Birds Of Prey Illinois with Pictures

Have you ever seen a bird of prey in the wild? If so, then you know how captivating they can be. It’s no surprise that birds of prey are some of the most iconic animals around – and Illinois is home to many species. From the majestic bald eagle to the secretive barn owl, these birds soar through the skies as symbols of power and freedom. In this article, we’ll explore some of Illinois’ most beautiful birds of prey and discuss their unique features and behaviors. So if you’re eager to learn more about these incredible creatures, read on!

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl (Hawaiian)1
Short-Eared Owl
Short-eared Owl range map

In Illinois, the Short-eared Owl is a remarkable species of raptor. It is one of three kinds of owls that can be found in the state alongside Barred Owls and Northern Saw Whet Owls. This owl has an impressive wingspan of up to 50 inches and its distinctive yellow eyes make it easily identifiable. Interestingly, the average lifespan for a wild Short-eared Owl is only 3 years.

barred owl
Barred Owl
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Northern Saw Whet Owl

This owl typically hunts during twilight hours near open fields with short vegetation where its prey primarily consists of small rodents such as voles and mice. To capture their prey they often fly low over grasslands or marshes while listening intently for any sound below them which may indicate potential food sources. Afterward, they swoop down quickly to snatch up their meal before returning back to perch on nearby trees or fence posts. Moving forward, let’s discuss Red Tailed Hawks in Illinois next.

Red-Tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawk1
Red-Tailed Hawk

Illinois is home to a variety of birds of prey, including red-tailed hawks. Red-tailed hawks are one of the most common and easily recognizable raptors in the state. These large birds have dark brown backs and wings with lighter bellies that range from white to orange-red. They can often be seen soaring high over open fields or perched atop trees and poles. In Illinois, they typically nest in wooded areas close to rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

Red-tailed Hawk range map

Red-tailed hawks share habitats with two other hawk species found in Illinois: great horned owls and sharp shinned hawks. All three of these raptors feed on small rodents such as mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards and some insects. Despite their shared habitat preferences however; each species has unique characteristics that help them survive in different environments. Moving forward we’ll look at sharp shinned hawks more closely to better understand how they differ from red tailedhawks and great horned owls.

Sharp-Shinned Hawks

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

The transition from Red-Tailed Hawks to Sharp-Shinned Hawks is a sharp one. These birds of prey are found in Illinois and across North America, preying on small mammals like rabbits, mice, and squirrels. Even though they look similar to their larger counterparts, the red tailed hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks have an overall slimmer profile that helps them maneuver through dense forests while hunting.

Sharp-shinned Hawk range map

These agile predators can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour when diving after prey, making them some of the swiftest creatures in Illinois’ skies. Their long wingspan also allows for incredible levels of control during high speed dives as well as improved cruising capabilities over larger distances than other raptor species. They may be considered by many birders as being one of the most exciting raptors to observe due to their incredibly fast flight patterns and surprising agility amongst thickets of trees and shrubs.

Sharp shinned hawks are an important member of Illinois’ avian community; their presence provides not only entertainment but also necessary balance within the local ecosystem. As we move forward, let us take a moment to appreciate these magnificent hunters before transitioning into our next topic: Northern Hawk Owls!

Northern Hawk Owls

northern-hawk owl
Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owls are a species of owl found in Illinois. These birds have distinct white barring on their upper wings and tail, along with whitish facial disks that surround their eyes. They prefer to live near open coniferous forests but can also be seen in urban areas hunting during the day for small mammals like voles and lemmings.

Northern Hawk Owl

One of the most common predators of Northern Hawk Owls is the Peregrine Falcon, which was once endangered due to pesticide use. Northern Goshawks and Cooper’s Hawks may also prey on them as well. To protect themselves from these threats, Northern Hawk Owls rely mostly on camouflage or by scaring away potential predators through vocalizations or aggressive displays.

