Did you recently come across a Florida bird of prey, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying birds of prey in the Sunshine State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many raptors that regularly occur in Florida.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common birds of prey of Florida in this article.
What are the types of birds of prey in Florida?
The 25 types of birds of prey found in Florida are:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Short-tailed Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- White-tailed Kite
- Swallow-tailed Kite
- Mississippi Kite
- Snail Kite
- Bald Eagle
- American Kestrel
- Peregrine Falcon
- Crested Caracara
- Turkey Vulture
- Black Vulture
- Great Horned Owl
- Barn Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Short-eared Owl
- Eastern Screech-Owl
- Barred Owl
Note that this list includes both diurnal birds of prey (hawks, eagles, falcons, harriers, and vultures), as well as nocturnal birds of prey (owls).
While many of these birds of prey are found all year in Florida, a number of them only occur in the state only during the breeding season in summer.
Yet other raptor species are winter visitors to Florida, and a few are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these raptors of Florida:
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
With a wingspan of up to 52 in (4.5 ft), the Red-tailed Hawk is one of the larger species of hawks in Florida.
It has variable coloration, ranging from dark brown to almost entirely white, but can be readily recognized by its rusty red tail.
This large Florida bird is common in open grassland and also in cities. It is most often seen perched on roadside posts or fences, waiting for prey.
This bird of prey feeds on rodents and other small animals that it catches by swooping down from its perch when they venture out into the open.
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawk species in Florida, and can be seen throughout the Sunshine State year-round.
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
From the largest to the smallest hawk on the list, the sharp-shinned hawk is most commonly seen stalking song birds, making them a regular sight in backyards in the state.
With blue-gray wings and back, and with orange feather patterns on their chests, these hawks are recognizable by their small size, agility, and distinctive behavior.
While Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t breed in Florida, they occur throughout the state outside of the breeding season.
Wintering birds are most often Sharp-Shinned Hawks from Canada that spend the cold season in the Sunshine State.
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
This little Florida hawk is agile and plenty of skill when it comes to catching small birds in flight. Sometimes it will even take species that are larger than itself.
Male Cooper’s Hawks have reddish-orange bars on their underside, while their upperparts are grayish-blue. The piercing eyes are vermillion red.
You’re most likely to notice the orange coloration on the chest and underside of a Cooper’s Hawk if you can observe it perched on a branch.
The long tail and small, rounded wings of the Cooper’s Hawk make it possible for this bird of prey to perform sharp turns and quick maneuvers in the thick foliage of dense forests and shrubs.
While Cooper’s Hawks were originally shy woodland raptors, they are now commonly found in urban areas such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, where they hunt pigeons and songbirds.
It is not unusual for a Cooper’s Hawk to show up at a bird feeder, where it tries to surprise and ambush feeding songbirds with a lightning fast dash from a hidden perch.
It is a winter visitor in the southern half of Florida, while it can be found year-round in the rest of Florida.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
The Red-shouldered Hawk has two distinct populations – one in the eastern US (which includes the Florida population), and another in California and Mexico.
These two populations are separated by more than 1000 miles, and very rarely mix.
The Red-shouldered Hawk is found in lowland forests throughout Florida, where it favors mature woods interspersed with water.
The Florida population of the Red-shouldered Hawk is non-migratory, and adult hawks stay in their nesting territories all year round.
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
The Broad-winged Hawk is a long distance migratory species that spends the winter in South America.
During fall migration, it’s not uncommon to see flocks (also known as “kettles”) of Broad-winged Hawks soaring together to take advantage of thermal currents on their way south.
The Broad-winged Hawk is a scarce breeding bird in the northernmost parts of Florida.
It can be seen more often during migration throughout Florida, and is a year-round resident in the southernmost parts of the state.
The preferred habitats of these medium-sized birds are extended forests, where the best way to detect them is by listening to their whistling call.
Scientific name: Buteo brachyurus
The Short-tailed Hawk is primarily a species of Central and South America, but also has a small breeding population in Florida.
The Florida population of these raptors numbers only about 500 individuals, and consists mostly of its dark morph.
While Short-tailed Hawks in central Florida are migratory, they are year-round residents in south Florida.
Great places to see these medium-sized raptors are the Florida Keys (especially Key West), and the Everglades National Park.
Unlike most other buteo hawks, Short-tailed Hawks specialize in hunting small birds, which they attack with high speed dives from high altitudes.
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
The Northern Harrier is a breeding bird of the northern parts of North America, but spends the winter in the southern USA and Central America.
This harrier is a winter bird in Florida from October through April, where it frequents open grassland and marshes.
Harriers are most easily identified by their behavior. Their foraging tactic is to fly slowly just a few feet above the ground, in order to pounce on any rodent caught outside its burrow.
