19 Birds of Prey in Pennsylvania

Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by Lily Aldrin

Throughout the globe, you may find 557 different types of prey birds.

In Pennsylvania, the world’s 33rd biggest state, you may find a wide variety of birds of prey, including eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures, owls, ospreys, and many more.

A great variety of raptor species may be found across Pennsylvania.

There are over 19 different types of raptors that are often seen there.

In this article, I’ll explain more about the 19 birds of prey that are common across Pennsylvania.

ImageName
Sharp-Shinned HawkSharp-Shinned Hawk
Red Shoulder HawkRed Shoulder Hawk
Red-tailed HawkRed-tailed Hawk
Cooper's HawkCooper's Hawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk
Broad-wings HawkBroad-wings Hawk
OspreyOsprey
Barred OwlBarred Owl
Great Horned OwlGreat Horned Owl
Snowy OwlSnowy Owl
Eastern Screech-OwlEastern Screech-Owl
Northern Saw-whet OwlNorthern Saw-whet Owl
American Barn OwlAmerican Barn Owl
Short-Eared OwlShort-Eared Owl
American KestrelAmerican Kestrel
Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon
Bald EagleBald Eagle
Black VultureBlack Vulture
Turkey VultureTurkey Vulture

Birds of Prey in Pennsylvania

1. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

When it comes to birds of prey, the Sharp-shinned Hawk is among the smallest across Pennsylvania, but it is also one of the most agile.

These birds of prey may often be seen soaring and swooping through the trees or hovering briefly at the bird feeders.

Appearance

These birds may be recognized by the narrow orange stripes on their upper chests that gradually narrow down to their bellies and the blue-gray coloration of their backs and wings.

When in flight, the wings are small and rounded, but the tail is lengthy. Women often outweigh men by a large margin.

These hawks may be seen often across Pennsylvania’s forests. They prey on the visiting songbirds and are hence most frequently spotted at bird feeders.

When hunting birds, which make approximately 90 % of their food, these raptors are opportunistic feeders, waiting patiently in hiding and then launching themselves out at incredible speed.

Listening to the distinctive calls of the Sharp-shinned Hawk is one technique to confirm the sighting.

They will often let out a series of high-pitched “kik-kiik-kiik” sounds.

2. Red Shoulder Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

When perched, the crimson shoulders of a Red-shouldered Hawk stand out against the rufous chest’s barring, the white underwings, and the highly banded tail.

Habitat

Unlike Red-tailed Hawks, who prefer open regions, Red-shouldered Hawks spend much of their time in the trees.

They like forests with a rather open canopy so they can see more of the trees and make more of their hunts.

Suburban regions where buildings and forests have been blended together are also frequent haunts for these raptors.

These raptors have a distinctive hunting technique in which they pounce from above and descend upon their victim.

A Red-shouldered Hawk is an excellent example of this behavior in action as it attempts to capture a squirrel in the garden.

Often, you will hear a Red-shouldered Hawk prior to you actually seeing one. Keep an ear out for a loud “kee-ahh”-like a cry that may be repeated a few times.

3. Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

As among the most common raptors in the state, the Red-tailed Hawk is a common sight throughout Pennsylvania.

On lengthy journeys across the countryside, it is not uncommon to see one of these massive raptors swooping above or sitting on the fence post.

Coloration isn’t a good predictor since Red-tailed Hawk feathers may range from almost white to nearly black. Searching for a crimson tail is a certain method to spot one of them.

Habitat

They are so versatile that their preferred habitats have not been identified since they can thrive just about everywhere.

From Yellowstone’s interior to the streets of a big city to my own suburban garden, I’ve seen Red-tailed Hawks everywhere!

They may be found prospering in a wide variety of environments, including rainforests, parks, woods, deserts, fields, grasslands, scrublands, and roadside ditches.

The resounding cries of a red-tailed hawk are instantly recognizable. Because of the public’s fascination with the Red-tailed Hawk’s distress calls, it is not uncommon for filmmakers to substitute those of the bird when the Bald Eagle is featured in a film.

If you’ve never witnessed a Bald Eagle before, you won’t be disappointed by the lack of majesty in its call.

4. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

Most sightings of these raptors across Pennsylvania have been made in forested areas or at the edges of agricultural fields.

Cooper’s Hawks have a stellar reputation for swift flight. The ones near my home engage in high-speed chases through the treetops in pursuit of their prey.

These birds of prey are often seen in yards around bird feeders, where they feast largely on songbirds because of their remarkable flying ability.

Cooper’s Hawks resemble Sharp-shinned Hawks quite closely visually. Sharp-shinned hawks and these birds are essentially indistinguishable to the naked eye; their steely blue-gray coloring and rufous chests are the only distinguishing features.

Observing the size difference between the two species is the most reliable method for telling them differently.

Sharp-shinned hawks are smaller than Cooper’s. However, if they are in the air, it will be very difficult to tell which one you’re looking at.

A Cooper’s Hawk’s most frequent vocalisation is an alarm cry that goes “kuuck, kuuck, kcuck” or “caak-caak-caak.”

The Sharp-shinned Hawk has a higher pitch. Therefore, you should be listening for a deeper sound.

5. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged Buzzards, Falcons, or Hawks, sometimes known as Rough-legged Hawks, pass the summer season on the Arctic tundra, where they live and breed.

Large raptors such as this only visit Pennsylvania during the winter, when they move south.

In order to stay warm in chilly places, it prefers to reside, and this hawk species possess plumage all the down to its feet, which is unusual for hawks.

Habitat

These hefty, big hawks are best seen in wide-open spaces. They have a distinctive hunting technique that involves hovering and hunting while facing the wind.

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On the contrary, they are among the few raptors capable of really hovering.

Unless they are near their nest, when they emit a mewing sound, these raptors remain quiet.

6. Broad-wings Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawks are well-suited to their woodland habitat because of their short, stocky bodies.

These raptors may be found across Pennsylvania and are rather numerous there, but people seldom get a glimpse of them since they hide out in the woods.

These birds enjoy the summer season across Pennsylvania before migrating to warmer climates in South and Central America.

The annual migrations of broad-winged hawks in the autumn are legendary. The typical bird must make this journey twice yearly, and it is believed that each trip is nearly 4,000 miles one way.

Thousands of these long-distance fliers may be seen making the journey south simultaneously, propelled by prevailing winds.

Getting the opportunity to observe a “kettle” of Broad Winged Hawks is absolutely awe-inspiring.

7. Osprey

Osprey

Ospreys aren’t really hawks, and that is the first point you have to know about them. They are also not eagles either, and scientists have classified them as a genus (Pandion) and a different family (Pandionidae) from every other raptor.

Ospreys are not really hawks, although they do share a lot of physical characteristics with them.

Ospreys are often referred to as River Hawks, Fish Hawks, or Sea Hawks, alluding to their resemblance to hawks.

Fish is the first thing that comes to mind when you picture an Osprey since that is what they consume 99 percent of the time. The talons of an osprey are specially designed for snagging fish.

If you look closely, you’ll see that they’re precisely shaped for grabbing onto slippery fish, thanks to the fact that they’re incredibly curled and even overlap when completely closed.

Ospreys, a kind of bird that can only survive by eating fish, are virtually usually seen in or near bodies of water in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

They establish lifelong pairs and often lay their eggs on nesting platforms set up by humans.

My advice is to put one up if you have access to a big body of water and hope to attract a nesting couple.

If you ever find yourself near a huge body of water, keep your ears peeled for ospreys. Their warning whistles are a sequence of brief, increasingly high-pitched sounds.

It has been likened to the sound of a teapot being removed from a burner.

8. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Pennsylvania is home to the unthreatened nocturnal species known as the Barred Owl (or Hoot Owl).

Its name, “barred,” comes from the horizontal bars of varying shades of brown seen on its back, wings, and tail.

Of all the owl species, the Barred Owl is the one I have seen most often in the wild. They are naturally quite interested in what’s going on around them and will often observe you as you pass.

If they get frightened, they will usually merely go to another tree nearby to resume their research.

Food

Mice and other small animals are the staple diet of the barred owl, although the species may consume almost any kind of meat.