These owls often migrate south during the winter months when food sources become scarce and temperatures drop below freezing. With habitat destruction being one of the main threats to this species’ survival, it’s important for people to take conservation measures such as protecting nesting sites from human disturbance or providing artificial nest boxes for them to roost in. Transitioning into the next section topic, Great Horned Owls are another raptor species native to Illinois whose populations need protection too.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls are found throughout Illinois, and they can be seen year-round in the state. These birds of prey have distinctive features that make them easily identifiable:

  1. A large head with heavily feathered horns
  2. Yellow eyes
  3. Heavy mottled brown feathers on their backside and wings
  4. Large ear tufts near the top of their heads.
Great Horned Owl range map

These owls hunt during both day and night, eating small mammals like rabbits or rodents as well as other birds such as Red Shouldered Hawks and Turkey Vultures. They also eat amphibians, fish, reptiles, insects and carrion. Great Horned Owls will use human buildings for nesting sites if natural trees aren’t available to them; these nests may even be used for multiple years in a row! With an impressive wingspan of up to five feet wide, this owl is truly an awe inspiring sight when spotted in the wilds of Illinois.

The majestic presence of the Great Horned Owl signals the arrival of spring each year. It’s no wonder that it has been chosen as the official raptor symbol for Illinois! Moving on from here we’ll take a look at Burrowing Owls – another type of bird found all over the Prairie State.

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing owls are a unique species of owl found in Illinois. They stand out from other types of owls due to their distinctive behavior and habitat preferences.CharacteristicDescriptionEmotional Response
SizeSmall, about the size of a sparrowCute
BehaviorGround-dwelling, active during day and night; prefers open habitatsDaring
DietInsects and small vertebrates such as mice, lizards, snakesResourceful
Burrowing Owl range map

The burrowing owl is easily identifiable by its large eyes and long legs. Unlike many other species that nest in tree cavities, these birds prefer to inhabit underground burrows made by mammals like prairie dogs or skunks. Their diet consists mostly of insects and small vertebrates like mice, lizards, snakes, frogs, and even scorpions! While they will sometimes hunt for food at night with short eared owls, they can also be seen scavenging on carrion during the day. Burrowing Owls have an interesting relationship with humans – though they typically avoid areas close to human dwellings, they have been known to inhabit abandoned buildings if there’s enough prey available nearby.

In addition to being resourceful hunters who can survive in urban environments when needed, Burrowing Owls are also incredibly cute! They often hop around when hunting for prey instead of flying which makes them endearing creatures. Although their population numbers may fluctuate depending on weather conditions or how much suitable habitat remains available to them over time, it is always exciting to spot one of these majestic little birds taking flight across the landscape.

Golden Eagles

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle

The sky darkens with an impressive silhouette, as the majestic golden eagle soars over the Illinois landscape. These powerful birds of prey have a wingspan of up to seven feet and are one of the most recognizable predatory species in the state. Golden eagles can be found throughout open areas such as meadows, prairies, and grasslands searching for their primary food sources: peregrine falcons, dead animals and carrion.

Golden Eagle range map

Golden eagles often build large nests near cliff faces or tall trees where they raise their young. They prefer remote isolated locations that provide plenty of cover from potential predators. While hunting for small mammals and reptiles, these birds also scavenge on road-killed deer and rabbits which makes them a common sight along highways.

As we transition into our next section about red-shouldered hawks, it’s important to remember how diverse the bird population is in Illinois. From burrowing owls to golden eagles to red-shouldered hawks, each species adds its own unique beauty to the environment around us.

Red-Shouldered Hawks

Red-Shouldered Hawk1
Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered hawks are an amazing sight to behold in Illinois. They are medium-sized raptors that have striking orange and black markings on their wings and tails, with a reddish-brown body. These majestic birds can be found perched in tall trees or soaring over open fields looking for small rodents to feed on. Red-shouldered hawks live year round in Illinois, but some of them migrate south during the winter months.

Red-shouldered Hawk range map

Their diet consists primarily of small mammals such as mice and voles, as well as insects like grasshoppers, cicadas, and caterpillars. In addition to these food sources, red-shouldered hawks will occasionally prey upon snakes, amphibians, reptiles and even other birds! For nesting sites, they prefer large mature trees near water sources where there is plenty of cover from predators. With enough patience and luck you might get a glimpse of one while out exploring nature in Illinois! As we move onto the next species of hawk found in Illinois: Cooper’s Hawks… Cooper’s Hawks are a medium-sized raptor that are known for their boldness and strength. They have a distinct dark head and a light-colored chest with a barred pattern. They prefer wooded areas and hunt by sneaking up on their prey from behind or diving down from a perch. They feed mainly on small mammals and birds.

Cooper’S Hawks

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawks are amongst the most common raptors in Illinois. These birds of prey have a distinctively dark brown head and back, with rusty-red barring on their chest and belly. They can be seen perching atop trees or soaring through open spaces searching for small mammals to feed upon.

