5 Most Common Birds of Prey in Virginia (with Pictures)

Last Updated on December 15, 2022 by Lily Aldrin

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, are a group of birds that hunt and feed on other animals.

Virginia is home to a variety of these fascinating birds, including the Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Broad Winged Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.

These birds are known for their sharp eyesight, powerful wings, and sharp talons, which they use to capture their prey.

In this article, I will introduce five of the most common birds of prey found in Virginia.

ImageName
Red-Tailed HawkRed-Tailed Hawk
Cooper's HawkCooper's Hawk
Red-Shouldered HawkRed-Shouldered Hawk
Broad Winged HawkBroad Winged Hawk
Rough-legged HawkRough-legged Hawk

Most Common Birds of Prey in Virginia

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk is common and well-known throughout North America, has broad wings, and is built for effortless flight.

It lives in open areas and is frequently spotted perched on light posts by the side of the road or flying over farms and forests.

On its back and the tops of its wings, it has a dark brown to grey-brown coloration.

Its neck and breast are cinnamon in color, while its undersides are light brown or cream.

It has a large, circular, rusty red tail and a black stripe across its belly. Males and females are different sizes.

Does most of its hunting while perched high in the air, then swoops down to seize prey in its talons.

Location and season have an impact on diet.

Voles, rats, rabbits, and ground squirrels are frequently the main prey species.

Male and female soar in the air during courting, shrieking loudly. Males may fly quite high before performing magnificent multiple-dive incubations that last 28 – 35 days.

Read:  19 Birds of Prey in New Jersey (NJ)

During the first several weeks, the female stays close to the young most of the time. 

After around 4 – 5 weeks, food is deposited in the nest, and the young feed on it independently.

The male provides the majority of the food, while the female breaks it into little pieces to feed the young.

After hatching, the young depart the nest around 6 – 7 weeks later.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's hawk

Cooper’s Hawk measures between 14 and 20 inches in length.

The backs of the adults are gray/blue with a white underbelly and rufous bands running horizontally across them.

Three black stripes are present on the tail, and the head bears a black cap.

Mostly uses stealth to hunt, going from perch to perch in tight cover, listening and waiting before putting on a burst of speed to overtake prey.

Mostly eats medium-sized birds, such as robins and jays, After about four weeks, the young can ascend the nest tree, and at about 4 – 5 weeks, they can fly.

Mayfly with sluggish, disproportionate wingbeats across an area.

Before the female starts to lay eggs, the male feeds her for up to a month.

Coniferous or deciduous trees with nest sites that are typically 25–50 feet above ground are used.

3. Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks, which are a little smaller than red-tailed hawks, with rufous striping on their black upper surfaces.

Reddish blotches on the upper back and wrist provide the impression of red shoulders. 

The abdomen and breast have rufous banding on the light-colored underside. With four or five white bands and a white tip, the tail is dark brown overall.

The immature bird has a tail that is barely barred and less coloration at the shoulders.

The female usually lays 3 – 4 eggs that are pale bluish-white blotched with brown and lavender.

Incubation is mostly by females, roughly 33 days.

Read:  20 Common Birds of Prey in Michigan (with Pictures)

The male brings food to the female at the nest and may take a turn sitting on eggs while the female eats.

Usually, 35 – 65 feet above the ground, in the fork of the main trunk, or at the base of branches against the trunk.

It hunts by keeping watch from a perch in a woodland or out in the open, then swooping down when it spots something.

Region and season affect diet.

The primary ingredients are frequently animals like voles and chipmunks, but also frogs and toads. 

Female stays with the young for the first one to three weeks after they hatch; the male provides food, and the female feeds the nestlings.

After hatching, the young depart the nest after around 5 – 7 weeks.

4. Broad Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk

The broad-winged hawk, the smallest buteo in the Midwest, with a pale breast and belly and a dark brown back.

While the adolescent bird’s barring runs vertically and is darker in color, the adult bird has reddish horizontal banding beneath. 

The young bird’s tail is brown with a light-black terminal band, whereas the adult’s tail is brown to grey with wide white stripes.

The sexes are visually similar at all ages.

Hunts by keeping vigil from a perch, generally on the edge of a wooded area or next to a body of water.

When prey is seen, the hawk quickly descends to snare the animal in its talons.

Small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds are all part of its diet. Mice, voles, squirrels, and other small creatures are part of the varied diet.

Usually 2 – 3, maybe 1 – 4. Usually whitish with brown spots. 28 – 31 days of nearly exclusively female incubation. 

During incubation, the male provides food to the female, and he may then perch on the eggs while she eats.

Read:  13 Birds of Prey in North Carolina

For the first one to two weeks after they hatch, the mother stays close to the young nearly constantly.

5. Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-Legged Hawk

The rough-legged hawk, which is about the size of a red-tailed hawk, has feathers on the tips of its feet and along the length of its legs.

It may change from dark melanistic to light color phases, although it never becomes as light as a Krider’s red-tailed hawk.

An extremely dark band across the chest and black patches on the inside of the wrists are present in all color stages.

A white patch at the tail’s base is a useful field mark.

Can be observed hunting across grasslands and agricultural fields. Usually hovers when looking for prey.

The rough-legged hawk, which is about the size of a red-tailed hawk, has feathers on the tips of its feet and along the length of its legs. 

It may change from dark melanistic to light color phases, although it never becomes as light as a Krider’s red-tailed hawk. 

An extremely dark band across the chest and black patches on the inside of the wrists are present in all color stages.

A white patch at the tail’s base is a useful field mark.

Can be observed hunting across grasslands and agricultural fields. Usually hovers when looking for prey.

Conclusion

Birds of prey that are also known as raptors that are found in Virginia are significantly similar yet dissimilar.

Also, they share many common traits, such as how they leap onto their prey and breeding attributes, and also share many dissimilarities when it comes to their diet and other characteristics.

FAQ

What is the average size of a rough-legged hawk?

The size of a rough-legged hawk is similar to a red-tailed hawk.

Which bird is the smallest buteo in the Midwest?

The broad-winged hawk is the smallest buteo in the Midwest.

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.