In this article we’ll talk about the birds of prey in Massachusetts, as well as the best times of the year and locations to find them.
Massachusetts is the most populous state in all of New England, and it has a large population of birds of prey to match.
With the Atlantic Ocean bordering it’s eastern coast — and plenty of inland forests, swamps, and grasslands — it’s no surprise that a wide array of hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles call this state their home.
Birds of Prey in Massachusetts
There are 20 different kinds of raptors found in Massachusetts including hawks, owls, falcons, and eagles — check them out below.
Hawks in Massachusetts
1. Sharp-shinned Hawk
Length: 9.4-13.4 in
Weight: 3.1-7.7 oz
Wingspan: 16.9-22.1 in
Sharp-shinned hawks may be small, but they sure are fast. Their long legs, short, round wings, and lengthy tails allow them to fly through dense forests at rapid speeds.
They’re found year-round in the eastern half of the state, but the best time to catch a glimpse of them is during the fall when they migrate.
Watch out if you keep bird feeders in the yard, these guys are well-known for snatching up unsuspecting songbirds. If you notice them perched in your yard, remove your bird feeder and replace it after a few weeks. The hawks will search for food elsewhere and the songbirds will eventually return.
2. Cooper’s Hawk
Length: 14.6-17.7 in
Weight: 7.8-24.0 oz
Wingspan: 24.4-35.4 in
Cooper’s hawks are very similar in appearance to sharp-shinned hawks, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. Both birds even share the same flap-flap-glide flying style. However, Cooper’s hawks are larger with slightly broader wings.
They’re found year-round in Massachusetts, most often on the edge of forests, but sometimes in backyards, too. Though they used to avoid populated areas, these hawks are becoming more and more common in towns, suburbs, and other urban areas — preying on the many pigeons and doves that live there.
3. Northern Goshawk
Length: 20.9-25.2 in
Weight: 22.3-48.1 oz
Northern goshawks are closely related to sharp-shinned and cooper’s hawks — except larger and more aggressive. Their coloration is mostly gray with white stripes above their red-orange eyes.
Though they’re found here year-round, they’re more secretive than these other hawks, making them harder to find. The best chance of seeing them is to head for the woods.
Be careful not to get too close to their nests though, since these defensive hawks are known for attacking people that get too close.
4. Red-shouldered Hawk
Length: 16.9-24.0 in
Weight: 17.1-27.3 oz
Wingspan: 37.0-43.7 in
Like their name implies, Red-shouldered hawks feature light, reddish barring on their pale undersides as well as white banding on their tails.
These year-round hawks of Massachusetts live in wet forests — often along streams and creeks. In the spring they’re often spotted circling over their nesting area. The translucent crescents near their wingtips are a great way to identify them.
Red-shouldered hawks and crows don’t exactly get along. They often fight and try to steal food from one another, though sometimes they do pair-up to eliminate a common enemy.
5. Broad-winged Hawk
Length: 13.4-17.3 in
Weight: 9.3-19.8 oz
Wingspan: 31.9-39.4 in
Broad-winged hawks can only be found during breeding season in Massachusetts, from around April to August. However, if you’re lucky you’ll catch their fall migration, when large flocks of thousands travel to South America.
These hawks are on the smaller side with stocky bodies and large, reddish heads. They have similar barring as the red-shouldered hawk, but with brown coloration rather than red.
You may be able to find one by listening for it’s piercing, single-pitched whistle it makes when hunting.
6. Red-tailed Hawk
Length: 17.7-25.6 in
Weight: 24.3-51.5 oz
Wingspan: 44.9-52.4 in
You’ve probably seen several Red-tailed Hawks before, as they’re one of the most common hawks in North America. Catch them year-round in Massachusetts, often perched on tall vantage points or circling overhead. Chances are you can even spot them on roadside telephone poles during your daily drive.
They feature white, creamy undersides with light, reddish brown markings as well as their namesake tail full of red feathers. When in flight you can observe their broad, rounded wings and short tail, a signature buteo hawk silhouette.
