With prominent hooked bills, large powerful talons, incredible speed and keen eyesight these deadly predators of the skies fill legends and folklore with tales of their might.
It’s easy to see why we want to get a look at these majestic birds and this guide will help you identify all the birds of prey in Virginia by sight and sound.
Birds of prey are made up of two orders of birds, the Falconiformes, and Strigiformes. Falconiformes are also known as raptors and include eagles, condors, kites, hawks, vultures, kites, and osprey. Strigiformes are known as owls.
Virginia has 30 birds of prey that have been spotted here which includes owls, eagles, hawks, vultures, falcons, kites, and osprey.
Birds of prey hunt and eat other animals, mainly mammals, reptiles, and smaller birds, but some also hunt fish. Most hunt in the diurnal and hunt in the day, except owls which are mostly nocturnal and hunt at night.
Check out all the birds of prey you can spot in Virginia
30 Birds Of Prey In Virginia
1. Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls are residents of Virginia all year but they are spotted more during winter. They are recorded in 1% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Great Horned Owls are one of the most common owls in North America.
Their most unique physical characteristic is their “Great Horns” which aren’t really horns but ear tufts. They’re tufts of feathers that they use as camouflage to make them appear like branches of trees.
They have grayish to reddish-brown faces, large yellow eyes outlined in black, and their hooked bills are dark gray.
The coloring and patterns of Great Horned Owls are also mainly for camouflage. Their backs and wings are mottled with gray, brown, black, or white. They can be darker or lighter depending on the region they are from and are smaller in the south than in the north.
Juveniles have white, cinnamon, or gray fluffy feathers that make them look “puffed up”. Their barring is less visible, and their ear tufts are smaller and hardly seen.
- 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)
Great Horned Owls are widespread throughout North America and do not migrate.
You can find Great Horned Owls in almost any environment in North America. As long as they have nesting sites, roosting sites, and an abundance of prey, they will be able to adapt to forests, deserts, grasslands, or cities.
Their varied diet includes small rodents such as mice, skunks, geese, and hares. They will also eat insects, fish, and carrion.
Great Horned also hunt other raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine falcons, or other owls.
They hunt from a perch, scanning their territory and swooping down to capture their prey with their strong talons. They will also hunt from the ground or wade in the water.
Great Horned Owls: The distinctive 5-note Hoo call of the Great Horned Owl is made by both males and females, but females are higher pitched. They also make various whistles, shrieks, hisses, and coos.
Nests of Great Horned Owls are usually in trees, and they often use an old nest from another species. They line the nest with bark, leaves, downy feathers, or pellets but sometimes leave it unlined. The female lays up to four eggs that are incubated for around a month.
Fun Fact: Great Horned Owls are the crows’ number one enemy. Crows will usually mob Great Horned Owls in their nests, and that is one of the best ways to find them.
2. Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech-Owls do not migrate and are spotted in Virginia all year.
Eastern Screech Owls are short, stocky birds with mottled coloring, and they are either more red or gray depending on location. They have a large head and almost no neck. Their patterned and spotted camouflage makes them hard to spot against tree bark.
They are only about the size of a robin but much bulkier.
- Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in (16 – 25 cm)
- Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz (121 – 244 g)
- Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in (48 – 61 cm)
Eastern Screech-Owls do not migrate and, as their name suggests, are resident in the eastern half of the US.
You can find Eastern Screech-Owls in woods and parks, and you may find one sunning itself in a tree cavity on cold sunny days or by the excited mobbing of songbirds when they find them. A pile of pellets is also a giveaway.
Eastern Screech-Owls hunt mostly at night but also at dawn and dusk. They hunt for small animals, including birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. They often sit and wait for prey to pass and then pounce from their perches.
Eastern Screech-Owls calls: They have a range of calls, hoots, screeches, and whistles. The common ones are a shrill descending whinny and a constant bouncing call which is known as a tremolo.
Nests of Eastern Screech-Owls are often in abandoned woodpecker nests as they never dig one themselves. They don’t add any nesting material, and instead, they lay their eggs on whatever debris is on the bottom of the cavity. They lay two to six white eggs.
Fun Fact: Young Screech Owls may fight to the death in the nest, often over food. This is known as siblicide.
3. Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owls are winter birds in Virginia and are spotted in the north and along the coast from November to April.
Short-eared Owls are aptly named because they do have short ear tufts, hardly visible except when in a defensive pose.
They are medium-sized, with a large, round, pale facial disk bordered in white. Their eyes are yellow and outlined in black. Their bills are short, hooked, and black.
Their backs and wings are light and dark brown and white mottling. The upper breast is heavily streaked with dark brown, but the chests and bellies are pale or buffy. Their tails are also barred with dark brown.
- Asio flammeus
- Length: 13.4 – 16.9 in (34 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 7.3 – 16.8 oz (206 – 475 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5 – 40.5 in (85 – 103 cm)
Short-eared owls that breed in Canada and Alaska usually migrate to the US for winter, but many remain all year in northern US states.
You can find Short-eared Owls everywhere in the world except for Antarctica and Australia. They particularly like uninhabited areas since they nest and roost on the ground, such as open prairies, coastal grasslands, tundra, marshes, and dunes.
Unlike most owls, Short-eared Owls hunt during the day, mostly at dawn and dusk, timing their hunt when voles are especially active.
They fly low over the ground looking and listening for movement from their prey of small mammals such as voles and mice.
They also eat birds like gulls and shorebirds, and usually take off the wings of the birds before they eat them.
Short-eared Owls calls: They are relatively quiet, but they make a series of continuous hoots and also scream, bark and whine.
Nests of Short-eared Owls are built by scraping the ground into a bowl and lining it with grass and soft feathers. They are usually concealed among tall grasses and low plants, and the female lays four to seven eggs but may lay more if their prey is abundant. Incubation is around four to five weeks.
Fun Fact: Short-eared owls are not very vocal, but during courtship, the males will make about a dozen hoots, and they may bark, whine or scream when defending the nest.
4. Barn Owl
Barn Owls do not migrate and are residents of Virginia all year.
Barn Owls are the most widespread land birds in the world, with as many as thirty-five subspecies and they are found on all continents except Antarctica and the Saharan desert.
Barn Owls’ white heart-shaped faces and contrasting dark eyes make them one of the most beloved owls.
Their chests, bellies, and underwings are also white with varying amounts of spots. Their upperparts are a combination of gray, brown, and red colors, with some being lighter or darker than others. They have long rounded wings, short tails, and long legs.
- Tyto furcata
- Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in (32 – 40 cm)
- Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz (400 – 700 g)
- Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in (100 – 125 cm)
Barn Owls do not migrate and can be found in most US states and just across the northwestern border into Canada.
