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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Scientific Name: Coragyps 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.
- Scientific Name: Cathartes 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
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18.1-24.8 in (46-63 cm)
- Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz (910-2500 g)
- Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in (101-145 cm)
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.
- Scientific Name: Strix 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.
- Scientific Name: Tyto 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.
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3-9.8 in (16-25 cm)
- Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz (121-244 g)
- Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in (48-61 cm)
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.
- Scientific Name: Athene 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.
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
- Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz (206-475 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in (85-103 cm)
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
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1-8.3 in (18-21 cm)
- Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz (65-151 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in (42-48 cm)
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.
- Scientific Name: Falco 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.
- Scientific Name: Falco 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.
- Scientific Name: Falco 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.
- Scientific Name: Caracara 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.
- Scientific Name: Rostrhamus 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.
- Scientific Name: Elanoides 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.
- Scientific Name: Ictinia 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.
- Scientific Name: Elanus 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.