Michigan birds of prey

Michigan Birds of Prey: 18 Awesome Species with Pictures

According to the Michigan Bird Records Committee (MBRC), there are 450 bird species soaring above the skies of the Great Lakes State!

However, this list contains just about all the species of birds in the state, but if you’re interested in the raptors found in Michigan, this article is for you!

In today’s article, we’ll walk you through a brief guide that includes 18 of the most popular and amazing Michigan birds of prey, so you can find out more about the richness of Michigan’s wildlife. Let’s jump right in!

1. Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk Perched on Country Fence

The Red-Tailed Hawk is known scientifically as “Buteo jamaicensis” and it’s one of the most popular and widespread raptors in all of North America.

Author Note: The bird is found all year round in southern regions of the state and often in the north during the breeding season only.

The red-tailed hawk has an iconic sound that is enough to send all nearby birds flying. However, they mainly feed on small mammals like rats, mice, squirrels, etc.

The bird has a large wingspan of about 4.5 feet although they’re only 23 inches high. They also weigh around 2.75 lbs and have a reddish-brown tail that gives them their characteristic appearance.

2. Cooper’s Hawk

Immature Coopers Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk’s scientific name is “Accipiter cooperii”. These ones are medium-sized birds but are considered relatively small hawks. They’re named after “William Cooper”, who is one of the most popular ornithologists of his age.

The bird has a characteristic steely blue and grayish plumage on the back along with reddish bars on its front with several streaks and bands on its tail. The bird also has red-colored eyes that make it identifiable from similar species.

Cooper’s hawk is among the species known for their gender dysmorphia, as adult males are significantly smaller and shorter than females. The birds are typical lurkers around backyards as they prey on little songbirds, so make sure that you take down your bird feeder for a few days if you spot one nearby.

3. Broad-Winged Hawk

broad winged hawk on the ground

The broad-winged hawks are known as “Buteo platypterus”, which is a relatively small hawk in terms of size. However, the bird is known for its extremely protective nature when it comes to its nest.

Author Note: Like the red-tailed hawk, this one also has an intimidating and ear piercing cry. The adult hawk is characterized by its reddish-brown head as well as the broad black and white bands over its tail.

This bird is typically found in Michigan during the summer when they migrate for breeding. You can even identify the migrating raptors because they travel in large flocks.

During their stay in Michigan, the broad-winged hawks will prefer to build their nests in heavily wooded areas.

4. Red-Shouldered Hawk

red shouldered hawk on a tree

The red-shouldered hawk also belongs to the Buteo family (Buteo lineatus), so it also shares the noticeably loud and intimidating whistles of other hawks of the same family.

This bird rocks a unique reddish brown plumage along with a heavy checkered black and white pattern on its wings.

Unlike the broad-winged hawk, the red shouldered hawk is typically found throughout the year in the State of Michigan.

The red-shouldered hawks feed on various species, including a wide range of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even smaller birds.

Since these birds can prey on waterfowls, they typically live in wooded areas that are near lakes and other water bodies around Michigan.

5. Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

The sharp-shinned hawk’s scientific name is “Accipiter striatus”, which is the same family as Cooper’s hawk, explaining the noticeable resemblance between the two raptors.

Both birds have relatively slender bodies with large talons to prey on smaller birds. Since Sharp-Shinned hawks typically feed on songbirds, they also lurk around backyards and bird feeders.

The bird has some orange bards over their white underparts and has a dark colored eye, which is one of the ways to tell them apart from Cooper’s hawk.

6. Rough-Legged Hawk

rough legged hawk close up

The Rough-Legged hawk has a very unique appearance, which is one of the reasons why many people call it the “rough-legged buzzard”. The bird also belongs to the family of Buteo hawks (Buteo lagopus).

Top Tip: Although most birds in this family don’t have feathers on their tails, the rough-legged hawk has feathers all the way down, hence the name.

The bird is a migratory bird that typically migrates up north during the summer. You can easily identify them through the legs, you should keep in mind that they come in various shades depending on their variety.

7. American Kestrel

American Kestrel

This bird is known scientifically as “Falco sparverius”, and despite the name, they’re considered a hawk rather than a falcon.

However, its most characteristic feature is that is it is the smallest of all hawks in all of North America, to the point that some might call it “sparrow hawks”.

In addition to its small size, you can identify the bird by its steely blue patches on the wings and heads, so they’re pretty easy to identify.

Despite being a tiny raptor, the American Kestrel is a fierce little bird that preys on various birds and small mammals.

8. The American Bald Eagle

bald eagle with chick

Since 1782, the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been recognized as the national bird of the United States of America. In addition to Michigan, the bird is found all across the mainland states as well as Canada and Alaska.

The reason for the nomenclature is the white colored feathers on the bird’s head, which gives the impression that the bird is bald in relation to its brown body.

The females of this bird are significantly heavier than the males, although they’re not that far off in terms of size. The bald eagle mainly feeds on fish, so it’s typically found in wooded areas surrounding bodies of water.

9. Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is the only other species of eagle that you can find easily in the State of Michigan.