You can find Barn Owls in largely open habitats, edges of forests, agricultural fields and farmlands, suburbs, and cities.
During the day, make sure to look in hollow logs and cavities in trees and in barns (hence their name) where they roost.
Barn Owls predominantly find prey by sound as they have the best hearing of any animal tested. This helps them to catch prey in complete darkness or those hidden under vegetation or snow.
Their usual prey includes small mammals like rats, voles, bats, rabbits, and lemmings. They will also hunt and kill small birds, lizards, and insects.
They swallow their prey whole and cough up pellets containing bones and fur twice a day.
Barn Owl Calls: They don’t hoot, but make a harsh screech.
Nests of Barn Owls are usually in tree cavities or caves and often in barns or other abandoned or quiet buildings. They lay up to eighteen white eggs and up to three broods. The incubation takes around a month.
The nest is made of regurgitated pellets arranged into a cup with their feet.
Fun Facts: Females have spots on their chests that have been shown to reduce parasites, and so the more spots the female has, the more a male helps build the nest!
5. Snowy Owl
Snowy Owls are considered vulnerable and rare species in Virginia but they spend winter along the coast from November to March.
Male Snowy Owls are either white all over or have a small amount of brown spots.
Female Snowy Owls have flecks of dark brown to black on their backs, wings, and flanks, unlike the more white males. They also have thicker and more complete barring on their tails compared to the males.
Snowy Owls have bright yellow eyes, and their legs and feet are fully covered with feathers to protect them from the cold, harsh weather of the Arctic. They have thick dark bars on their wingtips but incomplete bars on their tails.
Juveniles have extensive brown barring all over their bodies except their faces, underwings, legs, and feet.
- Bubo scandiacus
- Length: 20.5-27.9 in (52-71 cm)
- Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz (1600-2950 g)
- Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in (126-145 cm)
Snowy Owls breed in the arctic around the world, including the north of Canada, and migrate to southern Canada and northern US states.
You can find Snowy Owls in open Arctic tundra and prefer to situate themselves in areas with vantage points like hummocks, ridges, knolls, and bluffs so that they can keep a close watch on their surroundings.
Grassy meadows and marshes are favorite areas for hunting. However, they may move southward for the winter when prey is lacking. They may visit coastal dunes, lakeshores, prairies, and other shrubby environments that are similar to what they have in the Arctic.
Snowy Owls are diurnal, unlike most other owls, and spend the 24-hour summer daylight hunting in the arctic.
They hunt small mammals, especially lemmings, and can eat 1600 in a year.
They also catch birds in flight, such as ptarmigan or waterfowl. In winter, they will eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, and birds such as ducks and geese.
Snowy Owls calls: They make a strong raspy Hoo sound. They also hoot, whistle, and hiss if threatened.
Nests of Snowy Owls are just scraped, shallow hollows in the ground on one of the raised areas of the tundra. They pick a windswept rise that will be blown free of snow and reuse the nest for many years.
The nests themselves have no insulating materials. The female lays three to eleven eggs at 2-day intervals. Incubation begins as soon as the first egg is laid. Both parents feed the chicks, with the female turning their food into bite-sized pieces.
Fun Fact: The Snowy Owl is also known as the Arctic Owl, the Polar Owl, and the White Owl.
6. Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owls are not very common in Virginia but they are winter birds here and are occasionally spotted from November to mid-April.
Long-eared Owls are slender, medium-sized owls known for their obvious ear tufts, hence their name. They look similar to Great Horned Owls but are much smaller, and the ear tufts are closer together.
They have a surprised expression due to their facial disc and mustache-like feathers around their bill.
Their upperparts are mottled gray, brown, white, and buff. Their underparts have a unique cross-barred pattern of varying orange, brown, black, and white. Their tails are white with dark brown barring.
They are darker in eastern US states and lighter in the west.
- Asio otus
- Length: 13.8 – 15.8 in (35 – 40 cm)
- Weight: 7.8 – 15.3 oz (220 – 435 g)
- Wingspan: 35.4 – 39.4 in (90 – 100 cm)
Long-eared Owls breed in Canada and northern US states and migrate to the rest of the US and Mexico for winter. However, some remain resident all year, especially in inland western US states.
You can find Long-eared Owls in wooded areas with dense coniferous or deciduous trees for roosting and near open grasslands for hunting. The thick foliage of these trees helps camouflage them from potential predators.
Small mammals such as voles, mice, young rats, and rabbits are the main prey of Long-eared Owls, but they may also eat small birds
They fly just a few feet off the ground, listening for movement of prey.
Long-eared Owls calls: They are relatively silent owls but make slow, steady ‘whoo’ calls during the breeding season.
Nests of Long-eared Owls are often stick nests abandoned by other species, or they use tree cavities or hollows.
The female lays up to ten eggs and incubates them for about four weeks. It takes around three weeks for the chicks to start “branching” out even though their parents will still feed them at this point.
Fun Fact: Long-eared Owls are rarely heard except during breeding time. They make soft low hoots and whistles, whines, shrieks, and cat-like meows.
7. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owls are usually spotted in the northwest of Virginia during winter and some are also spotted during fall migration.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are one of the smallest owls in North America, with them being about the size of a robin.
They have tiny brown bodies but large round heads with fine white streaks. Their eyes are bright yellow with thick white feathers forming a “Y” in between them.
Their backs and wings are brown with white spots. Their chests and bellies are white with brown streaks.
Juveniles have plain brown heads and very visible white eyebrows on brown facial discs. Their underparts are plain cinnamon brown, and they also have no spots on their backs.
- Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1 – 8.3 in (18 – 21 cm)
- Weight: 2.3 – 5.3 oz (65 – 151 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5 – 18.9 in (42 – 48 cm)
Northern Saw-whet Owls are usually resident all year in Canada, northern US states, and western US states. However, they may migrate to lower areas in winter to the rest of the US.
You can find Northern Saw-whet Owls in dense coniferous forests where they roost hidden among the thick branches and foliage. However, they like it near an open area and water source where they hunt.
They are nocturnal, so they hunt mostly mice from a perch at night. They may also eat voles, bats, chipmunks, and squirrels.
Northern Saw-whet Owls calls: A long series of urgent hoo calls.
Nests of Northern Saw-whet Owls are tree cavities that have been left from other species, such as Pileated Woodpeckers. They do not add any other nesting material and instead lay their eggs directly on the debris.
The female lays four to seven eggs that take four weeks to incubate. The male’s job is to bring the female food while she’s incubating.
Attracting Northern Saw-whet Owls to your backyard is possible with a nest box if you are in range and have lots of trees.
Fun Fact: The Northern Saw-whet Owl got its name from its repeated tooting whistle, or the “skiew” sound that it makes when it’s alarmed or threatened. The sound is similar to the whetting of a saw.
8. Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owls are considered accidental species in Virginia, and according to records, they have unfortunately not been spotted here for a long time.
Burrowing Owls are small, long-legged owls that typically lives in prairie dog burrows (hence its name).
Adult Burrowing Owls generally have brown feathers with numerous white spots and no ear tufts.
They have yellow eyes and bills and a white patch on their chins which becomes visible when they bob their heads or when they become agitated.
Juveniles are also generally brown, they have no white spots on their heads, and they have plain white bellies.
- Athene cunicularia
- Length: 9 – 11 in (23 – 28 cm)
- Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g)
- Wingspan: 20 – 24 in (51 – 61 cm)
Burrowing Owls breed in western US states and migrate south to Mexico for winter. Those in southwestern US states and Florida remain all year.
You can find Burrowing Owls in deserts and open grasslands, prairies, and agricultural areas. Rather than looking for them in trees, look for them hunting on the ground, nesting in underground dens, and perching on fence posts.
Burrowing owls hunt both day and night.
They rest in their burrows in between hunting. They sit and wait from their perch and then silently glide to their prey. They catch mice, small rabbits, rats, gophers, bats, lizards, and small birds.
They can run and fly low when hunting on land, but they can also wade through shallow water to catch other animals.
Burrowing Owls calls: They are relatively quiet owls. Males make a coo call, and the young are able to mimic a rattlesnake rasp.
Nests of Burrowing Owls are old, underground holes dug by prairie dogs, badgers, and other burrowing animals. Florida Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows, and Cape Coral has at least 1,000 nesting pairs. They may also use old pipes or nest boxes.
The female lays seven to twelve eggs which she incubates for three to four weeks. The male supports her by bringing food. When the eggs hatch, both parents feed their young and will continue to do so until they’re about three months.
Fun Fact: Burrowing Owls use animal dung or manure to attract insects to the burrow and control the microclimate! The dung or manure that is often used in nest building was originally thought to mask the scent of juvenile owls.
9. Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles can be spotted all year in Virginia, but their numbers increase during winter from September to April. They are recorded in 6% of summer checklists and 13% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The Bald Eagle is a widely-recognized bird of prey. It has a white head, yellow eyes, and a large, hooked yellow bill. Its body is chocolate brown, and its legs are yellow, with huge talons.
Females look similar to males, except they’re about 25% larger. Juveniles have dark brown heads and bodies with variable white mottling or streaking until they reach their fifth year.
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Length: 34 – 43 in (86 – 109 cm)
- Weight: 168 oz (4761 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 96 in (183 – 244 cm)
Bald Eagles breed predominantly in Canada and then migrate to the United States for winter. However, some remain resident all year, especially in coastal regions.
You can find the Bald Eagle, during its breeding season, in wetland environments. Open and large bodies of water with plenty of fish are ideal spots.
When they’re nesting, roosting, or perching, Bald Eagles, need tall, mature, and large trees for good visibility and have to have an open structure allowing the Bald Eagles to see the forest floor, and must be near water, especially when nesting.
In the winter, Bald Eagles flock to spots with a lot of perches around unfrozen water with plenty of fish. When there’s no available unfrozen water source, Bald Eagles will congregate in open habitats with medium-sized mammals like in prairies and meadows.
Bald Eagles are opportunistic feeders and will eat what is available in their environment. Their favorite food is fish, and they prefer large ones, like trout and salmon. They may hunt these fish themselves or steal them away from other birds. Sometimes, they also eat carrion (dead) fish.
They also eat medium to large-sized birds, like ducks, herons, owls, and geese. During winter, bald eagles turn to mammals for their prey when fishing for food is not as lucrative. They will initially target weak, dying, or young prey. They hunt rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, beavers, and deer fawns.
Bald Eagle Calls: The squeak of the Bald Eagle does not fit its size as they make a rather disappointing high-pitched whistle!
Nests of Bald Eagles are large and sturdy to be able to withstand their size and weight. They build a stick nest, around 6 feet in diameter and 4 feet high. The male brings the materials such as sticks, grass, moss, and downy feathers, and then the female puts it all together.
Bald Eagles’ nests are considered the largest of any bird in North America.
Females may lay one to three eggs per year in the wild. In captivity, they may lay up to seven eggs. The parents take turns in incubating the eggs for thirty-five days. Whoever is not sitting on the eggs gets to hunt for food to feed the other.
Fun Fact: The Bald Eagle has been the national symbol of America since 1782. It may be named “bald,” but it isn’t actually bald. The old version of “bald” actually meant “white,” referring to its white head and tail.
10. Golden Eagle
Golden Eagles are not very common in Virginia, but there have been sightings here during winter, especially in November. They are mostly seen in the west of the state.
Golden Eagles are the most widely distributed eagles in the world. Their crown and nape (neck) are golden-brown and are a sight to behold when in the right light.
Their bodies are darker brown but with pale flight feathers. Their eyes vary from light yellow to dark brown. They have a yellow cere, which is the skin on the beak which attaches to the forehead, and their bill is dark at the tip.
While adults look similar, females are larger than males. Juveniles are also similar, but they tend to have a darker color, sometimes appearing black on the back. They also have white patches on the underside of their wings and some white coloring on the tail.
The Golden Eagle has six subspecies: European Golden Eagle, Iberian Golden Eagle, Asian Golden Eagle, Japanese Golden Eagle, North American Golden Eagle, and the Kamchatkan Golden Eagle. Their differences lie in their size and the slight variations in the color of their feathers.
- Aquila chrysaetos
- Length: 27 – 38 in (69 – 97 cm)
- Weight: 160 oz (4534 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 96 in (183 – 244 cm)
Golden Eagles that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south for winter to the United States and northern Mexico. However, Golden Eagles in western US states remain all year.
You can find Golden Eagles in mountainous habitats far above the treelines. They also inhabit canyons, riverside cliffs, and bluffs when nesting. They generally prefer to avoid human presence.
If you want to get a birds-eye view of a Golden Eagles’ day, then check out the video below, but only if you’re not scared of heights!
Since Golden Eagles are birds of prey, naturally, they’d prey on small to medium-sized animals like rabbits, prairie dogs, and hares. On occasion, they may also hunt and take down larger prey like cranes, swans, and domestic livestock. They usually hunt in pairs, with one chasing down the prey until it gets tired, and then the other swoops in for the kill.
Golden Eagle Call: The main calls that are made by Golden Eagles are during the breeding season when chicks are begging, and parents respond. Otherwise, they are pretty quiet. They make high-pitched whistled calls.
Nests of Golden Eagles are usually located at high elevations, like cliffs. However, they also build them in trees or artificial structures like observation towers, nesting platforms, and even windmills. They’re built high so the parents can have a wide view over their nesting and hunting grounds.
