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Illinois Birds of Prey: Types, Hawks, Owls, Falcons, Eagles, & Events (2024)

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illinois birds of preyIllinois is a treasure trove of birds of prey, their powerful wings like sentinels watching over the land. From majestic eagles to swift hawks and dusky owls, Illinois’s raptors are as diverse as they are impressive.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about these incredible creatures – including types of Illinois birds of prey such as Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks or Cooper’s Hawk – then this article has all the information you need!

Here we’ll cover each species in detail with tips on where they can be found and what events there may be celebrating them.

Key Takeaways

  • Illinois is home to diverse birds of prey, including eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons.
  • Red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and red-shouldered hawks are common in Illinois.
  • Broad-winged hawks, rough-legged hawks, peregrine falcons, and American kestrels also inhabit Illinois.
  • Great horned owls, barred owls, Eastern screech-owls, and snowy owls are some of the owl species found in Illinois.

Types of Raptors in Illinois

Types of Raptors in Illinois
You’ll spot a variety of impressive raptors during Eagle Watch Weekend, from the majestic bald eagle to the speedy peregrine falcon. Watch for the soaring red-tailed hawk, Illinois’ most common raptor, exhibiting aerial acrobatics.

Look for the diminutive sharp-shinned hawk darting after songbirds at feeders where they often nest undetected. Scan treetops for the elusive Cooper’s hawk, at home in dense woods yet adept at navigating clutter while hunting.

Hear the eerie cries of the red-shouldered hawk as these long-distance migrants return to Illinois forests. Marvel at huge flocks of broad-winged hawks on their incredible migrations, while supporting conservation efforts for these sensitive raptors.

With keen eyes, you’ll spot eagles over water, falcons on cliffs, secretive owls in trees, and other remarkable raptors that call Illinois home.


You see those red tails soaring over the fields? Those’re probably red-tailed hawks, the most common hawk species here in the Prairie State. As an experienced Illinois birder, I’ve spent many hours observing hawks and their habits.

The red-tailed hawk is easy to identify by its trademark ruddy tail. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks dart through the woods with incredible agility during hunts. Buteos like red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks display varied plumage and migration patterns.

Rough-legged hawks hover above fields, while the regal bald eagle rules the waters. With practice, their silhouettes, wing shapes, and behavior reveal their identities. Illinois offers many chances to witness these raptors firsthand through birds of prey programs and wildlife events.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
They’re the most common hawk in Illinois, with that unmistakable rusty red tail. You’ll spot these iconic raptors soaring over open country. Watch for their broad, rounded wings and fanned tail revealing a rich, russet red.

These birds breed in tall trees and hunt mammals like voles, ground squirrels and rabbits in grasslands and farmland. They adapt readily to human settlement. Loud keeer calls greet you as they float overhead.

Enjoy these regal fliers, but don’t disturb nest sites. Report any harassment to conservation officials. Though still common, monitoring helps safeguard populations. Continued public interest ensures a bright future for Illinois’ familiar red-tailed hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Shifty sharp-shinned hawks zoom past your feeder like feathered fighter jets. These tiny terrors of the backyard are the smallest accipiters in North America. Masters of agile aerial acrobatics, sharpies use lightning quick maneuvers to ambush songbirds at feeders.

Though only 9 to 13 inches long, their speed and stealth make them formidable predators.

During fall migration, keep an eye out for sharpies darting through Illinois forests. Come winter, head to the Raptor Center to see these feisty falcons up close and learn about conservation efforts for these birds of prey.

Experiencing live raptor shows is an unforgettable encounter that fuels a lifelong passion for understanding and protecting Illinois’ birds of prey.

Cooper’s Hawk

Living ghosts in the woods and fields, Cooper’s hawks show off flying skills while ambushing prey. Expert stalkers, I’ve witnessed Cooper’s hawks glide through forests while pursuing birds and small mammals.

Though smaller than other hawk species, they make up for it with agility and speed.

Cooper’s hawks build nests high in trees, typically laying 3-6 eggs. While juvenile Cooper’s hawks may not migrate, adults often winter further south.

In Illinois, sightings peak during spring and fall migrations. Always be on the lookout when exploring natural areas – a flash of gray and rusty barred underparts signals another Cooper’s hawk sighting.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk
You’ll find red-shouldered hawks in Illinois woodlands and forested wetlands. The YouTube channel Redtails in Love shows a family in a California nest and highlights some amazing hunting footage.

Range and Hunting

You’ll find these cunning raptors hunting songbirds from the woods up to your backyard, their rufous plumage flashing as they plunge through the trees. Red-shouldered hawks prefer mixed forests but will adapt to hunt prey in backyards when necessary.

