Colorado birds of prey

Colorado Birds of Prey: 17 Most Common Species with Pictures

The State of Colorado is known for its rich wildlife variety, especially when it comes to birds. The Colorado Bird Records Committee (CBRC) and Colorado Field Ornithologists have reported that the state is home to about 511 species of birds.

Based on this, we can easily assume that the variety of Colorado birds of prey will be remarkably wide, and it actually is!

If you want to know more about raptors and birds of prey in the Centennial State, you’re in for a treat! In today’s article, we’ll walk you through 17 of the most amazing species that are found in Colorado. Let’s dive right in!

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

Side view of a red-tailed hawk

The Red-Tailed Hawk is one of the most common Colorado birds of prey. This one is known scientifically as “Buteo jamaicensis” and it’s one of the most common raptors in all of North America, and they live all year long in Colorado.

The bird has a magnificently large wingspan of about 4.5 feet although they have a length of only 23 inches. They typically weigh around 2.75 lbs and have a reddish-brown tail that gives them their characteristic look.

Author Note: While they can feed on a wide range of animals and have opportunistic tendencies, they seem to mainly feed on small mammals, such as rodents.

2. American Kestrel

american kestrel close up

The American Kestrel is known scientifically as “Falco sparverius”, and it belongs to the family of hawks of North America.

Top Tip: In fact, these birds are the smallest of all hawks with a body as large as a blue jay, which is why they’re commonly called the “sparrow hawk”.

The bird has a flacon-like pointed wing along with a typically slim but long tail. In addition to feeding on small insects, the American Kestrel can also feed on rodents and birds. The bird also has a unique steely blue head and wings that make them easy to identify.

3. Golden Eagle

Golden eagle in winter

Similar to the Red-Tailed Hawk, the Golden Eagle (scientifically known as “Aquila chrysaetos”) is also one of the most commonly widespread birds of prey in the region.

Top Tip: The bird is characterized by its golden brown plumage around its head but they have brown feathers covering the rest of its body.

Golden Eagles are known for their powerful legs and large, sharp talons that allow them to hunt down many small animals in flight, such as rabbits and squirrels. They have a relatively large wingspan of about 5.11 to 7.8 feet and can reach up to 40 inches in length.

4. Northern Harrier

northern harrier flying

The Northern Harrier’s scientific name is “Circus hudsonius”. These raptors are quite common all year round in Colorado but can be found anywhere from Alaska to Northern Mexico during the mating season.

The bird is typically 20 inches in length and has a relatively small wingspan of about 4 feet, although females are noticeably heavier than males in this species.

Northern harriers have a large appetite and can typically feed on a wide range of animals, including small birds, reptiles, and mammals like mice, lizards, voles, frogs, and ground squirrels.

5. American Barn Owl

barn owl

The barn owl is one of the most popular owls that you can find out there. The bird’s scientific name is “Tyto alba” and you can easily identify it by its pale round face and lack of ear tufts.

Thanks to its very unique shape and characteristics, the owl goes by a variety of names, including the “monkey-faced owl”, “church owl”. Additionally, the ability to fly in complete silence at night earned its nickname “the ghost owl”.

The owl is relatively medium in size and has round long wings and a relatively short tail.

The owl is mostly found around old trees and wooden buildings like barns, hence the name. Like most owls, this one is strictly nocturnal and feeds on a variety of rodents and small mammals.

6. Cooper’s Hawk

coopers hawk flying

This one is named after the popular American Ornithologist “William Cooper”. Not only that, but his name is even in its scientific name (Accipiter cooperii).

This hawk is a medium sized bird in general and its size is often compared to blackbirds and crows. Adult cooper hawks are characterized by their steely blue/grayish back along with the reddish bars on the front. They also have streaks and bands on their tails.

The bird is known for its gender dysmorphia, as the males are significantly smaller and shorter than females, although they rock a similar wingspan.

Cooper’s Hawk will typically hang around residential areas, and it’s not uncommon that you may spot one lurking around your backyard to hunt birds around your bird feeder. However, they usually nest in nearby woods.

7. Rough-Legged Hawk

rough legged hawk

The Rough-Legged hawk, also known as the “Rough-Legged Buzzard” or scientifically as “Buteo lagopus”, is one of the migratory birds of Colorado. This means that you’re most likely going to spot them in Colorado during the winter season, as they migrate during the summer far up north.

The Rough-Legged hawk has feathers that run down across their legs and all the way to their talons. These feathers give them a rough appearance, which earned them their common name.

In addition to their feathered legs, you can also identify the bird of prey by its noticeable mottled appearance, which can vary in shade of color depending on the species variety.

8. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl Looking at Camera

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the most commonly found owls in the State of Colorado. However, since they’re quite nocturnal, your best chance of spotting one would be at night.

But don’t worry, the great horned owl can be easily recognized thanks to its iconic hooting calls.

Not only that, but the unique appearance of the owl is also a great way to identify it.

Author Note: The bird has very large ear tufts and a large orange-colored head along with multiple black and white rings radiating from its face.

The birds are usually found in nearby forests and they typically hunt down small raccoons and squirrels.

