests to sandy deserts; thus, their diet is also highly variable.

They nest primarily on high trees with open canopies and cliff edges.

They usually prey on rodents, small reptiles, rabbits and hares, ground squirrels, and fish and are highly opportunistic predators.

During courtship displays, the male hawks soar high in the sky, usually in circles, making their characteristic, aggressive raspy calls that the Hollywood directors are ever so fond of.

Red-Tailed Hawks typically produce 2-3 white-brown blotched eggs per mating cycle.

The recorded lifespan of these hawks is 25 years on average and, in some cases, a maximum of 29 years.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 13.5-20 in (35-50 cm)
  • Weight: 8-24 oz (220-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.5-35.5 in (62-90 cm)
  • Life Span: 10-15 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Known for its exceptional flying prowess, the Cooper’s Hawk is commonly sighted in Tennessee, with their numbers increasing during fall and winter.

It is easily confused with the smaller but similar sharp-shinned hawk.

Cooper’s Hawks have a blue-gray, brown-gray back, a red-orange breast, and dark bands on the tail that is white from the tip.

They have a sizable head that projects well beyond the wings. The females are larger, and the males tend to be submissive.

Cooper’s Hawks are commonly found in forests nesting in tall trees with dense canopies.

In these habitats, these hawks put their flying agility to use by swiftly chasing small birds and mammals through tight spaces.

They are stealthy birds and can be hard to identify once in the air.

Dubbed “a relentless tyrant and murderer of small birds,” Cooper’s Hawks commonly feed on small birds and mammals, but these birds of prey can also pay your backyard a visit in search of birds if you put out seeds for them.

A Cooper’s Hawk lays 2-6 pale blue to bluish-white eggs per mating cycle and is inconsistent in mating for life.

Although once endangered by DDTs, the Cooper’s Hawk has recovered in numbers over time.

5. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus
  • Length: 9.1 to 11.8 in (23 to 30 cm)
  • Weight: 2.9–4.1 oz (82–115 g)
  • Wingspan: 17 to 23 in (42 to 58 cm)
  • Life Span: Around 5 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Nicknamed “Sharpie,” the Sharp-Shinned Hawk is a small hawk that can be spotted in Tennessee, especially during winter.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks have medium-sized tails, primarily colored black or gray, broad wings, and tall and slender legs.

The beak is hook-shaped and yellowish. They generally love to live among trees and prefer conifer forests and woodlands for nesting.

These hawks are brilliantly agile and quality fliers and can catch prey through thick, crowded forests.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks mostly feed on smaller birds and will rarely eat lizards, rodents, and insects.

They may also visit backyard feeders occasionally but move on if you take the feeders down.

These hawks generally lay 4-5 eggs with an incubation period of 30 days.

Their numbers decreased drastically due to DDT usage but recovered once the pesticide was banned.

6. Osprey

Osprey Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Length: 21 – 24 in (53 – 61 cm)
  • Weight: 63.49 oz (1799 g)
  • Wingspan: 54 – 72 in (137 -183 cm)
  • Life Span: 7-10 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Ospreys are among the most commonly spotted birds of prey in Tennessee and the rest of the US.

Ospreys are fierce-looking birds and are usually mistaken for hawks and falcons hence the nicknames “sea hawks” and “fish hawks.”

The upper parts of Ospreys are deep, glossy brown, while the breast is white-brown, and the underparts are pure white.

The head is white with a dark mask across the eyes, reaching to the sides of the neck.

They have ‌short tails with long, narrow wings with uneven finger-like feathers giving them a distinctive look.

The Osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species and is one of only six land birds with a worldwide distribution inhabiting temperate and tropical regions of all continents except Antarctica.

They nest on elevated surfaces such as treetops or cliffs. Ospreys are found near water bodies because there constitute 99% of fish.

Exceptional vision, closable nostrils, and reversible outer toes help them easily catch fish.

Occasionally, Ospreys may also prey on rodents, rabbits, hares, frogs, and snakes.

They generally do well around humans and lay one to four eggs per mating cycle.

7. Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Length: 18.1 – 24.8 in (46 – 63 cm)
  • Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 oz (910 – 2500 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 in (101 – 145 cm)
  • Life Span: 20 – 30 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

One of the most common birds of prey in Tennessee is the Great Horned Owl. The plumage of the Great Horned Owl is brownish-blackish.

The underbelly is usually light with some brown horizontal barring.

The wings are mottled brown, usually with heavy, complex, darker markings. The throat also has a white streak running down.

Their plumage color is highly variable depending on the region. The bird has horn-like structures, which are tufts of feathers.

Great Horned Owls can inhabit various areas, including forests, woodlands, deserts, cities, and grasslands.

They generally prefer open habitats for hunting and forests for nesting and roosting.

They are slightly sensitive to human activity and might nest in areas with little to no disturbances, like rural areas.

The Great Horned Owl has a diverse diet profile and can prey on many creatures, from rodents to rabbits to insects and lizards, primarily through aerial dives, clenching the prey by their talons.

They also eat fish and carrion. The Great Horned Owl is also known to kill other raptors, such as Peregrine Falcons, owls, and Ospreys.

