Backyard Birding

Backyard Bird Feeding Station Ideas

Watching birds visit your backyard can be a source of joy and wonder. If you’re a homeowner who loves the company of these feathered friends, creating a welcoming bird feeding station in your yard is a fulfilling endeavor.

In this article, we’ll provide straightforward ideas and tips to help you attract more birds to your outdoor space. From choosing the right location to selecting feeders and bird-friendly plants, we’ll guide you in creating a bird haven just outside your window. Let’s embark on a journey where every mealtime becomes a symphony of chirps and tweets – welcome to the world of backyard bird feeding stations.

Benefits of Bird Feeding Stations

Bird feeding stations offer more than just the pleasure of birdwatching; they play a vital role in nurturing local wildlife and contributing to the ecological balance of your area. If you want to view birds in your back yard, creating a bird feeding station is the best way to proceed.

Here are some key benefits of a bird feeding station:

  1. Biodiversity Enhancement: Bird feeders attract a variety of bird species, which can increase the overall biodiversity of your yard. This diversity can have positive effects on the local ecosystem by supporting different bird populations.
  2. Educational Opportunities: Bird feeding stations provide a unique opportunity for homeowners and their families to learn about the different bird species that visit. It’s a chance to observe their behaviors, feeding habits, and migratory patterns up close.
  3. Stress Reduction: Bird watching is a calming and meditative activity that can help reduce stress and anxiety. Just a few minutes spent observing birds in your backyard can have a soothing effect on your mind.
  4. Pollination and Pest Control: Birds play a role in pollination and insect control, which can benefit your garden and plants. They help keep insect populations in check by consuming many common garden pests.
  5. Connection to Nature: A well-designed bird feeding station can foster a deeper connection to nature, encouraging homeowners to appreciate and protect the environment.

In the sections that follow, we’ll explore the practical aspects of setting up a successful bird feeding station, from choosing the right location to selecting the right feeders and foods to attract a wide variety of birds to your yard.

Choosing the Right Location

The success of your backyard bird feeding station hinges on selecting the perfect location. Birds, like any creatures, prioritize safety, accessibility, and comfort when it comes to dining. Here’s how to pick the right spot:

  1. Safety First: Birds are cautious by nature. Ensure the location is safe from potential predators like cats. Consider placing feeders at least five to six feet from dense shrubs or hiding spots where cats might lurk.
  2. Visibility Matters: To enjoy the avian visitors, position your feeding station near a window or a comfortable viewing spot in your home. This provides an unobstructed view while minimizing disturbances to the birds.
  3. Easy Access: Birds appreciate easy access to food and fresh water. Make sure the feeding station is within flying distance from nearby perches and trees, allowing them to make quick getaways if necessary.
  4. Shelter and Perching Areas: While open spaces are great for visibility, having nearby shelter like bushes or trees can provide resting spots for birds in between feedings. Consider including perches or natural cover in your setup.
  5. Keep it Clean: Choose a location that’s easy to maintain. Fallen seeds and bird droppings can accumulate, so a location with minimal impact on your outdoor living space will make cleanup more manageable.
  6. Sun and Shade Balance: Depending on the climate in your area, consider providing some shade during hot summers and ensuring the location gets adequate sunlight in colder months to prevent feed from spoiling.

Taking these factors into account when selecting your feeding station’s location will set the stage for a welcoming and safe dining experience for your feathered guests.

Types of Bird Feeders

The heart of any bird feeding station lies in its feeders. These essential fixtures come in various styles, each catering to specific bird species and feeding preferences. Having several kinds of feeders is a good idea, as it will generally attract more birds. Here are some of the best bird feeders to consider:

Platform Feeders

Blue Jay on platform feeder
Blue Jay on platform feeder

These flat, open trays are a versatile choice, accommodating a variety of seed types. They are ideal for ground-feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves, but many other species use them as well. Their simple design generally makes them less expensive and easier to clean than many other kinds of feeders. (Here is a great platform feeder for sale on Amazon. The one I have shown above is from Wild Birds Unlimited.)

Hopper Feeders

Hopper feeders are house-shaped and feature a container for holding seeds. They are great for attracting larger birds like cardinals and chickadees. Some models are squirrel-resistant. (Explore hopper feeders on Amazon.)

Tube Feeders

Tube feeder with cage

Tube feeders have multiple ports for birds to access seeds while keeping them protected from the elements. These are perfect for attracting finches, nuthatches, and smaller songbirds. I love my tube feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited, but there are lots of options on Amazon as well.

Some tube feeders have a cage around them that prevents larger birds and predators from getting inside. I use this kind for white millet for my painted buntings. It helps keep them safe, and it keeps out the grackles that will eat up all my birdseed budget in less than an hour! But there are lots of other tube feeders without a cage, and I use one of those as well.

Suet Feeders

Suet feeders hold blocks of high-energy suet cakes, which are especially appealing to woodpeckers, wrens, and insect-eating birds. The most basic suet feeder, also known as a suet cage, is very inexpensive, and you can get them at Walmart as well as on Amazon. You can also get fancier ones if you prefer the loop.

Nyjer (Thistle) Feeders

Designed for tiny seeds like Nyjer (thistle), these feeders attract finches, siskins, and goldfinches. They often feature small, thin feeding ports. Or you can get a cloth-based on known as a Nyjer sock. Both are a great way to feed the species that love Nyjer seeds. (By the way, it’s pronounced “knee zhair”, like the French pronunciation of the African country Niger.)

Nectar Feeders

Nectar feeder for hummingbird

If you’re interested in attracting hummingbirds, nectar feeders with bright colors and special feeding ports are essential. Nectar solutions mimic the flower nectar these birds feed on. You can even make your own hummingbird nectar to save money.

Fruit Feeders

Fruit feeders can be used to offer fresh or dried fruits, attracting orioles, tanagers, and other fruit-loving species.

Squirrel-Proof Feeders

Red-bellied woodpecker on squirrel-proof feeder

Squirrel-proof feeders have mechanisms to prevent squirrels from accessing the bird feed. These can help preserve your bird feed for its intended audience. (This is my favorite squirrel-proof feeder, one I have in my yard. You can see a Red-Bellied woodpecker eating out of it, above.)

The choice of feeder depends on the types of birds you want to attract and the seeds or food you plan to offer. To cater to a diverse range of avian visitors, consider incorporating a mix of these feeder types in your bird feeding station.

A bird feeder pole that can support multiple feeders will help you offer more diverse options in your yard. I particularly like the Advanced Pole System from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Bird Feed Options

Selecting the right bird feed is crucial for attracting specific bird species to your feeding station. Different birds have distinct dietary preferences, so offering a variety of foods can create a diverse avian haven in your yard. Here are some popular bird feed options to consider:

1. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds: These seeds are a favorite among many bird species, including cardinals, chickadees, finches, and sparrows. They have a high oil content, providing essential energy.

2. Nyjer (Thistle) Seed: Nyjer seeds are beloved by finches, siskins, and goldfinches. These tiny seeds require specialized tube feeders with small ports.

3. Safflower Seeds: Safflower seeds are ideal for deterring squirrels and attracting cardinals, chickadees, and grosbeaks. Many squirrels dislike the taste of safflower.

4. Millet: White proso millet is a versatile option that attracts sparrows, doves, and juncos. It can be scattered on platform feeders or used in various mixes.

5. Peanuts: Whole or shelled peanuts are popular with woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and nuthatches. Special peanut feeders are available for offering these treats.

6. Suet: Suet cakes provide high-energy fat and are favored by woodpeckers, wrens, and chickadees. They are especially valuable in cold weather.

7. Fruit: Fresh or dried fruit pieces can attract orioles, tanagers, and mockingbirds. Use fruit feeders or simply place fruit on platform feeders.

8. Mealworms: These live or dried insects are a protein-rich choice adored by bluebirds, robins, and warblers. Mealworm feeders can be used to offer them.

9. Hummingbird Nectar: A mixture of sugar and water (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) in nectar feeders will attract hummingbirds. Red coloring is not necessary and can be harmful to these birds.

10. Cracked Corn: Cracked corn can lure ground-feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and doves. Scatter it on platform feeders or directly on the ground.

To maximize the variety of birds visiting your feeding station, experiment with different seed and food types. Keep in mind that providing fresh, high-quality food is essential for maintaining a healthy bird population in your backyard. In the following sections, we’ll explore the importance of water sources and how landscaping can further enhance your bird-friendly environment.

You can order bird food on Amazon, get it from big-box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, from Tractor Supply and other farm supply stores, or from specialty stores like Wild Birds Unlimited. Some bird seed quality is better than others.

Water Sources

Providing a reliable water source can significantly enhance the appeal of your bird feeding station. Water is essential for birds, not only for drinking but also for bathing. I live on a retention pond, so my backyard birds already have a water option and haven’t really used any I have tried. If you don’t have a water source nearby, consider adding one. Here are some options:

Bird Baths

Bird baths come in various sizes and designs. Opt for shallow basins with textured surfaces to give birds a secure grip. Place them near your feeding station, ensuring a constant supply of clean water.