Golden Eagle nests take anywhere from one to three months to build out of sticks and plant material.
They even line their nests with aromatic leaves to keep the insects and other pests at bay. These nests are re-used for many years and grow in size as the adults continue to add material to them.
The female lays one to three eggs, and the parents take turns in incubating the eggs from forty-one to forty-five days. The chick hatches from its egg in 37 hours.
Fun Fact: The Golden Eagle, the Rough-legged Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk are the only American birds of prey that have feathers on their legs up to their toes.
11. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Although highly migratory, the Sharp-shinned Hawk can be seen all year in northwest Virginia and in winter in southeast Virginia. They are not very common and are in less than 3% of bird sightings in Virginia.
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest hawk in Virginia. They are smaller than a crow but slightly larger than a Jay.
The females are a third bigger than the male. They have long tails, with a square end, and short, rounded wings and have small heads.
- Length: 9.4-13.4 in (24-34 cm)
- Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz (87-218 g)
- Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in (43-56 cm)
Adult Sharp-shinned Hawks are blue-gray across the back and have a red-orange breast. They have dark bands across their tails.
They are very secretive but can be seen as they fly across open areas at the edges of forests. They are very agile and can speed through dense woods to catch their prey in flight, usually songbirds.
They can sometimes be seen near feeders catching small birds, but if you have problems with them in your backyard remove the feeder for a few weeks.
Sharp-shinned Hawks pluck their prey on a stump or low branch before eating it. They usually eat songbirds about the size of a robin.
Nests of the Sharp-shinned Hawk are often in conifer trees in dense cover, usually towards the top of tall trees. The nest is quite large being 1-2 feet in diameter and 4-6 inches deep. They lay 3-8 white or pale-blue mottled eggs.
12. Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawks can be seen all year round in the northwest of Virginia and in the southeast of Virginia. They are more common woodland hawks than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They have been sighted in 4% of checklists in Virginia.
Look out for them at the edge of forests, but they can also be seen at feeders looking for an easy meal.
The Cooper’s Hawk looks very similar to the Sharp-shinned Hawk but is bigger at about the size of a crow. They can be hard to identify between them as they have the same blue-gray back and red-orange breast and also with dark bands on the tail. They have a larger head that projects well beyond the wings, unlike the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
- Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm)
- Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g)
- Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm)
- Length: 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm)
- Weight: 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
- Wingspan: 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)
They feed on medium-sized birds and small mammals and nest in tall trees, often on top of an old nest of a large bird or clump of mistletoe. They lay 2-6 pale blue to bluish-white eggs.
13. Red-shouldered Hawk
The Red-shouldered Hawk can be found all year in Virginia. They tend to be seen near wet forests hunting along a stream or pond. Their prey is mammals and frogs or snakes.
Red-shouldered Hawks are distinctly marked, with dark and white checkered wings and reddish barring on the breast. They are medium-sized, between the size of a crow and a swan with a strongly banded tail. They make a loud cack-cack-cack-cack call.
- 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)
Nests are often reused each year in a broad-leaved tree near water. They lay 2-5 white or bluish eggs.
14. Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-winged Hawks breed in Virginia, before migrating in large numbers to South America in a swirling flock called a kettle. They breed more in the west of the state. They are not often observed in Virginia, being in just 1% of recorded checklists on ebird.
The migration in fall is the best chance to see them.
The Broad-winged Hawk is a compact, stocky bird between the size of a crow and goose. They have reddish-brown heads, barred breasts, and narrowly banded short square tails.
- Length: 13.4-17.3 in (34-44 cm)
- Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz (265-560 g)
- Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in (81-100 cm)
Hunting from a perch often on the edge of woods or by water, these hawks eat small mammals, frogs, snakes, and even young turtles.
The Broad-winged Hawk often reuses the nest of another animal, such as a crow or squirrel and lays 2-3 whitish eggs.
15. Red-tailed Hawks
Red-tailed Hawks can be found in Virginia all year and are common, being seen in over 9% of sightings in Virginia. They are also the easiest to spot, often on long car journeys, as they circle slowly over open fields looking for prey. You can also see them perched on telephone poles.
- Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm)
- Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g)
- Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
- Length: 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm)
- Weight: 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g)
- Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm)
As their name suggests, the Red-tailed Hawk has a distinctive short, wide red tail. They are large, with broad, rounded wings, between the size of a crow and goose. Most Red-tailed Hawks are brown on the back and pale underneath.
The high-pitched descending raspy-screech sound of the Red-tailed Hawk is often used in movies for all raptors. They eat small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Nests are high in very tall trees or on cliff ledges and sometimes on tall buildings or towers. They lay 2-3 whitish, brown blotched eggs.
16. Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged Hawks migrate from the arctic and are found in the north of Virginia in the winter. They are not very common in the state and are only seen in less than 1% of sightings. Rough-legged Hawks are usually sighted hovering over marshes and open fields or perched on a pole.
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
The feathered legs give the Rough-legged Hawks their name and help to keep them warm in the arctic. They are fairly large hawks, between the size of a crow and a goose.
This predominantly dark-drown species occurs in both light and dark forms, with dark patches at the bend of the wing, end of their tails, and across the belly. They have broad wings that are fairly long and narrow, compared to other hawks.
Lemmings and voles provide most of the prey for Rough-legged Hawks. Voles, mice, ground squirrels, and other small mammals provide winter prey in states such as Virginia. Nests are usually on a high cliff ledge and they lay 3-5 pale bluish-white eggs.
17. Northern Harrier
The Northern Harrier is in Virginia in the winter but can be found all year in the far northeast of the state. This slim, longed-tailed Hawk can be seen gliding low over grassland or marshes. They are not often spotted in recorded checklists.
- 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)
These hawks are slender with long broad wings and are between the size of a crow and goose. They often fly with the tips of their wings higher than their bodies in a v-shape. Females are brown and males are gray above and white below and they have a white rump patch.
Northern Harriers mostly eat small mammals and small birds. They nest on the ground in dense vegetation such as reeds, willows, or brushtails. They lay 4-5 dull white eggs
18. Northern Goshawk
The Northern Goshawk might be found in winter in Virginia but not very often as this is the edge of their winter territory.
They live in large forests so are hard to find, especially as they are very secretive and can be aggressive if you get too close to a nest.
They are the bigger and fiercer relative of the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. These hawks are between the size of a crow and a goose. They are mostly gray with short, broad wings and a long tail. They have a white stripe over the eye and yellow eyes.
- Length: 20.9-25.2 in (53-64 cm)
- Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz (631-1364 g)
- Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in (103-117 cm)
Goshawks live in large tracks of mostly coniferous or mixed forests. They watch for prey on high perches and mostly eat medium-sized birds and small mammals.
Northern Goshawks prepare up to eight nests and lay between 2-4 bluish-white eggs.
19. Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vultures can be found all year in Virginia. They are recorded in 26% of summer checklists and winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Turkey Vultures are aptly named. They do look like turkeys with their big, bald, red heads and upper necks and brownish-black bodies. However, they are larger than turkeys, and when they’re in flight, their broad wings are slightly raised and make a “V”.
Under their wings, they have gray coloring, making it seem like they’re two-toned. Their eyes are dark brown, and their bills are light-colored.
There are a total of 6 subspecies of Turkey Vultures, and three of them are in North America, which is why they are sometimes classified as “Northern” Turkey Vultures. There are only minor differences among them, mainly tail and wing proportions and color in the underwing feathers.
- Cathartes aura
- Length: 26 – 32 in (66 – 81 cm)
- Weight: 51.2 oz (1451 g)
- Wingspan: 68 – 72 in (173 – 183 cm)
You can find Turkey Vultures in a wide range of habitats, but the most common is open and semi-open areas next to woodlands. They need open areas, like grasslands, shrublands, deserts, and wetlands for foraging. They also need forests with high trees for nesting and roosting, and they need middle to high elevations, like hills and mountainous areas, to give them a height advantage for taking flight.
Sometimes, they will also venture into farmlands or pasturelands for foraging and roosting. Human-made structures are also taken over by them when they’re in urban areas, but only if they can’t find their preferred habitats.
Turkey Vultures’ main source of food is carrion or recently dead or decaying animals as long as it hasn’t decayed too much. They may feed on roadkill and washed-up fish and may even kill small or weak animals.
Turkey Vultures calls: They can only make a raspy hissing sound but are usually silent.
Nests of Turkey Vultures are often found in sheltered areas, like crevices in cliffs and old buildings. They may also use hollow trees or logs and dense thickets. However, they don’t actually build nests. Instead, the female just lays one to three eggs on the ground at the nesting site. Incubation takes around thirty-eight to forty-one days and is accomplished by both parents.
Fun Facts: The sense of smell of Turkey Vultures is quite strong, and they’re able to detect odors of decaying or dead animals on the ground from great distances.
When Turkey Vultures are threatened or aggravated, they will vomit to provide a distraction and fly away. They may even pretend to be dead.
20. Black Vulture
Black Vultures are residents of Virginia all year. They are recorded in 10% of summer checklists and 12% of winter checklists.
The body of the Black Vulture is black. They’re considered the blackest of all the vultures. Their backs, wings, breasts, bellies, and tails are black, although they have silvery patches on the underside of their wings that make it look like they have fingers when in flight. Their eyes are brown, and they have grayish-white legs.
The Black Vulture has a gray, featherless head and neck that look like wrinkled skin.
Black Vultures are “bald” out of necessity because it needs to stick its head into the bodies of dead animals to get to their juiciest parts. Having feathers on their heads will make it hard for them to clean themselves up when bits and pieces of the carrion stick to the feathers.
The Black Vulture is also commonly called American Black Vulture but is not its official name. It’s only meant to distinguish it from the Eurasian Black Vulture, Aegypius monachus.
- Coragyps atratus
- Length: 23 – 27 in (58 – 69 cm)
- Weight: 76.8 oz (2177 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 60 in (137 – 152 cm)
You can find Black Vultures in open areas of lowland and middle elevations. They are often seen in forested landscapes and roost in wooded areas that are close to water. Other habitats include shrublands, grasslands, swamps, and pastures, and they are even sighted in human-occupied towns foraging in trash cans and garbage dumps.
Black Vultures eat practically anything, but mainly they eat carrion or decaying animals. They may be able to see dead animals on the ground themselves, but they usually rely on other scavenger birds to direct them towards food.
They eat small to large-sized dead poultry, raccoons, coyotes, snakes, and even floating fish. They also kill small or vulnerable animals like newborn calves, lambs, and tortoises and spend time at the dumpsters and landfills rummaging among the trash.
Black Vultures Calls: They do not make many sounds and instead have a deep ‘coo’ grunt.
Nests of Black Vultures technically are non-existent since they don’t build them. They just lay their eggs on the ground in places like caves, abandoned buildings, and thickets. They may also put them inside hollow trees and tree stumps and re-use successful nesting sites for many years.
Female Black Vultures lay one to three eggs that both parents incubate for twenty-eight to forty-one days. Once they hatch, they are fed by their parents through regurgitation, meaning parents spit up food from their own stomachs and into the mouths of their babes. They nurture their young for as long as eight months.
Black vultures form strong social bonds such that they have communal roosts and they share food among relatives. They’re extremely selective about non-relatives joining in the communal roosts and will attack those who will try.
Fun Fact: The Black Vulture has a keen sense of sight but not a keen sense of smell, so it will follow others that have that skill in order to find food.
21. American Kestrel
American Kestrels spend winter in Virginia but they are also spotted in the west of the state all year. They are recorded in 1% of summer checklists and 4% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
American Kestrels are the smallest and most colorful falcons in North America. Males and females have different colors and markings.
Adult Male American Kestrels have dark gray heads with varying amounts of rufous on the crown, white throats, blue-black bills, and unique vertical slashes on their white faces – one under their eyes and another behind their eyes. This is significant because most falcons only have one.
Their bellies and breasts are orange with brown spots, their backs are red-brown, their wings are blue-gray with white spotting, and they have yellow legs and feet. Their underwings appear spotted. Their tails are reddish-brown with one broad black band and a white tip.
Female American Kestrels share similar traits with the males – rufous crowns, gray heads, white faces, and two black vertical slashes on the face. They also both have two black spots at the back of their heads that deceives potential attackers when hunting from the rear.
However, female American Kestrels have a general rufous coloring, particularly on their backs and wings, and their barring is more pronounced. They have white bellies and breasts with rufous streaks. Their tails are also reddish-brown with many bars.
- Falco Sparverius
- Length: 9 – 12 in (23 – 30 cm)
- Weight: 3.9 oz (111 g)
- Wingspan: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
American Kestrels are the most common falcon with seventeen subspecies living in varied environments and habitats across the Americas. With many subspecies, American Kestrels have plenty of regional variation in their coloring, markings, and vocalizations.
American Kestrels are found in North and South America. Those that breed in Canada migrate south for winter, but the rest remain resident all year.
You can find American Kestrels mainly in open areas without dense cover as they prefer viewing their whole territory from a single perch.
They typically live in grasslands, pastures, plains, meadows, agricultural fields, deserts, and even urban environments. You may see them perched on fence posts, lone trees, and low shrubs.
Since American Kestrels can inhabit a wide range of environments, they can also have a diverse range of prey. They can hunt and eat grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, beetles, and dragonflies. What they do is sit and wait on a perch. When they have their prey in sight, they either catch it on the ground or while in flight.