With their keen vision, these nimble flyers dart through branches to ambush unsuspecting quarry. Although they prefer rodents and frogs, they will also snatch snakes, lizards, and insects. Their powerful talons allow them to snatch prey from trees, the ground, and even mid-air in acrobatic displays of aerial finesse.

YouTube Channel

Since the red-shouldered hawk is common in Illinois, you would enjoy subscribing to the YouTube channel Illinois Birds of Prey to see great videos of them in their natural habitat. The channel shares bird watching tips, photography techniques, bird conservation efforts, and insight into birds of prey behavior.

Check it out to learn more about these majestic raptors that call Illinois home. The YouTube channel offers an engaging look into the lives of these incredible birds. Watching the high-quality videos allows you to observe red-shouldered hawks up close in a way you may not get to experience elsewhere.

Plus, the knowledgeable hosts provide interesting facts and useful tips for spotting and photographing the hawks. Subscribing is a must for any Illinois resident fascinated by these regal raptors.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk
You’ve likely seen broad-winged hawks circling high overhead during migration. These short, stocky raptors are best known for their impressive migrations each fall as they leave their forest breeding grounds and head south.

You can spot flocks of broad-winged hawks, known as kettles, spiraling upwards on columns of warm air during September. Their broad wings allow them to take advantage of these thermals to conserve energy.

While less common in Illinois in summer, look for them perched low in deciduous or mixed forests as they hunt small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Conserving stopover habitat is vital for these long-distance migrants that breed in the eastern U.

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk
Mid-hovering high above open fields, you spot rough-legged hawks thanks to their feathered legs. Preferring open habitats such as tundra, grasslands, and marshes, these raptors migrate south for the winter.

Using their hovering ability to hunt, they snatch voles and lemmings from the ground. Their feathers extend down their legs to their feet, providing insulation in cold climates.

Though populations are stable, they face threats like habitat loss and poisoning. With a watchful eye scanning the skies, you may glimpse these Arctic migrants on their wintering grounds in the Prairie State.

Rough-legged hawk sightings contribute to conservation efforts for these far-flying raptors.


You’d be able to identify an owl by its distinct silhouette if you see one flying after dark. Illinois has a diversity of owl species with unique adaptations for their nocturnal habits. Owls thrive in various habitats from dense forests to open fields and urban areas.

  1. Owls have exceptional hearing and night vision to hunt in darkness.
  2. Their feathers allow nearly silent flight vital for sneaking up on prey.
  3. Owls can turn their heads 270 degrees to scan surroundings.
  4. Many owls vocalize with hoots, screeches, or shrieks.
  5. Conservation efforts protect wetland and woodland owl habitats.

With over 225 species worldwide, owls display an astounding array of sizes, colors, and behaviors. Looking and listening for Eastern screech-owls in northern Illinois or barred owls in southern Wisconsin can reveal the mysteries of the night.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Flex your ears as you listen for the great horned owl‘s telltale hooting amid the darkened Illinois forest. This powerful predator’s deep hoots resonate through woodlands and wetlands where it hunts.

Scanning the skies, you may spy its distinct ear tufts and intimidating yellow-eyed stare. Adept at hunting in darkness, great horned owls feast on small mammals and the occasional rabbit or skunk. They take refuge in tree cavities or abandoned nests, incubating eggs as early as January.

Through conservation, these mysterious birds of prey thrive, from rural hollows to urban parks. Let their haunting calls transport you to shadowy Illinois glades where the great horned owl reigns after nightfall.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
The barred owl is a nocturnal raptor known for its distinctive call. Preferring dense, old-growth forests, these medium-sized owls can be found throughout Illinois. Listen for their iconic who cooks for you? hooting at night to detect barred owls in your area.

Masterful hunters, they employ a sit-and-wait technique to ambush prey. Conservation efforts aim to protect sufficient mature forest habitat for the barred owl population.

To support these fascinating birds of prey, plant native trees, leave dead snags standing, and minimize light pollution near owl territories. With quiet observation on forest walks, you may glimpse a barred owl’s haunting eyes peering back as it blends into the shadows.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl
You might glimpse the wispy spirit of a small owl, heart pounding as it hunts under the dim moonlight.

The eastern screech owl is a pint-sized raptor that comes alive after dark. Though tiny, these nocturnal hunters have excellent low-light vision and keen hearing to find prey. Screech owls aren’t actually screechy despite their name. Their eerie whinnying hoots are a signature sound on moonlit nights.

Cavities in trees are favored nest sites for raising young. Development threatens their woodland homes, but screech owls adapt well to urban areas if nesting sites exist. Conserving mature trees and woodlots aids the survival of these captivating creatures of the night.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Don’t miss glimpsing a celestial creature when a Snowy Owl graces Illinois with its presence this winter. Majestic and pure, Snowy Owls sweep south from their Arctic breeding grounds when prey is scarce.