Cooper's Hawk range map

While they often hunt alone, Cooper’s Hawks will also team up with other hawks or owls when hunting larger animals like Snowy Owls or Barn Owls. Though powerful predators, these birds do not generally pose a danger to humans unless provoked. With proper protection from hunting and habitat loss, these magnificent hunters remain plentiful throughout Illinois’ rural and suburban areas alike. To continue learning about birds of prey in our state, let’s move onto Long Eared Owls.

Long Eared Owls

long-eared owls
Long Eared Owl

Moving on from Cooper’s Hawks, the next species of raptor found in Illinois is the Long Eared Owl. This owl can be distinguished by its long ear tufts and yellow eyes that are set deep into a round face. It has reddish-brown upperparts and white underparts with streaks throughout. The wings appear large when perched due to their length as well as light barring. They tend to hunt small mammals but will also take birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects during breeding season.

Long-eared Owl range map

In terms of where you might spot one of these nocturnal predators in Illinois, they prefer open mature forests or woodlands near water sources such as wetlands or rivers. You could possibly see them alongside other owls like Northern Saw Whet Owls, Barred Owls, and Long Tail Owls:

*Northern Saw Whet Owls:
*Known for their distinct call which sounds like someone sharpening a saw blade
*Smallest American owl species
*Found primarily in coniferous forests

*Barred Owls:
*Distinguished by dark brown eyes framed by two distinctive black stripes
*The most common type of owl in many parts of eastern North America
*Prefers wetland habitats including swamps, bogs and riparian areas

*Long Tailed Owls:
*A medium sized species easily identified by its bright orange eyes
*Often spotted roosting close together high up in trees during daylight hours *Generally live amongst mixed deciduous-coniferous forests with lots of old growth trees

Overall, if you happen to stumble upon one while out exploring nature in Illinois there is nothing quite like seeing this beautiful creature up close! As an added bonus it may even be accompanied by some feathered friends listed above. With that said it’s time to turn our attention towards northern goshawks – another powerful predator roaming the Midwest skies.

Northern Goshawks

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawks are a majestic sight to behold in the state of Illinois. With wings that seem larger than life, these raptors soar through the sky with power and grace unlike any other species of bird. The following table showcases some of their defining characteristics:

ColorDark brown feathers with lighter accents
Wingspan40-46 inches wide; rounded wings
Weight1.5-2.3 pounds average weight
Northern Goshawk range map

Northern goshawks can be found year round throughout the state of Illinois, though they are most common during fall migration season when their population numbers peak. This is likely due to increased food sources available at this time of year from rodents, small mammals, and even smaller birds such as pigeons or doves. They generally choose heavily wooded areas for nesting as well as hunting grounds, making them difficult to spot within dense foliage.

Glimpses of these creatures are few and far between but always rewarding! Whether you’re lucky enough to catch one soaring through the skies above or perched atop a tree branch, there’s no denying the beauty of northern goshawks in Illinois. Transitioning into our next section on broad-winged hawks – another equally impressive species!

Broad-Winged Hawks

Broad-winged Hawk
Broad-Winged Hawk

Moving on from Northern Goshawks, the next bird of prey we’ll look at are Broad-Winged Hawks. These hawks have a wide range across North America and even further south into Central America. They can be identified by their broad wings which span between 47 and 59 cm when open and they have a distinctive reddish brown tail with white or yellow barring near the tip. Their diet consists mainly of small rodents, amphibians and reptiles but they may also take advantage of larger prey like ducks or crows if given the opportunity.

Broad-winged Hawk range map

In addition to Broad-Winged Hawks, other birds of prey in Illinois include Red-Tailed Hawks and Rough Legged Hawks. Both species belong to the Buteo genus and share similar characteristics including broad wings and strong talons for hunting their prey. The Red Tailed Hawk is about 50cm long with a light gray upper body and bright red tail feathers while the Rough Legged Hawk is slightly smaller at 45cm long with dark mottled brown plumage. Both enjoy diets consisting mostly of small mammals such as voles, hares, mice and shrews along with occasional carrion or insects depending on availability.

The variety of hawk species makes Illinois an excellent destination for raptor watching enthusiasts looking to observe these majestic birds up close. With careful observation one can easily spot differences in size, coloration, flight patterns and behavior among different species that inhabit this region. Now let’s turn our attention to American Kestrels who call Wisconsin home.

