Last Updated: September 20, 2022
If you want to level up your birding experience in Florida, then it's time to search for different birds of prey.
And that is…
From owls, eagles, vultures, falcons, and more, these raptors will take you outside of your comfort zone - that is, your backyard. Although it's mesmerizing enough to see these birds in action, being able to identify each species will be quite an experience!
With that being said, here are 21 Florida birds of prey to watch out for:
- A Close Guide To The 21 Raptors of Florida
- 1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- 2. Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
- 3. Barred Owl (Strix varia)
- 4. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
- 5. Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
- 6. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
- 7. Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
- 8. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
- 9. Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)
- 10. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
- 11. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
- 12. Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
- 13. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
- 14. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- 15. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
- 16. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
- 17. Sharp Shinned Hawk
- 18. Short-Tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
- 19. Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
- 20. Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
- 21. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
- Frequently Asked Questions
- The Bottom Line
A Close Guide To The 21 Raptors of Florida
1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
One of the most well-known birds in the USA is the Bald Eagle, as it has been the national bird since 1782! It was chosen to represent the country due to its beauty, strength, long life, and residency in North America.
This eagle species is heavily populated in Florida and can be found all year. Since its primary diet is fish, you may find it in areas near water, such as lakes, coastlines, rivers, and marshes.
2. Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
The Barn Owl is an owl you can easily recognize, as its facial disk gives it a ghostly appearance that sets it apart from other species.
Although it can be seen throughout Florida all year, this species is the least common among the breeding owls in the state.
You can find Barn Owls in many habitats (rural or urban) with nearby open grasslands. However, they rarely stay in deep forests due to predators. You may even attract a breeding pair with the appropriate nest box.
3. Barred Owl (Strix varia)
The Barred Owl is a species commonly found throughout Florida. The name "Barred" comes from the alternating dark brown and light brown stripes all over its body.
This owl's preferred habitat is deep, dense coniferous or deciduous forests. Due to its nocturnal nature, the best time to find it is nighttime.
4. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Another abundant raptor all year in Florida is the Black Vulture, which you can easily distinguish with its sooty-black feathers and wrinkled head.
You can see Black Vultures soaring above open countries and roads for food, as they rely on vision for hunting due to their poor sense of smell. However, they can also be found rummaging through trash in human settlements.
Meanwhile, they are more likely found in woodlands and thickets for nesting during the breeding season.
5. Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)
As the name suggests, the Broad Winged Hawk has broad wings, although it can only be noticed in flight.
It's relatively common in Florida but finding one isn't so simple because it prefers living away from humans, usually in dense deciduous or mixed woods.
Additionally, it's not evenly distributed throughout the state due to its migratory behavior. You may find this hawk in the Florida Panhandle during summer, central Florida during migration, and at the state’s southern tip in winter.
6. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
Surprisingly, the Burrowing Owl can be found in Florida despite being native to the Western USA. Fortunately, there isn’t much of a difference between the western and the Florida bird.
As the name suggests, this owl species lives underground, typically in dry grasslands or deserts. They either excavate the burrow themselves or take over old burrows from squirrels or prairie dogs.
7. Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Left: Coopers Hawk
Right: Sharp Shinned Hawk
Coopers and Sharp-Shinned Hawks look nearly identical, except for size - the former is significantly larger, but it isn't as apparent during flight.
This raptor prefers to live in various forests and woodlots but may occasionally visit the city. You may even see one in your backyard, especially if songbirds frequently visit you.
Due to its wide range, the Coopers Hawks are year-round residents in Florida, though some may move to the state's southern tip during winter.
8. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
The Crested Caracara is an uncommon bird species found in about five states. One of which is Florida, specifically in the state's central areas.
As the name suggests, this bird has a prominent black crest, contrasting its white neck and orange facial skin. However, the facial skin turns yellow when the bird is excited or stressed.
It's is usually seen in semi-open grounds for hunting, such as wet prairies, savannas, seashores, and desert scrubs.
9. Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)
The name of the Eastern Screech Owl is derived from its presence in the eastern USA - of course, that includes Florida.
You may find this screech owl in deciduous and mixed woods, meadows, and fields throughout the state.
However, it doesn't seem to be bothered by humans as it's also found in orchards and suburban areas. You may even see one on top of street lamps or next to busy roadways.
10. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
The Golden Eagle is one of the largest and most abundant birds of prey. You can recognize it through its dark brown body, golden-brown nape, and 7-foot long wingspan!
Although it can be found in various habitats, from open country to deserts, this predatory bird prefers mountainous areas, cliffs, and hills.
You can usually find it in the Florida Everglades, but it's only present in the state during winter.
11. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
If you're expecting an owl with horns, we're sorry to disappoint. Its name is actually derived from its prominent ear tufts that resemble horns from a silhouette.
Speaking of ear tufts, you may have to rely on them to recognize the Great Horned Owl because its color pattern makes it camouflage with trees.
This bird is common throughout North America, so you have many opportunities to spot one if you're in open coniferous, deciduous, or mixed woodlands.
12. Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
The Mississippi Kite is a graceful flyer that has increased over the past decades.
You can usually find it in open country and forests with abundant flying insects, but it may also visit suburbs.
