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An In-Depth Guide to The 13 Top Most Birds of Prey in North Carolina


North Carolina is a bird-watching haven that offers breathtaking landscapes and awe-inspiring mountains. With over 400 species of birds, it is no wonder that bird lovers flock to this state. If you’re a fan of birds of prey, then North Carolina is a must-visit destination. Home to 13 species of raptors, including eagles, hawks, and falcons, it’s sure to satisfy any bird-watching enthusiast’s cravings. 

The North Carolina Bird Records Committee reports that the state offers some of the richest avian habitats in America, making it an iconic hotspot for bird-watching enthusiasts.

13 Birds of Prey in North Carolina

Red-tailed Hawks

Birds of Prey in North Carolina
  • Size: 18 – 26 in
  • Weight: 2 – 4 lbs
  • Wingspan: 45 – 52.4 in

North Carolina is home to many incredible birds of prey, but one that stands out is the red-tailed hawk. This species is one of North America’s most commonly seen raptors due to its large breeding range. While they breed north of the United States borders, they can be found all across the continent, including North Carolina. 

What’s particularly impressive is their adaptability – they can be spotted year-round in urban areas, deserts, forests, and agricultural fields. The red-tailed hawk is easily identifiable thanks to its brown feathers on the top and pale underside, as well as its striking red tail feathers. 

They are also opportunistic carnivores, meaning they eat a variety of prey. Keep your eyes peeled during your next outing – you never know when you’ll spot one of these impressive creatures soaring overhead.

Red-shouldered Hawks

Red-shouldered Hawks
  • Size: 17 – 24 in
  • Weight: 1 – 2.05 lbs
  • Wingspan: 33- 50 in

The red-shouldered hawk, with its distinctive red shoulders, is a fascinating bird of prey. Often mistaken for the red-tailed hawk, this species is smaller and found year-round in North Carolina. 

These hawks travel north to breed and south to winter. Unfortunately, deforestation poses the biggest danger to these beautiful creatures, as they need open forests to hunt. If you’re lucky, you may spot one in the suburbs near some trees. 

The hawk’s main diet consists of rodents such as mice, gophers, and chipmunks, although they will also consume reptiles and other birds. Keep an eye out for these incredible hunters soaring across the sky.

Sharp-shinned Hawks

Sharp-shinned Hawks
  • Size: 9.1 – 12 in
  • Weight: 0.2 – 0.5 lbs
  • Wingspan: 17 – 23 in

The sharp-shinned hawk, one of the smallest birds of prey in North Carolina, is a fascinating creature to observe. With a wingspan reaching up to 23 inches and a weight of just 4oz, this tiny hawk is a marvel of the avian world. 

Interestingly, the female hawks are larger than the males which is a characteristic shared with many raptors. Found throughout the Americas, these birds can be identified by their long tails, short wings, and slender legs. 

They live year-round in North Carolina, often in dense forests, but can also be spotted in suburban areas. As skilled hunters, they feed primarily on smaller birds and can even be seen waiting patiently near bird feeders. 

Watching a sharp-shinned hawk in action is truly an incredible sight to behold.

Bald Eagles

bald eagles eating fish
  • Size: 32 – 38 in
  • Weight: 7 – 10 lbs
  • Wingspan: 66 – 90 in

The bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, is a well-known species that inhabit North America. Specifically in North Carolina, sightings of the stunning eagle can be found near bodies of water, such as Jordan and Fall Lakes. Despite its name, the bald eagle is not actually bald, but it boasts a striking white head that makes it easily recognizable. 

Its dark brown feathers, whitetail, and formidable talons only add to its impressive appearance. With a wingspan that can span up to 7 feet, it’s difficult to miss this magnificent bird in flight. Given its affinity for water, it’s no surprise that fish make up the largest part of its diet.  

Cooper’s Hawks

Cooper’s Hawks
  • Size: 14 – 21 in
  • Weight: 0.5 – 1.4 lbs
  • Wingspan: 27 – 36 in

The Cooper’s hawk is a widespread bird species found all over the United States, from southern Canada down to Mexico. In North Carolina, it is a common bird of prey that can be seen throughout the year, as it both breeds and migrates in the region. Birdwatchers are especially pleased with this fact.

If you’re looking for Cooper’s hawk, you can search for them in dense forests, open woodlands, and around birdfeeders, where they often prey on smaller birds. Interestingly, studies have shown that this raptor is highly adaptable to new habitats and can even be found in urban areas.

Despite being described as “bloodthirsty,” Cooper’s hawk is a highly effective predator that feeds on a variety of animals. Its diet includes birds like pigeons, jays, and robins, as well as small mammals such as chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and even bats.

American Kestrels

American Kestrels
  • Size: 9 – 11 in
  • Weight: 0.2 – 0.36 lbs
  • Wingspan: 17 – 22 in

The American kestrel may be small, but it is mighty. As the smallest bird of prey in North Carolina and the smallest falcon in the USA, you might expect this animal to be relegated to certain regions. But you’ll be surprised to learn that it has an extensive distribution, ranging from Western Europe to Canada, Mexico, and South America. 

Its diet is similarly varied, consisting mainly of insects like grasshoppers and butterflies, but it won’t hesitate to prey on rodents and small birds like sparrows when the opportunity presents itself. Its adaptability extends to its habitats too, as American kestrels can be found in everything from urban areas to deserts and agricultural fields.  

Great Horned Owls

  • Size: 19 – 35 in
  • Weight: 3 – 4 lbs
  • Wingspan: 39 – 57 in

The great horned owl, also known as the hoot owl or tiger owl, is an impressive bird of prey that can be found throughout North and South America. 