Listen for their iconic raptor screech — you’ll surely recognize it as the same call used for hawks, and other birds of prey, in most movies and television shows. This article has even more interesting facts about Red-tailed hawks.
7. Rough-legged Hawk
Length: 18.5-20.5 in
Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz
Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in
You’ll only be able to catch the non-breeding population of Rough-legged hawks in Massachusetts during the winter. During the summer these hawks reside in the arctic tundra, hunting and raising their young before migrating south to escape the cold.
They often fly up and face the wind while hunting, hovering and scanning the ground for prey. They share the buteo shape along with the Red-tailed hawk, but with longer, more narrow wings. Rough-legged hawks feature dark-brown patterns, though they also occur in light and dark morphs.
Owls in Massachusetts
8. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Barn owls are found year round across the entire country. During the day they hide in dark, quiet places like abandoned barns or other man-made structures, but at night they soar across open fields and grasslands looking for a meal.
They’re adept at using sound to locate small rodents, using their talons to capture prey in the darkest of conditions — even under snow or vegetation. To eat, they swallow their meals whole and spit out the indigestible remains as pellets.
They have pale white faces with dark eyes, and light tan bodies with gray markings on their heads, necks, and upper-wings. At night you may see them as a flash of white gliding by, or hear their alarming, piercing call.
9. Eastern Screech Owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Eastern screech owls are found year-round in Massachusetts, but you’ll have to have good eyes to find them. Their grey and red-brown patterned feathers give them excellent camouflage for blending into trees.
Find them nestled in empty tree cavities in most kinds of woods and forests, often near water sources. A good way of locating them is to listen for their trills at night, which sound somewhat similar to a horse’s whinny.
These small owls will also accept nest boxes, so consider putting one up on your property to attract a breeding pair. For best results make sure to install it a good while before breeding season, which begins in April.
10. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Great horned owls are possibly the most iconic owls from literature, story books, and other media. Their signature deep hoot, feathered tufts on their heads, and large, yellow eyes make them easily recognizable among other owls.
They’re found year round in Massachusetts, in a large range of habitats including deciduous and evergreen forests, new forests with clearings and open areas, and even swamps.
Their soft, fluffy feathers keep them warm in the winter, and allow them to fly silently — a strong advantage when it comes to ambushing small rodents and other prey.
11. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
The only time you can spot Snowy owls in Massachusetts is during the winter when they migrate, otherwise they breed very far up north in the arctic. They are unmistakable to identify if you happen across one.
They’re very large owls, larger than even Great horned owls, with smooth, rounded heads and bulky, heavily feathered bodies. Their beautiful, white plumage with black speckling makes them stand out from other owls.
Also unlike other owls, they can be spotted sitting on the ground, or close to the ground, in open areas. They sometimes perch on rises and dunes, close to shore near bodies of water like lakes and oceans.
12. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Barred Owls are found year-round in large evergreen and deciduous forests. During the day they roost on tree limbs and cavities, and at night they hunt. They’re fairly large owls with mottled brown and white plumage, and dark eyes.
The best way to find them is by listening for their calls at night. You can distinguish them by their distinct calls that sound like they’re saying “who cooks for you?” If you hear their call, try imitating it back — they may come to check you out if you’re lucky.
One of their greatest enemies is the great horned owl. Both species tend to occupy the same areas, and barred owls will move to other parts of their territory if a great horned owl is nearby.
13. Long-eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Only non-breeding Long-eared owl populations are found in Massachusetts. Their secretive nature and excellent camouflage make them difficult to spot. During the day they lay low in dense forests, coming out to open areas at night to hunt.
Like other owls, listening for their calls is the best way to locate them. Listen for their long, deep hoots and barking calls during spring and summer nights. They roost together in large numbers during the winter, giving you a good opportunity to observe them.
14. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
Like Long-eared owls, the best time to see Short-eared owls is in winter. Only non-breeding populations are found in Massachusetts. They tend to stay near open areas such as grasslands, keeping close to the ground and on low tree limbs.