They are opportunistic predators that will swoop down on anything from rabbits, rats, bats, minks, moles, squirrels, opossums, weasels, and a wide range of turtles, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and even sweet, juicy invertebrates as they hunt around the late – night campfire.

What we mean by “classical noises” is that their hoots are the standard noise used in films and stories about spooky Halloween events.

Their familiar question, “Who cooks for you?” is a dead giveaway they’ve called. The calls of the Barred Owl may be heard throughout the day, and the species maintains lifelong pairs.

9. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl’s face is typically orange, having white and black differing lines, making it seem like a tiger.

Since remaining unseen is a primary goal for most predators, this one features horizontal bands on its underbelly that simulate tree branches when viewed from below and mottles of “tree hues” on its upper surface that mimic leafy growth when viewed from above.

Aesthetically, these raptors are intimidating due to their appearance and size.

Those lengthy tufts of plumage on their head, which might be mistaken for ears, are how you’ll identify this species. Take note of their terrifying stares, too. 

It’s not uncommon to see a Great Horned Owl across Pennsylvania. Hooting is a common behavior in owls of both sexes; however, males’ hoots tend to be deeper in tone.

Males will make loud territorial cries that may be heard from many kilometers away. A Great Horned Owl has the best hooting of any owl, in my opinion.

A Great Horned Owl can’t smell very well, which is why they often attack and consume skunks.

Skunk odors may be detected in their vicinity rather often, as can be detected in their nests and pellets

10. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

I think Snowy Owls are the most stunning birds of prey in the Keystone State. Birdwatchers and non-birdwatchers alike are stunned by their brilliant white feathers.

This is a massive bird with a height of 20.7 – 25.2 inches (52.5 – 64 cm), a wingspan of 48 – 60 inches (1.3 to 1.5 meters), and a weight of 3.1 to 4 pounds (1.464 to 1.801 kilograms).

Appearance

Even though Snowy Owls are predominantly white, you can always spot them by the horizontal black stripes that go over their whole bodies (except for the cheeks and chest).

It’s fascinating to observe how people gradually get whiter as they age.

The seasonal changes prompt the snowy owls to make their annual migration. They have their breeding season in the summer on the northern tundra. However, when wintertime rolls along, these birds go south.

The southern range of Snowy Owls is an open question. Snowy owls are seldom seen south of the Arctic Circle in the winter. However, in rare years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and a large number of birds go south.

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Males produce a loud “hooo, hooo” sound while protecting their territory or trying to attract a female. Even from seven kilometers distant, this yell can be heard echoing over the tundra.

Females are less likely to hoot than males, although both sexes sometimes make other sounds, including shrieking, cackling, snapping, and hissing their bills.

11. Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

Screech owls are similar in appearance to professional wrestlers; they are small, stocky, and don’t have any necks.

They measure 4.3 to 8.7 ounces (121 to 244 grams) in weight, 6.2 to 9.9 in (17 to 25 centimeters) in body length, and 17 to 24 in (45 to 61 centimeters) in wing span. About one-third of these owls are red, but the rest are either grey or brown.

The Pennsylvania forests are home to these little raptors. They don’t appear to bother humans too much since they happily set up shop atop streetlights, next to motorways, and even inside inhabited structures.

Eastern Screech-owls create a wide range of cries, hoots, and songs; however, the even-pitched trill, sometimes known as a tremolo, is by far the most well-known.

Between three and six seconds in length, the tremolo is a form of communication utilized by couples to stay in touch with one another.

This tremolo cry reminds me too much of mating toads for my own good!

12. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl

At barely 6.4 to 9.1 inches (18 to 24 centimeters) in length, this species is among the tiniest raptors across Pennsylvania.

They weigh a scant 1.8 to 5.4 ounces (53 to 152 grams) and have a scant 16.1 to 22.3 inches of wing span (41 to 56.3 centimeters).

Common Northern Saw-whet Most owls have muted tones of tan and brown on their feathers.

Food

Deer mice, voles, and shrews are some of their favorite snacks. On occasion, though, these owls may also eat insects, smaller birds, and other invertebrates to augment their diet.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl favors riverine environments with thick evergreen or mixed hardwood woods. As a result of their dwindling numbers, mature trees are essential to their survival.