In colder climates, a heated bird bath will prevent water from freezing during the winter months, ensuring birds have access to water year-round.

Regularly clean and refill your bird baths to prevent the buildup of algae and disease. Fresh, clean water is essential for the health of visiting birds.

Misting or Drippers

Installing misters or drippers can create moving water, which is particularly attractive to birds. The sound and motion of flowing water can draw more visitors to your yard.

Landscaping for Birds

Landscaping your yard with birds in mind can enhance their experience and make your backyard even more attractive. Here are some landscaping ideas.

Native Plants

Incorporate native plants into your landscape, as they provide natural food sources and shelter for local bird species. Research which plants are native to your region.

Bird-Friendly Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs with berries, seeds, or nectar-producing flowers can attract a variety of birds. Examples include dogwoods, serviceberries, and native sunflowers. Plants that attract insects will in turn attract birds that eat insects, so don’t shy away from pollinator-friendly plants! (Click here to learn how to overcome your fear of bees!)

Create Habitat Diversity

Birds thrive in diverse environments. Plant a mix of tall trees, shrubs, and ground cover to create different layers of vegetation for birds to explore.

Leave Natural Debris

Allow fallen leaves, branches, and other natural debris to accumulate in some areas. Birds use these materials for building nests.

You may also consider reducing your use of pesticides in your yard. Pesticides kill the insects that many birds rely on for food. Additionally, rat poison makes its way into the food chain and can kill the birds that eat poisoned rodents, particularly owls.

Tips for Maintenance

A well-maintained bird feeding station ensures a continuous stream of avian visitors. Here are some tips to keep your station in optimal condition:

1. Regular Cleaning: Clean feeders and bird baths at least once a month, or more frequently if they become soiled. Use a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) for sanitization.

2. Seed Storage: Store bird seed in a cool, dry place to prevent it from spoiling or attracting pests. Use airtight containers to keep it fresh.

3. Monitor for Disease: Keep an eye out for sick birds, as bird feeding stations can sometimes contribute to disease transmission. If you observe sick birds, temporarily remove feeders to prevent the spread of illness.

4. Keep it Stocked: Ensure feeders are regularly filled, especially during the winter months when natural food sources can be scarce.

5. Repair and Replace: Regularly inspect feeders for damage and replace worn-out or broken parts promptly.

6. Record Observations: Keep a journal of the bird species you see at your feeding station and note any interesting behaviors or patterns.

Attracting Specific Bird Species

Different birds have distinct preferences when it comes to food and habitat. Here are some tips for attracting specific bird species to your yard:

1. Hummingbirds: Hang red nectar feeders and plant tubular flowers like trumpet vine and bee balm.

2. Cardinals: Offer sunflower seeds and provide dense shrubs or trees for nesting and cover.

3. Goldfinches: Nyjer (thistle) seed and water sources are key to attracting these vibrant yellow birds.

4. Woodpeckers: Suet feeders and the presence of trees for foraging and nesting will draw woodpeckers.

5. Song Sparrows: Provide millet and shrubby vegetation for these ground-feeding sparrows.

6. Bluebirds: Install nesting boxes and offer mealworms to entice these beautiful cavity nesters.


Incorporating a bird feeding station into your backyard is a delightful way to connect with nature and invite a vibrant community of birds into your life. By choosing the right location, selecting appropriate feeders and food, offering water sources, and landscaping thoughtfully, you can create a haven that beckons a symphony of chirps and tweets. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or simply seeking a closer connection to the natural world, your backyard can become a sanctuary where beauty takes flight right outside your window. Welcome to the world of backyard bird feeding stations!

General Birding

18 Beautiful Green Birds in Florida (With Photos!)

Let’s delve into the enchanting world of green birds in Florida! As avid birders know, Florida is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of species. Among them, green birds stand out for their captivating coloration and unique ecological significance. Let’s explore the fascinating world of these feathered gems and discover the vibrant shades of green that grace the skies of Florida.

Green Herons

Florida is home to a remarkable assortment of native green bird species. One notable example is the Green Heron (Butorides virescens), a charismatic bird found in various wetland habitats throughout much of North America. The Green Heron showcases a rich green coloration, which camouflages it as it patiently waits along the water’s edge, ready to spear unsuspecting fish with its sharp bill.

Green Heron, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Green Heron, Viera, Florida

These herons are relatively small, measuring around 18 inches in length with a wingspan of about 26 inches. Their heads are adorned with a dark cap, and their bodies are adorned in a beautiful combination of green and blue-gray plumage. Despite their small size, they possess a remarkable hunting technique, using bait and lures made from twigs or insects to attract fish towards them.

Green Herons play a vital role in Florida’s ecosystems, as they help control populations of smaller aquatic animals and contribute to maintaining a healthy balance within wetland habitats. However, habitat loss and degradation pose significant threats to their populations, emphasizing the importance of conservation efforts to protect these magnificent birds.

Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting, Rockledge, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Male Painted Bunting, Rockledge, Florida

The male Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) is known for its strikingly colorful plumage, which includes bright green, blue, and red. They are found in shrubby habitats and woodlands in northern and central Florida. What you might not know is that the females look very different – they are a solid green. And to confuse things more, a young male Painted Bunting is also green. In fact, birders tend to refer to both females and young males as “greenies”.

Female Painted Bunting, Rockledge, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Female Painted Bunting, Rockledge, Florida

Painted Buntings are only seen in winter throughout much of Florida, but northern reaches, especially around Jacksonville, see them during the breeding season and summer as well.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Easley, SC, photo by Susan Petracco
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Easley, SC

There is only one species of hummingbird that is common throughout the state of Florida, and that is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). This bird has dark green feathers on its wings and back. Both males and females also have a whitish-gray colored belly, and males sport a brilliant red throat that lights up when the sun hits it at just the right angle. In other light, the male’s throat may look dark red or even black.

These hummingbirds can be seen in winter or summer, depending on what part of the state you’re in. The further north you go, the more likely you are to see them during the summer. As you move to the southern end of the state, you’re more likely to catch them during the winter months.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Texas, photo by Susan Petracco
Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Texas

The Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis), which is an occasional vagrant along the west coast and panhandle of the state, is much less common. But it also sports a green back, with a buff belly, a rufous tail, and in males only, a green throat that can also appear dark depending on the lighting.

Green-Winged Teal and Mallard Ducks

If you saw a duck with green on it, most likely it was a Green-winged Teal or a Mallard.

Mallard, Viera, Florida, photo by Author, Susan Petracco
Mallard, Viera, Florida

Adult male Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) have an entirely green head, making them nearly unmistakable, or so it would seem…but read on.

Truly wild mallard ducks are migratory birds that are only in Florida during the winter. Unfortunately, we have a large population of feral Mallards that do not migrate and are here year-round. To make matters worse, they hybridize with a number of other species, notably our Mottled Ducks, and produce individuals that are only somewhat Mallard-looking (“intergrade”). This is so common that birders sometimes referred to the hybrids as “muddled ducks”, a play off the name “mottled”. (For more on this problem, read this article by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.)

Green-winged Teal Ducks, St. Mark's NWR, Florida, photo by Susan Petracco
Green-winged Teal, St. Mark’s NWR, Florida

Green-winged Teal (Spatula crecca) are winter visitors to Florida have mostly shades of browns and grays, but adult males have a large green streak that surrounds the eye and continues behind the eye toward the neck. These ducks’ speculum (the colorful patch on the wings of ducks) is also green and easily seen in flight.

Blue-winged Teal, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Blue-winged Teal, Viera, Florida

Other possible ducks with green on them include the:

  • Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors), which has a speculum that is both blue and green (in the photo above, this is to the left of the blue feathers and appears almost black)
  • American Wigeon (Mareca americana) which sports a green spot similar to that on a Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) which has a green head similar to a Mallard.

Non-native Parakeets

There are no native parrots or parakeets in Florida, but several species have established populations after escaping from, or being intentionally released, by pet owners or the pet trade. In fact, there’s only one surviving native parrot species in all of the US!

But it’s not uncommon to see – and especially to hear (they’re often loud) – these established non-natives, especially in areas where they thrive such as in South Florida. Here are some common green parakeets you may see in Florida.

Monk parakeet, stock photo by Natalia SO from Getty Images
Monk parakeet, stock photo by Natalia SO from Getty Images

Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), also called Quaker Parrots, are the most common green parakeet species in Florida. They are small parrots with bright green plumage, grayish-blue on the forehead and cheeks, and a pale gray breast. They have established feral populations in several parts of Florida, especially in South Florida. Monk Parakeets are known for their large communal nests made of sticks.

Red-masked parakeets, stock photo by Leeman from Getty Images
Red-masked parakeets, stock photo by Leeman from Getty Images

Red-masked Parakeets (Psittacara erythrogenys) are also found in Florida, but they are less common than Monk Parakeets. They are predominantly green with a bright red patch on their face, which gives them their name. Red-masked Parakeets have feral populations in some urban areas of Florida, particularly in the Miami-Dade County region.