Dawn and dusk is the best time to look for them, and they can frequently be seen in the daylight. Keep your eyes open for their pale faces with yellow eyes outlined in black. When they fly they flap with smooth, stiff beats, making their flight appear graceful and effortless.
15. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
These tiny, big-headed birds are year round owls in Massachusetts, but they’re seldom seen. Northern saw-whet owls are only about the size of an American Robin, and are famously elusive — making them hard to see, especially at night.
It’s thought that their name comes from the sound a saw makes when sharpened on a whetting stone. If you listen closely on quiet nights from January to May, you might just hear their short, high pitched toot-toot-toot call.
Falcons in Massachusetts
16. American Kestrel
Length: 8.7-12.2 in
Weight: 2.8-5.8 oz
Wingspan: 20.1-24.0 in
American kestrels are the smallest falcons in North America. They are year round falcons in Massachusetts, and can often be spotted perched on fence posts and telephones near open land. They’re one of the more colorful falcons, with blue-gray heads and markings along with rusty-red backs, wings, and tails.
Though they’re small, about the size of a mourning dove, they sure are fierce. They wait from above, sometimes hovering in the wind, before diving down and snatching up insects and small animals. However, they sometimes end up as prey themselves to larger birds of prey and snakes.
Length: 9.4-11.8 in
Weight: 5.6-8.5 oz
Wingspan: 20.9-26.8 in
Merlins are similar in size to American kestrels, but slightly larger, broader, and stockier. They feature less coloration as well, being mostly dark gray or brown with white banding on their tails and wings.
Finding one in Massachusetts is fairly difficult, since they’re unpredictable and only found there during migration. They’re usually either perching up high, looking for small birds to eat, or speeding towards their prey.
Like kestrels, Merlins can also be quite vicious, despite their small size. They sometimes team up in pairs to flocks of waxwings. One bird will attack from below, and once the waxwings are confused, the other Merlin will then strike.
18. Peregrine Falcon
Length: 14.2-19.3 in
Weight: 18.7-56.4 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-43.3 in
In the majority of the state, Peregrine falcons are only found during migration. However, there are some areas close to the coast, like Cape Cod, where they reside year round.
Not only are they the largest falcon across the country, they are also the fastest. In fact, they are technically the fastest animals in the world, reaching speeds over 200 mph when diving after prey. Even while traveling they fly at around 25-34 mph.
You’ll have a better chance finding them along coasts, perching or nesting on top of towers, tall buildings, and other posts.
Check out this article more more interesting facts about Peregrine Falcons.
Eagles in Massachusetts
19. Golden Eagle
Length: 27.6-33.1 in
Weight: 105.8-216.1 oz
Wingspan: 72.8-86.6 in
Golden eagles are primarily found in the Western half of the country, but you can still catch them during winter migration. To find these eagles in Massachusetts, try open land near mountains, hills, and cliffs and around bodies of water.
They’re one of the largest birds in North America, with broad wings and long tails. Adults are mostly dark brown with golden spots on the backs of their heads and necks.
They hunt by either soaring close to the ground or waiting, perched on a branch or other perch. They use their powerful talons and beaks to take down small mammals, though they’re also known for attacking larger animals like coyotes and even bears. These attacks are primarily out of defense, though.
20. Bald Eagle
Length: 27.9-37.8 in
Weight: 105.8-222.2 oz
Wingspan: 80.3 in
You’re definitely familiar with this bird and national emblem. Bald eagles are unmistakable, their bright white plumage on their heads sets them apart from other birds of prey.
Non-breeding populations of Bald eagles are found in Massachusetts during the winter. The best places to look for them are near water sources. Since they primarily eat fish, you’ll have a better chance finding them near the coast or near rivers or lakes. They often steal fish from other birds rather than catch their own.
Bald eagles can also be quite playful. They’ve been observed tossing sticks to each other in midair and also playing with litter like plastic bottles as makeshift toys.