Texas isn’t only popular for barbeque and ranches; the Lone Star state has one of the best bird varieties in the US, thanks to its strategic geographic position.
The state lies in the center of North America, collecting birds from both eastern and western sides. Its shared border with Mexico also entices many species from the Latin American country.
Not to mention, being the second largest state in the US, it’s not particularly hard for Texas to fit all these birds.
If Texas birds of prey are sparking your curiosity, here are 17 species you can see in the state.
Piscivore birds have always been an interest of mine. Watching a bird reach into the water, take a fish out, and feed on it is a scene that never ceases to amaze me. If you’re the same, look for an osprey in Texas.
The fish-eating bird is commonly classified as a hawk. Many people even call it the sea hawk and fish hawk. However, ospreys aren’t even genetically related to hawks; they only look like them.
Top Tip: You can find ospreys near any water body in Texas. They live and nest near rivers, marshes, ponds, and streams. They also stay in the state for the whole year.
Golden eagles are spitting images of bald eagles. If not for their dark heads, you’d easily mistake them for each other. Golden eagles are faster than their cousins, though, thanks to their agile flying skills.
Both species also have different feeding habits. Golden eagles prefer preying on mammals, while bald eagles only eat mammals when fish isn’t available.
You’d be surprised to find out that golden eagles may feed on mountain goats and deer. It’s hard to believe; I’ll give you that. In the end, golden eagles are smaller than half the size of these animals. However, equipped with their sharp talons and hunting skills, they have nothing to fear. Plus, they can’t find plenty in Texas’ woods.
Broad-winged hawks don’t like to make their presence known. They’ll be there, but you won’t see them because they don’t want you to. They prefer to stay hidden in the woods, particularly away from any passing human.
These hawks spend the summer in Texas before flying to South America and Central America to pursue warmth. Some migrate as far as 4,000 miles and return the same distance.
Even for hawks, this is a quite impressive distance to cover twice a year.
The red-tailed hawk is widespread in pretty much all of the US. It’s one of the most common raptors in Texas, living in the state for the whole year without migrating.
It’s not hard for red-tailed hawks to live anywhere with their highly adaptive natures. You can find them in urban areas, parks, forests, and even backyard feeders.
It may not be easy to identify them because birds have different colored bodies. Some will be rusty brown, and some will lean more towards white. Not to mention, they look like multiple other hawk species, like red-shouldered hawks.
Top Tip: They all share the red tail, which is your key to identifying them.
American kestrels may be too small to be raptors, but their hunting skills have them living just fine. They’re the smallest birds of prey in Texas, falling in the same size category as American robins.
Many bird watchers call American kestrels sparrow hawks because of their infamous hunting method. They catch sparrows right out of the air without waiting for them to land. Their size also makes them agile enough to catch their prey without stalling.
Unfortunately, American kestrels lack the size advantage. So, while they hunt birds of their own, they’re constantly hunted down by larger raptors.
Turkey vultures are widely known because of their rather menacing looks. They’re unmistakable with their fiery red faces and sharp looks. That’s not why they’re perceived as scary, though. That’s mostly because of their scavenging habits.
The concept of scavenging is unfamiliar to humans, but it’s common among vultures. Their main diet consists of dead animal bodies. Because of that, they have an impeccable sense of smell that helps them smell victims as far as eight miles away.
These fellows are common in Texas, and they breed in the year for the whole year. They look like wild turkeys, but they’re more vicious.
Sharp-shinned hawks are smaller than most hawks, and they’re among the smallest raptors in Texas. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous than other raptors, though.
While most hawks just splurge out on their victim, effectively killing it within a few seconds of contact, sharp-shinned hawks prefer the element of surprise. They fly quickly through dense vegetation, surprising their prey out of nowhere.
They know well enough that his hunting method may turn on them, but they look like they’ve been doing fine until now.
Top Tip: In Texas, you’ll see these hawks in the woods. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one flying by your backyard feeder.
If not for their slightly larger size, you’d definitely mistake Cooper’s hawks for sharp-shinned ones. They look exactly the same, but the rounded tails of Cooper’s hawks and their round red eyes give them away.
Cooper’s hawks are common in Texas, and they spend most of their time on field edges and inside the woods. They’re highly agile in flight, which helps them capture their prey faster than they can realize they’re being preyed on.
It doesn’t help that Cooper’s hawks have violent hunting tendencies, too. Instead of just killing the prey and ridding it of its misery, they prefer to squeeze it until it’s dead.
Rough-legged hawks are the only raptors in Texas with feathers covering their whole bodies, even their legs. Hence, their naming.
They have feathers on their talons because they tend to live in cold areas, so their bodies are designed to endure the cold.
These buzzards only spend the winter in Texas, but they migrate to the arctic tundra in the summer because they can’t stand the heat. Your best chance of catching them is in the early morning before they go into hiding when the night befalls.
