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  • Writer's pictureWill Hedrick

Five Raptors in North Carolina

Updated: May 19, 2023

Raptors, or birds of prey, are known for their strong eyesight to spot and capture animals, like rodents, rabbits, and fish. While the raptors included on this list are not threatened or endangered for extinction, they are vital to a healthy ecosystem.

Birds of prey remove old and sick animals for population control. They are also an important species to watch for indications of threats to the environment such as habitat loss and climate change. Read on to learn about five of the most common raptors found throughout North Carolina.

Barred Owl

Strix varia

The barred owl is known throughout the state of NC for its hoots and wails. The “barred” name comes from the horizontal brown stripes on its wings, back, and tail which contrast with its gray-brown feathers. They are found mostly around wetlands, like swaps and marshes, and usually prey on small animals like rabbits, squirrels, and frogs. Barred Owls have a long life expectancy of 18 years in the wild and can grow up to weigh about 30 ounces with nearly a four-foot wingspan.

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

America’s national bird, and one of the largest raptors in North America, is found throughout NC. The bald eagle often builds its nests in tall, isolated trees near lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Its wingspan can stretch seven to eight feet, and stand about three feet tall. Bald eagles are named after the white feathers covering their head and tail. The rest of their body is covered with dark brown feathers. For food, bald eagles scavenge fish and sometimes prey on water birds and rabbits. They have a long lifespan of about 20 years.

Cooper's Hawk

Accipiter cooperii

Find the Cooper’s hawk in NC year-round, especially in wooded areas. You can spot a Cooper’s hawk by their gray back and orange and white patterned chest and legs. The Cooper’s hawk wingspan extends about 28 to 34 inches across and stands 14 to 19 inches tall. The Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized raptor and may only weigh up to 1.5 pounds. They mainly prey on other birds, like doves, and small animals.


Pandion haliaetus

Ospreys are commonly spotted near water. They are also known as “sea hawks” because they mostly consume fish by flying over water and diving feet first. Their nests are usually found in dead trees, stumps, or man-made structures. Ospreys are large in size with a wingspan up to six feet wide and stand two feet tall. Spot ospreys in the wild with their white belly and chest, black beak, and brown wings and back. They have a shorter life expectancy than other raptors on this list at about 10 years.

Red Tailed Hawk

Buteo jamaicensis

If you live or have been to NC, you likely have spotted a red-tailed hawk. They are commonly found flying over fields in search of prey or perching on telephone poles. Observe red-tailed hawks in the wild with a brown body and wings, white chest, and red tail. They can grow up to about two feet tall with a four-foot wingspan. The red-tailed hawk mainly feeds on rodents, but will also eat fish and insects. Their lifespan is about the same as an osprey at 10 years.

Conserve and Protect Birds of Prey

Raptors are mostly threatened through human interaction like deforestation, pollution, and hunting. The Carolina Raptor Center’s mission is to educate and engage the community while also rehabilitating birds of prey. Their medical staff treats about 800 to 1,000 raptors each year.

Learn more about how you can support the Carolina Raptor Center with our Raptor Project and donate today! As always, 100% of your donation goes directly to our projects.


Written by: Faith Foushee


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