29 Types Of BIRDS OF PREY In Texas (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a Texas bird of prey, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying birds of prey in the Lone Star State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many raptors that regularly occur in Texas.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common birds of prey of Texas in this article.
What are the types of birds of prey in Texas?
The 29 types of birds of prey found in Texas are:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Harris’s Hawk
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Zone-tailed Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Broad-winged Hawk
- Gray Hawk
- White-tailed Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- White-tailed Kite
- Bald Eagle
- Golden Eagle
- American Kestrel
- Prairie Falcon
- Peregrine Falcon
- Crested Caracara
- Turkey Vulture
- Black Vulture
- Great Horned Owl
- Barn Owl
- Long-eared Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Short-eared Owl
- Eastern Screech-Owl
Note that this list includes both diurnal birds of prey (hawks, eagles, falcons, harriers, and vultures), as well as nocturnal birds of prey (owls).
While many of these birds of prey are found all year in Texas, a number of them only occur in the state only during the breeding season in summer.
Yet other raptor species are winter visitors to Texas, and a few are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these raptors of Texas:
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
With a wingspan of up to 52 in (4.5 ft), the Red-tailed Hawk is one of the larger species of hawks in Texas.
It has variable coloration, ranging from dark brown to almost entirely white, but can be readily recognized by its rusty red tail.
This large Texas bird is common in open grassland and also in cities. It is most often seen perched on roadside posts or fences, waiting for prey.
This bird of prey feeds on rodents and other small animals that it catches by swooping down from its perch when they venture out into the open.
The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the most common hawk species in Texas, and can be seen throughout the Lone Star State year-round.
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
From the largest to the smallest hawk on the list, the sharp-shinned hawk is most commonly seen stalking song birds, making them a regular sight in backyards in the state.
With blue-gray wings and back, and with orange feather patterns on their chests, these hawks are recognizable by their small size, agility, and distinctive behavior.
While Sharp-shinned Hawks don’t breed in Texas, they occur throughout the state outside of the breeding season.
Wintering birds are most often Sharp-Shinned Hawks from Canada that spend the cold season in the Lone Star State.
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
This little Texas hawk is agile and has a lot of skill when it comes to catching small birds in flight. Sometimes it will even take species that are larger than itself.
Male Cooper’s Hawks have reddish-orange bars on their underside, while their upperparts are grayish-blue. The piercing eyes are vermillion red.
You’re most likely to notice the orange coloration on the chest and underside of a Cooper’s Hawk if you can observe it perched on a branch.
The long tail and small, rounded wings of the Cooper’s Hawk make it possible for this bird of prey to perform sharp turns and quick maneuvers in the thick foliage of dense forests and shrubs.
While Cooper’s Hawks were originally shy woodland raptors, they are now commonly found in urban areas such as Houston and San Antonio, where they hunt doves and songbirds.
It is not unusual for a Cooper’s Hawk to show up at a bird feeder, where it tries to surprise and ambush feeding songbirds with a lightning fast dash from a hidden perch.
It is a winter visitor in the southernmost parts of Texas, while it can be found year-round in the rest of Texas.
Scientific name: Parabuteo unicinctus
This is a large buteo hawk with a long tail and long legs. It is a dark brown raptor with chestnut patches on its shoulders, as well as on its thighs.
Another great distinguishing feature of the Harris’s Hawk is the white terminal bar at the end of the tail, which is clearly visible when it soars on thermal currents.
These Hawks are most commonly found in Mexico and South America, but also breed in the western half of Texas.
Unlike most hawk species, the Harris’s Hawk is very social, and often hunts in groups of 3 or more individuals.
Scientists have found that cooperatively hunting hawks are more successful than those that hunt alone.
Scientific name: Buteo swainsoni
The Swainson’s Hawk is a compact buteo that frequents dry prairies and open areas in west Texas during the summer months.
These hawks have long, narrow wings, and are best identified by their brown chest, which contrasts with the white underwings and chin.
Swainson’s Hawks are migratory birds of prey that spend the winter in Argentina.
In fall they gather in flocks numbering in the tens of thousands that migrate south together, often together with other species, such as Broad-winged Hawks.