Seek open fields or wetlands to spot these nocturnal owls scanning for prey. Marvel at Snowy Owls soaring low over snow-covered fields, plunging talons-first to snatch unsuspecting rodents.

Though normally far north, periodic irruptions bring Snowy Owls to Illinois, a rare gift for bird enthusiasts. Respect Snowy Owls’ space, photographing from a distance. Should you be so lucky to see an Arctic angel, document and share your experience while protecting these vulnerable visitors.

Savor the magic if your path crosses a Snowy Owl’s this winter.

American Barn Owl

American Barn Owl
You’d have missed that American Barn Owl’s creepy screech if you hadn’t attended the 2023 Eagle Watch in Illinois. As a nocturnal hunter, the Barn Owl utilizes its acute hearing and specialized facial disc to locate prey in low light.

Gliding silently on long wings, it drops down talon-first to snatch mice and voles. The eerie shrieks of these spectral raptors serve not only to startle prey, but also to communicate with mates and offspring.

Though scarce statewide, look for the distinct heart-shaped face of Barn Owls quartering over grasslands and agricultural areas come nightfall. With luck, you may glimpse one returning to roost in an old barn or hollow tree.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Moving under cover of night, the Northern Saw-whet Owl’s muted twitters and toots echo through dense forests as these diminutive raptors hunt. An aura of mystery surrounds the secretive Northern Saw-whet Owls. Rarely seen yet widespread, they find refuge in coniferous and mixed forests.

Hooting territorial calls pierce the stillness as the breeding season approaches. Saw-whets nest in tree cavities, often old woodpecker holes. These efficient hunters consume mice, voles, shrews, and small birds.

Conservation efforts aim to protect vital nesting and wintering habitat for the migratory Northern Saw-whet Owl. Though populations remain stable, habitat loss poses the greatest threat. We must recognize and safeguard critical old growth forests to ensure the night music of the Saw-whet Owl continues.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
You’d catch the short-eared owl gliding over the fields at dusk, its large wings held in a shallow V as it searches for prey. An expert birder knows these owls prefer open habitats like grasslands, wetlands, and tundra.

Short-eared owls nest on the ground, producing around 5 eggs. While some are permanent Illinois residents, most migrate south in winter. These medium-sized owls often perch low or hover before diving talons-first on detected prey.

Their streaky brown plumage provides camouflage in fields, but those distinctive ear tufts are visible at close range.

With patience, you may observe their acrobatic hunting flights over open terrain.

Falcons, Eagles, & Vultures

Falcons, Eagles, & Vultures
Around here you’ll glimpse fierce peregrines streaking across city skylines and majestic bald eagles surveying from treetops during winter migrations. Centuries of falconry honed the peregrine’s unrivaled speed, enabling it to chase down flocks and snatch prey from the air.

Turkey vultures gorge on carrion with bare heads that stay clean while feasting.

Massive eagle nests adorn remote cliffs and trees near water, where mated pairs return to breed and raise young. Though once endangered, prolific peregrines adapted to urban areas, nesting prominently on skyscrapers and bridges.

Each fall, raptors of all kinds ride thermals and updrafts southward on epic migratory journeys.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
You’ll thrill at the sight of a Peregrine Falcon streaking across the sky at over 200 mph. With wings evolved for speed, these fierce raptors tuck in their wings and dive, called a stoop, to take birds in midair.

Though fast, peregrines aren’t built for prolonged chase. Instead, they rely on surprise aerial ambushes. Peregrines nest on tall cliffs and increasingly on city buildings. Conservation efforts brought them back from endangered status.

Though intimidating at first glance, witnessing a peregrine hunt inspires awe in its speed and precision.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel
Despite their small stature, you’re awed as fierce American Kestrels swiftly snatch sparrows from the sky. These pint-sized falcons are perfectly adapted for aerobatic hunting with their pointed wings and long tails.

Although diminutive, American Kestrels pack a predator’s punch. With binocular vision and incredible speed, Kestrels dive upon quarry or hover in midair while securing meals.

While adaptable to urban areas, kestrels favor open country like meadows, grasslands, and agricultural areas that afford abundant prey and perches for hunting.

Though abundant, American Kestrels face threats like pesticides and habitat loss.

This adroit raptor persists despite challenges confronting birds of prey today.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
You see bald eagles soaring majestically over Illinois’s rivers and lakes. An iconic symbol of freedom and power, bald eagles hold cultural significance for many Native American tribes. Their habitats along waterways benefit from conservation efforts, though lead ammunition still threatens these raptors.

Winter months draw migrating bald eagles to open water and abundant fish. They nest in seclusion away from human activity. Respectful observation allows you to witness the bald eagles’ flight and fishing while preserving sensitive habitat.