American Kestrels

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

American Kestrels are small birds of prey that inhabit the state of Illinois. They can typically be found in open fields and grasslands, where they hunt for insects during the day. American Kestrels have a unique plumage pattern, with brown wings and back contrasted by their white chests and bellies. They also possess two black stripes on either side of their face, which gives them a distinctive look among other raptors.

American Kestrel range map

Insects make up most of an American Kestrel’s diet; however, they will occasionally eat larger animals such as mice or lizards if the opportunity arises. These birds are fairly common throughout much of North America but have begun to decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Conservation efforts such as nest box programs have helped increase populations in some areas. To further protect this species, education about conservation practices is key to ensuring its future stability in Illinois.

Going forward, it is important to learn more about Rough-legged Hawks, another bird of prey present in Illinois.

Rough Legged Hawks

Rough-legged Hawk
Rough Legged Hawk

Rough Legged Hawks soar through the sky of Illinois, delighting birdwatchers with their striking wingspan and distinctive silhouette. These hawks have feathers that range from a deep brown to almost gray in color atop their bodies, while underneath they are usually more creamy or white. They feast on small mammals such as mice and voles, often snatching them up from open fields during winter.

When identifying Rough-Legged Hawks in Illinois, consider the following features:

  • A broad wingspan of about four feet
  • Grayish-colored body feathers above and pale cream beneath
  • Long pointed tail with dark bands at the tip
Rough-legged Hawk range map

In addition to these physical traits, look for behavior unique to this species: soaring high in circles or gliding on thermals before coming down to snatch prey off the ground. As one of the most common raptors in northern regions like Illinois, Rough Legged Hawks can be spotted year-round throughout much of the state.

Northern Harriers

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier

Northern Harriers are some of the most common birds of prey in Illinois. They can be found all over the state, and they typically inhabit open fields or grasslands.

Northern GoshawksRed-Tailed HawksFerruginous Hawk
32–45 inches16–25 inches21–26 inches
Gray plumageReddish brownLight to dark gray

They have a unique shape; long tail with broad wings and a flat head. Their back is generally light colored while their underside is white with black streaks. The adult males are often pale gray or white, with darker mottling on the wings and tail. Females tend to be more reddish brown than males, but both sexes show rusty feathers around the neck during breeding season.

Northern Harrier range map

Northern Harriers are smaller than other hawks like the northern goshawk, red tailed hawk and ferruginous hawk that also live in Illinois. On average, an adult male will measure between 33-37 inches in length whereas an adult female measures 35-39 inches in length. Both genders have wingspans ranging from 39-50 inches wide, which makes them somewhat difficult to identify due to their size being similar across species of raptors within this region. However, careful observation will allow you to differentiate these birds by looking at coloration and body shape when compared side by side with other types of hawks living in the same area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Areas In Illinois Are Best For Viewing Birds Of Prey?

If you’re looking for the perfect spot to catch a glimpse of birds of prey, Illinois has plenty of places to offer. From the shores of Lake Michigan to its vast prairies, there’s no shortage of stunning areas that are ideal for observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

To get started on your birding adventure, it pays to know where and when to look. In the summer months, wetlands such as those found around rivers or lakes tend to be hotspots for raptors like falcons and eagles. During this time, they will often hunt fish from shallow waters or soar above fields searching out small rodents. As well as watching these birds at play, autumn is a great opportunity to observe them migrate southward along the Mississippi Flyway; an incredible sight that is sure to take your breath away!

The beauty of nature awaits – all you need to do is make sure you have the right gear and pick a good day with clear skies. With so many diverse habitats across Illinois playing host to some truly impressive avian wildlife, now’s your chance to go wild and hit the trails in search of feathery friends! Who knows what wonders await discovery? So grab your binoculars, put on your explorer hat and see if you can spot one of these magnificent feathered flyers up close.

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Observe Birds Of Prey In Illinois?

When it comes to observing birds of prey, timing is everything. Knowing when the best time of year is to observe them can make a world of difference in what you see. In Illinois, there are several different species that vary depending on the season, so knowing which months offer the richest variety and most sightings will help any keen bird watcher get the most out of their experience.

Springtime in Illinois offers some great opportunities for viewing birds of prey migration. The warmer temperatures encourage many raptors to migrate through or even stop over in this Midwestern state. This is especially true for hawks such as red-tailed hawks and broad-winged hawks, which often pass through between March and May. Late April and early May provide optimal conditions for spotting large numbers of migrating raptors.