These common Texas birds can be seen in the Lone Star State from April through September.
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
The Rough-legged Hawk is a breeding bird of the arctic tundra in northern Canada and Alaska, but can be seen wintering in large parts of the USA during the cold months.
It can be seen in Texas from October through March, and favors open habitats such as farmland, pastures and marshland.
Its preferred foraging tactic is to hunt from a perch, such as a fence post or telephone pole, though it also hovers on occasion, similar to a kestrel.
This is a large buteo hawk that is best identified by its dark brown belly, which contrasts with the white underside of its wings and tail.
Scientific name: Buteo albonotatus
The Zone-tailed Hawk is another migratory hawk species found in southeastern Texas during the breeding season in summer.
These hawks are almost black, except for light barred areas on their flight and tail feathers.
Interestingly, they resemble Turkey Vultures both in their overall appearance and in their behavior.
Ornithologists believe that this similarity is not an accident, and that Zone-tailed Hawks use it to their advantage, as most of their prey species see Turkey Vultures as harmless.
They favor arid cliffs, canyons and foothills, where they hunt small mammals, reptiles and birds.
Scientific name: Buteo regalis
The Ferruginous Hawk is a very large buteo hawk of the western prairies and deserts. With a wingspan of up to 56 inches, it is the largest hawk in Texas.
This hawk is not a breeding bird in the Lone Star State, but is a winter bird in western and central Texas outside of the breeding season.
While it occurs in two color morphs (light and dark), the more common of these is the light morph.
The light morph is easily identifiable by its bright white underside, gray head, and rusty brown upperparts.
These hawks feed on rodents and other small mammals, with prairie dogs forming a large part of their diet.
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
The Red-shouldered Hawk has two distinct populations – one in the eastern US (which includes the Texas population), and another in California and Mexico.
These two populations are separated by more than 1000 miles, and very rarely mix.
The Red-shouldered Hawk is found in lowland forests of east Texas, where it favors mature woods interspersed with water.
The Texas population of the Red-shouldered Hawk is non-migratory, and adult hawks stay in their nesting territories all year round.
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
The Broad-winged Hawk is a long distance migratory species that spends the winter in South America.
During fall migration, it’s not uncommon to see flocks (also known as “kettles”) of Broad-winged Hawks soaring together to take advantage of thermal currents on their way south.
The Broad-winged Hawk is a scarce breeding bird in the easternmost parts of Texas, but can be seen more often during migration throughout the eastern half of Texas.
The preferred habitats of these medium-sized birds are extended forests, where the best way to detect them is by listening to their whistling call.
Scientific name: Buteo plagiatus
The Gray Hawk is a Central American buteo hawk that also breeds in a few areas of Texas just north of the Mexican border, including the lower Rio Grande River valley.
It is almost entirely light gray, with light barring on its underside. This elegant raptor most often hunts from a perch in trees along a river or stream.
They patiently wait for reptiles and small mammals on the ground, which they catch by dropping down on them from their perch.
Scientific name: Geranoaetus albicaudatus
These raptors are easily recognizable by their distinct markings, which include a light underside, bright white tail with a dark band at its ends, dark wings, as well as rufous brown shoulder patches.
These Texas hawks are only found in the coastal prairies close to the Mexican border. They predominantly feed on lizards and small snakes, as well as insects and rodents.
Similar to kestrels, they like to hunt by “kiting,” which involves using the wind to hover in a fixed position, as they wait for prey to appear on the ground below.
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
The Northern Harrier is a breeding bird of the northern parts of North America, but spends the winter in the southern USA and Central America.
This harrier is a winter bird in Texas from October through April, where it frequents open grassland and marshes.
Harriers are most easily identified by their behavior. Their foraging tactic is to fly slowly just a few feet above the ground, in order to pounce on any rodent caught outside its burrow.
Scientific name: Elanus leucurus
The White-tailed Kite is also known as the Black-shouldered Kite, and both of these are apt names for it.
Adult White-tailed Kites have an entirely white underside, head, and tail. Their upper side is light gray, with dark gray patches on the shoulders. The eyes are deep red.
Juvenile birds, on the other hand, have a more brownish color with light streaks.
