Birds of Prey

Birds of prey are birds that hunt other animals for food. This includes raptors like eagles and hawks that hunt during the day as well as owls that are largely nocturnal. All birds of prey have hooked-shaped beaks and sharp talons to catch and kill prey. However, despite a similar appearance, raptors and owls are not closely related.

 

Eagles & Hawks - Order Accipitriformes, Family Accipitridae

 
A large golden-brown eagle perched on a branch.
Golden Eagle

2002 Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Golden Eagle
Aquila chrysaetos

Habitat: subalpine
Seasons: occasional summer-fall
Size: length 30 in (76 cm), wingspan 79 in (200 cm)
Golden Eagle Calls

Golden Eagles are large birds with dark brown coloring and golden heads. Most often seen soaring, they have long wings with a small head. Wings have a pale brown bar on the back when spread, and juveniles have an additional white patch on the wings. Secondary wing feathers are a little longer, creating a "bulge" in the profile of the wing shape when spread.

 
A pale reddish hawk perches on a snag.
Red-tailed Hawk

1999 George W. Robinson © California Academy of Sciences

Red-tailed Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Habitat: subalpine
Seasons: common summer-fall
Size: length 19 in (48 cm), wingspan 49 in (124.5 cm)
Red-tailed Hawk Calls

This common hawk has a distinctive red tail in adults, but overall coloring of individuals can vary from pale brown with white spots to a dark brown-black, with intermediate coloring in between. They tend to have pale breasts with dark heads, and pale primary feathers on the undersides of the wings. Red-tailed Hawks often hunt from perches, and when flying, glide with wings in a broad U shape.

 
A small grey hawk perches on a stump.
Sharp-shinned Hawk

NPS Photo

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Accipiter striatus

Habitat: subalpine
Seasons: occasional year-round
Size: length 11 in (28 cm), wingspan 23 in (58.4 cm)
Sharp-shinned Hawk Calls

A small hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawks have small heads and bills with short but broad wings. Adults have blue-grey crowns, backs, and wings, with pale red-brown streaked throats, breasts, and bellies. Juveniles are more brown in coloring. Tails are square, with dark bands.

 

Owls - Order Strigiformes, Family Strigidae

 
A barred owl front and back.
Barred Owl back (left) and front (right).

NPS Photos

Barred Owl
Strix varia

Habitat: forest
Seasons: occasional year-round
Size: length 21 in (53 cm), wingspan 42 in (106.7 cm)
Barred Owl Calls

Barred Owls have brown-streaked pale feathers, darker on the back and wings, with yellow-orange bills. They have round heads, broad wings, and short tails. Barred Owls compete with Spotted Owls, often pushing the Spotted Owls out of habitat.

 
Back and front of a dark owl.
Spotted Owl back (left) and front (right).

NPS Photos

Spotted Owl
Strix occidentalis

Habitat: forest
Seasons: occasional/rare year-round
Size: length 17.5 in (44.5 cm), wingspan 40 in (101.6 cm)
Spotted Owl Calls

Spotted Owls are very similar in appearance to Barred Owls, but are darker overall with pale spots particularly on the flanks. Bills are a darker yellow-green, with darker faces. Spotted owls are increasingly rare. Learn more about Spotted Owl monitoring at Mount Rainier National Park.

 
A tiny brown owl with intense yellow eyes.
Northern Pygmy-Owl

NPS/S. Redman Photo

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Glaucidium gnoma

Habitat: forest
Seasons: uncommon year-round
Size: length 6.75 in (17 cm), wingspan 12 in (30.5 cm)
Northern Pygmy-Owl Calls

These tiny owls are diurnal, hunting songbirds during the day. They have short brown wings and long tails with dark bands. Their heads and flanks are reddish-brown with pale spots, and they have white bellies with narrow black streaks. On the back of the head, Northern Pygmy-Owls have two black "false eye" spots.

 

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Last updated: November 25, 2019

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