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Raptors! A Guide to Minnesota’s Birds of Prey

A raptor, also known as a bird of prey, is a carnivorous, meat-eating bird. All raptors share at least three characteristics: keen eyesight, eight sharp talons and a hooked beak. The word “raptor” comes from a Latin term rapere meaning “to seize or grab.”

Minnesota raptors include eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, osprey, owls and vultures. Most Minnesota raptors have plumage in some combination of earth tones to better blend in with their environment: light to dark brown, black and white or grayish blue. The following is an introduction to identifying some of Minnesota’s more prevalent birds of prey.


Key features for identifying raptors
Identifying raptors can be a tricky undertaking. For one thing, juvenile birds don’t look like parent birds for at least a couple years
Another complication: male and female birds of prey most often look identical, with only size to distinguish between the two (the female is typically larger than the male!).Complications aside, there are some key features you can look for when attempting to identify a raptor:

Overall Shape. Note the overall shape of the bird—shape of the head, wings, tail and body.

Flight Habits. Does the bird use “active flight”—meaning flapping wing beats—or does it primarily soar, glide or hover?

General Habitat. Look at the general habitat and determine if it would be considered prairie, woodlands or roadside.

Perching Habits. In general, perching raptors sit upright, whereas non-raptors, such as crows, lean forward over their feet.


Bald Eagle


• Large: 31–37″

• Wingspan 7–8′

• Deep, powerful flaps in flight

• Can soar for long distances

• In flight: hold their wings directly out from the body


• Tend to be found near lakes and rivers

• Takes 4–6 years to develop adult white head & tail

Turkey Vulture


• Large: 26–27″

• Wingspan 6′

• Featherless heads

• Gliding, teeter totter-like flight pattern peppered with a few shallow wing beats. Wings raised in a noticeable V-shape when gliding.


• Scavenge, don’t hunt—so not raptors by strict definition.



• Med/Large: 23–24.5″

• Wingspan to 6′

• Narrow, angled wings

• Flap frequently with only occasional gliding

• Body and head bobs up and down with each pump


• Plunge feet first into the water and can completely submerge in order to catch fish



• Varies: 16–25″

• Long, tapered wings and small bodies

• Active fliers, seldom glide

• Able to hover, change direction quickly and reach incredible speeds when diving


• Minnesota hosts American Kestrel, Gyrfalcon, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon



• Medium: 22–23″

• Slim bodies with long falcon-like
wings and long tails

• Active fliers—bouncy without much gliding—
and can change flight direction quickly


• Minnesota hosts the Swallow-tailed Kite* (*shown)

• Feeds mainly on snakes

• Prefers wooded river swamps and pine lands



• Medium: 18–21″

• Slim with long, narrow, round-tipped
wings and long tail

• Smooth, full wing beats with sudden drops to the ground to pounce on prey

• Fly extremely low to the ground along landscape


• Minnesota hosts Northern Harriers

• Wings are slightly raised in a V shape when gliding

Buteo-type Hawks


• Varies: 15–24″

• Broad wings, wide, rounded tail

• Slow, heavy flaps for 3–6 beats followed by gliding

• Gain altitude by flying in consecutive tight circles until high enough to soar


• Minnesota hosts Broad winged, Red-shouldered, Swainson’s, Red-tailed*, Rough-legged and
Ferruginous Hawks (*shown, most common).

Accipiter-type Hawks (“Bird Hawks”)


• Small to medium: 10–26″

• Short, rounded wings

• Slender bodies and long tails

• Flight is burst of quick flutters and a glide

• Compacted size equips them for rapid maneuvering around trees in pursuit of small birds


• Minnesota Hawks in this grouping are Cooper’s*, Sharp-shinned, Northern Goshawk (*shown).



• Size varies widely by species

• Flattened facial disk with large, forward-facing eyes

• Nocturnal; perch during the day.

• Flight is noiseless, “mothlike”

• May have ear-like tufts



• MN: Great Gray, Snowy*, Barred, Barn, Northern Hawk-Owl, Burrowing, Boreal, and Northern Saw-Whet Owls (no tufts); Great Horned, Long-eared, Short-eared and Eastern Screech Owls** (tufts)

Minnesota Hawk Chart

Click the image to see it larger

By Minnetonka Manager CAROL CHENAULT
Reprinted from our Bird’s-Eye View archives from March/April 2013

February is National Bird Feeding Month

National Bird Feeding Month

The month of February was designated National Bird Feeding Month by an Illinois congressman, John Porter. In 1994, he read a resolution in to the Congressional Record. The month is an ideal time for promoting and enjoying the experience of wild bird feeding. The theme for 2019 is to ensure that our birds, our harbingers of spring, get enough to eat that they will continue to delight us with their song.



Video: Is Bird Feeding Good for Birds?

We love feeding birds because we get to see them up close and appreciate their beauty and personalities. But is bird feeding beneficial to birds? Find out in this short video!


Screen shot of video: is bird feeding good for birds?

It’s Time Again for Winter-Visiting Finches

Pine Siskins on bird feeder

Photo by Jim Weisman

Welcome Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls

This is the time of year when you may begin to see some less-common visitors to your backyard feeding stations. Every few years, we experience an “irruption”—an influx of typically northern-dwelling birds—into our Twin Cities Metro Area and beyond in Minnesota. The irruption is often due to poor crops of conifer seeds (pine and spruce) and catkins (birch and alders) that birds like Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls consume.