Nanday Parakeet, stock photo by reisegraf from Getty Images
Nanday Parakeet, stock photo by reisegraf from Getty Images

The Nanday Parakeet (Aratinga nenday) is another parakeet species that can be found in Florida. While it’s not as common as the Monk Parakeet or the Red-masked Parakeet, it has established feral populations in certain areas of the state. The Nanday Parakeet is primarily green with a black head (face, throat, and bib) which creates a distinctive look. They also have bright blue flight feathers on their wings.

Rose-ringed parakeet, stock photo by Shubhro from Getty Images
Rose-ringed parakeet, stock photo by Shubhro from Getty Images

There is a population of the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) in Naples, Florida. These parakeets are easily recognizable due to the bright green plumage of the males and a distinctive rose-colored ring around their necks, although females lack this ring. Rose-ringed Parakeets are not native to Florida but have established feral populations in urban and suburban areas. They are often observed in small to medium-sized flocks and are known for their loud and raucous calls.

There are also other parrot and parakeet species, both native and introduced, that may occasionally be seen in the state, and many of them are green as well.

Other Possible Green Birds

There are many small green birds that reside or migrate through Florida that may be considered “green birds” in their own right. Here are some:

Red-eyed Vireo, Magee Marsh, Ohio, photo by Susan Petracco
Red-eyed Vireo, Magee Marsh, Ohio

The Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) is a native bird species in Florida known for its greenish plumage. It has an olive-green back and wings, contrasting with a lighter grayish-white underside. Its most distinctive feature is its vibrant red eye, making it easily identifiable among the trees in Florida’s woodlands and forests.

Northern Parula, Indialantic, Florida, photo by Susan Petracco
Northern Parula, Indialantic, Florida

The Northern Parula (Setophaga americana) is a small bird with a greenish spot on its back, amongst the more blue-gray feathers. If you only catch a quick glimpse of a Northern Parula, you might think of it as a “green bird”, even though it has other colors that are more predominant. Northern Parulas are a type of warbler that is found year-round within the state of Florida.

Black-throated Green Warbler, Edinburg, Texas, photo by Susan Petracco
Black-throated Green Warbler, Edinburg

Black-throated Green Warblers (Setophaga virens) have a green back, but a yellow face and a black throat. Their flanks are black and white. Like the Northern Parula, they are multi-colored birds that include green along with other colors. This species migrates through Florida each year, so they are most commonly seen in spring and fall.

Tennessee Warbler, Indialantic, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Tennessee Warbler, Indialantic, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco

The Tennessee Warbler (Leiothlypis peregrina) is a very green-colored bird with a gray head and either whitish or yellowish underparts. They have a vivid stripe through their eye with a pale “eyebrow”. Tennessee Warblers breed in Central America and South America, but many of them pass through Florida during spring and fall migration.

Orange-crowned warbler, St. Mark's NWR, Florida, photo by Susan Petracco
Orange-crowned warbler, St. Mark’s NWR, Florida

Orange-crowned Warblers (Leiothlypis celata) are a yellow-green overall. They have a faint eyeline, but no wingbars or other distinguishing marks. They are found in Florida during the winter months, before the migrate further north to breed.


As you can see, Florida has a number of green birds and partially-green birds. But other than parakeets, there aren’t so many as to feel overwhelming (or at least, I hope not!)

One thing to note is that color is the next-to-last field mark one should use for identification. (Click here to find out what the worst field mark is!) Immature and fall plumage changes make color so difficult to use. But lighting also confuses things; when it reflects off other surfaces, it can change the color that we perceive a bird to be.

That said, I hope this post has helped you learn more about the various green birds that are commonly found in Florida.

Bird Species

Florida Birds of Prey

Florida, a state renowned for its stunning landscapes and abundant biodiversity, plays host to a remarkable array of birds of prey. These majestic avian predators, often referred to as raptors, have adapted and thrived in Florida’s diverse ecosystems, making significant contributions to the state’s delicate ecological balance. 

In this exploration, we delve into the world of these formidable hunters, maintaining a third-person perspective to provide a precise and factual account of their presence, characteristics, and ecological significance.

Birds of prey, with their keen eyesight, sharp talons, and powerful beaks, are masterful hunters that occupy the upper tiers of the food chain. Within Florida’s borders, they perform crucial roles as apex predators, controlling populations of prey species and contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem. 


Hawks, comprising a diverse group of raptors, are amongst the most iconic and awe-inspiring birds of prey found in Florida. Recognized by their keen eyesight, powerful talons, and soaring flight, hawks are true masters of the skies. In the Sunshine State, several hawk species have established their territories, each with its unique adaptations and hunting strategies. From the impressive Red-tailed Hawk to the agile Cooper’s Hawk, these avian hunters play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling populations of rodents and other small mammals. 

Hawks are characterized by their acute vision, enabling them to spot prey from high altitudes, and their remarkable speed and agility when pursuing it. This group of raptors showcases the beauty of nature’s design and serves as a testament to the wonders of Florida’s wildlife. In the following sections, we will delve into the distinctive characteristics and behaviors of some of the notable hawk species that grace Florida’s skies.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk, Orlando Wetlands, Orlando, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
  • 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)

The Red-shouldered Hawk, is the most common hawk in Florida. It is characterized by its vibrant reddish-brown plumage and striking black and white markings. With a preference for forested habitats, the Red-shouldered Hawk is often found perched on treetops, keenly surveying its territory. But it’s not uncommon to also see them on power lines along more rural highways or even within suburban areas. Renowned for its distinctive loud, piercing call, it is a vocal presence in the Florida outdoors. 

This hawk is an opportunistic predator, preying on a diet that includes small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. During the breeding season, the Red-shouldered Hawk demonstrates an impressive aerial display, soaring and diving to court potential mates. While it’s not considered globally threatened, habitat loss remains a concern for these hawks in certain areas of Florida, making their conservation an important topic for ornithologists and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

Red-shouldered Hawks are found year-round in Florida.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Stock Photo by Neil Bowman from Getty Images
Red-tailed Hawk Stock Photo by Neil Bowman from Getty Images
  • Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
  • Length: 17.7-22.1 in (45-56 cm) male, 19.7-25.6 in (50-65 cm) female
  • Weight: 24.3-45.9 oz (690-1300 g) male, 31.8-51.5 oz (900-1460 g) female
  • Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm) male, 44.9-52.4 in (114-133 cm) female

The Red-tailed Hawk is recognizable by its striking rusty-red tail feathers for adults, as well as the “belly band” of darker feathers across an otherwise light chest and belly. This hawk is celebrated for its impressive size and commanding presence; in Florida, they are often much larger than the more common Red-shouldered hawk. With a wingspan that can reach up to four feet, the Red-tailed Hawk is a soaring master of the open skies, frequently observed riding thermals in search of prey.

This raptor is renowned for its adaptability, as it can be found in a variety of habitats, from forests and grasslands to urban areas. Its diet includes small mammals, birds, and even reptiles, showcasing its opportunistic hunting strategy

Red-tailed Hawks are found year-round in Florida.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper's Hawk, Leon Price Park, Kennesaw, Georgia. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Cooper’s Hawk, Leon Price Park, Kennesaw, Georgia. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 14.6-15.3 in (37-39 cm) male, 16.5-17.7 in (42-45 cm) female
  • Weight: 7.8-14.5 oz (220-410 g) male, 11.6-24.0 oz (330-680 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in (62-90 cm) male, 29.5-35.4 in (75-90 cm)

With the Cooper’s Hawk, you’ll notice we’re in a new genus. Buteo hawks have a robust body and short tails. Accipiters are more elongated, both in body and with long tails that extends much further past the body (and wing tips when perched). We have a few more Buteos below, but since they’re less common, we’re switching to Accipiters for a moment!

The Cooper’s Hawk can be identified by its distinctive slate-gray plumage and striking red eyes as an adult, though juveniles are sometimes harder to distinguish. This species exhibits a compact, muscular build that aids in rapid flight and precise hunting. Cooper’s Hawks are renowned for their exceptional maneuverability and adaptability in various environments, from woodlands to suburban areas. This hawk’s diet primarily consists of small birds, making it a skilled avian hunter. Using dense cover to its advantage, Cooper’s Hawks employ stealth and speed when pursuing their prey, often ambushing them from hidden perches. 

During the breeding season, they construct nests in tall trees, demonstrating strong territorial behavior. Cooper’s Hawks play a vital role in controlling populations of smaller bird species, contributing to the balance of Florida’s avian ecosystem. Their remarkable hunting abilities and ecological significance make them a captivating subject of study for ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in the state.

Cooper’s Hawks are found year-round in northern and central Florida, but are only present in South Florida in winter. They do not tend to breed in South Florida.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk stock photo by BirdofPrey from Getty Images Signature
Sharp-shinned Hawk stock photo by BirdofPrey from Getty Images Signature
  • Scientific Name: Accipiter striatus
  • 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)

Sharp-shinned hawks look a lot like a Cooper’s hawk, but it’s much smaller. In fact, it’s the smallest hawk in Florida, and in the entire United States. Still, distinguishing the two species can be challenging due to their similar appearance. Both share a slate-gray plumage and red eyes, making field identification somewhat tricky. Sharp-shinned hawks are only present in Florida during the winter, so if you see an accipiter during the breeding season or summer, it’s probably a Coop. Other ways to tell a Sharp-shinned hawk are the smaller size, a square (instead of rounded) tail, more slender legs, and their likelihood to be deeper in forests.