Revered across cultures, the bald eagle inspires us to continue to protect these birds and the wild places they represent.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture
With bald eagles often found near open water, turkey vultures frequent a wider range of habitats. As skilled scavengers, turkey vultures play a vital role in ecosystems by disposing of carrion. You’ll see these large raptors effortlessly soaring over fields and roads, using their keen sense of smell to locate carcasses.

About 5,000 turkey vultures inhabit Illinois yearly. Though some migrate south for winter, many overwinter in southern parts of the state where food remains available. With stable populations, turkey vultures aren’t considered threatened. But you can help by reporting injured birds and dead wildlife to aid conservation efforts for these remarkable scavengers.

Their unique adaptations help keep landscapes clean and free of disease. Their unique adaptions help keep landscapes clean and free of disease.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture
Unlike the Turkey Vulture, the Black Vulture has a darker, more predatory image as these scavengers will actually hunt live prey in addition to eating carrion. But don’t let their reputation fool you – these unique raptors play an important role in their ecosystems just like the Turkey Vulture.

With keen eyesight and sense of smell, Black Vultures use their scavenger adaptations to find carcasses. While opportunistic, they prefer fresh kills. Their smaller size allows them to feed in groups.

Forested areas near open land provide good habitat. Populations are increasing as these resourceful birds adapt to human presence.

Illinois Birds of Prey Events

Illinois Birds of Prey Events
This weekend presents a rare opportunity to witness magnificent birds of prey across multiple locations in Illinois. The Eagle Watch Weekend offers free guided hikes, bird shows, and wildlife talks at Starved Rock Lodge and local visitor centers, where you can admire raptors like bald eagles up close during bird feedings.

Eagle Watch Weekend

Experience the majestic bald eagle up close during Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock State Park! Witness these incredible birds soaring overhead as you join guided hikes and educational talks. Observe bald eagles at their winter gathering grounds. Learn from experts about raptor identification, photography techniques, and conservation efforts.

Starved Rock Lodge

Attend the Illinois Birds of Prey program at Starved Rock Lodge for incredible up-close encounters with hawks, owls, and falcons.

  • Witness raptors like Bald Eagles soaring overhead
  • Learn raptor identification tips from experts
  • Get photography advice for capturing birds in flight
  • Experience Native American dancing and drumming
  • Enjoy the natural beauty of Starved Rock State Park

Through this one-of-a-kind event at Starved Rock Lodge, you can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of Illinois’ magnificent birds of prey.

Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center

See raptors up close at the Starved Rock Visitor Center’s indoor Birds of Prey shows.

Time Activity Location
9:30am Starved Rock Saplings Story Time Visitor Center
10am Guided Hike to Starved Rock Visitor Center
11am Birds of Prey Show Visitor Center
1pm Guided Hike to Starved Rock Visitor Center
2pm Birds of Prey Show Visitor Center

Experience the engaging Eagle Watch activities at the Starved Rock Visitor Center, like wildlife photography tips, Native American cultural demonstrations, and scenic trolley rides through the park.

Illinois Waterway Visitor Center

Now’s your chance to spot bald eagles from the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center on January 28-29 during Eagle Watch weekend. With guided outdoor eagle watching, dancing and drumming demonstrations, raptor research talks, and wildlife photography tips, don’t you want to experience Illinois’ majestic birds firsthand? This weekend offers a unique opportunity to observe bald eagles in their natural habitat and learn more about these regal birds.

The guided eagle tours will allow you to spot eagles perched in trees or soaring overhead. Meanwhile, the educational presentations will provide fascinating insights into eagle behavior, biology, and conservation efforts.

Whether an avid birder or simply curious about nature, the Eagle Watch weekend promises to be an unforgettable experience.

Fees and Bird of Prey Feeding

Don’t miss the live raptor feedings at the Illinois Birds of Prey events this weekend – they’re free with your wristband! Witness these impressive predators up close during scheduled feedings. Support rehabilitation and conservation efforts through educational outreach. Capture incredible wildlife photography opportunities.


Illinois is home to many different species of birds of prey. From the majestic red-tailed hawk to the elusive peregrine falcon, the sky’s filled with avian hunters. Whether you’re a seasoned bird watcher or a novice, Illinois’ birds of prey provide a unique opportunity to observe these powerful predators in action.

With Eagle Watch Weekend and other events throughout the year, Illinois offers a chance to get up close and personal with hawks, owls, vultures, falcons, and eagles.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh is a passionate bird enthusiast and author with a deep love for avian creatures. With years of experience studying and observing birds in their natural habitats, Mutasim has developed a profound understanding of their behavior, habitats, and conservation. Through his writings, Mutasim aims to inspire others to appreciate and protect the beautiful world of birds.