9. American Bald Eagle

bald eagle in snow

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is the national bird of the United States of America and has been since 1782.

The bird is found in Colorado but you can also find it in almost all states of mainland USA, in addition to Alaska, Canada, and even some parts of Northern Mexico.

The white plumage on the brown bird’s head is the reason why it’s called bald. These birds typically build a large nest near water bodies because they mainly feed on fish.

Like Cooper’s Hawk, the American Bald Eagle is known for its gender dysmorphia, where females are much heavier than males.

10. Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

The Prairie Falcon is known scientifically as “Falco mexicanus”. The bird is native to North America, especially the western region, and you can find it specifically in open areas with less abundance of trees like grasslands, farm fields, shrubby deserts, etc.

The bird has a muddy brown back along with white underparts with brown spots all across. The prairie falcons are typically lightweight and mainly feed on ground squirrels.

11. Peregrine Falcon

peregrine falcon flying

This one is extremely similar to the Prairie Falcon, as they both share similar ancestors and are endemic to the same regions in North America.

These birds are known scientifically as “Falco peregrinus”, and it’s one of the fastest creatures on the planet and easily the fastest bird in the world.

Author Note: Their unique aerodynamic bodies allow them to reach speeds up to 180 to 200 mph when they’re nosediving!

They’re quite similar in looks to the Prairie Falcon, although they’re a little larger and eat larger prey, such as birds. They mainly feed on pigeons but can also hunt down waterfowl, grouse, doves, songbirds, and more!

12. Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture with open wings warming on a stone

The Turkey Vulture is one of the extremely common birds of prey in Colorado, as they’re the most widespread vulture species in the United States. They’re also commonly known as the “Turkey Buzzard” and scientifically as “Cathartes aura”.

The bird is characterized by its black body along with the featherless red head and reddish pink bill, which strikes a remarkable resemblance with the Wild Turkey that is also native to the continent.

The bird has a noticeable flight style while hovering on low altitudes, as they spread their wings forward to look like the letter V.

Vultures are known for their tendencies to ear the decaying flesh of dead animals, including reptiles, birds, and even invertebrates. They use their strong sense of smell to spot carrion, which is why they fly low to the ground.

13. Osprey

Osprey snatching a fish out of the water in the early morning

While some people might mistake an osprey for a hawk or an eagle, they’re neither of them. Instead, they belong to their own family (Pandionidae), and they have the scientific name of “Pandion haliaetus”.

These birds of prey are found in Colorado while migrating during the winter to the south. The males of this species are quite larger than females, although the latter are usually heavier.

They typically feed on fish, which is why they’re sometimes called “sea hawks”, “river hawks”, “fish hawks”, etc. Although they mainly feed on fish, they can sometimes be seen eating reptiles, small mammals, amphibians, crustaceans, and more.

14. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

sharp shinned hawk close up

This hawk is known scientifically as “Accipiter striatus”, which explains the striking similarities between them and Cooper’s Hawks, as they both share a relatively small body and have a habit of lurking around backyards. In fact, they’re believed to be the smallest species of hawks found in Colorado.

Like Cooper’s hawks, the Sharpies also feed mainly on songbirds that are attracted to bird feeders in backyards.

This is why it’s advised to take down or cover your bird feeder for a few days if you spot one around your house. The orange bars on their underparts are among the most characteristic features of the bird.

15. Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl roosting

This one is known as “Strix occidentalis”, and it’s one of the unique owl species that mostly live in the mountain range in the United States, so it’s found around the Rockies of Colorado.

The bird has a characteristic mottled appearance with white spots on brown plumage that earned it its name.

The medium sized owl is mostly active during the night where it catches its prey of small mammals and birds by surprise. The bird typically lives in the forest, especially within conifer and oak trees where they build their nests.

16. Northern Goshawk

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is derived from the old English term “goose hawk”, which was used to describe raptors.

You can find the Northern Goshawk all over the state of Colorado, especially as you head towards the western half of the states where the birds are found all year round.

On the other hand, Northern Goshawks in the eastern region may sometimes migrate in breeding seasons.

Author Note: The bird of prey is relatively larger than other medium sized hawks, such as sharp shinned hawks and Cooper Hawks.

You can identify the bird easily thanks to its gray plumage with white stripes above its eyes and red/orange eyes.

17. Ferruginous Hawk

ferruginous hawk on home

This one is known scientifically as “Buteo regalis”, and it’s the only hawk in North America (apart from the Rough Legged hawk) to have feathers running down all the way to their talons.

The raptor is found all year round in the state of Colorado and is considered the largest species of Buteo hawks in North America.

The bird typically exists in several varieties, including the light morph and the dark morph, which have the same build but with different shades of brown, white, and grayish brown on their bodies. They feed on a variety of small animals, such as ground squirrels, lizards, smaller birds, frogs, and more.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our list of the most popular birds of prey in the State of Colorado. As you can see, the variety of bird wildlife is simply brilliant in this region!

And with that list, you should have an excellent idea of what you should expect while watching birds there! We hope you enjoyed our guide on Colorado birds of prey.

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