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed hawk, Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Short-tailed hawk, Palm Bay, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Buteo brachyurus
  • Length: 15.3-17.3 in (39-44 cm)
  • Weight: 13.6-16.9 oz (385-480 g)
  • Wingspan: 32.7-40.5 in (83-103 cm)

The Short-tailed Hawk is recognized for its unique appearance and distinctive coloration. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Short-tailed Hawk is its notable color dimorphism, where there are two distinct color morphs within the species, a dark morph and a light morph. The dark morph exhibits striking dark brown plumage on its upperparts, while the light morph is characterized by pale gray plumage with a rufous-colored head. Both morphs share a white throat and underparts.

These hawks are found year-round in the southernmost regions of Florida, particularly in the Everglades and the Florida Keys. In the central part of the state, you can find them during the breeding season. Here in Brevard county, there is at least one pair commonly found at Turkey Creek Sanctuary in Palm Bay.

In terms of behavior, Short-tailed Hawks are known for their agile flight and preference for open woodland and wetland habitats. Their diet primarily consists of birds, particularly small to medium-sized species, which they capture mid-air with astonishing precision. 

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk, Santa Ana NWR, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Broad-winged Hawk, Santa Ana NWR, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
  • 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)

The Broad-winged Hawk, a remarkable migratory raptor, graces the skies of Florida during its annual fall migration, presenting a fascinating spectacle for bird enthusiasts and ornithologists alike. These hawks embark on an incredible journey, traveling from their North American breeding grounds to wintering destinations in Central and South America. Florida plays a pivotal role in their migration route, serving as a crucial stopover point where they rest and refuel before continuing their journey.

Recognizable by their compact size, broad wings, and brown plumage, Broad-winged Hawks exhibit distinct characteristics that set them apart. Their tails are adorned with conspicuous bands, making them easily identifiable in flight. However, it is their vocalizations and group behavior during migration that truly capture attention. As they soar through the skies, Broad-winged Hawks emit high-pitched, piercing calls, and often gather in large flocks known as “kettles.” This behavior allows them to exploit thermal updrafts, conserving energy for their long-distance travels.

While migration is the most prominent phase of their presence in Florida, Broad-winged Hawks can also be found in the state’s wooded areas during non-migratory periods. Here, they primarily hunt small mammals, birds, and occasional reptiles from concealed perches within wooded habitats. 

There is a dark morph of the Broad-winged Hawk, but it is more commonly seen in the western part of the United States.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier, Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Northern Harrier, Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Circus hudsonius
  • 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)

The Northern Harrier, a distinctive and low-flying raptor, graces the wetlands and marshes of Florida with its presence. This hawk is known for its unique physical characteristics, including a slender body, long wings, and a distinctive white rump patch that contrasts with its mottled brown plumage. (Snail kites also have a white rump patch, so don’t confuse them based on that field mark.) Unlike many other hawks, Northern Harriers have an owl-like facial disk that aids in their exceptional hearing, making them skilled hunters of small mammals and birds in dense vegetation.

One of the notable behaviors of the Northern Harrier is its low and graceful hunting flights, often hovering above marshes and grasslands, where it relies on its keen sense of hearing to detect prey movements below. 

Northern Harriers are winter visitors to Florida, and I look forward to their return every year.


Osprey, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Osprey, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
  • Length: 21.3-22.8 in (54-58 cm)
  • Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz (1400-2000 g)
  • Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in (150-180 cm)

The Osprey, is a distinctive bird of prey that finds a prominent place in Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Recognizable by its striking white head, dark eye stripe, and powerful hooked beak, the Osprey’s appearance is iconic. This raptor’s nickname of “Fish Hawk” aptly describes its primary dietary preference—fish. Ospreys are consummate fishers, and they have evolved remarkable adaptations for catching their aquatic prey.

One of the notable behaviors of Ospreys in Florida is their ingenious use of utility poles as a nesting site. Instead of traditional tree nests, many Osprey pairs in the state have taken to nesting atop utility poles and other man-made structures along the coast. This behavior highlights their adaptability to changing environments and showcases their resilience in the face of habitat alterations.

Ospreys play a vital role in Florida’s coastal food web by helping to regulate fish populations and providing a striking visual presence along the state’s shorelines. Their aerial displays and impressive hunting skills make them a cherished sight for bird enthusiasts and beachgoers alike.

The osprey is not considered to be a true hawk.


Eagles, the majestic raptors of Florida’s skies, represent an awe-inspiring presence in the state’s diverse ecosystems. From the iconic Bald Eagle, symbolizing national pride and environmental resilience, to the less common but equally captivating Golden Eagle, these birds of prey hold a unique place in Florida’s avian world. In this section, we delve into the characteristics, behaviors, and ecological roles of these remarkable eagles, shedding light on their significance within the Sunshine State’s diverse birdlife.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Bald Eagle, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  • Length: 27.9-37.8 in (71-96 cm)
  • Weight: 105.8-222.2 oz (3000-6300 g)
  • Wingspan: 80.3 in (204 cm)

The Bald Eagle, a symbol of both national pride and ecological significance, is a majestic raptor that commands attention in Florida’s diverse landscapes. Recognizable by its striking white head and tail contrasting with a dark brown body, it is an iconic presence in the state. These magnificent birds of prey have established a year-round presence in Florida, where they are often associated with large bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and coastal habitats.

Bald Eagles are formidable hunters and scavengers, with a diet that primarily includes fish but also encompasses a wide variety of prey, including waterfowl and small mammals. Their keen eyesight and powerful talons enable them to capture prey with precision. In Florida, they are known to construct massive nests, often situated high in the canopy of tall trees near water bodies. The conservation efforts surrounding the Bald Eagle have been a success story, as their populations have rebounded after facing significant declines due to habitat loss and the impacts of pesticides like DDT. Today, their resilience and adaptability to coexist with human activities make them a symbol not only of national identity but also of environmental recovery and stewardship in the state of Florida.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle stock photo by ian600f from Getty Images
Golden Eagle stock photo by ian600f from Getty Images
  • Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos
  • Length: 27.6-33.1 in (70-84 cm)
  • Weight: 105.8-216.1 oz (3000-6125 g)
  • Wingspan: 72.8-86.6 in (185-220 cm)

The Golden Eagle, a powerful and enigmatic raptor, is a less common but notable presence in Florida’s skies. Recognized by its deep brown plumage, feathered legs, and striking golden-brown nape, these eagles are characterized by their impressive size and strength. While they are primarily associated with western and mountainous regions of North America, some Golden Eagles do migrate to Florida during the winter months.

These birds of prey are skilled hunters, with a diet that includes a diverse range of prey, from small mammals and birds to occasional reptiles. Their hunting style often involves soaring at high altitudes and then stooping with remarkable speed to capture their quarry. In Florida, Golden Eagles are occasionally observed in the northern and western parts of the state, especially in areas with open terrain and suitable hunting grounds.


Circling high above, vultures are the often-misunderstood scavengers of Florida’s skies, essential to the ecosystem’s balance. With an uncanny ability to detect the scent of dead animals from great distances, these birds play a critical role in nature’s cleanup crew. In this section, we explore the intriguing world of vultures, their unique adaptations, and the vital service they provide in maintaining the cleanliness and health of Florida’s environment.

Note that we include vultures here, despite them being scavengers, but there is some debate at the terms “raptor” and “bird of prey” are largely open to interpretation. For a great explanation, see Ken Kaufman’s explanation on Audubon’s website.

Understanding and appreciating the essential role of vultures in the state’s ecosystems is fundamental to preserving the balance of nature in Florida’s diverse landscapes.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Black Vulture, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameCoragyps atratus
  • Length: 23.6-26.8 in (60-68 cm)
  • Weight: 56.4-77.6 oz (1600-2200 g)
  • Wingspan: 53.9-59.1 in (137-150 cm)

Black Vultures are a common sight in Florida’s landscapes, recognized by their striking black plumage and short, hooked beaks. Often seen soaring gracefully on thermals, they are nature’s recyclers, playing a crucial role in removing carrion and maintaining the environment’s hygiene. Their keen eyesight helps them locate the scent of dead animals, and they often follow Turkey Vultures to feeding opportunities.

