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

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Conowingo Dam
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Conowingo Dam

Many birds of prey call the Delaware Valley home. This checklist is to help you identify hawks in the Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey region.

A checklist narrows down the number of birds you have to learn to successfully hawk watch 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.


A Sharp-shinned Hawk perches on my garden fence. Photo by Donna L. Long
A Sharp-shinned Hawk perches on my garden fence. Photo by Donna L. Long

The Diurnal Birds of Prey – these birds hunt by day

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

ACCIPITERS – “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) – Red-Tails Hatch in Philadelphia
  • Rough-legged Hawk (winters in SE PA)


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


  • 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)


  • 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
Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)
Great Horned Owl (courtesy USFWS/Dave Menke)

The Nocturnal Birds of Prey – 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.

More Hawk Information

Birds of Prey Identification: the Best Field Guides

Watching Birds of Prey

Raptor Migration What You Need to Know to Hawk Watch

My Trip to Hawk Migration Watch at Hawk Mountain 

Birds: Table of Contents


Hawk Migration Association of North America – 



  1. I have lived in Allentown, Pa for 47 yrs. all of a sudden there are a pair of red tails perching in my tree. The male is a beautiful color and the female is a plainer brown. I do have bird feeders. Are they after my birds or my Shih Tzu dog which seems to interest them? What do you devise? I want my song birds and I don’t want my dog hurt. Will they attack?

    • Hi, Sandra
      Thanks for contacting me. The red-tails are hunting at your feeders. The feeders are like “A Old Country” buffet for them.
      Red-tails eat birds, reptiles and small mammals like mice, chipmunks, etc. And cute little dogs qualify as small mammals. Your dog MAYBE too big or maybe not for the Red-tails to tackle, but you never know. Better to keep the dog well away from the hawks.
      In the meanwhile you get to take plenty of amazing photos.

  2. Hello, I live in the East Passyunk Crossing neighborhood of South Philadelphia, and spotted what looked like a Cooper’s Hawk on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. (12/24/2016)

    • Hi, Chris – You probably did see a Cooper’s. They are in this area during winter. I have had a Sharpie feeding in my NW Philly backyard feeder. Thanks for sharing.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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