These ferocious birds make the characteristic Hoo-Hoo call.

The females lay 3-4 eggs per mating cycle. They tend to live for almost 30 years, with those in captivity having been found to live up to 50 years.

8. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6.3– 9.8 in (16–25 cm)
  • Weight: 4.2–8.6 oz. (120–244 g)
  • Wingspan: 18–24 in (46–61 cm)
  • Life Span: 8-10 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Eastern Screech Owls are relatively small owls that are year-round residents of Tennessee. They are strictly nocturnal birds; you can only spot them at night.

They have a copper or dark gray plumage with streaks of white on the underside.

They have large heads with prominent ear tufts, a light yellow beak, and a technically non-existent neck like a boxer.

Eastern Screech Owls inhabit various habitats, including marshes, woodlands, and deserts.

They are also famous for living in heavily populated areas. They can even make your backyard birdhouse their home.

They prey on insects, lizards, beetles, small rodents, and mice and are opportunistic feeders.

These owls produce a variety of sounds, including whistles and screeches.

Eastern Screech Owls produce one to six eggs per mating cycle with an incubation period of 26 days. The male provides food, and the females do the brooding.

9. Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcons Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus
  • Length: 13-23 in (34-58 cm)
  • Weight: 12-53 oz (330-1500 g)
  • Wingspan: 29-47 in (74-120 cm)
  • Life Span: 10-12 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Peregrine Falcons are agile and high-speed fliers found almost anywhere around Tennessee.

They have long, pointed, bluish-blackish wings with darkened spots and black wingtips. Moreover, they have rusty white undersides with brown bands.

The Peregrine Falcon is the “fastest” bird in the world, reaching speeds of 200 mph, and has been the sweetheart of hunters for ages for hunting down small foxes and ducks.

This raptor usually inhabits cliffsides, mountain ranges, and riversides. They feed on medium-sized birds like pigeons, doves, and game birds.

These falcons typically lay 3-4 white eggs with brown or red markings.

Peregrine Falcons were considered endangered during the DDT era, but through conservatory measures, their numbers increased significantly, and they are now a species of Least Concern.

10. American Kestrel

American Kestrel Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Falco Sparverius
  • Length: 9 – 12 in (23 – 30 cm)
  • Weight: 3.9-4.1 oz (111-116 g)
  • Wingspan: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
  • Life Span: Around 11 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

Colorful and small, American Kestrels can be spotted around the year in Tennessee. They are the smallest raptor in North America.

American Kestrels exhibit sexual dimorphism in size and plumage. Males have rufous backs with gray-blue wings marked with dark spots and white underbellies.

Females have rufous backs and wings with brown barring. Their underbellies are creamy with typical dark brown streaks.

The head is white with bluish-gray stripes on top. Juveniles display similar coloration to adults.

 American Kestrels are prevalent in several regions, including grasslands, deserts, and forests. They usually prefer open to semi-open spaces.

American Kestrels are known for their energy-efficient methods of preying.

They usually perch and attack the prey on the ground directly, although they may also hunt mid-air.

Typically feeding on beetles, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and moths, these birds also prey on snakes and lizards.

They produce the characteristic klee-klee call. Females lay 3-7 eggs per mating cycle. American Kestrels are the most common Falcons inhabiting a wide variety of areas.

11. Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier Characteristics:

  • Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius
  • Length: 18.1-19.7 in (46-50 cm)
  • Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz (300-750 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in (102-118 cm)
  • Life Span: 8-10 years
  • Conservation: Least concern

The Northern Harrier, also known as the ring-tailed hawk or marsh hawk, is a distinctive bird commonly found in Tennessee throughout the year.

It is fairly easy to spot, thanks to its unique appearance.

Male Northern Harriers have dark gray plumage with strict facial feathers, while the females have a darker and more rufous look.

These birds are slim and have long tails used for gliding. They have a white spot at the base of their tails and spread their wings in a “V” shape while gliding over marshes.

These owl-faced hawks live in marshes and grasslands with dense vegetation, commonly used for nesting and laying eggs on the ground.

Northern Harriers glide low over empty fields and usually feed on small mammals and birds.

The females produce the chit-it-it call, while the males usually make chek sounds.

Northern Harriers produce 4-8 eggs incubated for 31 or 32 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the rarest bird in Tennessee?

The Bachman’s sparrow is the rarest bird in the state.

What is the large black bird in Middle Tennessee?

It is usually a common Grackle.

What is a blue bird with black wings in Tennessee?

This is a tree swallow.

All Birds of Prey in Tennessee


Owing to its captivating landscapes and varying topography, Tennessee boasts a wide range of birds of prey that well and truly add to the state’s beauty.

Tennessee hosts all kinds of raptors from eagles to falcons and from hawks to owls. It is a treat for all bird and nature enthusiasts.

It is truly amazing how every bird has a unique personality and a distinctive appearance.

This speaks volumes about how we should try as much as possible to help conserve the environment.

Tennessee is truly blessed in harboring a large and diverse population of different birds of prey.

We hope this guide helped you learn more about all the other birds of prey in Tennessee.

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