The summer months are also an excellent time to view birds of prey in Illinois. During the summer breeding season, many species remain local rather than migrating farther north or south. Bald eagles can be seen along rivers where they nest during this period, while ospreys settle around lakeshores searching for fish amongst other waterfowls. Hawks are usually more visible with higher activity levels during these months as well, making June and July ideal times to spot one soaring above your head.

Are There Any Special Permits Or Regulations For Viewing Birds Of Prey In Illinois?

When it comes to spending time outdoors, observing the natural wildlife can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. However, if you plan on viewing birds of prey in particular, there are certain regulations and permits that you should keep in mind. This article will discuss what kind of special permissions or restrictions apply for bird watching in Illinois.

In order to observe birds of prey in Illinois, you may need a permit depending on where you plan to go and how long you intend to stay there. If you are simply taking pictures or recording video from a public space such as a roadside park or nature preserve then no permit is necessary; however, if your plans involve entering private property for any extended period of time then some type of permission might be required. Additionally, if you wish to hunt these birds or use them for falconry purposes then separate laws and policies must be followed which require specific licenses or certifications.

It’s important to remember that when going out into nature with the intention of enjoying its beauty while also respecting the various species that call it home – especially endangered ones like many types of raptors found throughout Illinois – abiding by all applicable rules and regulations helps create an environment conducive to both people and animals alike.

Are There Any Bird Of Prey Species That Are Endangered In Illinois?

The birds of prey in Illinois are a sight to behold! With their majestic wings, razor-sharp claws and breathtaking aerial acrobatics, they truly are an awe-inspiring species. But sadly, some of these beautiful creatures may be facing extinction due to the rapid decline in their numbers over the years. So it begs the question: Are there any bird of prey species that are endangered in Illinois?

The answer is yes – in fact, there are currently seven listed endangered bird species in the state. These include Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Henslow’s Sparrows, Northern Harriers and Golden Eagles. Unfortunately, all these species have been experiencing population declines as a result of human activity such as habitat destruction or degradation caused by land development projects or agricultural practices like herbicide use. In addition, illegal hunting has also posed a major threat to many raptor populations across the country.

Many organizations have stepped up efforts to protect these majestic creatures from further harm. For example, The Nature Conservancy works with local farmers and landowners to develop conservation plans that benefit both people and wildlife while maintaining viable habitats for threatened birds of prey species in Illinois. Additionally, several public awareness campaigns have been launched to educate citizens on how important it is to preserve our natural wonders for future generations.

What Is The Best Way To Identify Birds Of Prey In Illinois?

Identifying birds of prey can be a difficult feat for even the most experienced birders. Fortunately, there are several methods that one can use to accurately identify these majestic creatures. From looking at physical features such as plumage and size, to using sound recordings and tracking their movements in the wild; each method provides its own advantages when it comes to identifying birds of prey.

When it comes to birds of prey in Illinois specifically, there is an additional tool available: eBird Hotspots. This online platform developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology allows users to view sightings from other birders in their area, which makes identification much easier than trying to spot them alone. Additionally, local wildlife centers like the Chicago Peregrine Program offer resources about where and when different birds of prey may be spotted in Illinois. By combining these two tools, birdwatchers have an excellent chance at correctly identifying any species they encounter while out in nature!


In conclusion, bird watching in Illinois can be an enjoyable and educational experience. It is important to know the best areas for viewing birds of prey, as well as the proper regulations and permits required. Knowing which species are endangered or threatened will also help with conservation efforts. Identifying birds of prey correctly requires knowledge of size, shape, coloration, behavior, flight patterns and vocalizations; however it can be a rewarding pastime that you’ll never “take wing” from!

Birding offers us a chance to connect with nature on a personal level and appreciate its beauty–a kind of solace when life throws us a curveball. With enough practice and patience we can learn to identify these majestic creatures just like they were old friends. Watching them soar through the sky is one of life’s greatest pleasures. When I take time out my day to observe their gracefulness, I always feel refreshed, like I’ve been given new wings too!

So if you’re looking for something fun to do outdoors in Illinois this year then give bird watching a try – your feathered friends won’t disappoint! Whether you go alone or with family and friends there’s sure to be plenty of moments worth savoring along the way.