Irruption events are lucky for us as backyard birders, because we are fortunate to be able to see species of birds that may otherwise live out of our range. We can support these birds by providing Nyjer, Nyjer and Chips, sunflower chips, or Finches’ Choice in finch feeders. Flocks of visiting Pine Siskins and/or redpolls will greedily thank you for the gifts!

Get to know these two species a little better with the following video.


Tips for Easy Winter Bird Feeding

hanging seed cylinder feederWhen temperatures drop, trips out to fill bird feeders can be daunting! Here are three tips to make winter bird feeding easier.

Watch our brief video for some great tips!


Staff Insights: What We Learned in 2018

Our expert staff members have been feeding birds for years, yet we learned some new things in our backyards in 2018. Take what you want from our insights to apply to your bird feeding in the new year!

By Minnetonka Manager CAROL CHENAULT

Cardinal eating Songbird Delight seed mix

I began using Songbird Delight in a large tray feeder. Less mess and the birds love it! -Sue

Hummingbird feeder

Multiple hummingbird feeders located on different sides of the house attracted more hummingbirds and reduced the fighting and territorial behavior. -Kathy

Rain guard over hummingbird feeder

Rain guards work! Hummingbirds fed more often and for longer periods on a nectar feeder sheltered under a rain guard. –Carol

Read More »

Who’s Who at Your Winter Feeders


From our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter archives: Volume 19, Issue 1

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK

A mixture of "little brown birds" at a tub feeder

Part of the joy in backyard birding is identifying and keeping track of the birds that come to your yard over the years. Equipped with a field guide, it’s relatively easy to identify birds like Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees based on their colors, sizes or shapes. Other birds, like nuthatches and woodpeckers, display characteristic behaviors that divulge their identities.

Far more tricky can be identifying all of the little brown birds that gather on the ground or at feeders. With similar colors, sizes, shapes, and behaviors, their defining characteristics are less apparent. Further complicating things is that many of these brown birds may be disguised with winter coloring or belong to irruptive species—temporary visitors that are forced into an irregular migration due to habitat changes. Here’s a guide to help you master who’s who at your feeders this winter:

Read More »

Holiday Treats for Birds


We have a fun variety of seed ornaments available in our stores during the holiday season.

There’s a wide range of foods you can offer on a bird Christmas tree that will attract a wide variety of birds and the more you decorate a tree the more species you will see.

Make sure that your bird treat tree is visible from a comfortable spot in your house. What a delightful sight on a cold wintry day! It helps to pick a tree close to your regular feeders, which will help the birds find it more quickly. Evergreen trees are best because they also offer shelter for the birds. If you don’t have a suitable tree consider a large upright branch, a potted evergreen tree or an inexpensive artificial tree instead. Avoid using thin thread or fishing line to hang the edible ornaments, which can become a tangle hazard for birds.

Decorate the tree early, since it may take a few days to a couple of weeks for birds to discover the holiday goodies. Be sure you have extra seed ornaments so you can replace them as needed. If you don’t want the squirrels to share in these treats we have seed bells made of Golden Safflower, which squirrels tend to dislike.

At All Seasons Wild Bird Stores we have a wide selection of birdseed ornaments. You will find birdhouses decorated with seeds and tidbits of fruit for a special treat. Our cute little seed and nut stars are solid seed, containing black oil sunflower, pecans, peanuts and millet and features a red raffia hanger. The seed hearts work well in any temperature, there’s no mess, and no waste and they never melt. We have individually wrapped seed balls with premium blends will draw a wide variety of your backyard birds. All of these, plus seed wreaths, bells and hearts are also great gifts for neighbors, teachers or friends.

By Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK


Winter Water

American Goldfinches in winter by Jim Weisman

American Goldfinches on a heated birdbath (Photo by Jim Weisman)

Want to attract more birds to your yard this winter? Supply a source of open water!

When temperatures drop, birds are in a constant struggle to maintain their body temperatures. A steady source of fats and proteins will help to nourish and fuel birds’ metabolic needs and keep them warm. But also important—a source of water that is accessible (i.e. not ice) and doesn’t require using body heat to melt it (i.e. snow). The solution: open water provided by a heated birdbath.

Take a look at the video below to learn more about providing open water to backyard birds in the winter!

Trumpeter Swan or Tundra Swan?

They swim gracefully (or feed ungracefully) in the water. They fly gracefully, in small to large V-formations. They honk or whistle. They are definitely swans, with their long necks and stout bodies. But of the two types of swans seen locally, either Trumpeter Swan or Tundra Swan, which is which?

If each type of swan is side-by-side, distinguishing them is easy. Trumpeter Swans will always be the larger birds. But what if they are not side-by-side? Then look and listen!

Look in the summer and winter.

In this region, you will be seeing Trumpeter Swans. They nest here in the summer and move very little in winter migration, only needing open water with available vegetation to survive. Visit Mississippi Drive Park (aka Swan Park) near Monticello to see wintering swans; the warm power plant water provides the open water they need. Tundra Swans, however, spend their summers in the high Arctic and winters at Chesapeake Bay.

Listen and look in spring and fall.

Both species are flying and feeding during migration at these times. Both will fly in a V-formation, which can range from one (5 or so individuals) to multiple family groups (100+ individuals). Both will feed in groups, dabbling in lakes or rivers in search of food. Both will call when feeding or flying.

Read More »