Are you interested in learning more about birds of prey? There are over 400 species of raptors (birds of prey) in North America alone. You’ll likely run into quite a few if you live near Michigan. Here’s a stunning collection of 20 interesting birds of prey from around the state.
Birds of prey include eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, vultures, kites, harriers, buzzards, eagles, etc. They hunt for their food using vision or hearing. Some birds of prey also nest communally so they may share hunting duties and protection.
There are many amazing things about these magnificent birds, including their ability to soar through the sky and feed off dead animals. Here’s a glimpse of some interesting birds of prey living in Michigan. Enjoy!
The common Michigan birds of prey
1. Short-eared Owl
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
Appearance: The short-eared Owl has a black head, neck, chest, underbelly, and tail. Its body coloration ranges from white to grayish brown, depending upon age and sex. The eyes are yellow-orange, and the face is dark.
This species is often confused with the Northern Hawk Owl, which resembles in size, shape, and plumage patterning. However, the short-eared Owl lacks the large ear tufts found on the Northern Hawk Owl.
Short-eared owls are medium-sized birds. They measure about 13–17 inches in length and 34–41 inches in wingspan. Owls weigh about 3–4 pounds. Their tails are long, measuring up to 4 inches in length.
Diet: They mainly eat rodents, but they’re opportunistic predators that can feed on larger prey such as mice, rats, and even bats.
They catch their prey by swooping down upon it and grabbing it with their talons. Short-eared owls hunt during the day, flying low over open fields and meadows where they spot their prey. When hunting, they often perch on trees or rocks near water sources.
Habitat: Short-eared owls live in open habitats such as prairies and grasslands, where they hunt small mammals like mice and voles. They nest in tree cavities.
2. Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Appearance: The snowy Owl is one of the most recognizable birds in North America. They are large, about 30 inches tall, and weigh up to 3 pounds. They’ve got white plumage with black or brown markings on the body and wings. They have yellow eyes and a dark bill.
Diet: Their diet consists mainly of small rodents like lemmings, voles, mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, and chipmunks. In winter, they feed on fish and frogs.
Habitat: The snowy Owl lives in the Arctic tundras around the world. They live in open areas with very little vegetation.
3. Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Appearance: The great horned Owl is a large bird, standing nearly 25 inches tall, with wingspans reaching up to 4.6 feet.
It has a broad head, a rounded beak, and a heavy, hooked claw at its wing tip. The feathers on the back of its head form a crest.
The great-horned Owl has a light gray body with a darker head and neck. Its face is reddish-brown, and its feet are black. This species’ eyes are yellow-green, and its bill is black.
Diet: It mainly eats small mammals like mice, shrews, and voles. They also eat snakes, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and sometimes carrion.
Habitat: It lives in open woodlands and prairies with plenty of trees and shrubs. It often roosts among the branches of mature coniferous forests.
4. Barred Owl
Scientific name: Strix varias
Appearance: The barbed Owl is one of the unique species of Owl, with a long tail, short legs, and a large head.
Barred owls are muddled, mottled-brown with white markings on their faces, necks, and chests. They have long, pointed wings and short legs.
Their backs, tails, wing tips, and undersides are barred white and brown. This pattern runs vertically down the back and horizontally along the sides of the body.
Their size ranges from 16.9 to 19.7 inches long, weighing up to 37 pounds; their wingspan is 39.0 to 43.3 inches.
Diet: They mostly eat mice, lizards, snakes, frogs, and squirrels.
Habitat: They live primarily in forests, woodlands, grasslands, and shrublands.
5. Eastern Screech Owl
Scientific name: Megascops asio
Appearance: The Eastern screech owl is one of the most common owls in North America. It is a medium-sized bird that stands about 6.3 – 9.8 inches tall and weighs 4.2–8.6 pounds with an 18–24 inches wingspan.
They are greyish brown with heavy streaks of black spots. They’re yellow, and their beaks are light.
Diet: The diet of Eastern screech owls consists mainly of crayfish, earthworms, insects, songbirds, amphibians, and small mammals. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter.
