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21 Florida Birds of Prey: Fun Facts About These Raptors

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Apr 11th, 2024
Mississippi Kite in Florida

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)

Bald Eagle standing on a wood

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.

Fun fact: Despite its name, the Bald Eagle isn't bald. The name is derived from its older meaning, "white-headed."

2. Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Barn Owl on a wood

The Barn Owl is an owl in Florida you can easily recognize, as its facial disk gives it a ghostly appearance that sets it apart from other species.

Although this bird in Florida can be seen 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.

Fun fact: Barn Owls are encouraged to stay around certain farmlands because they are better at rodent control than traps or poison, and at no cost as well!

3. Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Barred Owl on a tree branch

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.

Fun fact: Initially only present in the eastern USA, the range of this species has extended to the northwest, where it competes with the Spotted Owl. A mating Barred and Spotted Owl produces a hybrid species called "Sparred Owl."

4. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

Black Vulture on a log

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.

Fun fact: Black vultures are generous and social, usually traveling in flocks and sharing food with relatives.

5. Broad Winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus)

Broad Winged Hawk perched on a branch

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.

Fun fact: During migration, Broad Winged Hawks travel for about 4,300 miles - that's about 70 miles per day. If the weather and wind conditions are right, you may see them concentrated in thousands while migrating!

6. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

two Burrowing Owls on the ground

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.

Fun fact: Burrowing Owls are quite different from other species, as they are diurnal (most active during the day) and can eat fruits and seeds. Their legs also tend to be longer because they mostly navigate on the ground.

7. Coopers Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Coopers Hawk on a branchSharp Shinned Hawk standing

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.

Fun fact?: Coopers Hawks may fly through dense vegetation to catch prey, which is quite dangerous. One study found that 23% of a sample population had healed injuries in the bones of the chest.

8. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)

Crested Caracara on a grass field

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.

Fun fact: This caracara species has a cultural significance throughout Central and South America, where it's even recognized as Mexico's national bird.

9. Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)

Eastern Screech-owl behind leaves

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.

Fun fact: This screech owl is known to eat songbirds like the European Starling. What's funny is that despite this, starlings regularly kick the owl out of its own nest.

10. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Golden Eagle looking up a tree

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.

Fun fact: If you happen to see this eagle drop its feathers, leave them be because keeping its feathers (and other body parts) is considered a felony. This law also applies to other birds protected in the USA.

11. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Great Horned Owl on a tree branch

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.

Fun fact: The Great Horned Owl is sometimes referred to as "Tiger Owl" due to its strong and aggressive nature. It's even known to eat large birds and other owls!

12. Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)

Mississippi Kite in mid summer

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.

Fun fact: This kite has been called several nicknames, such as "Locus-Eater" and "Mosquito Hawk," due to its primary diet of flying insects.

13. Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

Northern Harrier on a dead tree

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.

Fun fact: The name "harrier" comes from the Old English "herigan," meaning "to harass or plunder." With this, one of its collective nouns is "a harassment of harriers."

14. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon on top of a tree

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.

Fun fact: This species is one of the fastest animals on Earth, capable of power-diving up to 180mph! For reference, most bullet trains operate around 200mph.

15. Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Red-Shouldered Hawk on a branch

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!

Fun fact: Red-Shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls have the same range and habitat in the eastern USA. However, the hawk is diurnal, while the owl is nocturnal.

16. Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-Tailed Hawk in mid flight

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).

Fun fact: Like crows, Red-Tailed Hawks are famous in the movie industry, mainly due to their raspy cry. It's pretty common for their sounds to represent hawks or eagles in movies.

17. Sharp Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk on a fallen tree

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.

Fun fact: The name "sharp-shinned" is derived from its long, exposed legs.

18. Short-Tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)

Short-Tailed Hawk flying in the sky

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.

Fun fact: Although it occurs mainly in Florida out of all the states, this hawk is still rare but not endangered.

19. Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis)

Snail Kite on top of a tree branch

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.

Fun fact: Snail Kites are more specialized in their diet than other hawks, feeding almost exclusively on apple snails (hence the name). They don't need to fly fast when their prey moves slowly!

20. Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)

Swainson’s Hawk on top of a wood

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.

Fun fact: Chicks often kill and eat their youngest sibling. There is some speculation about food scarcity, but the ultimate reason for this killing is unknown.

21. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

Turkey Vulture on the ground

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.

Fun fact: Turkey Vultures have a strong sense of smell to find carrion. Like other carrion-eating birds, they have a refined immune system that prevents diseases from decaying animals.

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.

The Bottom Line

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!

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