Scientific name: Elanus leucurus
The White-tailed Kite is also known as the Black-shouldered Kite, and both of these are apt names for it.
Adult White-tailed Kites have an entirely white underside, head, and tail. Their upper side is light gray, with dark gray patches on the shoulders. The eyes are deep red.
Juvenile birds, on the other hand, have a more brownish color with light streaks.
White-tailed Kites hunt for small rodents, insects and reptiles in open grassland, either from a perch or on the wing.
Similar to kestrels, these birds like to hover in the air over a specific spot, while waiting for a rodent to come out of its burrow.
White-tailed Kites are scarce breeding residents along the coast of Florida, where these birds can be seen year-round.
Related: Types of white birds in Florida
Scientific name: Elanoides forficatus
This elegant raptor is easy to identify in flight, due to the combination of its bright white underparts with its deeply forked tail.
The rear margins of the wings and the tail are black. When perched on a tree, its white head and chest contrast with the dark grayish black upperside.
Similar to other kites, this Florida bird is a skilled hunter and capable of catching insects in flight. Its preferred food are small reptiles, rodents, and insects.
The Swallow-tailed Kite is a summer visitor in Florida, and migrates to Central and South America to spend the winter.
Florida currently has the largest population of breeding Swallow-tailed Kites in North America.
Scientific name: Ictinia mississippiensis
The Mississippi Kite is a sleek raptor with pointed wings resembling those of a falcon. It is a skilled aerial hunter that often hovers and then swoops down to catch flying insects on the wing.
It is a breeding bird in northwestern Florida, where it can be seen between April and September.
This kite is a social bird, and several pairs can often be encountered nesting together in small colonies, and can also be seen foraging together.
It’s preferred habitat are wet woodlands, as well as urban habitats such as golf courses or playing fields.
Scientific name: Rostrhamus sociabilis
The Snail Kite specializes in feeding on one particular kind of snail that is found in freshwater marshes.
After it snatches a snail from the aquatic vegetation in a shallow marsh, it uses its thin, hooked bill to remove the meat of the snail from its shell.
Male Snail Kites are a dark shade of grayish black, except for the tail, which is white at the front end, and black at the rear margin.
A tropical kite species, the Snail Kite only breeds in Florida, but no other US state. It is most commonly found in the Everglades.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
With a wingspan of up to 8 feet, the Bald Eagle is a huge raptor, and impossible to miss if you spot this eagle soaring in the Sunshine State.
Apart from its size, the Bald Eagle is also one of the most easily recognizable birds in Florida, due to its white head and tail, which contrast sharply with the uniformly dark brown body.
Juvenile Bald Eagles are dark brown all over, with light irregular streaks all over the body, as well as a buff white belly.
This huge bird of prey is an uncommon breeding bird throughout Florida, and can be encountered in the state as a year-round resident.
Bald Eagles spend a lot of their time soaring on thermal currents with their wings held flat.
These eagles feed on fish, birds, and small mammals, although a big part of their diet consists of carrion.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
While the Osprey is technically not an eagle, it has a wingspan of up to 69 in (5.5 ft), and resembles an eagle in size.
It is usually easy to identify the Osprey due white belly and chest, which contrast with its blackish gray upperparts and black wrist patches on its lower wings.
This large Florida bird is the only raptor species that plunges into water in order to catch fish, often becoming entirely submerged in the water as it attempts to grab a fish with its feet.
Due to this style of hunting, Ospreys are almost always found close to water, except during migration, when they will cross areas without water.
The Osprey is a regular though not very common breeding bird throughout the state of Florida.
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
The American Kestrel is not only the smallest falcon in North America, but also one of the most common raptors.
Male American Kestrels are very colorful, and sport rufous orange upperparts and and tail, as well as blue gray wings with dark pointed tips.
The male also has a reddish orange cap on its crown, as well as a dark mustache and dark bar behind the eye.
Female American Kestrels are more pale in their coloration, but also have rufous orange upperparts.
When foraging for food, it likes to hover over fields and meadows, or hunt from a perch such as a telephone pole or tree branch.
After it spots a rodent or other small animal, the American Kestrel dives down to grab it with its talons.
The most commonly taken prey during the spring and summer months are insects and worms, while rodents and small birds predominate during the colder months.
It likes to nest in abandoned Woodpecker holes, as well as crevices in buildings. Also accepts nesting boxes installed by humans.
The American Kestrel is a common breeding bird in northern Florida, but is also seen throughout the entire state during the cold season.
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal in the world. Unbelievably, this falcon can dive from the sky at speeds reaching more than 200 mph.
This makes it perhaps the most accomplished Florida raptor on this list, which is mostly seen in the state outside of the breeding season.
However, unlike Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcons feed almost exclusively on birds.
This dietary preference made them highly susceptible to the eggshell-thinning effects of the pesticide DDT, leading to a catastrophic population decline of peregrines in the 1960s and 70s.
