New England is a fantastic habitat for birds of prey – vast forests, moderate temperatures, and distinct seasons make it the ideal home for these raptors. All birds of prey have similarly hooked beaks and strong feet with sharp talons and are all carnivores. There are plenty of birds of prey in Connecticut that fall into 4 main categories – hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls.
23 different birds of prey in Connecticut
In the following list of birds of prey found in Connecticut you’ll find that the state has 8 species of hawks, 3 falcons, 2 eagles, 9 owls, and the osprey. This gives the state of Connecticut a total of at least 23 different birds of prey.
The 8 hawks of Connecticut
Hawks are a classification of bird and the broadest category of raptor. There are technically two sub-categories of hawk – accipiters (forest hawks) and buteos (open country hawks). They’re all medium-sized, relatively stocky, and have broad wings designed for soaring on thermals for miles.
1. Broad-winged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo platypterus
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
The Broad-winged Hawk is most commonly seen in Connecticut during the summer before migrating south to winter in the neotropics. They get their name from their especially broad but relatively short wings that allow them to quickly fly through dense undergrowth. They use this to their advantage as cover when hunting, and so human deforestation and forest fragmentation of the area has had a negative impact on their population.
This hawk especially uses thermals in order to soar through the air using the minimum amount of effort and energy. Subspecies that choose to migrate like those in Connecticut fly in flocks of more than 40 on a 1,900-3,700 mile journey. Their Fall migration usually lasts for 70 days with them traveling about 62 miles a day.
2. Red-tailed Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo jamaicensis
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most common species of hawk in North America and has breeding range throughout the continental United States. This “chickenhawk”, another common name for it, is a year-round resident and highly adaptable to different habitats.
This species is known as an opportunistic generalist, which simply means it will eat anything that’s available. This includes mostly small rodents, with a preference for ground squirrels. Immature hawks are more likely to go after other food items such as amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, but tend to grow out of this by the time they reach sexual maturity.
3. Northern Harrier
Scientific name: Circus hudsonius
Length: 18.1-19.7 in
Weight: 10.6-26.5 oz
Wingspan: 40.2-46.5 in
The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that breeds throughout the northern parts of Connecticut during the summer before wintering in the southernmost states. In more temperate areas, this hawk will choose to be a year-round resident as they’re relatively cold resistant.
What’s interesting about this bird is that the male and the female have distinct characteristics different from one another – for example, the female is much larger and heavier with distinct darker “female” plumage. Still, both the male and female have the longest wing and tail relative to its body size of any raptor in North America.
4. Red-Shouldered Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lineatus
Length: 15-24 inches
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Wingspan: 35-50 inches
The Red-Shouldered Hawk absolutely loves Connecticut, as it historically borders their breeding range and makes travel relatively short. They live in the state year-round, but will make the short flight to the breeding grounds and remain there for a season to raise their chick before bringing them back to their year-round nest.
They get their name from the red “shoulders” that are visible when the birds are perched. The further north you travel, the redder these patches become – those in Florida are generally paler while those in Maine are a more vibrant red. Without these patches, it can be easy to misidentify them as Broad-winged Hawks, but they can be distinguished by their long tails, crescent-like wing marking, and more vigorous flapping.
This bird is also often confused with the widespread Red-Tailed Hawk, although that species is typically larger and bulkier with more even-sized, broad wings. The Red-Tailed also has, like the name suggests, a much redder tail that can be seen while in flight which the Red-Shouldered Hawk doesn’t have. Furthermore, the Red-Shouldered Hawk follows leading lines of the same species when travelling, which can be an amazing sight for bird watchers of all ages.
5. Cooper’s Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter cooperii
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Within Connecticut, the Cooper’s Hawk can be found statewide year-round, as well as a tiny section of its northern forests where a breeding population chooses to roost each year. This amazing bird is considered to be a “true hawk”, which is a classification known for its agility and speed in the air. Those in Connecticut are generally larger than the same birds found to the west and is easily confused with the Sharp-shinned Hawk.
There are many colloquial names for this hawk, with the most common being the Chicken Hawk or the Hen Hawk for their bad reputation of stealing fowl livestock from farmers. This has earned them a bad reputation as a “destructive hawk”, which has led people to purposefully use industrial pesticides on crops that specifically injure this animal. Thankfully, despite declines due to manmade causes, the bird remains a stable species.
6. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Scientific name: Accipiter striatus
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
The Sharp-shinned Hawk is considered to be the smallest hawk in the United States and Canada – or at least the males are. Like the Northern Harrier, the females of this species are much larger than the male. There’s a solid year-round population of these hawks in Connecticut throughout the state, preferring to roost in conifers and broad-leaved trees – especially oaks. The largest populations in the state occur in the temperate boreal forests and prefer higher altitudes.
These hawks are amazing at maneuvering through dense trees and vegetation in search of prey, and they use this cover to their advantage. They will choose to surprise and capture most of their prey by navigating through dense thickets that prey would otherwise feel safe in. The majority of its prey is small birds, such as various songbirds like sparrows, finches, wrens, nuthatches, tits, and thrushes.
7. Northern Goshawk
Scientific name: Accipiter gentilis
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Wingspan: 40.5-46.1 in
The Northern Goshawk is found in Connecticut year-round as a non-breeding population, meaning that older birds past sexual maturity are choosing to not breed and instead remain in one place. Juveniles and younger hawks will choose to live further north in their traditional breeding grounds in Canada. It’s the only member of its family within that range, so it’s commonly just referred to as a “Goshawk”.
This bird is well adapted to multiple ranges of temperature and habitat, and can survive in both deciduous and coniferous forests. They aren’t as strong of fliers as many hawks, so prefer forests with intermediate canopy coverage and a minimal undergrowth to prevent accidentally being trapped or injured. They also require close proximity to openings in which to execute additional hunting, and human deforestation has actually helped provide more of these openings for the hawk.
8. Rough-legged Hawk
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
The Rough-legged Hawk, also commonly known as the Rough-legged Buzzard, is a medium-large bird of prey that winters in Connecticut. During the warmer months, it travels north all the way to the Arctic Circle where its feathers act as insulators. This makes this hawk extremely well adapted to the cold. They’re also not aggressive to others of their species, which helps when they huddle together for warmth in the biting tundra.
Small mammals make up roughly 98% of this bird’s diet, which has helped this species evolve into fantastic hunters. Evidence suggests that these hawks may actually be able to see vole scent marks, which are only visible in the ultraviolet range, which allows them to track them over long distances without even having to see the animal. If small mammals are scarce, they’ll turn to alternative prey such as insects and other birds.
The 3 types of falcons in Connecticut
1. American Kestrel
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
Length: 8.7-12.2 in
Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in
American Kestrels are found year-round throughout the entire state of Connecticut. These birds can be seen perching on telephone wires and fence posts when in the country, keeping a keen eye out for insects, small mammals, and reptiles to snatch up. Kestrels also have to be sure to keep an eye out for predators, as they are often meals for larger birds of prey, such as hawks, owls, and crows, as well as snakes.
American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in Connecticut and North America, they also happen to be the most colorful. Males have grey-blue wings and a rusty orange back with black barring. The tail is also rusty orange with black tips. The pale belly is washed with orange and pleasantly spotted with small, black polka dots.
Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
The Merlin is another small species of falcon found in Connecticut, but only during migration times. Look for them in the spring and fall as they are passing through the state to and from their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, spotting them may prove difficult though as they are elusive little falcons that know how to make themselves scarce. They can be identified by their gray or slate gray upper-parts and mostly brown underbody with short black stripes.
They are only slightly bigger than American Kestrels but can appear somewhat larger and heavier. Merlins do not build their own nests but will take over the nests of other raptors or birds. They feed primarily on small songbirds and have been known to hunt flocks of birds in pairs to increase chances of success.
3. Peregrine Falcon
Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
The Peregrine Falcon is a migratory visitor in eastern Connecticut, but does have a breeding range in western parts of the state. Even thought the Peregrine was pushed to the edge of extinction in North America at one point, they have made a comeback in recent decades and are among the most widespread birds in the world. They are found on all continents on earth except for Antarctica.
Peregrine Falcons are amazing aerial acrobats and fierce hunters. They can reach speeds of over 200 mph when diving for prey, making them the fastest animals on the planet. They feed almost exclusively on other birds and have been documented eating over 450 different species in North America and 2,000 worldwide.