Although it typically only visits Florida during the summer, some Mississippi Kites stay over the winter.
13. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
The Northern Harrier is the only harrier species indigenous to North America. It's a common raptor but only visits Florida during winter.
You may find one in many kinds of open terrain (wet and dry), such as marshes, fields, savannas, and meadows.
At first glance, the harrier's face may look like an owl due to its facial disk. It also has other owl-like characteristics (unlike most hawks), such as a sharp hearing for hunting prey and soft feathers for a quieter flight.
14. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
If you've read the "Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children" series or watched the movie adaptation, you probably recognize the Peregrine Falcon.
Although this bird is widespread in the entire world (except Antarctica), it's only present in Florida during the winter.
Once winter arrives, you can find it everywhere in the state, including cities! However, the falcon isn't that easy to spot as it prefers high places like cliffs, skyscrapers, and other tall buildings.
15. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
When you see a perched Red-Shouldered Hawk, you would recognize it right away due to its (you guessed it) red shoulders.
Although this species is a forest-dweller, populations are somehow more visible in Florida and California - they may have adapted to open habitats in these states.
Red Shouldered Hawks are year-round residents of Florida and are seen all throughout. If you live in an area mixed into woodlands, you may see one visit your backyard!
16. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
With its characteristic red tail and prevalence in Florida all year, the Red-Tailed Hawk is quite familiar to many.
While Red Shouldered Hawks are forest-dwellers, Red Tailed Hawks prefer big, open country. This hawk is likely nearby if there's an open ground for hunting with scattered, elevated perchers (whether trees or utility poles).
17. Sharp Shinned Hawk
Even though Sharp Shinned Hawks are the smallest hawks in North America, they are incredibly athletic and acrobatic, capable of zooming through the woods as they chase prey!
They are permanent residents of Florida and are found throughout the state, typically in deciduous, coniferous, or mixed forests.
You may also occasionally find one along forest edges, hunting for prey. However, they are frequently seen near backyard feeders, waiting for songbirds that visit.
18. Short-Tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
Interestingly, the Short Tailed Hawk is only present in a few states - mostly Florida. Still, some may wander into Arizona and New Mexico during summer.
Short-Tailed Hawks typically reside in an open country adjacent to woodlands, where trees may be pine, mangrove, cypress, or a swamp.
You can find them all year in southern Florida, but they are also present in the state's central regions during summer.
19. Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)
Compared to the previous raptor, the Snail Kite is exclusive in Florida - this bird doesn't visit any other state!
You can usually find it in the open, flooded freshwater marshes of central and southern Florida, particularly in the Everglades. However, this bird is already endangered, so there is no guarantee.
20. Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
Swainson's Hawks are usually birds of the west, but their migratory behavior leads them to visit Florida in spring, though only in the southern parts of the state.
The best place to look for a Swainsons Hawk is wide-open ranges with minimal tree cover. You may even see one perched on a pole or fence post.
During migration, you may find this hawk flocked with Broad Winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures, both of which can be found in Florida.
21. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
The Turkey Vulture (or Turkey Buzzard) is the most abundant of its species in the entire USA and a familiar sight due to its resemblance to Wild Turkey.
This bird is found throughout Florida all year, from deciduous woodlands to open country. However, you may also find it along roadsides, feeding on dead animals that were hit by cars.
As messed up as it sounds, look for dead animals to find Turkey Vultures - the fresher the carrion, the higher the chances.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are these species considered "birds of prey"?
If you think about it, a lot of birds are predators. From giant eagles to tiny hummingbirds, birds that catch and eat other animals/insects are considered birds THAT prey.
So, why aren't they birds OF prey? Birds of prey are also called raptors, a subset of predatory birds with sharp beaks and strong talons for grasping prey and tearing its flesh. This includes species of owls, hawks, eagles, vultures, and more.
Now, you may confuse raptors with wading birds. A wading bird is a subset of predatory birds with long legs, toes, and bills, commonly found in aquatic habitats such as wetlands.
Some of the wading birds you may see in Florida are:
- American White Pelican
- Brown Pelican
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Reddish Egret
- Snowy Egret
- Tricolored Heron
Watch this video of Snowy Egret in Florida:
Can I attract these birds of prey to my backyard?
You could, but it isn't that easy. First of all, many raptors live deep in forests and generally stay away from human settlements. For species that may visit backyards, your area needs to have a small mammal or small bird population since they wouldn't come if there were no food.
Plus, raptors can be pretty aggressive and cause disturbance in your household. Some of them can even take away your housepets! However, you may provide them with a shelter instead. Barn Owls are great to attract with an owl box if you have a farm.
Do birds of prey eat each other?
Despite being on top of the food chain, certain raptors may eat another raptor, especially its nestlings. This mainly occurs with larger species, like the Great Horned Owl regularly eating other owls.
Whether you're in Florida's state forests or parks, the diversity of the local raptors will surely keep your excitement going.
However, don't forget that birds of prey are still powerful predators. If you're not careful, you might get seriously hurt.
Seeing a raptor fly towards its prey is a spectacular sight, but not so much if it's flying towards you. So, it would be best to keep a safe watching distance.
We hope that this article helped you (safely) identify and appreciate the different Florida birds of prey!