Black Vultures are highly social birds, often congregating in large groups at communal roosts. Their adaptability and tolerance for urban environments have allowed them to thrive even in densely populated areas. These vultures are remarkable examples of nature’s cleanup crew, efficiently disposing of carcasses and preventing the spread of disease. However, their scavenging habits can sometimes bring them into conflict with human activities, such as damaging vehicles by pecking at rubber and plastic parts.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Turkey Vulture, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameCathartes aura
  • Length: 25.2-31.9 in (64-81 cm)
  • Weight: 70.5 oz (2000 g)
  • Wingspan: 66.9-70.1 in (170-178 cm)

The Turkey Vulture, with its distinctive red, featherless head, is another vital scavenger in Florida’s avian community. Renowned for their exceptional sense of smell, Turkey Vultures can detect the scent of carrion from high altitudes, making them efficient scavengers. Their large wingspans and soaring flight patterns make them a common sight in the state’s skies, where they play a crucial role in the disposal of dead animals.

These vultures are primarily solitary in their foraging behavior, but they often gather at communal roosts during the night. Despite their bald heads, which help keep them clean while feeding on carrion, Turkey Vultures are highly adaptable birds that have successfully integrated into both natural and urban environments in Florida. Their unique ecological niche helps prevent the spread of diseases associated with decaying carcasses, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.


Owls, the nocturnal birds of prey in Florida, are known for their silent flight and remarkable night vision. In this section, we’ll delve into the world of Florida’s owls, discussing their species diversity, behaviors, and their important role as nighttime predators in the state.

Great Horned Owl

Great-horned Owl, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Great-horned Owl, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameBubo 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)

The Great Horned Owl commands the night skies of Florida with its hoots and mysterious presence. Recognizable by its large size and distinct “horns,” which are actually feather tufts, this owl is an apex predator of the night. It can be found throughout Florida, from dense woodlands to urban areas, demonstrating remarkable adaptability.

Great Horned Owls are highly skilled hunters with a diverse diet that includes small to medium-sized mammals, birds, and even other owls. Equipped with powerful talons and a silent flight, they are capable of ambushing their prey with precision. These owls are known for their distinctive and haunting hooting calls, which serve both as territorial markers and as communication with their mates.

One of the earliest nesting birds in Florida, Great Horned Owls often commandeer abandoned nests of other large birds, like eagles and hawks, or they create their own nests in trees. Their parenting dedication is exceptional, with both parents actively involved in raising their young. These nocturnal predators are vital to controlling populations of rodents and other small mammals in Florida’s diverse ecosystems, making them a fascinating and essential component of the state’s wildlife.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl, captive ambassador bird named Eleanor at Florida Wildlife Hospital in Melbourne, FL. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Barred Owl, captive ambassador bird named Eleanor at Florida Wildlife Hospital in Melbourne, FL. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameStrix varia
  • Length: 16.9-19.7 in (43-50 cm)
  • Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz (470-1050 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in (99-110 cm)

The Barred Owl, known for its distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, is a charismatic and widely distributed owl species in Florida. Recognizable by its mottled brown and white plumage, large dark eyes, and rounded shape, Barred Owls have a prominent presence in the state’s forests, swamps, and wooded wetlands.

These owls are skilled hunters, with a diet that primarily includes small mammals, such as mice and voles, along with birds, amphibians, and even the occasional fish. Their remarkable adaptability has allowed them to thrive in various habitats, from dense forests to suburban areas. Barred Owls are known for their territorial calls, which serve as a means of communication between mates and as a method of asserting dominance in their territories.

Barred Owls are cavity nesters, often using tree hollows or the abandoned nests of other large birds as their nesting sites. They are known for their parenting dedication, with both parents actively involved in raising their chicks. These owls are integral to controlling rodent populations in their habitats, and their presence enriches Florida’s ecosystems with their distinctive vocalizations and enigmatic nighttime appearances.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl, captive ambassador animal for the Florida Wildlife Hospital, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Barn Owl, captive ambassador animal for the Florida Wildlife Hospital, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameTyto alba
  • 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)

The Barn Owl, with its heart-shaped facial disk and ghostly appearance, is a captivating and unique owl species that resides in various habitats across Florida. Recognizable by its pale, nearly white plumage with golden-brown markings, this owl is a master of silent flight and nocturnal hunting.

Barn Owls are efficient rodent hunters, and they play a vital role in controlling agricultural pests and rodent populations in Florida. They primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice and rats, and are known for their exceptional hearing, which helps them pinpoint prey movements in total darkness. Their silent flight, aided by specialized feathers, allows them to approach their prey unnoticed.

In Florida, Barn Owls often take residence in man-made structures like barns, silos, and abandoned buildings, hence their name. They are also known to nest in tree cavities and natural nooks. Despite their ghostly appearance and nocturnal habits, Barn Owls are a welcome presence in the state’s agricultural landscapes, offering natural pest control services while captivating bird enthusiasts with their ethereal beauty and haunting calls.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl, red morph, Rockledge, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Eastern Screech-Owl, red morph, Rockledge, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameMegascops 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)

The Eastern Screech-Owl (sometimes written Eastern Screech Owl without the hyphen), a small but charismatic owl species, is a common and beloved inhabitant of Florida’s woodlands and suburban areas. Recognizable by its compact size, feather tufts resembling “horns,” and a range of plumage colors from gray to reddish-brown, these owls are known for their distinctive trilling calls that echo through the night.

These nocturnal hunters have a varied diet, consisting of insects, small mammals, birds, and even amphibians. Eastern Screech-Owls are excellent at camouflaging themselves against tree bark, making them challenging to spot during daylight hours. They are cavity nesters and often utilize tree cavities, nest boxes, or even abandoned woodpecker holes for nesting and shelter.

Eastern Screech-Owls are year-round residents in Florida and are adept at coexisting with human development, often nesting in urban parks and residential areas. Their adaptability, unique vocalizations, and captivating appearance make them a favorite among bird enthusiasts and a charming and essential part of Florida’s diverse avian community.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Burrowing Owl, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameAthene cunicularia
  • Length: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
  • Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g)
  • Wingspan: 21.6 in (55 cm)

The Burrowing Owl, a captivating and diminutive owl species, adds a touch of charm to the landscapes of southern Florida with its distinctive behavior and burrowing lifestyle. Recognizable by its long legs, brown plumage speckled with white, and bright yellow eyes, these owls are known for their association with underground burrows, often repurposing those created by mammals like gophers and ground squirrels.

Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are active during the day, and their presence can be detected by their characteristic bobbing head movements and distinctive calls that resemble a series of cooing whistles. They have a diverse diet, which includes insects, small mammals, and occasionally birds. Their burrows serve as nesting sites and provide protection from predators and extreme weather conditions.

Burrowing Owls are often found in open habitats like grasslands, pastures, and urban areas, where they adapt to nesting in man-made structures, vacant lots, and even ballparks! These charming owls are not only fascinating to observe but also important in controlling insect populations. As they coexist with human development, conservation efforts are critical to preserving their unique behaviors and habitats in the southern reaches of Florida’s diverse ecosystems.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared owl stock photo by H_Yasui from Getty Images
Short-eared owl stock photo by H_Yasui from Getty Images
  • Scientific NameAsio 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)

The Short-eared Owl occasionally graces the landscapes of Florida with its presence, particularly during the winter months. Recognizable by its mottled brown plumage, distinctive facial disk, and striking yellow eyes, these owls are known for their distinctive flight patterns and low-level hunting habits.

Short-eared Owls are highly nomadic and can be challenging to spot. They primarily inhabit open grasslands, marshes, and coastal areas, where they rely on their keen hearing and acute vision to hunt for small mammals, especially rodents. Their preference for these habitats sometimes brings them to Florida, where they find suitable foraging grounds.

While not as commonly observed as some other owl species in Florida, Short-eared Owls are important predators that help control rodent populations, contributing to the balance of local ecosystems. Their unique flight displays, which involve hovering and gliding low over their hunting grounds, make them a fascinating sight for birdwatchers fortunate enough to spot them in the state’s open landscapes during the winter months.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl stock photo by Andy Witchger from Getty Images
Northern Saw-whet Owl stock photo by Andy Witchger from Getty Images
  • Scientific NameAegolius 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)

The Northern Saw-whet Owl occasionally visits northern Florida during its migratory journeys. Recognizable by its small size, rounded shape, and distinct facial disk, these owls have a charming and enigmatic presence.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are primarily found in coniferous and mixed forests, particularly in northern regions of North America. However, during their migration periods, which typically occur in the fall and spring, some individuals may make their way to Florida. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, particularly mice and voles.

These owls are known for their secretive behavior and excellent camouflage, often remaining hidden within dense vegetation during the day. Their high-pitched, repetitive call, resembling the sound of a saw being sharpened, is a distinctive feature during their migration through Florida. While their visits to the state are sporadic, the Northern Saw-whet Owl’s presence adds an element of mystery to Florida’s birding community during the migratory seasons, delighting those who are fortunate enough to encounter these elusive travelers.


American Kestrel

American Kestrel, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
American Kestrel, Viera, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameFalco sparverius
  • Length: 8.7-12.2 in (22-31 cm)
  • Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz (80-165 g)
  • Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in (51-61 cm)

The American Kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon, is a vibrant and dynamic bird of prey that graces Florida’s open landscapes with its presence. Recognizable by its compact size, distinctive rufous and blue-gray plumage, and bold black markings, these kestrels are agile hunters and agile fliers.