But since DDT was made illegal, the Peregrine Falcon population has recovered from its previous decline, and this beautiful raptor is once again a common sight in Florida during the winter.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
The Merlin is a breeding bird of the far north, where it is most common in Canada and Alaska, as well as a few locations in northern US states.
However, it is a highly migratory species, and regularly occurs in Florida during the winter months.
The Merlin is a tiny falcon that is similar in size to a sharp-shinned hawk, and is most often seen flying at low altitude over open ground as it tries to flush out small birds.
The preferred winter habitat of Merlins is open areas that are adjacent to water, such as seashores, tidal flats, rivers, and lakeshores.
The Merlin is increasingly becoming adapted to urban habitats, and is also encountered in city parks, golf courses, and cemeteries.
Scientific name: Caracara plancus
While caracaras belong in the falcon family, they have a very distinctive appearance, due to their large bill and long legs, and their habit of regularly walking on the ground.
Crested Caracaras occur in central Florida as rare breeding birds, but their numbers have recently been increasing.
Similar to vultures, these raptors often feed on carcasses. They are most often observed perched on a tall tree, or flying low over the ground.
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture is the largest vulture species breeding in Florida, and can reach a wingspan of up to 6 feet.
It is a big black raptor with a red head, and dark gray rear margins on their wings, which can be seen in flight.
A soaring Turkey Vulture is easily identifiable due to the fact that it holds its wings in an upright V shape, and has light wingtips.
This big raptor is a year-round resident and breeding bird throughout Florida.
Similar to other vulture species, this raptor is specialized in feeding on carrion, and will often congregate in flocks around roadkill.
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Black Vultures are uncommon breeding birds in Florida, where they can be seen all year round.
Black Vultures are almost entirely black, except for white wing tips that can be seen from below. They have a naked head with wrinkled, dark skin. Adult Black Vulture pairs remain in their breeding territories year-round.
In contrast to Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures don’t have a keen sense of smell. Because of this, they often use Turkey Vultures as “scouts” to find roadkill, and then intimidate the smaller vulture species to chase away from the carrion.
Related: What are the types of black birds in Florida?
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
With a wingspan up to 4 feet, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species breeding in Florida.
It is a large brown-colored bird with two ear tufts (also called horns) and big yellow eyes. In Florida, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February.
This owl is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.
The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds, such as herons or raptors.
It is found year-round throughout Florida, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Florida, from woodlands to urban areas.
This owl is a fierce hunter, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes.
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Somewhat softer and less intense-looking than the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owls are characterized by their white coat of feathers, and their “friendlier” appearance.
Armed with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors and therefore hard to spot. However, they can be readily identified by their characteristic screeching calls.
And if you do spot one flying overhead by the light of the moon, you may be able to see the glow of their white underside.
These owls are present in Florida all year round, and favor open areas and farmland as their hunting grounds.
Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
The Burrowing Owl is a scarce resident of open areas in Florida. It digs its own burrows, but also often takes over burrows from prairie dogs or ground squirrels.
This owl is active both day and night, and hunts insects and small rodents in open areas.
Due to their small size, these owls can be hard to spot in the expanse of open prairies.
They are most often observed perching on a small mound, from where they can scan their surroundings in search of food.
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
The Short-eared Owl is a highly migratory owl species, and while it doesn’t breed in Florida, it is regularly observed in the state outside of the breeding season.
Short-eared Owls are more often observed hunting in daylight than other owls species.
Together with their hunting tactic of flying low over the ground in open areas, this makes these owls relatively easy to spot.
You can encounter these owls in Florida in any kind of open landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land.
Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
Originally birds of open woodlands, Eastern Screech-Owls have adapted very well to urban habitats, and are regularly found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses.
They breed in tree cavities, and are best identified by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots.
These owls are common throughout Florida and can be seen in the state all year round.
They have a very varied diet, which includes any type of small animal ranging from worms to insects and rodents.
Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, which means you can attract them to your backyard by setting up nest boxes.
Scientific name: Strix varia
The Barred Owl was originally a bird of eastern North America, but it steadily expanded its range westwards over the past century.
In Florida, it can be encountered throughout the state where there are suitable habitats.
Similar to other owls, the Barred Owl is easiest to find by listening for its characteristic hooting call.
Their preferred habitat is mature forest and forests bordering swamps. They readily accept nest boxes that are set up in old trees.
And there we have the most commonly found raptors in Florida.
The varied habitats of Florida are home to more than 500 different species of birds, and birds of prey make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.
Ranging from hawks to eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls, these birds of prey play a vital role as apex predators.
Raptors are paramount to maintaining balanced rodent and small wildlife populations, as well as helping to dispose of animal carcasses with scavenging.If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the birds of prey in Michigan.