Habitat: They live mainly in woodland areas, clearings, and meadows, where they hunt at night from perch.
6. The American Barn Owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Appearance: They look rusty colored with several light greyish patches. Their underparts and faces range from cream to white.
The average weight of an American barn owl is about 25 pounds, with a wingspan of 31 to 37 inches long. They measure between 13 to 15 inches in length.
Diet: They prefer to eat voles, but sometimes they can eat lizards, frogs, insects, and even birds.
Habitat: Barn owls are nocturnal birds of prey found throughout North America. They fly over open countryside, nestling in old buildings and barn walls. They live in open woods, woodland borders, grassland, and farmland.
7. American Kestrel
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
Appearance: Males have blue-gray head and wing colors, while females have red-colored wings, back, and tails. Juveniles look similar to adult females.
They are usually 9 to 12 inches long, weigh between 2.8 and 5.8 lbs, and have a wingspan of 20 to 24 inches.
Diet: During the summer, they eat insects but will hunt for small animals (like rodents) in the winter. They eat frogs, birds, mice, and snakes when in cities.
Habitat: They are highly adaptable and can survive in various habitats, including deserts, mountains, tropical lowlands, and even urban areas.
8. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
Appearance: The adult male peregrine falcons have a slate gray back, white cheek patch, and white breasts. On the other hand, the female has a brownish back, a light buffy color on her cheeks, and bright yellow breasts.
A peregrine falcon has a wingspan of up to 41 inches and weighs between 12 and 53 pounds.
Diet: They feed on other birds without knowing which species they eat. Primary sources include songbirds, ducks, geese, grouse, and pigeons.
Peregrines often hunt near, waiting for unsuspecting prey to fly into sight. If the target prey does not come within reach, the falcon flies down and catches it.
Habitat: Peregrines live in temperate regions worldwide, including Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Appearance: Ospreys are large birds of prey found throughout North America. They’re known for their long necks and distinctive head shape.
Their upper parts are dark brown, while their undersides are white. Their heads are usually white, although their eyes are red. Ospreys have dark wing patches under their wings.
They are enormous, measuring between 22 and 25 inches and 59-71 inches in wingspan.
Diet: Ospreys eat mainly fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and sometimes carrion.
Habitat: They nest near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, bays, estuaries, coastal lagoons, and even oceans. And they don’t build nests; they use natural cavities like caves and hollow trees.
10. American Bald Eagle
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Appearance: The American Bald Eagle has been around since 1680, making it one of the oldest species of birds alive today. They live throughout North America, including Alaska and Canada. A male bald eagle can weigh up to 8 pounds and grow to about 4 feet tall. Females typically weigh less than half of that and stand 3 to 4 inches shorter.
They were named after an old English word meaning “white patch” because they had bright white patches on their head.
Most adults have grayish-brown bodies, though young eagles are out with white heads and tail tips before developing dark spots over the next few months. They’re also known for having a “curved beak,” which gives them a distinct profile.
Diet: Their favorite is small fish close to the surface, but they will also eat smaller mammals and wading birds.
Habitat: They live near rivers, lakes, coasts, and wetlands.
11. Golden Eagle
Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
Appearance: Golden eagles are one of the most recognizable birds in North America. They have golden-brown plumages around their heads, while the remainder of their body is brown. This unique coloration pattern makes it easy to spot them from afar.
The bird’s name is derived from the Latin word “aureus,” meaning gold.
They’re also known for their large wingspan — up to 9 feet — and long legs. They are one of the largest birds of prey in the world.
The coloration pattern of golden eagle feathers varies depending on where they live. In some areas, they’re bright yellow; in others, they’re dark brown.
Diet: Golden eagles are known for being one of the most powerful predators around, capable of killing even large prey such as deer, elk, and moose. They hunt by swooping down on their prey and attacking it head-on. This technique allows golden eagles to kill animals much larger than themselves. Their diet consists mostly of carrion, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and occasionally smaller birds and mammals.
Habitat: They can live in different habitats, including deserts and farmland.