Its striking yellow eyes and distinct ear-like tufts at the top of its head make it an easily recognizable species, but its grey-brown body colour allows it to blend in well with its surroundings. 

In North Carolina, it’s a common sight, except during the winter months. Great horned owls have a knack for adapting to various environments, from dense forests to city backyards, and they have a diverse diet that includes mammals like mice, rabbits, and skunks, as well as birds when their preferred prey is lacking.  

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures
  • Size: 25 – 32 in
  • Weight: 1.8 – 5.3 lbs
  • Wingspan: 65 – 70 in

The Turkey vulture may not have the most visually appealing features, but these birds are a crucial part of the North Carolina ecosystem. They can be found in all types of terrain, including forests, deserts, and pastures, making them versatile species. 

Their bald head and dark plumage may be off-putting to some, but it’s been suggested that their baldness is for practicality purposes. These birds of prey solely feed on carrion, or decaying animal flesh, which may not be the most glamorous diet, but it serves a crucial role in the animal kingdom.

They don’t kill for their food but rather use their highly sensitive sense of smell to scavenge for it. Despite eating carrion, these birds are immune to many illnesses that would usually affect animals that eat decaying flesh. 

 Black Vultures

 Black Vultures
  • Size: 22 – 29 in
  • Weight: 3.5 – 6.6 lbs
  • Wingspan: 52 – 66 in

The black vulture may appear similar to the turkey vulture at first glance, but it is a much more menacing bird. While they primarily dine on carrion, black vultures have been known to hunt and kill their prey, including livestock, deer, skunks, possums, turtles, and other birds. 

Their immunity to numerous toxins found in decaying flesh only adds to their intimidating nature. These scary yet intriguing birds can be found year-round in North Carolina with their jet-black feathers, grey head, and a long wingspan of over 5 feet. 

They tend to nest in forests but are also often seen in urban areas, scavenging through garbage. Keep your eyes peeled for these impressive predators.

Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcons
  • Size: 14.2 – 19.3 in
  • Weight: 1.5 – 3.3 lbs
  • Wingspan: 39.4 – 43.3 in

The peregrine falcon is a truly incredible bird of prey. Did you know that it is one of the most widespread raptors in the world? Whether you live in a bustling city or a remote mountain range, you can catch sight of this fascinating creature virtually anywhere (with the exception of Antarctica, of course!). 

And if you do spot a peregrine falcon, get ready to be amazed – this bird is the fastest animal on earth, clocking in at a speed of nearly 250 miles per hour! But these birds aren’t just impressive hunters – they are also incredibly adaptable to their environment. 

Whether they are scanning the skies above a coastal beach or swooping through a bustling urban centre, the peregrine falcon can thrive anywhere. Unfortunately, they are somewhat uncommon in North Carolina, with sightings limited to winter and late fall.  


  • Size: 20 – 26 in
  • Weight: 2 – 4 6 lbs
  • Wingspan: 59 – 70 in

The Osprey is a fascinating bird that can be found near large bodies of water in North Carolina’s coastal plain during the warmer months. Its distinguishing feature is its dark brown wings and white feathers on the underside. 

As a piscivorous predator, the osprey’s diet consists almost entirely of fish, up to 99% of its total food consumption. With its unique sight that allows it to see underwater from above, the osprey is a skilled hunter. Its hunting technique involves diving swiftly into the water, sometimes fully submerging itself, to catch its slippery prey.  

Barred Owls

Barred Owls
  • Size: 16 – 25 in
  • Weight: 1.3 – 2.5 lbs
  • Wingspan: 50 – 60 in

The barred owl is a distinctive and beautiful bird, known for its alternating light brown and dark brown feather pattern. During the breeding season, these owls can be found in the east of North Carolina, where they prefer to reside in dense forests and wooded swamps. 

They typically nest in natural tree holes, making them a bit difficult to spot. However, if you are lucky enough to see one at night (since they are nocturnal), it will be a truly mesmerizing sight. 

The barred owl feeds on small mammals, such as chipmunks, mice, weasels, squirrels, and rabbits, as well as reptiles, amphibians, and other birds. 

Snowy Owls

Snowy Owls
  • Size: 20 – 27 in
  • Weight: 3 – 6 lbs
  • Wingspan: 49 – 51 in

If you’re a bird watcher or simply love to admire nature’s stunning creatures, the snowy owl is a must-see. This gorgeous bird, also known as the Arctic owl, the polar owl, and the white owl, boasts a predominantly white plumage that is difficult to miss. 

Its yellow eyes only add to its identity as a true masterpiece of nature. You may be surprised to learn that snowy owls can even be observed in North Carolina during migration season, which runs from late October to April. 

If you’re eager to see one for yourself, your best bet is to go at dusk or dawn when these nocturnal creatures are most active. Snowy owls prefer open areas with few trees, and you’re likely to spot them perched on power lines, searching for their next meal.


What is the most common bird of prey in North Carolina?

American Kestrels

What is the largest hawk in North Carolina?

Fish Hawk

What are the raptor birds of NC?

Eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons.

What hawks are common in North Carolina?

The red-tailed hawk

Final Words

After an exciting exploration into the world of birds of prey in North Carolina, our journey has finally come to a close. From the majestic red-tailed hawk to the lightning-fast peregrine falcon, these birds are truly awe-inspiring. However, as any avid birdwatcher knows, spotting these species in the wild requires patience and skill. But with determination and a keen eye, we’re sure you’ll be able to witness the beauty of these incredible birds firsthand.  


Author Profile
Jeevan Kodiyan
Zoologist | Wildlife Conservation at Animals Research

An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.


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