The 2 species of eagles found in Connecticut
Eagles are the largest raptors. They possess heavy, thick bills and powerful talons. Eagles have broad, rectangular wings that often show splayed “fingers” at the tips. They traditionally catch larger prey than hawks or kites and build much larger nests. The following species are also the only to species of eagles found in North America.
1. Golden Eagle
Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
Length: 27.6-33.1 in
Weight: 105.8-216.1 oz
Wingspan: 72.8-86.6 in
The Golden Eagle is one of the best-known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. It uses its agility and speed combined with powerful feed equipped with sharp talons to snatch up a variety of large prey. They’re sighted in Connecticut during the winter months after breeding in eastern Canada during the summer.
Most populations of Golden Eagles are considered to be sedentary, but the species is technically a partial migrant. They’re a hardy species well adapted to colder weather, and it’s usually the stronger juveniles that elect to travel to breeding grounds during the summer. They’re extremely territorial animals, and migrating runs the risk of flying into another eagle’s territory and eliciting a fight.
2. Bald Eagle
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Length: 27.9-37.8 in
Weight: 105.8-222.2 oz
Wingspan: 80.3 in
The Bald Eagle is considered to be a “winter visitor” in Connecticut, so if you’re lucky enough to see one, feel free to take a photo and revel in the sheer size of this bird. The Bald Eagle is probably the most instantly recognizable bird within the United States, and not just for their status as the national bird. They aren’t really bald, but the name derives from the older meaning of “bald”, meaning “white-headed”, so named for the white plumage on top of their head.
This amazing bird was almost hunted to extirpation in the United States in the late 20th century. Extirpation is similar to exinction, but within only a certain area like the contiguous United States, as they still maintained a thriving population in Canada. It was finally removed from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2007 due to stringent hunting restrictions and various protections from local governments.
9 types of owls in Connecticut
Owls come in a wide range of size and habitats, but all have exceptional hearing designed for hunting in the dark. They also have specialized feathers that minimize sound when flying, making them the perfect ambush predator.
1. Barn Owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
The Barn Owl is the most widely distributed species of owl in the world, and one of the most widespread of all birds. It’s found almost anywhere in the world barring polar and desert regions and some of the Pacific Islands, but otherwise is extremely common. In Connecticut it can be found throughout the state, especially in the barns where it gets its namesake from.
There are technically 28 subspecies of Barn Owl, and the most common in Connecticut is Strix alba. Like most owls, it’s nocturnal over most of its range and specializes in hunting animals on the ground via sound. Barn Owls will mate for life or until the death of one of the pair before searching out a new mate. When large numbers of small prey are readily available, Barn Owl populations can expand rapidly.
2. Eastern Screech-owl
Scientific name: Megascops asio
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
The Eastern Screech Owl is a small owl that’s relatively common throughout Eastern North America, including Connecticut. There’s a slight difference between the populations that live in the Northern and Southern states – those in the South don’t have the fully tufted feet like their Northern cousins. Especially in Connecticut, they’re often found near mature orchards and along streams.
This smaller owl prefers to stay in the shadows, and will completely avoid areas known to have regular activities of larger owls. This has led them to move further and further into the cities and other highly developed areas and have done well for themselves post urbanization. They’re also strictly nocturnal, choosing to roost during the day and hunt at night, which further allows them to live among humans by reducing interactions between the two.
3. Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
The Great Horned Owl is the most widely distrubuted true owl in the Americas. It lives year-round in Connecticut throughout the entire state and is the most instantly recognizable owl in the area. It has two tufts called plumicorns on either side of its head, nearly resembling horns which is how it gets its name. The theory is that they serve as a visual cue in territorial and sociosexual interactions with other owls, but more research is needed.
This gigantic owl is extremely adaptable with a vast range in search of its primary diet of rabbits, hares, mice, and rats. On the hunt, it has been known to go after anything it can overtake, including larger reptiles and other birds. It’s said that the Red-Tailed Hawk is its diurnal counterpart, as they share a similar habitat, prey, and nesting habits but at different times of day.
4. Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
The Snowy Owl is traditionally an owl thought of in the tundra or taiga thanks to its white coloration that blends in perfectly with the snow. However, it’s a surprisingly nomadic bird that’s been slowly breeding more and more south. Currently, it has a breeding population in the northernmost part of Connecticut that’s pushing further south as fluctuations of prey species force them to relocate.