12. Crested Caracara
Scientific name: Caracara plancus
Appearance: Their coloration makes it easy to distinguish them from other similar species. They have yellow-orange legs, a sharp black cap set against a white neck, a grey beak, and a yellow-orange face.
They’re usually between 1.1kg and 1.3kg (2.5lbs to 3 lbs) and have a wingspan between 120-125 cm.
Diet: They primarily feed on carrions, but they may occasionally consume live prey, including amphibians, fish, reptiles, and small mammal species.
Habitat: They’re often seen perched high up in tree branches or flying over large bodies of water. This bird species loves open wooded areas like farmland, golf courses, and grasslands. But it also nests on tall trees, including those along rivers and lakes.
13. Turkey Vulture
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
The Turkey vulture is ubiquitous in Michigan and one of the most abundant birds in the United States.
Turkey Vultures have gray feathers covering most of their wings’ undersides, and they also fly with their wings slightly raised, which resembles the letter “V”.
They have bald red heads, and black feathers cover the rest of their bodies. Their bills are pinkish.
These birds can grow up to 32-36 inch longs, weigh up to three pounds, and have a wingspan of nearly 6 ft.
Diet: They eat mainly carrions, which they can detect from miles away. These birds of prey use their highly developed sense of smell to locate the dead meat from 8 miles.
Habitat: They prefer the open countryside, deserts, foothills, and woods, where they fly to hunt for prey.
14. Black Vulture
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Appearance: The black vulture is one of the most striking birds ever seen. Its head is bald with black skin and sports black plumage over its entire body.
They are about 22-29 inches with a wingspan of 51-66 inches.
Diet: Their favorite food is carrion — animal carcasses left behind by predators.
Habitat: Black vultures like open areas such as fields and roadsides to look for food but only nest in dense forests.
15. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Appearance: Red-tailed hawks have one of the most distinctive appearances among birds. They come in several colors, including red, white, black, gray, and brown. But it turns out there are some subtle differences between the different hues.
Red-tailed hawks have a wide variety of colors and markings. These include a reddish tail tip, white underbelly, black shoulder stripe, and a red patch on their wings. They also have a distinctive pattern on their head. A red band runs along the side of their face and down their neck. This band continues onto their chest and abdomen.
In general, adult males can measure up to 46 cm long and weigh about 2 kg, while females can reach up to 40 cm and weigh around 1.5 kg.
Diet: The red-tailed hawk gets its name because it has a tail that looks like a “red flag.” This bird hunts mostly small rodents such as mice, squirrels, chipmunks, etc., but sometimes it eats birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.
Habitat: Red-tailed hawks are typically found in open areas such as prairies, grasslands, meadows, savannas, and wooded hillsides. However, some populations live in urbanized landscapes, including cities and suburbs. These hawks often nest on tall structures like utility poles, towers, and buildings.
16. Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Appearance: Rough-legged hawks have one of the most distinctive appearances in North America. They live throughout much of Canada and the United States and can be found across the continent. There are two color morphs: dark and light.
The light morph has a brightly spotted chest, a darker belly, and a black wrist patch under the wing. The dark morphs have a blackish chest, a blackish belly, and a white wrist patch. The upper side of the wing is always dark, but the light individuals have some light spotting. Both sexes look alike.
They are about 18 to 24 inches long, weigh about 1.5 and 3.5 lbs, and have a wingspan between 46 to 54 inches.
Diet: Rough-legged Hawks are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals. This bird feeds primarily on rodents. However, it sometimes eats lemming, insects, and other birds such as ducks, frogs, mice, squirrels, and voles, among others.
Habitat: They live in open areas during winter, especially grassland and coastal prairies. They nest in the Arctic, mainly in the tundra region.
17. Broad-Winged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Appearance: The broad-winged hawk is easily identified by its large size, long wings, and distinctive flight pattern. Its body is mostly brown, except for its head, neck, breast, and belly, which are lighter colored. This one is the smallest hawk species in Michigan.