10. Great Horned Owl
It’d be the understatement of the century to say great horned owls are scary. These champs are terrifying, to say the least. Their large, yellow eyes that don’t move can see right through your soul, and their 25-inch bodies don’t exactly help with the scary status.
Great horned owls aren’t only frightening, but they’re dangerous as well. They’ll attack humans when they have the chance. That’s why most bird watchers recommend staying out of their way.
These owls don’t need to make much effort to hunt. Once their talons close in on their prey, it dies instantly.
In North Texas, you can watch these raptors all year long. They prefer to stay on tall trees in woodlands, but you may see some stray ones in urban areas.
11. Barred Owl
Barred owls aren’t any less scary than great horned ones, but their smaller size makes them easier on the eye. Despite that, they’ve been associated with some aggressive situations with humans.
In a particular murder case in 2003, the culprit almost turned out to be a barred owl, despite the victim’s husband being convicted.
I’m not saying a barred owl will attack you. If you see one perching on a tree, chances are, it’ll just fly off to another branch and ignore you. They mostly only attack when they feel threatened.
Top Tip: In Texas, you can observe barred owls in the eastern forests, particularly in the Pineywoods and Coastal Prairies.
12. Peregrine Falcon
The first thing you usually notice about a bird is its flight pattern, plumage, or hunting skills. When you see a peregrine falcon, you’ll be starstruck by its speed, paying no attention to anything else.
Reaching a speed of 200–240 mph, peregrine falcons are a nightmare to their prey. No matter how fast any animal is, it won’t be able to compete with the falcon’s swift dive.
You can see these falcons everywhere in Texas, and they’re spread throughout a lot of other states as well. They usually nest next to tall buildings.
13. Prairie Falcon
The Prairie Falcon is one of a few falcons that live in Texas. It looks strikingly similar to the peregrine falcon, leading scientists to believe they descend from the same ancestor. However, that was around four million years ago, so their similar genetics were likely lost along the way.
Prairie falcons only look similar to peregrine falcons, but they’re nowhere as fast as them. They have lighter bodies, and they don’t hunt as much as their speedy cousins.
Prairie falcons have weird ways to have fun. They like to play around with cow manure, throwing it into the air before catching it before it hits the ground. Bird watchers believe they do this as a form of practice for hunting. I’m not sure whether that’s true, so I’ll just say a big Ew and move on.
14. Bald Eagle
Bald eagles have no shame. They’ll fly close to an oblivious animal, steal its food, and fly away like nothing’s happened. They’ll do anything to get food. Their preferred meal is fish, and when they can’t find it, they’ll scavenge on carrion, like vultures.
Contrary to common beliefs, these raptors are called bald because their heads are white, not because they lack feathers.
Author Note: Bear in mind that bald eagles are protected in most states by state law and federal law. If you attack or kill an eagle, you get a criminal offense that may cost $100,000, or sometimes a year in prison.
You’ll see bald eagles all year round in Texas.
15. Snowy Owl
Snowy owls get away with a lot of things because of their pretty faces. They’re among the most beautiful birds on earth, and their bright white plumage stands out in the crowd.
That doesn’t mean they’ll go easy on you, though. These birds are avid hunters, and they’re not exactly fans of humans. They’re used to living in the arctic tundra with no warm-blooded creatures around. As a result, they show hostile behavior towards humans when they feel threatened by them.
These raptors also hunt during both day and night, so you have a good chance of seeing them during their migration season. They don’t stay in the state for long, though.
16. Black Vulture
Black vultures share the same shape, scary look, and scavenging habits as turkey vultures. Except that they have entirely black bodies, while turkey vultures have red heads.
Black vultures are commonly associated with rebirth because the ancient Tibetans believed they give the dead animals new chances at a new life by eating them. While that’s a poetic perspective to have, it’s a fat chance that a dead animal will get rebirthed after being eaten.
These vultures mostly feed on lamps, piglets, cows, and even young calves. Their numbers are on the rise in Texas, so detecting them shouldn’t be hard.
17. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Out of all hawks that live in North America, red-shouldered ones are the most vocal. They’re strictly territorial, and they don’t live in flocks. As a result, they have no way to communicate with fellow hawks but to call out for them.
Red-shouldered hawks are common in Texas, sticking to the forests and suburban areas. Their numbers have been quite good for some years, but they’re threatened by loss of habitat, hunting, and human activities.
Author Note: When threatened, red-shouldered hawks will attack, whether it’s a human, mammal, or large animal.
The variety of birds in Texas is worth a visit. You’ll hardly find a state with the same collection of hawks, owls, and falcons. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a great horned owl hiding on tall tree branches.
Or, you may see a bald eagle reaching into the water and landing its victim.
In all cases, I’m sure your bird-watching trip to Texas will be fruitful! We hope you enjoyed our guide on the most common Texas birds of prey.