This truly large bird of prey is the largest avian predator of the High Arctic and one of the largest owls in the world. In the New World though, they come out on top as the heaviest and longest winged owl in North America. This owl is unique in that they choose to be active at both night and day, which allows them to be top predators for a wide range of prey no matter the time of day.
5. Barred Owl
Scientific name: Strix varia
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
The Barred Owl, not to be confused with the Barn Owl, is a member of the true owl family and a native to eastern North America. They’re year-round residents in Connecticut, but have slowly been pushing more and more west where they’re considered an invasive species. They prefer the dense mature forests in the center of the state, but have been acclimating well to more gradients of open woodlands.
This owl is a large opportunistic predator and is well known for preying upon other small birds in their hunting grounds. There’s currently a lot of controversy surrounding this bird, as its westward expansion is threatening the range of the endangered Spotted Owl, making this one of the few owls it’s not only legal but encouraged to be hunted.
6. Long-eared Owl
Scientific name: Asio otus
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in
The Long-eared Owl has one of the most extensive breeding ranges of any owl. It stretches across most of the continental United States and stretches far into Canada. Connecticut has both a year-round and a wintering population that will fight one another for territory every year.
This owl has adapted well to human deforestation as it prefers semi-open habitats like that of the edge of a woodland. This is because they still prefer to roost and nest within dense strands of wood, but later prefer to hunt over open ground. It’s a highly specialized predator with voles composing most of their diet.
7. Short-eared Owl
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
The Short-eared Owl gets its name from how it’s much smaller ear tufts may not always be visible, but they’re always there. The only time many ornithologists get to see them is when they’re in a defensive pose, but only older owls survive long enough for them to be apparent. It’s a year-round resident of Connecticut and was once considered to be a part of the Long-eared Owl species until 2009.
This smaller owl has a very distinctive flight pattern – it’s been described as more bat-like with its floppy wings and irregular wingbeats. During the breeding season, they make a spectacle of themselves when flying in attempts to attract a female. The smaller male will swoop down over the nest of their desired mate while flapping these ungainly wings in a courtship display. If she accepts, then the two will stay with one another until their deaths.
8. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
The Northern Saw-whet is one of the smallest owl species in North America. Within Connecticut, they can be found state-wide in dense thickets or conifers, oftentimes at eye-level. These small owls are constantly in danger of being preyed upon by larger owls and raptors, so have adapted by having highly developed hearing that allows it to hunt in pitch black while avoiding being hunted.
This tiny owl has an inconsistent migrating pattern, with some maintaining their year-round status while others elect to migrate further south during the winter. They don’t have any set breeding borders either, with some breeding as far north as Alaska. Although there are abundant populations in both the Northern and Western Regions of North America, it’s listed as a threatened species in 3 states.
9. Great Gray Owl
Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in
Great Gray Owls are rare and have a non-breeding (scarce) range in northern Connecticut according to allaboutbirds.org. They’re very large birds with broad wings and long tails — one of the tallest owls in America. Their eyes appear small and close together on their big facial disks, giving them a unique expression. A white “X” pattern on their faces is another key identifier. Like their name implies, their bodies are covered in fluffy, silvery gray feathers.
These owls are quiet and solemn, not really the type to bring attention to themselves. They reside in dense pine forests and on the edges of meadows, avoiding areas with people. Like most owls they are most active at night when they hunt, most often in the hours before dusk and dawn.
1 species of osprey in Connecticut
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Length: 21.3-22.8 in
Weight: 49.4-70.5 oz
Wingspan: 59.1-70.9 in
The Osprey is a medium-large fish-eating bird of prey that’s widely distributed in locations near bodies of water. Within Connecticut, it’s seen mostly on platforms on the east and central coastline. Locally, they’re also referred to as “fish hawks” for their ability to dive out of the air and grab fish out of the water.
They’re actually the only species in Connecticut with a fish-only diet, which helps them to be especially specialized and successful when hunting. They can catch up to 10 fish a day and can often be seen hovering over the water in search of a meal. Their populations are on the rise again after being threatened with pesticides and other human contaminants in the water supply.