White-tailed Kites hunt for small rodents, insects and reptiles in open grassland, either from a perch or on the wing.
Similar to kestrels, these birds like to hover in the air over a specific spot, while waiting for a rodent to come out of its burrow.
White-tailed Kites are scarce breeding residents along the coast of Texas, where these birds can be seen year-round.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
With a wingspan of up to 8 feet, the Bald Eagle is a huge raptor, and impossible to miss if you spot this eagle soaring in the Lone Star State.
Apart from its size, the Bald Eagle is also one of the most easily recognizable birds in Texas, due to its white head and tail, which contrast sharply with the uniformly dark brown body.
Juvenile Bald Eagles are dark brown all over, with light irregular streaks all over the body, as well as a buff white belly.
This huge bird of prey is a breeding bird in east Texas, and is also found in other parts of the state outside of the breeding season.
Bald Eagles spend a lot of their time soaring on thermal currents with their wings held flat.
These eagles feed on fish, birds, and small mammals, although a big part of their diet consists of carrion.
Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
The Golden Eagle is one the most impressive eagle species in North America, and is a breeding bird in western states of the USA.
In Texas, the Golden Eagle is a scarce breeding bird in eastern parts of the state, but can be observed in other parts of the state outside of the breeding season.
Golden Eagles can be distinguished from Bald Eagles by their lack of white coloration on their heads.
The Golden Eagle is one of several circumglobal raptor species, and can be found in both the New World and the Old World.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
While the Osprey is technically not an eagle, it has a wingspan of up to 69 in (5.5 ft), and resembles an eagle in size.
It is usually easy to identify the Osprey due white belly and chest, which contrast with its blackish gray upperparts and black wrist patches on its lower wings.
This large Texas bird is the only raptor species that plunges into water in order to catch fish, often becoming entirely submerged in the water as it attempts to grab a fish with its feet.
Due to this style of hunting, Ospreys are almost always found close to water, except during migration, when they will cross areas without water.
The Osprey is a rare breeding bird in southeastern Texas, but also occurs as a common winter bird throughout south Texas.
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
The American Kestrel is not only the smallest falcon in North America, but also one of the most common raptors.
Male American Kestrels are very colorful, and sport rufous orange upperparts and and tail, as well as blue gray wings with dark pointed tips.
The male also has a reddish orange cap on its crown, as well as a dark mustache and dark bar behind the eye.
Female American Kestrels are more pale in their coloration, but also have rufous orange upperparts.
When foraging for food, it likes to hover over fields and meadows, or hunt from a perch such as a telephone pole or tree branch.
After it spots a rodent or other small animal, the American Kestrel dives down to grab it with its talons.
The most commonly taken prey during the spring and summer months are insects and worms, while rodents and small birds predominate during the colder months.
It likes to nest in abandoned Woodpecker holes, as well as crevices in buildings. Also accepts nesting boxes installed by humans.
The American Kestrel is a scarce breeding bird in west Texas, but is more commonly seen throughout the state during the cold season.
Scientific name: Falco mexicanus
Residing in the open spaces of western Texas, Prairie falcons usually employ low altitude hunting tactics to surprise potential prey on the ground.
They cruise at low altitude over open prairie and grassland, in order to pounce on small birds and mammals they surprise on the ground.
Despite being their size and being quite common in west Texas, the brown coloring of Prairie Falcons tends to make them hard to spot in the wild – a fact that ultimately works in their favor.
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal in the world. Unbelievably, this falcon can dive from the sky at speeds reaching more than 200 mph.
This makes it perhaps the most accomplished Texas raptor on this list.
However, unlike Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcons feed almost exclusively on birds.
This dietary preference made them highly susceptible to the eggshell-thinning effects of the pesticide DDT, leading to a catastrophic population decline of peregrines in the 1960s and 70s.
But since DDT was made illegal, the Peregrine Falcon population has recovered from its previous decline, and this beautiful raptor is once again a common sight in Texas.
Scientific name: Caracara plancus
While caracaras belong in the falcon family, they have a very distinctive appearance, due to their large bill and long legs, and their habit of regularly walking on the ground.