American Kestrels primarily inhabit open habitats such as grasslands, agricultural fields, and urban areas, making Florida’s diverse landscapes a suitable home. They are known for their exceptional hunting skills, primarily preying on insects, small mammals, and birds. With keen eyesight and a hovering hunting style, they can spot and capture prey with precision.

In Florida, American Kestrels are a familiar sight, often perching on utility wires or fence posts while scanning for prey. They play a valuable role in controlling insect populations and maintaining ecological balance in the state’s diverse ecosystems. Their striking appearance, energetic hunting behavior, and adaptability to urban environments make them a favorite among bird enthusiasts and a charming element of Florida’s avian diversity.


Merlin, Rockledge, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Merlin, Rockledge, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameFalco columbarius
  • Length: 9.4-11.8 in (24-30 cm)
  • Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz (160-240 g)
  • Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in (53-68 cm)

The Merlin, a small and agile falcon, adds a touch of speed and dynamism to Florida’s skies. Recognizable by its sleek, blue-gray plumage and bold black markings, including a prominent black stripe on its face called the “malar stripe,” these falcons are adept hunters with a penchant for open landscapes.

Merlins are known for their exceptional aerial acrobatics, often seen pursuing small birds in fast, darting flights. They have a diverse diet that includes small birds, insects, and occasionally small mammals. In Florida, they frequent a variety of habitats, from coastal areas and estuaries to open woodlands and urban parks.

Their striking appearance and agile hunting style make Merlins a captivating sight for birdwatchers in Florida. The black malar stripe, along with their fierce expression, adds to their distinctive charm. These falcons showcase the diversity of avian predators in the state, where they serve as dynamic contributors to the local ecosystems by helping control bird and insect populations.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon, Rockledge, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Peregrine Falcon, Rockledge, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameFalco peregrinus
  • Length: 14.2-19.3 in (36-49 cm)
  • Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz (530-1600 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in (100-110 cm)

The Peregrine Falcon, one of the world’s most iconic raptors and among the fastest birds on the planet, graces Florida’s skies with its unparalleled speed and prowess. Recognizable by its bluish-gray plumage, bold black markings, and distinctive “hooded” appearance, these falcons are celebrated for their astonishing hunting abilities.

Peregrine Falcons are renowned for their remarkable aerial speed, capable of reaching speeds of up to 240 miles per hour during their hunting stoops. Their primary prey includes other birds, which they often pursue in high-speed dives from great altitudes. In Florida, they can be found in a range of habitats, from coastal areas and wetlands to urban landscapes, showcasing their adaptability to various environments.

As one of the fastest birds globally, Peregrine Falcons are a testament to nature’s engineering marvels. Their incredible speed, combined with their striking appearance, has made them a symbol of power and precision. Peregrine Falcons’ presence in Florida highlights their vital role as top predators, contributing to the ecological balance by controlling bird populations and exemplifying the remarkable diversity of avian life in the state.

Crested Caracara

Crested Caracara, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Crested Caracara, Texas, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameCaracara plancus
  • Length: 19.3-22.8 in (49-58 cm)
  • Weight: 37.0-45.9 oz (1050-1300 g)
  • Wingspan: 48.0-49.2 in (122-125 cm)

The Crested Caracara, a distinctive and striking bird of prey, finds its niche in Florida’s open areas and expansive landscapes. Recognizable by its bold black and white plumage, striking orange-yellow facial skin, and distinctive crest atop its head, these caracaras are known for their unique foraging habits and adaptability to various environments.

Crested Caracaras often inhabit open areas, such as grasslands, pastures, and agricultural fields, where they utilize fence posts and utility poles as perches to scan for prey. Their diet is diverse, including carrion, insects, small mammals, and even small reptiles. Their scavenging habits contribute to ecosystem hygiene by helping to remove carrion from the landscape. Because of their feeding habits, many bird watchers are surprised that they aren’t vultures, but systematically they’re more closely related to falcons.

In Florida, the Crested Caracara’s presence adds a touch of uniqueness to the state’s avian diversity. Their striking appearance and behavior, including their scavenging tendencies and use of fence posts as lookout points, make them a fascinating subject for bird enthusiasts. Crested Caracaras exemplify the adaptability of birds of prey and their important role in maintaining the balance of Florida’s diverse ecosystems.


Kites, the graceful and aerial raptors, paint the skies of Florida with their effortless gliding and distinctive hunting techniques. With their unique characteristics and behaviors, kites bring an air of elegance to the state’s avian community. In this section, we delve into the world of Florida’s kites, exploring their species diversity, remarkable flight abilities, and their vital roles in the state’s ecosystems.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite, Joe Overstreet Landing, Kenansville, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
Snail Kite, Joe Overstreet Landing, Kenansville, Florida, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameRostrhamus sociabilis
  • Length: 14.2-15.3 in (36-39 cm) male, 14.6-15.6 in (37-39.5 cm) female
  • Weight: 12.7-15.5 oz (360-440 g) male, 12.3-20.1 oz (350-570 g) female 
  • Wingspan: 42.9-45.7 in (109-116 cm)

The Snail Kite, a specialized and distinctive raptor, is uniquely adapted to Florida’s wetland habitats, where it demonstrates remarkable hunting techniques. Recognizable by its striking reddish-brown plumage, long hooked bill, sharp yellow eyes, and white patches on their tails, these kites have evolved to master a diet that primarily consists of apple snails.

These specialized raptors use their keen eyesight to locate apple snails, and their long, slender bills allow them to extract the snails from their shells with impressive precision. Florida’s wetlands, including the Everglades, provide the ideal ecosystem for Snail Kites to thrive, as they rely heavily on these aquatic habitats for both hunting and nesting.

The Snail Kite’s unique adaptations and specialized diet make it a captivating subject of study and a symbol of the delicate balance within Florida’s wetland ecosystems. Conservation efforts to protect these birds and their habitat are crucial, as they play a vital role in maintaining the health and biodiversity of Florida’s waterways and marshes.

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
Swallow-tailed Kite, Viera, Florida. Photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameElanoides forficatus
  • Length: 19.7-25.2 in (50-64 cm)
  • Weight: 13.1-21.2 oz (370-600 g)
  • Wingspan: 48.0 in (122 cm)

The Swallow-tailed Kite, with its striking black and white plumage and distinctive forked tail, graces the skies of Florida as a summer visitor before embarking on remarkable migrations to Central and South America. Recognizable by its graceful aerial maneuvers and unique appearance, these kites are a symbol of freedom and elegance in the air.

During the summer months, Swallow-tailed Kites can be found nesting in Florida’s forests and wetlands, where they primarily feed on insects, reptiles, and small vertebrates. However, as the seasons change, they undertake incredible migrations, flying thousands of miles to winter in the lush forests of Central and South America.

The Swallow-tailed Kite’s remarkable migration journey highlights the interconnectedness of avian species across the Americas and underscores the importance of preserving their breeding and wintering habitats. Their annual return to Florida’s skies is a spectacle cherished by birdwatchers, serving as a reminder of the incredible journeys undertaken by these elegant raptors in their quest for survival.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite, Amelia Island, Photo by Author, Susan Petracco
Mississippi Kite, Amelia Island, Photo by Author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameIctinia mississippiensis
  • Length: 13.4-14.6 in (34-37 cm)
  • Weight: 7.6-9.5 oz (216-269 g)
  • Wingspan: 36 inches (01 cm)

The Mississippi Kite, a delicate and slender raptor, brings an air of grace to Florida’s summer skies during its breeding season. Recognizable by its soft gray plumage and distinctive dark markings around the eyes, these kites are known for their aerial acrobatics and gentle nature.

These birds of prey primarily inhabit woodlands, open fields, and urban areas, where they hunt for insects, particularly grasshoppers, crickets, and dragonflies, in flight. In the warm months, Mississippi Kites migrate to Florida for breeding, building nests in the state’s trees and tall shrubs.

The Mississippi Kite’s summer visitation to Florida is a testament to the state’s role as a seasonal haven for avian migrants. Their graceful flight and insectivorous diet contribute to the ecological balance, particularly in controlling insect populations. Witnessing their summer presence is a delight for bird enthusiasts and a reminder of the interconnectedness of bird species across their expansive ranges.

White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite, San Elijo Lagoon, California, photo by author, Susan Petracco
White-tailed Kite, San Elijo Lagoon, California, photo by author, Susan Petracco
  • Scientific NameElanus leucurus
  • Length: 12.6-15.0 in (32-38 cm)
  • Weight: 10.6-12.7 oz (300-360 g)
  • Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in (99-110 cm)

The White-tailed Kite can be spotted soaring over Florida’s open habitats, marshes, and grasslands. Recognizable by its pristine white plumage, contrasting dark eyes, and distinctive black shoulder patches, these kites are celebrated for their elegant hunting and hovering abilities.

White-tailed Kites primarily feed on small mammals, particularly rodents like voles and mice, and they are known for their exceptional skill in detecting prey from the air. Their hunting style often involves hovering in place, akin to a kite caught in the wind, before making precise dives to capture their quarry.