The bird is scientifically known as “Aquila chrysaetos” and it’s one of the most generally widespread raptors of the state.

You can easily identify the bird thanks to its golden brown plumage around the head along with the brown color covering the rest of the eagle’s body.

Unlike the bald eagle, the golden eagle mainly feeds on small mammals, such as ground squirrels and rabbits. They’re larger in size than the bald eagles and have a wider wingspan of about 5.11 to 7.8 feet.

10. Barred Owl

barred owl close up

There are plenty of magnificent owls in the state of Michigan, but the Barred Owl is one of the unique owls that you may come across while in town!

The scientific name of this owl is “Strix varias”. The owl prefers the northern regions of the state but can be found just about anywhere.

One of the most impressive features of this bird is the lack of ear tufts and its facial disk, which is heart shaped with dark black eyes and reddish brown markings all over its body.

Additionally, you can identify the bird with the horizontal stripes that cover its back, wings, and tail. These stripes are alternating in light and dark shades of brown, giving a streaked pattern.

11. Snowy Owl

snowy owl close up

The snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) is one of the owls that are hard to mistake because they’re remarkably unique in their appearance.
As the name suggests, the snowy owl has a thick white coat of feathers all over its body with a round head and no ear tufts.

The owl has a very sharp yellow eye that contrasts pretty well with its color. The owl has a relatively large body compared to other species and might have some patterns or markings on its wings.

They’re pretty tame around humans when they’re raised with people, so they’re sometimes adopted as exotic pets.

12. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned owl, also known as “Bubo virginianus”, is another highly common owl that you can find in the state of Michigan. The bird is fairly large and has large ear tufts that look like large horns, which explains the name.

The nocturnal bird is easily identified by its hooting sound at night, and you’ll have the best chance of coming across one in nearby forests where it can hunt down small mammals.

13. American Barn Owl

Barn owl sitting on the rock

The American barn owl is unique in terms of looks and behaviors. The bird goes by many names, such as “Tyto alba” scientifically, and commonly as “church owl”, “ghost owl”, and “monkey faced owl”.

Top Tip: The reason for these names is that this owl will typically fly around old buildings that are empty at night, especially the ones made of wood, such as barns, churches, etc.

They also have unmistakable facial features with a heart shaped facial disk with a downward facing nose-peak.

14. Prairie Falcon

The prairie falcon is endemic to the entire North American continent, despite having a scientific name of “Falco mexicanus”.

The bird of prey is typically medium sized and has a brown/tan plumage on its back along with spots of varying shades of brown all across its body.

The bird is known for its remarkable speed and its talons that allow it to dive at high speeds to catch small rodents.

15. Peregrine Falcon

Perched Peregrine Falcon

In terms of looks, it’s quite difficult to tell the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the Prairie Falcon apart, as they both share a common ancestor of up to 4 million years, which is considered pretty recent in terms of evolution.

The most characteristic feature of this bird is that it’s the fastest bird on the planet with a diving speed that can break the 200 mph limit.

Peregrine Falcons are also typically larger than Prairie falcons, which allow them to prey on a larger variety of birds, including pigeons, grouse, songbirds, doves, waterfowl, and even small mammals and some lizards.

16. Osprey

Closeup portrait of an osprey on a telephone pole with wings spread

Osprey belongs to its own family (Pandionidae) and isn’t considered an eagle or a hawk. This bird goes by the scientific name “Pandion haliaetus” and you can find them in plenty within Michigan and even surrounding states.

Ospreys mainly feed on fish and marine creatures, which explains some of its common names, such as “river hawks”, “fish hawks”, and “sea hawks” but they can also resort to other food items on the menu when food is scarce, such as small mammals and reptiles.

This bird species is a migrating one and you can typically find them while they’re migrating to the south in winter.

17. Turkey Vulture

turkey vulture close up

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) is one of the two common vulture species found in Michigan, and they’re the most commonly found species of vultures in all of North America.

The bird is characterized by its bald red head that lacks feathers as well as its bloody pink bill, similar to the ones found among Wild Turkeys, especially that it has black feathers covering the rest of its body from the neck.

Top Tip: This vulture typically flies low to use its strong sense of smell, which allows it to find carrion, which is the decaying flesh of dead animals.

18. Black Vulture

flying black vulture

Lastly, we have another species of vulture, but as the name suggests, the black vulture has a black colored head rather than the reddish pink bill of turkey vultures.

The scientific name of this species is “Coragyps atratus” and it also rocks the bald head style along with dark (and sometimes silver) skin throughout the rest of its body.

Similar to the Turkey vulture, this one also mainly feeds on carrion. However, this one is known for killing some animals to feed on their fresh meat too. This means that it can also attack small mammals and even livestock.

Wrap Up

There you have it! A brief list of 18 of the most amazing birds of prey that you can find in Michigan.

As you can see the Great Lake State is home to some of the most amazing raptors in the United States. Remember to always keep your bird watching gear on you to enjoy the most magnificent scenes!

We hope you enjoyed our guide of the most common Michigan birds of prey.

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