The warning call of this owl is similar to the whetting (sharpening) of a saw, thus the name. Mating season is when you’re most likely to hear their distinctive cry. At about two frequencies each second, it seems like a “tooo-tooo-tooo.”

13. American Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owls, also known as Monkey-faced Owls, Church Owls, and Ghost Owls, possess a heart-shaped face and a sandy coloration with a dark brown rim.

Owls are adept hunters in part because of the unique shape of their faces, which directs sound directly to the birds’ ears. They have such acute hearing that they can easily track down prey in deep snow or thick vegetation, and they also hunt bats!

Barn owls don’t go far from where they were born. Thus, they often find refuge in old barns (hence the name).

Despite being critically endangered in several areas of their habitat, farmers like them because they help keep rodents (rats and mice) at bay on their land, preventing the spread of illness to other animals.

The typical “hoot” associated with owls is absent from their repertoire. A red-tailed hawk’s distinctive cry is more like theirs. To impress a female, a male may clap his wings together while in flight.

14. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl

The body length of this owl is between 132 to 17 inches (33 to 43 centimeters), its wingspan is between 33.4 to 40.6 inches (84 to 102 centimeters), and its weight is between 7.2 to 16.7 ounces (205 to 475 grams).

Short-eared Owls usually only raise their artificial ears when they are trying to seem threatening. Thus, they are not constantly visible.

At twilight or dawn, on wide fields, meadows, grasslands, or airports, you have the highest chance of seeing these raptors across Pennsylvania.

Habitat

Ground nesting owls like open habitats, including tundra, grasslands, prairies, and savanna.

Parent birds will defecate on their eggs if they are forced to abandon their nest to scare away a predator. Short-eared Owls, like Kildeer, may successfully distract predators from their nest by skipping away and acting lame.

The short-eared owl is not a very loud bird. But when they actually vocalize, these birds’ cry sounds eerily similar to a cat’s mating call.

15. American Kestrel

American kestrels

The American Kestrel, which is about the length of a Robin, is the tiniest raptor in the state of Pennsylvania. Don’t be fooled by their small size; these prey birds are expert predators.

One of the names for a kestrel is “Sparrow Hawk,” so you might be familiar with it. The reason they were given this moniker is that they would literally pluck sparrows and other small birds out of the sky.

Food

Among the most prevalent raptor species in the state of Pennsylvania is the American Kestrel. They often hunt by hovering in the air at a low altitude and snatching at passing insects, rodents, and sometimes birds.

It’s not easy being the tiniest falcon; bigger raptors, as well as snakes like corn snakes and rat snakes, occasionally take them for dinner.

The kestrel’s distinctive cry is similar to the words “klee-klee-klee” or “killy, killy, killy” and is often repeated quickly.

16. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

The peregrine falcon is a large bird of prey that may be seen all throughout Pennsylvania and the world (excluding Antarctica).

These raptors are often seen in urban areas, where they may gain some notoriety because of their penchant for breeding on the sides of high buildings.

Appearance

Individual birds and the sexes show minimal variation in plumage coloration. Slate grey or blue-black with subtle banding may be seen on the back of both males and females.

Thin black stripes cross their breast, which is otherwise white to brown. Young birds tend to have a considerably darker shade of brown than their adult counterparts.

Typical of most falcon species, females tend to be bigger than their male counterparts.

The world record for the fastest animal belongs to the Peregrine Falcon.

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There is no truth to the claim that the cheetah is the fastest animal on Earth. Sure, they can rev it up to an incredible 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour) on the ground.

In contrast, a diving Peregrine Falcon can travel at speeds that reach up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles)! It travels at such high speeds for a long time because it begins its trip at an altitude of up to 3,000 feet.

Birds are the primary prey of the Peregrine Falcon. In reality, scientists have identified at least 450 distinct species of birds as prey. Ducks, songbirds, gulls, and pigeons are all fair game since they are not fussy eaters.

Aside from a warning cry near their nesting place, you won’t hear them very often.

It goes kaack-kaack-kaack-kaack in your ears.

17. Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

If you’re looking for a raptor that stands out in Pennsylvania, go no further than the Bald Eagle.

Did you realize, however, that the “Bald” in their nickname has nothing to do with a lack of cap feathers?

You can notice that these eagles possess full beards and no bald patches on their white feathered faces. Their name comes from the Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch,” in reference to the distinctive appearance of their all-white heads.

Juvenile Bald Eagles may be difficult to recognize due to their similarity to other bird species. At the age of 5 years, these eagles finally have their signature whitish head and a dark brown body.

Up to that point, these birds may be recognized by their motley feathers and splotchy brown and white coloring.

The color of its beak changes as well. Identifying juvenile Bald Eagles needs a LOT of expertise and training.

Habitat

The majority of sightings include some kind of water. This is because fish is such a significant part of their diet. Typically, you may find them near water, such as marshes, lakes, beaches, and rivers.

Forests surrounding big bodies of water are ideal because they provide both suitable fishing spots and massive trees for breeding.

The Bald Eagle’s call is unlike what most people imagine. If you’re picturing an ominous eagle cry, you’re mistaken. With their trills and small whistles, they remind me more of a gull.

In fact, the scream of a Bald Eagle is so underwhelming that the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk is sometimes substituted for it in films for more drama.

18. Black Vulture

Black Vulture

While most vultures subsist on carrion, black vultures sometimes kill prey in order to feast on fresh flesh.

They often attack and kill live opossums, skunks, and farm animals like calves, piglets, and lambs.

Appearance

The term “blackbird” comes from the fact that these birds are entirely covered in black plumage and have black skin on their bald heads. When they go into the air, however, the silver plumage underneath their wings becomes visible.

Black vultures may be distinguished from Turkey vultures with little effort. Keep in mind that Black Vultures possess black-colored heads and are quite small and stocky, whereas Turkey Vultures possess red-colored heads and are rather long and lanky.

When Black Vultures are flying above, you may notice that their wingtips are silver.

Most of a Turkey Vulture’s underwings are covered with grey plumage, and the bird flies with its wings slightly elevated, like the letter “V.”

Habitat

Black vultures may be seen in both wooded and open regions of Pennsylvania. Although they nest and roost in woodlands, these birds may be seen foraging in more open areas like highways and fields.

Vultures like these are often reticent to make any noise. Only grunts and hisses should be audible. I can assure you that you will not be treated to any beautiful music by these birds.

19. Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Pennsylvania is home to the greatest concentration of Turkey Vultures in the state. All black save for a bright red crown and a little pinkish beak; these birds are easy to spot.

The name comes from the common misconception that they resemble Wild Turkeys.

These vultures may be easily seen in the sky if you recognize what to look for. Keep an eye out for a huge raptor swooping erratically in the sky, its wings spread out in a V shape.

This kind of flight is supposed to assist them in flying at low elevations, keeping them near the ground where they can more easily sniff for food.

Turkey Vultures may be found around any animal carcasses. These prey birds rely on their acute smell sense to help them find dead animals.

Their acute sense of smell allows them to locate rotting food from as far as 8 miles (13 kilometers) away. These birds like eating fresh meat and will rush to the scene of a freshly killed animal.

One common sighting location is by the side of the road, where they may be spotted feasting on roadkill. They are usually seen flying freely in the open fields.

These raptors may get so bloated with prey that they are unable to take off quickly when threatened.

As a last resort, they can try to get rid of the food they ate by vomiting it up in a hurried effort to get away.

Conclusion

Predators are commonly portrayed in popular culture as terrifying and murderous. But after reading about these dumpster divers, you may change your mind.

If you make an effort to observe these peculiar birds, you can be rewarded in ways you never imagined.

FAQ

Can you name the biggest bird found in the Keystone State?

Sandhill cranes are the state’s largest bird, with a maximum height of over 4 feet and a wingspan of almost 7 feet.

Which bird has the quickest top speed?

But first, a little history: Without a doubt, the Peregrine Falcon seems to be the fastest bird in the sky. At a stoop or dive, it has been observed at speeds greater than 83.3 m/s (186 miles per hour).

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.