White-tailed Kites tend to inhabit the southernmost regions of the state, particularly in the Everglades and the southern coastal areas.  Their striking appearance and unique hunting behaviors make them a favorite among birdwatchers, and their adaptability to a range of open landscapes underscores their significance in the state’s avian community. The White-tailed Kite’s presence adds a touch of elegance to Florida’s skies and serves as a reminder of the intricate beauty of the state’s natural world.


Florida’s diverse landscapes play host to a captivating array of predatory birds, from the majestic Bald Eagles to the agile Mississippi Kites. These raptors, with their unique adaptations and roles, contribute to the intricate balance of the state’s ecosystems.

However, as human impacts on the environment persist, it is crucial to prioritize conservation efforts, habitat protection, and sustainable practices to ensure the continued presence of these magnificent birds in Florida’s skies. As we marvel at their beauty and behaviors, we are reminded of our shared responsibility to preserve the natural world we all call home. In their presence, we find inspiration and a collective commitment to safeguard Florida birds of prey for generations to come.

Florida Birding Hotspots

Birding St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in January

Every year, my girlfriends and I take a trip to northwest Florida, near Tallahassee, to bird at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a great way to start out the new year’s eBird list, particularly with ducks that won’t be around later in the year. But it’s proven to be a superb location for other birds as well. The trip is always a highlight of our adventures through the year.

This part of Florida is NOT warm in January. And for some reason, the weekend we plan in advance always happens to be the coldest weekend of the year. So some cold-weather gear is important. I was downright cozy in the heated jacket my husband gave me for Christmas!

Bird Species


ducks at St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge
Ducks at Lighthouse Pool

The biggest draw for species in this area is overwintering ducks! We always start our first full day by driving out to the lighthouse as soon as the refuge opens. This allows us to bird the Lighthouse Pool & Flats area. In the pool across the road from the lighthouse, we’ve seen literally 1000 redheads at once. We’ve also seen Canvasbacks, American Wigeon, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Shovelers. They share the water with grebes and coots, while gulls and terns make passes overhead.

Looking out into the sea water beyond the lighthouse, we usually spot Buffleheads as well.

common goldeneye
Lesser Scaup

Other locations in the park have yielded additional ducks: Green- and Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwall, and once, a Common Goldeneye. We also think we got an American Black Duck, but it was too far away for us to be certain. That was a shame because it would have been a life bird for me.

Gulls and Terns

iceland gull
Iceland gull

The best gull species we’ve found here was an Iceland Gull. We didn’t even realize what kind of gull it was, but we watched it for probably half an hour, as it was struggling with something under the water, presumably some kind of potential meal. It eventually gave up.

Additional gulls seen: Bonaparte’s Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Ring-billed Gulls.

Forster’s Terns are common, though not plentiful, near the lighthouse as well.

Shorebirds and Water Birds

American flamingo "Pinkie" at St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge
American flamingo

Double-crested Cormorants and both White and Brown Pelicans are common off the coast by the lighthouse. If you follow the path circling the pool, it’s easy to spot herons and egrets there. In other locations in the park, we’ve spotted Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Willets, Least Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers. And of course, both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

One year we had a terrible miss, though! We saw some kind of (probably) rail scurry across right in front of our toes, but it went by so fast that the two of us who saw it thought we must have dreamed it! Unfortunately we didn’t get a good enough look to even be sure it was a rail. That will be the miss that will always torment us!

The most surprising shorebird of all? An American Flamingo. He dropped in during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and has never left. He’s generally far away and best seen with a scope, but I got recognizable photos with my 500mm lens. He’s been fondly named Pinkie.

Mounds Pool 3 also turned up a Marbled Godwit and a Wilson’s Snipe last year (2022).


Bald Eagles are a big draw for the refuge, and can typically be spotted in winter. As you drive toward the lighthouse, look to your right for one or two perched in the snags (dead trees).

Northern Harriers are, in my opinion, one of the coolest raptors to visit Florida in winter. They aren’t hard to find at St. Mark’s either, especially near the mounds pools (on your left as you drive toward the lighthouse).

Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, and Turkey Bultures are fairly common as well.

In 2022, we drove north of Tallahassee because of a report of a Short-eared Owl. I’m excited to say that we saw it! A group of maybe 10-12 birders had shown up that day in the hopes of seeing it, including the gentleman who had first spotted in a few days prior. I think that was a life bird of all three of us; I know it was for me.


Eastern towhee
Eastern towhee

On the path around the lighthouse pond, we see songbirds like Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Northern Mockingbirds. We’ve also seen Tree Swallows and a Western Kingbird.

Near the restrooms about, maybe halfway down the road from the gate to the lighthouse, there’s a good long trail with lots of songbirds. Some that we’ve spotted are there, and some elsewhere in the refuge, are:

  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Tree Swallow
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Robin
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Pine Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Marsh Wren
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Brown-headed Nuthatch
  • Eastern Bluebird


Red-cockaded woodpecker at St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge
Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Along with the songbirds, we’ve spotted tons of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, as well as Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers.

But our favorite woodpeckers are the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers on the road that leads to the helipad. We watched them for at least an hour. This is a species I’d wanted to see since I was a teenager, and although my first spotting wasn’t at St. Mark’s, my best views were here, hands down!

The helipad road is also good for Carolina Chickadees, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds and Pine Warblers.


Wakulla Springs Lodge is comfortable and charming, but it can be difficult to get a room. There is a Days Inn that I really like as well.

Two of my friends camped one year. I think both eventually ended up in their cars, perhaps with the heater on. I’m not sure. Is that even safe? I was warm in my bed in the Days Inn, thank you very much!

Point is, there are a few options, and even more if you want to stay closer to Tallahassee. Just know you’ll have a longer drive.

San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park

While you’re there, be sure to check out San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park at least once. It’s a very cool historic Spanish fort that’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Of course, we birded there too! Nothing exciting, but fun to say we saw it. The building was closed because this was during the height of COVID, so I would like to go back one day. More info on the park can be found here.

eBird Lists

Here are my eBird lists for St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.

2022: Lighthouse Pool | Traveling | Picnic Pond | Headquarters Pond | Traveling | Helipad | Mounds Pool 3 | Traveling | Short-eared owl (not St. Mark’s) | Wakulla Springs (not St. Mark’s)

2021: Traveling | Traveling | Lighthouse Pool & Flats | Helipad | San Marcos (not St. Mark’s)

Bird Photography

My Favorite Bird Photography Gear

It’s funny, I got into birding AFTER I bought my first camera. I didn’t set up to be a bird photographer; I just wanted a DSLR camera to use. I bought a Canon T4i and then realized I needed to take pictures of SOMETHING other than just my kids and pets. That’s when I met my friend Rachel, who told me about the Viera wetlands…and I was on my way to taking pictures of birds nearly every day.

It wasn’t long before my 300mm kit lens wasn’t long enough, and I upgraded to a 500mm lens. Then my T4i wasn’t robust enough, so I upgraded my camera body. I needed a tripod for video and for long waiting periods, and a shutter release for long exposure, and a bag to carry my gear…

You see where this is going, right?

Well, here’s my current bird photography gear collection.

Me, my camera and lens, and a scrub jay who wants to know as much about bird photography gear is you do!
Me, my camera and lens, and a scrub jay who wants to know as much about bird photography gear is you do!

Camera Body

My current camera body is Canon 7D Mark II. It’s a great camera for wildlife, with an extremely high burst rate and the ability to shoot quality video as well as photos. I set it up to use back button focusing, spot metering, and I always shoot in RAW with manual settings.

(If you haven’t learned to shoot manual yet, please do yourself a favor and learn how! Start with learning about the exposure triangle in this post at

This is a great camera for birding! Its fast burst mode means you can get a lot of photos in a short timeframe – the “spray and pray” method. But it’s also very easy to take a single shot, or 2-3 frames, when you have more time to plan the shot. The 7D Mark II is a crop-sensor camera, which means you get 50% more distance out of your lenses. For example, and 500mm telephoto lens actually produces a zoom of 750mm (500mm times 1.5 = 750mm).

To be honest, this is going to be the next thing that gets replaced. I’m dying for a mirrorless and full-frame camera, and one that can handle low-light conditions better than my current body. I plan to either get the Canon R5 or R3. Both have the ability to track a bird’s eye and keep focused on the eye even while the bird is moving.

For now, I manage the noise produced in some of my images by using Topaz DeNoise AI. It’s an incredible piece of software and does a great job of removing noise without sacrificing sharpness.

Camera Lens

For wildlife, I almost exclusively shoot with my Sigma 150-500mm telephoto lens. There’s actually a newer version that goes from 150-600mm which you can find here. This lens gives you so much bang for the buck. No, it’s not as good as a Canon white lens, or a prime lens – or a prime Canon white LOL. But you’re going to pay a LOT more for those lenses. If you don’t have that kind of budget, and/or if you’re just getting started, the Sigma lenses will give you the distance you need to capture birds that are far away.

As most birds are typically far away!