American Kestrels can also hunt by hovering while scanning for prey on the ground.
They may use this strategy when hunting mice, voles, lizards, frogs, and small birds. American Kestrels only attack when they’re sure that they will succeed.
American Kestrel Call:
Nests of American Kestrels include abandoned nests of woodpeckers or other birds, their own tree cavities which they’re reusing, their old nesting sites along cliff ledges and tops of buildings, and tree holes or cavities in cactuses. They also make use of artificial nest boxes.
Female American Kestrels usually lay up to seven eggs. Incubation begins only when all eggs have been laid. The female incubates the eggs for about a month. During this time, the male hunts for food and feeds his bounty to the female. He may sometimes assist in incubation to let the female hunt on her own.
Attracting American Kestrels to your backyard is possible if you put up nest boxes that are within their preferred habitats. They need a perch and open area and preferably with no outdoor pets.
Fun Fact: American Kestrels can see using ultraviolet light which comes in handy when trying to hunt their prey. It is especially handy when seeing the trails of urine that are left by voles that allow the American Kestrels to pinpoint their exact location.
Merlins are winter birds in Virginia and are mainly spotted from September to April.
Merlins are small but fierce falcons that have as many as nine subspecies, three are in North America and the rest are in Europe and Asia. In North America, these three subspecies have varying degrees of coloration depending on their geographic location.
The Black Merlin, Pacific Northwest or Coastal Forest Merlins are very dark blue almost black with white or brown-streaked undersides. The Taiga Merlins have intermediate coloring and Prairie Merlins are the palest of the three.
They are all darker on the back and paler on the underside, but this may range from white to brown. They have small hooked bills and yellow skin at the base of their dark bills and around their dark eyes.
- Falco columbarius
- Length: 11 – 13 in (28 – 33 cm)
- Weight: 7.4 oz (210 g)
- Wingspan: 23 – 26 in (58 – 66 cm)
Merlins breed in Canada, Alaska, and northern US states before migrating into the rest of the US, and down into northern South America. They also breed in northern Europe and migrate to southern Europe and the Middle East for winter.
You can find Pacific Northwest Merlins in coastal areas, Prairie Merlins in open areas with shrubs, and Taiga Merlins near forested openings near water. Merlins are slowly moving into urban areas too.
Merlins are usually on the hunt for small birds, whichever has the most supply in their habitat. They attack from the air, chasing their prey at high speed until their prey becomes exhausted.
Breeding pairs also hunt together, with one bird flushing out prey from the ground and the other catching the disturbed prey from above. They will also supplement their main diet with other animals like insects and reptiles.
Nests of Merlins are mostly in cliffs and tree cavities without the adults adding any material to them. Sometimes, they will use abandoned birds’ nests. What’s important for Merlins is that they be able to see over their territory. The female lays four to five eggs and will incubate them for about a month.
Fun Fact: Merlins were once known as “Pigeon Hawk” in North America.
23. Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcons have been spotted along the coast of Virginia all year but they are most common during migration from September to mid-November.
The Peregrine Falcon holds several distinctions. It is known as the fastest bird in the world, the fastest of all animals, and it is also the world’s most widespread raptor.
Peregrine Falcons are dark on the back and lighter underneath and they appear to have dark gray to black hoods on their heads. Their tails are bluish-black with bars, a black tip, and white rims. They have yellow legs and feet.
They have predominantly dark heads with bright yellow earrings, yellow ceres (base of the bill), and gray-to-black hooked bills. Their backs and wings are bluish-black with faint barring and black wingtips. Their underwings, flanks, bellies, and thighs are heavily barred with black and white.
Their throats and breasts may be all-white but sometimes they are spotted or barred.
Females are larger but similarly colored as the males. Juveniles generally have brown coloring and they have heavily streaked underneath. Their eyerings and ceres are also bluish, instead of yellow.
- Falco peregrinus
- Length: 16 – 20 in (41 – 51 cm)
- Weight: 52.91 oz (1499 g)
- Wingspan: 43 – 46 in (109 – 117 cm)
Peregrine Falcons are widespread throughout the world. In North America they breed predominantly in the arctic and migrate to coastal and southern states.
You can find Peregrine Falcons anywhere in the world except Antarctica. They prefer mountain ranges, open landscapes with cliffs, along rivers and coastlines, and more recently, in urban areas. Generally, they will stay in habitats that have an abundant supply of prey.
Peregrine Falcons are expert hunters, dive-bombing birds, practically any size, at extremely high speeds. Their typical prey include ducks, pigeons, jays, larks, ptarmigans, and starlings. On occasion, they may kill and eat bats and sometimes steal prey like fish and rodents from other hunting birds.
Peregrine Falcon Call:
Nests of Peregrine Falcons are usually on cliff ledges, up to 1,300 feet high. In urban areas, they are mostly found on skyscrapers and tall bridges. In other regions, they use tree hollows for nests.
Typical nests are scrapes where the female “scrapes” a depression in the earth (either soil, sand, or gravel) and where she lays two to six eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for as many as thirty-three days with the male taking the day shift and the female at night.
Fun Fact: The Peregrine Falcon was considered an Endangered Species from the 1950s to the 1970s because of DDT poisoning. When this pesticide was banned, the species began to thrive again. Today, it’s considered a species of Least Concern.
24. Prairie Falcon
Prairie Falcons are extremely rare in Virginia and are considered accidental species in the state. They have only been spotted around Alexandria in 2017.
Prairie Falcons are the arid-environment counterparts of peregrine falcons although they’re lighter and need less food than the peregrines. They are sandy-brown on their crowns, napes, backs, and wings.
They have a thin, dark mustache stripe on their faces, white cheeks, and eyebrows. Their underparts are also white with neat brown spotting. Their tails are lighter-colored than their wings and when in flight, they have visible “armpit” feathers that are unique to them.
Females are similar to males except that they’re larger. Juveniles are also the same as the adults but they are darker in color and have heavy brown streaking on their underparts. Their ceres (base of the bill) and legs are grayish.
- Falco mexicanus
- Length: 15 – 19 in (38 – 48 cm)
- Weight: 19.2 oz (544 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 42 in (102 – 107 cm)
Prairie Falcons are widespread in western US states and can also be found in southwestern Canada and northern Mexico.
You can find Prairie Falcons in open areas like prairies, dry plains, and barren mountains, with cliffs and buffs for nesting. They also frequent grasslands, agricultural fields, alpine tundra, and high desert.
The diet of Prairie Falcons is mostly small mammals and small to medium-sized birds. When looking for prey, Prairie Falcons prefer to hunt and stalk prey smaller than themselves so that they’re easier to kill.