Crested Caracaras occur in central and south Texas as rare breeding birds, but their numbers have recently been increasing.
Similar to vultures, these raptors often feed on carcasses. They are most often observed perched on a tall tree, or flying low over the ground.
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture is the largest vulture species breeding in Texas, and can reach a wingspan of up to 6 feet.
It is a big black raptor with a red head, and dark gray rear margins on their wings, which can be seen in flight.
A soaring Turkey Vulture is easily identifiable due to the fact that it holds its wings in an upright V shape, and has light wingtips.
This big raptor is a summer visitor and breeding bird in north Texas, while it can be seen year-round in the southern part of the state.
Similar to other vulture species, this raptor is specialized in feeding on carrion, and will often congregate in flocks around roadkill.
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Black Vultures are common in the southeastern part of Texas, where they can be seen all year round.
Black Vultures are almost entirely black, except for white wing tips that can be seen from below. They have a naked head with wrinkled, dark skin. Adult Black Vulture pairs remain in their breeding territories year-round.
In contrast to Turkey Vultures, Black Vultures don’t have a keen sense of smell. Because of this, they often use Turkey Vultures as “scouts” to find roadkill, and then intimidate the smaller vulture species to chase away from the carrion.
Related: What are the types of black birds in Texas?
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
With a wingspan up to 4 feet, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species breeding in Texas.
It is a large brown-colored bird with two ear tufts (also called horns) and big yellow eyes. In Texas, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February.
This owl is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.
The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds, such as herons or raptors.
It is found year-round throughout Texas, and can be found in a wide variety of habitats in Texas, from woodlands to urban areas.
This owl is a fierce hunter, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes.
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Somewhat softer and less intense-looking than the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owls are characterized by their white coat of feathers, and their “friendlier” appearance.
Armed with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors and therefore hard to spot. However, they can be readily identified by their characteristic screeching calls.
And if you do spot one flying overhead by the light of the moon, you may be able to see the glow of their white underside.
These owls are present in Texas all year round, and favor open areas and farmland as their hunting grounds.
Scientific name: Asio otus
These well-camouflaged, elusive owls are smaller than the aforementioned species, and can be seen in Texas during the winter months.
They use their favored habitat of dense wooded areas to prey on the small rodents and animals that call the nearby grasslands their home.
Similar to other owl species, Long-eared Owls can fly completely silently due to fringes on their flight feathers.
Together with their keen sense of hearing, this enables these owls to catch prey by surprising it in the dark of the night.
But despite their best efforts to remain hidden, these owls can be identified by their long, low hoots.
Another great characteristic for identifying these owls is by their elongated tufts of feathers on the ears, and their droppings found underneath conifer trees close to grassy areas.
Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
The Burrowing Owl is a scarce resident of open areas in Texas. It digs its own burrows, but also often takes over burrows from prairie dogs or ground squirrels.
This owl is active both day and night, and hunts insects and small rodents in open areas.
Due to their small size, these owls can be hard to spot in the expanse of open prairies.
They are most often observed perching on a small mound, from where they can scan their surroundings in search of food.
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
The Short-eared Owl is a highly migratory owl species, and while it doesn’t breed in Texas, it is regularly observed in the state outside of the breeding season.
Short-eared Owls are more often observed hunting in daylight than other owls species.
Together with their hunting tactic of flying low over the ground in open areas, this makes these owls relatively easy to spot.
You can encounter these owls in Texas in any kind of open landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land.
Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
Originally birds of open woodlands, Eastern Screech-Owls have adapted very well to urban habitats, and are regularly found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses.
They breed in tree cavities, and are best identified by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots.
These owls are common throughout central and east Texas and can be seen all year round.
They have a very varied diet, which includes any type of small animal ranging from worms to insects and rodents.
Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, which means you can attract them to your backyard by setting up nest boxes.
And there we have the most commonly found raptors in Texas.
The vast expanse of Texas is home to more than 600 different species of birds, and birds of prey make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.
Ranging from hawks to eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls, these birds of prey play a vital role as apex predators.
Raptors are paramount to maintaining balanced rodent and small wildlife populations, as well as helping to dispose of animal carcasses with scavenging.