Sigma 150-600mm telephoto lens

I have a few other lenses that I use for other purposes, including a Canon macro lens that I sometimes use for insects when it’s cold and they are slow-moving. But I almost always use the 150-500mm for bird photography.

Landscape Lens – As a side note, for landscapes and product photography I usually use my Canon 35mm macro lens. It’s a fixed length, but it’s versatile in that it can do both macros (up close photography with a 1:1 ratio) and regular photography. That means I’m not limited by how close I am to a subject. I also use it for food photography, something I’m trying to learn more and get better at doing.

Canon 35mm lens

Camera Bag / Backpack

I like to travel, so I needed a bag I could use to carry my gear on a plane without checking it. I decided on the Lowepro Flipside backpack because it has all the room I needed, can carry a laptop, and fits in the overhear bin or under the seat in most airplanes.

With it, I can carry two camera bodies (I still use my T4i as a backup), my telephoto lens, 2-3 other lenses, cleaning supplies, my laptop, and various other items.

bird photography gear includes more than just cameras! this is my backup


After I upgrade my camera body, a tripod will likely be my next purchase. The one I have isn’t sturdy enough for the long lens. Last spring in Texas, I borrowed a sturdier one with a gimbal head from the woman leading the workshop, and now I’m sold.

For now, I have the Oben AC-1321. Honestly, though, it’s better for studio work than field work. I don’t recommend it for birding.

Fortunately, most of the time I don’t even use a tripod, especially when photographing birds in flight.

Cleaning Supplies

For regular cleaning I have a Lens Pen and and air blower. I keep both in my backpack so I know where to find them. I also make sure to have lots of microfiber cloths!

What Else Do I Need?

I wish I could say I’m done spending money. But as you’ve seen above, I’m already hoping to upgrade my camera body and to get a new tripod. Here are some other “down the road” items I would like to have, but I’m not yet ready to spend money on!

  • Scope – a scope is really useful for birds that are super far away. This is common at Merritt Island NWR with the over-wintering ducks. It also would have been useful for the neotropic cormorant that was there a few months ago! I haven’t researched these so I don’t know what brand/model. Probably not Swarovski, unless I win the state lottery!
  • Digiscope Phone Adapter – with an adapter, it’s pretty easy to take pictures through a scope using just your cell phone. I’ve been lucky enough to be allowed to try it on other peoples’ scopes. At other times, I’ve tried to do it without an adapter, but it’s much harder. These are cheap, so if I get a scope, I’ll get this at the same time
  • A prime lens – I would really like a high quality, lighter-weight telephoto prime lens. Prime lenses don’t zoom in and out; they have a fixed distance, like 500mm. A lens that lists a range, like 150-500mm, is a zoom lens.
  • A mounted wildlife camera – I would like to put a wildlife camera on my bird feeders. Again, not super expensive. Right now, I don’t want to share my WiFi bandwidth since I work from home, so I haven’t bothered.

That’s it! Now you know what I use to shoot my photos. If you click any of the links above, they’ll take you to Amazon. If you make a purchase, I’ll get a very small commission and it shouldn’t cost you any extra. Maybe if enough of you do that, I’ll be able to afford that R5. 😉

What bird photography gear do you use and recommend?

Bird Photography

How to Photograph Birds in Flight

One of the hardest things to photograph in nature is a bird in flight. It’s a technique that takes both study and practice. If you’d like to improve your bird in flight (BIF) photos, then this post is for you. It will help you learn to take your first BIF photos, and then how to improve your technique to get the best photographs of flying birds.

Step 1: Find Some Birds!

The first thing to do is to find some birds to take photos of! Some places might be easier than others, so I would suggest places where:

  • the birds are larger – small songbirds are fast and hard to focus on
  • the birds aren’t hidden by foliage or other elements that make them hard to find
  • the light is good

Some ideas that fit these criteria are shore birds at the beach or at a lake or pond, or even birds in a parking lot. Pigeons are a great bird to learn on! I know they’re probably not your favorite bird, but if the goal is to practice – and it is – then easy-to-find and easy-to-see birds are the best. Fortunately it’s easy and cheap to practice with a digital camera; thankfully most of us are not shooting on actual film these days!

If you need more help, check out my post on Where to Find Birds.

Step 2: Choose a Time of Day

The best time of day to shoot birds in flight is the first hour or two after sunrise, or the last hour or two before sunset.

You want the light to be bright enough that you can set your shutter speed fairly high, since you’ll be moving your camera and the birds will also be in motion. But you don’t want the sun so high that you’re just getting a dark silhouette against a bright sky.

Position yourself so that the sun is behind you, or at least to the side. Don’t shoot directly into the sun. (Although there are times to break every photography rule, learning to shoot birds in flight isn’t one of those times.)

How to Photograph Birds in Flight
Bird in flight photography: Swallow-tailed kite with prey, Wildwood, Florida

Step 3: Prepare Your Camera For BIF Shots

There are several camera settings that are generally best for in-flight bird photography. If you’re still shooting in automatic mode, then please take some time and learn to shoot in aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, and even manual mode.

For BIF photos, you want a fast shutter speed to compensate for your movement and the movement of the subjects. So you’ll need to shoot in shutter priority mode, or even better, manual mode. If the light allows, shutter speeds of 1/1000 and higher should produce the best results. For super fast birds, like least terns, you’ll probably want something closer to 1/3200. (As a quick note, the larger the number on the bottom, the faster the shutter speed. 1/500 means the shutter is open for 1/500th of a second. The shorter it’s open, the less light is let in, but it better compensates for movement.)

If your camera supports burst mode, set it to that as well, so we can use something called the “spray and pray” method. This basically means you’ll be shooting a sequence of images very quickly, one after another, and praying that you get one or two good photos out of the batch!

Finally, set your camera to back-button focus and learn how to use that. This will allow you to control your focus with a different button than what you’re using to release the shutter. It will give you much better results.

How to Photograph Birds in Flight
Crows and rooks taking flight, Cley Marshes, England

Step 4: Get out and Practice

Now head to your chosen location because it’s time to practice. Pack some water and maybe a snack, and a lot of patience.

Why patience? You’ll have to wait for the birds to take off! This will get easier as you learn the behavior of the birds you’re photographing. If you’re shooting in a park or at a populated beach, just wait for someone to walk by and the birds will scatter. If you’re in a more natural area, the birds will fly if a predator comes by or if they are startled by something. Nesting birds will fly off to find their mate a meal, or to gather nesting materials.

Focus your camera on the birds at their current location, and leave it on. Don’t zoom in too far, because the further in you zoom, the harder it is to track the birds when they move. Then, wait for them to fly.

When the bird flies, aim your camera towards them and use your back button to focus. Track your camera along the same path that the birds take. This is easier with large birds, who tend to fly more slowly and in direct paths, when compared to small songbirds. Press the shutter button, and if you have your camera in burst mode, continue holding it down.

This definitely gets easier with practice. You can practice tracking birds’ movement in flight even without taking photos; I did a lot of that when I was learning to take BIF photos. Tracking is probably the hardest part!

Some Helpful Notes for to Help You Photograph Birds in Flight

Here are some helpful notes for helping you photograph birds in flight.

Watch your step! Don’t try to balance precariously only something. Find a solid stance and don’t move too much if you’re close to a curb, a shoreline, or anything else that can trip you up.

Zoom: Less is More – The more you’re zoomed in on your subject, the quicker you’ll lose them when they move. At rest, it looks great if the fill the entire frame in the camera. But you’ll find yourself taking lots of pictures of the empty sky or just half of a bird if you’re zoomed in too far. Try to balance the focal length so the bird doesn’t take up too much of the photograph, but so it isn’t just a tiny dot either.

Don’t hold down the back button to focus – When you follow the birds, don’t hold down the back button to maintain focus. Wait until you have the bird in your viewfinder and then press it. You can continue pressing it intermittently while you shoot.

Consider NOT using the back button focus – Although I like to use it even for flight photos, other people recommend not using it. If you want, try it both ways and see what you like best.

Turn off image stabilization – this isn’t going to be helpful for BIF photography, so turn it off to improve the performance of your lens.

Set a single focus point – set your camera to use a single focus point instead of multiple ones. Set the focal point to the middle of the viewfinder, and try to keep it centered over your subject.

Try a monopod – a monopod is like a tripod, but with only one leg. It will help you hold your camera in a ready position

Use a tripod with a gimbal head – if you really get serious about your birds in flight photography, consider purchasing a tripod with a gimbal head. You can sometimes use one with a ball head but your movement will be limited. Here’s a great post about using a long lens on a tripod.

Go easy on yourself – shooting photos of birds in flight isn’t an easy task. Don’t be too hard on yourself for clipped wings, blur, or under- and over-exposed images. Your results will get better with time and practice. An experienced bird photographer will even struggle with BIF photos sometimes!

I hope you’ve found this post about taking photographs of birds in flight both helpful and an enjoyable read. Please leave any questions or comments about wildlife photography below and I’ll try to reply back as quickly as I can. If you really liked the post, consider bookmarking it or sharing it on social media. Thank you!