The underside of adults’ broad-wings wings is a reddish barring running horizontally but vertically in juvenile birds.
Juveniles start out looking like adults but gain coloration over time. Adults have darker chests and bellies, and their tails’ undersides are usually barred with black and white.
Broad-winged hawks measure between 13 to 18 inches long. They weigh 9.3 to 19.8 pounds, depending on age, sex, and size. Their average weight is 14.2 pounds. A female broad-winged hawk weighs about 15 pounds, while males usually weigh 16 pounds.
A male measures 17 inches long while females measure 15 inches. Females are slightly smaller than males. Males weigh about 2 ounces less than females. The broad-winged hawk’s wing span ranges from 32 to 39 inches.
Diet: Broad-winged hawks are predators that primarily on small prey. They hunt mainly during daylight hours. Their diet includes nestlings, young birds, eggs, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and some invertebrates like snails.
Habitat: They tend to live in woodlands, usually deciduous or mixtureous forests, rather than the coniferous forest.
18. Red-shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey found throughout Central America and South America. They are usually seen alone or in pairs.
Appearance: Red-shouldered Hawks have a barred rufous chest. Adults are colorful hawks with black-and-white chequered wings and red-brown barred breasts. The tail is black, with narrow white bands. Young are brown above and white beneath, marked with brown streaks. In all stages, the tips of the wings are edged with thin, pale, crescent shapes.
They are between 17 and 24 inches long and weigh 1 to 1.5 pounds. Their wingspans range from 35 to 50 inches.
Diet: They are omnivorous, feeding mostly on small mammals and insects. Their diet includes mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, lizards, snakes, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths, butterflies, and snails.
However, they also eat birds, fish, eggs, carrion, and fruit. It flies low over fields and roads, looking for prey when hunting. Its long legs allow it to cross short distances. It often perches on fence posts and telephone lines.
Habitat: Red-shouldered Hawks are primarily forest dwellers. It prefers deciduous forests with an open sub-canopy but can sometimes be found in forested suburbs.
19. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Appearance: The Cooper’s hawk is one of the most beautiful birds of prey in Michigan, but it’s also one of the rarest.
Cooper’s hawks are known for their gorgeous plumage. Their backs and wings are blackish-blue and have white spots along their sides. But it’s their eyes that set them apart. Unlike most birds of prey, whose eyes are usually red, Cooper’s hawks’ eyes are bright red. This coloration helps them see better in low-light conditions.
During the flight, they display crescent-shaped translucent patches surrounding their wings.
They’re about 15 to 18″ long, weigh between 8 to 24 lbs, and have a 24 to 35″ wingspan.
Diet: Cooper’s hawks are among the most common raptors found in Michigan. They hunt small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Their diet consists mostly of insects, including grasshoppers and crickets.
Habitat: There are fewer than 200 nesting pairs left in Michigan. This bird species is found throughout North America, though it prefers forests.
20. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Appearance: The sharp-shinned hawk is a medium-sized raptor with a distinctive shape. Its head is large and triangular. Its back is dark gray, it has an orange bar upper chest, and its underbelly is white. It’s got a long tail with dark stripes.
It has a long, slender beak. Its feet are webbed, which allows it to walk on water.
Males are usually larger than females. They range from 9.4 to 13.4 inches long and weigh 3 to 8 lbs. Their wingspan ranges from 17 to 22 inches.
Diet: They feed mainly on small birds, from about sparrows sizes to robins. Sometimes eats smaller numbers of rodents, bats, and larger insects.
Habitat: Sharp-shinned Hawks live near lakes, rivers, or streams in wooded areas. They prefer deciduous trees, especially those with dense foliage.
There are many different kinds of birds of prey found throughout the state of Michigan. Many people do not even know about these beautiful creatures because they live mostly in remote areas with no human settlements nearby. However, there are still plenty of opportunities to view these fascinating animals closely and personally.
The best places to spot these majestic predators include national parks, wildlife refuges, and nature preserves. You never know what might fly over your head while you enjoy the great outdoors, so we hope you enjoyed our guide!