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Baby raptors, everywhere! But which one am I?


Spring and early summer is baby season for raptors in North Carolina. The most often seen baby raptors in our area are Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks. In this post we will learn how to tell these four species apart when they are babies.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are usually the first babies to hatch every year – usually in late February to early March. These silent hunters nest primarily in open nests but can be found in cavities starting in late November. They lay two to three eggs each year. Great Horned Owl babies have yellow eyes and a dark beak.

Barred Owls

Barred Owls begin to nest in late December and are the next species that we see hatch in the Carolinas in April. These owls, familiar because of their friendly “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call, lay two to three eggs in natural cavities in tree trunks. Young Barred Owls have dark eyes and a yellow beak in contrast to Great Horned Owl chicks.

Red-shouldered Hawks

Red-shouldered Hawks begin nesting in early February and hatch in May. These hawks make stick nests in the crotch* of large trees and lay 2-3 eggs. The Red-shouldered Hawk nestling can be identified by its grey-tan eyes and yellow cere** over their beak. These babies are very vocal and may lay down when they are stressed.

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawks start nesting in late February and begin hatching in May. These hawks lay 2-3 eggs in bulky twig nest structures, generally found in tall trees next to open land. The babies have grey eyes, a green-blue cere** and extra large feet. When stressed, they will stick out their tongue.

* A tree crotch is a pocket located at the bottom of a point of connection, between two or more tree limbs or tree trunks.

**The cere is the waxy fleshy covering at the base of a bird’s upper beak.

What do you do if you find a baby on the ground during nesting season? Here is a handy flow chart to help you decide.

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