Birds of Prey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey: A Checklist

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) giving the eagle eye at Cowingo Dam

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) giving the eagle eye at Cowingo Dam

This checklist is to help you identify raptors in the Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania (SE PA) and New Jersey region.

A checklist narrows down the number of birds you have to learn to successfully bird in your area.

In the Philadelphia area you can see 22 species of raptors and 4 migrants. That is not a bad number since there 30 species of hawks, eagles and falcons along with 18 species of owls in North America. So, in instead of learning 48 species you can learn the 26 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Of course this tactic applies to wherever you may live.

Migration season is not the only time to raptor-watch. Many species spend the winter here with our newly mild winters. And you can always see the resident raptors like Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures soaring in the sky on any given day, all year around.

The Diurnal Raptors – these birds hunt by day

Hawks – there are two types of hawks in North America, accipters and buteos

Accipters – “forest hawks”

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk (winters in SE PA)
  • Cooper’s Hawk (resident)
  • Northern Goshawk (winters in SE PA)

Buteos – “soaring hawks”

  • Red-shouldered Hawk (resident in SE PA)
  • Broad-winged Hawk (breeds in SE PA)
  • Red-tailed Hawk (resident in SE PA)
  • Rough-legged Hawk (winters in SE PA)

OSPREY

  • Osprey (breeds in PA) In 2010, I saw this bird fishing in the Schuylkill River near Bartram’s Garden.

EAGLES

  • Bald Eagle (resident/breeds in PA/NJ)
  • Golden Eagle (migrates through PA)

HARRIERS (only one species in North America)

  • Northern Harrier (winter resident in SE PA/breeds in PA)

FALCONS

  • American Kestrel (resident in SE PA)
  • Merlin (winters in SE PA)
  • Peregrine Falcon (winters and some residents in SE PA)

NEW WORLD VULTURES (feeds primarily on carrion, rarely hunts live prey)

  • Black Vulture (breeds in PA)
  • Turkey Vulture (breeds in PA) – a very common birds in the Philadelphia area

The Nocturnal Raptors – these birds hunt by night

Barn and Bay Owls (heart-shaped facial disk, no ear tufts, primarily tropical, only type of owl that can hunt in total darkness)

  • Common Barn Owl (lives in PA/NJ – only barn owl in temperate zones)

“True” Owls (round or oval facial disks, may have ear tufts)

  • Great Horned Owl (resident in SE PA)
  • Barred Owl (rare in SE PA; found in west of Delaware Valley)
  • Eastern Screech Owl (resident in SE PA)
  • Saw-whet Owl (winters in SE PA)
  • Long-eared Owl (resident of SE PA)
  • Short-eared Owl (winters in SE PA)

occasional northern migrants – Snowy Owl, Hawk Owl and the Great Gray Owl

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Since I adore raptors, I am sure this is not the last of the raptor information I’ll blog about. Expect more. You have been warned.

6 thoughts on “Birds of Prey of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey: A Checklist

  1. HI i live in Philadelphia Pa and have noticed a nesting pair of soaring raptors. i can tell they are raptors by the way they are soaring. the are nesting on top of a water tower in neighborhood. it was high up but it seemed like a silverish color with white stripes on its wings it was hi in the sky. the one i seen sitting at the nest also pretty high up had what seemed to look like a white chest and silverish to grey wings. thety been there all summer long but today was the best look i got at them. any clues to what they may possibly be?? thank you! Rich

    • Hi, Rich

      The two raptors I see the most in Philadelphia and surrounding area are Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures. Of the two Red-tailed Hawks could be the birds you are seeing. Red-tails are in our area year around.

      I am assuming these are rather large birds you are watching. Broad-winged Hawks are here for the summer and also fit your description. Smaller hawks here in summer would include Cooper’s Hawks.

      Cornell University’s “All About Birds” has photos to help you decide what bird you saw. My bet is on a Red-tailed or a Broad-winged Hawk.

  2. Hi Donna,
    We live in a mostly surburban area but with quite a lot of woods that support deer, fox, and bob cat. My husband and I see many different types of birds in our area, but we are puzzled by an extremely large bird in our yard with a 8 foot or more wing span. When workers on our property first discribed it we told them that it is most likely a Turkey Vulture. Now I have been seeing the same bird and it is too big for that. It hides in the large trees on our property and I mostly see it’s shadow on the lawn (when I am working outside or viewing the garden out of the window) and have supprised it out of our trees several times. It is black like the vulture but much larger, what could this be?

    • Hi, Lisa

      Is it a Black Vulture? Black vultures are large like Turkey Vultures but the head is black. But, Black Vultures can be a tad smaller than Turkey Vulture.

      You didn’t say where you are. If you are in North America there are several choices.

        An immature Bald Eagle (mature birds have a white head, immatures a dark head). An photo of an immature is further down on the Wikipedia page.
        A Golden Eagle
        Or even a California Condor. A huge bird with a similar ugly head like a Turkey vulture.

      This all sounds very exciting.
      Donna

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