Prairie Falcons can easily kill ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, sparrows, doves, quail, pigeons, mallards, and even lizards and snakes. When nesting, they will hunt prey that they can carry home for their young and their females. They are also known to stash food in separate sites in case hunting is not successful.
Prairie Falcon Call:
Nests of Prairie Falcons are often found on ledges on a cliff, halfway up the cliff face to prevent predators from reaching them. They will also make use of both natural and artificial crevices as nests. They may also nest in trees, caves, and on top of buildings.
Prairie Falcons’ nests are just scrapes or depressions which hold the eggs. The female lays around two to six eggs that she alone incubates roughly for about forty days. During this time, the male hunts and feeds her. It takes around sixty-five days for the young to be self-sufficient.
Fun Fact: Prairie Falcons can dive at speeds of up to 120 mph in their pursuit of food.
25. Crested Caracara
Crested Caracaras are considered rare or accidental species in Virginia but they were spotted around Berryville in 2022.
Crested Caracaras are large, dark-bodied falcons with distinctive flat heads with black scruffy crowns, and massive orange bills with gray tips. These chunky birds feed on carrion and are aggressive to other birds such as vultures muscling in on their food.
Their throats and rumps are white as are their breasts but with black fine barring. Their bellies and wings are black. Their tails are white with black barring and a thick black band at the tip. Their legs and feet are yellow.
Southern Crested Caracaras are browner than Northern Crested Caracaras which are more black.
Juveniles of both Crested Caracaras look similar to the adults except they’re browner. They have gray or purple facial skin, a buff neck and throat, white with brown streaking on the chest, neck, and back and grayish legs and feet.
- Caracara cheriway
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 33.6 oz (952 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 48 in (114 – 122 cm)
Crested Caracara do not migrate and are found in Central and South America, Mexico, and southern US states. They are also spotted more sporadically across the rest of the United States and into Canada.
You can find Crested Caracaras in open and semi-open areas, like prairies, deserts, savannahs, and agricultural lands. It’s easy to find them as they’re most often perched on high vantage points like fence posts, trees, and cacti as they look out for prey.
They also spend a lot of time on the ground, but not in areas with thick ground cover because this prevents them from doing a running headstart and being able to lift themselves up in flight.
Crested Caracaras are opportunistic hunters. They will go where the prey is and will do anything to get what they can find. For instance, they are known to eat carrion or bodies of small animals that have recently died. They will wade in the water to catch fish with their bills and turtle eggs with their feet.
They also take advantage of fires that disturb animals and give the Crested Caracaras a chance to capture fleeing animals. They also stay with vultures and wait for them to open a dead body since their own bills aren’t capable of it, but then try to chase the vultures away.
Crested Caracara Call:
Nests of Crested Caracaras are built from twigs and vines usually high up in trees, lodged in between strong branches of trees, or in the crooks of cactus arms. The female lays up to four eggs and both parents incubate the eggs for about a month.
Fun Fact: Crested Caracaras are unique in the sense that they’re the only falcon species that build their own nests instead of simply using cavities in trees or taking over abandoned nests of other birds.
Gyrfalcons are considered accidental species in Virginia, and according to records, they have not been spotted here for a long time.
Gyrfalcons are the largest Falcons and are apex predators of the Arctic, where they snatch birds from the sky or dive at great speed to catch unsuspecting prey from the ground.
Their coloring varies greatly but generally have three morphs – white, silver/gray, and dark. Silver/gray is most common in North America
The silver/gray morphs are heavily banded gray and white on their upperparts but some are mostly gray without obvious banding. Their underparts are evenly spotted and white at the throat. Juveniles have solid dark heads and are browner overall.
The White morphs of Gyrfalcons are white with brown/black barring on their upperparts with dark wingtips and a white tail. Some birds have barring on their tails and spots on their breasts. Juveniles are similar but have more barring on their upperparts but have faint streaks on their underparts.
- Falco rusticolus
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 41.6 oz (1179 g)
- Wingspan: 48 – 64 in (122 – 163 cm)
Gyrfalcons breed in the high arctic of Canada before migrating south across Canada and northern US states, those that breed further south in the arctic remain all year. They are also found in Europe.
You can find Gyrfalcons in one of the harshest places on earth, the arctic tundra. They usually stay on cliffs near shorelines or rivers and with a vast open space where they can easily hunt prey. When they migrate during the winter, they stay in areas with plenty of birds for them to hunt, like coasts, reservoirs, grasslands, farmlands, and river valleys.
Gyrfalcons primarily hunt ptarmigans and waterfowl but they also hunt and eat songbirds. Their diet is not limited to birds since they also prey on hares, ground squirrels, and arctic foxes.
They may hunt low by cruising near the ground to scare birds and animals and immediately grab them with their talons. When hunting while flying, they usually strike down their prey from above and let them fall to the ground. They will then retrieve it.
Nests of Gyrfalcons are often found on cliffs. They don’t build their own nests but instead make use of abandoned nests of other birds. The female lays up to five eggs and she incubates them for as many as thirty-six days.
Fun Fact: When the chicks aren’t able to finish off their meal, the female Gyrfalcon will keep or store their leftovers behind some vegetation to retrieve for later.
27. Mississippi Kite
Mississippi Kites are considered rare species in Virginia but they spend the breeding season in the state, from May to October.
Mississippi Kites are small and slender birds of prey. They have light gray heads, red eyes with a dark eye patch in front, and small, strongly hooked dark bills.
Their underparts are light gray while their upperparts are dark gray. Their primary wings are dark gray, their secondary wings are white, and wingtips are black. They have long, dark tails and red legs and feet.
Male and female Mississippi Kites look similar except that males are slightly paler than females. Juveniles have heavily streaked brown and white bellies, heavily mottled wings, and long, banded tails.
- Ictinia mississippiensis
- Length: 13 – 17 in (33 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 12.6 oz (357 g)
- Wingspan: 34 – 37 in (86 – 94 cm)
Mississippi Kites breed in southern and eastern United States and migrate to South America, mainly Argentina, Paraguay, Uraguay, and southern Brazil.
You can find Mississippi Kites in small woodland forests in the prairies, dense old-growth hardwood forests, and more recently, in tree-lined areas like windbreaks, shelterbelts, city parks, golf courses, and other urban areas.
It is best to keep your sights above the trees for they love to sail on the wind and float in the air. In cityscapes, they’re likely to perch on tall buildings.
Most of the time, Mississippi Kites forage from the air and catch their prey and eat them while in flight. They capture medium to large-sized insects like grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, and dragonflies.
They also hunt from their perch in trees and snag snakes, turtles, small birds, lizards, frogs, and fish. Sometimes, they hang around bison, horses, deer, and people and snatch whatever insects are flushed out by their activities.
Mississippi Kite Call:
Nests of Mississippi Kites are built on most types of trees. They can use tree branches that are a few feet off the ground or even as high as 115 feet up. They can build them on their own using twigs, leaves, and moss or they can re-use old, abandoned nests by other birds or even squirrels.
Both adults build the nest together and the female lays one to three eggs in it. They both take the time to incubate the eggs for about twenty-nine to thirty-two days. Mississippi Kites usually nest in colonies and will sometimes accept help with the nest from a one-year-old bird.
They’re also very protective of their nest and will attack anyone, people and animals alike when they get too close.
Fun Fact: Mississippi Kites are more successful at producing offspring in their urban habitats because there are fewer predators there than in forests and woodlands.
28. Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kites are spotted in Virginia during migration but they are not very common here.
Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender birds of prey that are most often seen hovering in the skies with their distinctive forked tail.
Males and females look similar and have white heads and underparts and black bills, flight feathers, tails, and feet. Their underwings are both black and white. Their long, forked tails resemble a swallow’s hence the name “swallow-tailed”.
Juveniles are paler in comparison and their tails are not that deeply forked.
- Elanoides forficatus
- Length: 19 – 25 in (48 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 15.6 oz (442 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 50 in (114 – 127 cm)
Swallow-tailed Kites are predominantly resident in South America but they breed around the Gulf Coast of the United States.
You can find Swallow-tailed Kites in swamps, marshes, and humid, lowland forests. When nesting, look for them in tall trees around open areas with an abundance of small prey to feed their young.
Swallow-tailed Kites almost always spend their time in flight so it’s best to look skyward when looking for them. Also, summer is the best time to see them since they migrate to South America for the winter.
Swallow-tailed Kites are graceful, acrobatic hunters and they usually catch their prey mid-air.
Insects like dragonflies, cicadas, wasps, bees, crickets, and beetles are their primary food. They also eat small snakes, frogs, lizards, and small birds when flying in from the treetops.
They eat their prey immediately during their flight. When catching prey to feed their mates and their young, they will usually carry the food item with their feet and then transfer it to their beaks to give to the female.
Swallow-tailed Kite Call:
Nests of Swallow-tailed Kites are often concealed by foliage in the tallest of trees in the forest. Both adults build a new nest each year and they bring materials like sticks, lichens, and moss to the nesting site. Other times, they may repair and reuse their old nesting site.
The female lays one to three eggs and incubation takes twenty-four to twenty-eight days. Not all young survive since sometimes the eldest chick will kill the younger, smaller sibling, particularly if there’s not enough food.
Fun Fact: Swallow-tailed Kites are famous for their aerial acrobatics and they twist, turn, roll and dive whilst flicking their forked tail in pursuit of prey.
29. White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kites are accidental species in Virginia. They are extremely rare in the state and were last spotted in 2015.
White-tailed kites are small graceful raptors with white faces and underparts and dark gray wings.
White-tailed kites are small and narrow with white faces and underparts. Adults look similar. Their eyes are red and their hooked bills are black. Their wings are gray with black patches on their shoulders. Underneath, their wings are white and gray. Their tails are short, square, and pale gray.
Juveniles have a reddish-brown coloring on their crowns and breasts, but they have similar white faces, dark shoulders, and gray wings as the adults.
- Elanus leucurus
- Length: 15 – 17 in (38 – 43 cm)
- Weight: 12 oz (340 g)
- Wingspan: 40 – 42 in (102 – 107 cm)
White-tailed Kites are resident all year in southern US states and along the Pacific Coast.
You can find White-tailed Kites within a limited range in the United States. They are usually in open savannahs, desert grasslands, cultivated fields, and partially cleared lands.
During the non-breeding season, it’s easy to spot them since they roost in groups communally on trees and tall shrubs at the edge of grasslands.
White-tailed Kites’ usual meal involves rodents, like voles, field mice, and gophers, and may include small birds, snakes, lizards, and frogs. They will also catch flying insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, as they’re flying.
When hunting, White-tailed Kites are noted for their hovering motion above ground before they swoop in to grab their prey with their talons.
White-tailed Kite Call:
Nests of White-tailed Kites are usually made of thin twigs and built high atop tall trees, about ten to one hundred sixty feet tall. The male brings the twigs, grass, hay, and leaves and the female builds them.
She will then lay about four eggs and incubates them for a month. She is fed by the male during this time.
Fun Fact: White-tailed Kites hover in one position while hunting by facing into the wind and fluttering their wings – this is known as ‘kiting’.
Ospreys spend the breeding season in the east of Virginia but they are also spotted during migration in the west of the state. They are most common from March to September but some hang around here all year.
They appear in up to 14% of summer checklists.
Ospreys are large, fierce-looking birds of prey that are also known as fish hawks or sea hawks for their specialized ability to catch large fish. Their outer toe can turn backward and they have long powerful talons and spiny scales on the soles of their feet which aid them in grasping slippery, strong fish.
There is only one species of Osprey around the world, however, there are three subspecies, but they are all generally brown on the back and white underneath.
Their heads are white, with some brown streaking on their crowns and foreheads. They have a distinctive broad brown line through their eyes that extends to the sides of their necks. Their eyes are yellow and their bills are black and extremely hooked. Their breasts have a pale, sometimes dark, band. Their legs and feet are gray with black talons.
Adults are fairly similar except that males are slightly slimmer with narrower wings and their breast bands are pale and sometimes nonexistent.
Juveniles have slightly buff feathers and scaled, brown upperparts.
Ospreys fly with M-shaped wings when seen from below.
- Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 21 – 24 in (53 – 61 cm)
- Weight: 63.49 oz (1799 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 72 in (137 -183 cm)
You can find Ospreys practically anywhere in the world, except Antarctica, particularly with large bodies of water. They can tolerate any habitat as long as the food is accessible and abundant.
Ospreys feed almost exclusively on live fish. They will search for prey and when found, hover over water, then dive, feet and talons first, to capture fish. They will then carry the fish to a nearby perch or carry it over longer distances. On some occasions, they may target rodents, rabbits, snakes, frogs, and birds.
Nests of Ospreys are often built on elevated sites, like treetops, cliffs, and man-made platforms. Nest habitats must be within easy access to their favorite prey, fish. Nests are also built in open environments to allow for easy landings. Nests are made of sticks and lined with grasses, vines, and algae.
Ospreys build up their nests over time so even if the nests start small, they can grow large and deep. Female Ospreys lay one to four eggs and they take about thirty-five to forty-three days to hatch.
Attracting Ospreys to your backyard is possible if you provide the proper nest platform and if you live near the water with an abundant fish supply.
Fun Facts: Ospreys have reversible outer toes, like owls, that allow them to easily and securely grasp fish. They also have closeable nostrils to keep water from entering their noses when they plunge into the water.