North America is a continent of diverse landscapes, ranging from the barren Arctic of the far north to the southern heat of Florida. With such a diverse landscape, it’s no wonder there as many different types of wildlife. There are over 10,000 species of birds worldwide, and it is estimated over 900 can be found in North America.
Whether you measure in wingspan or weight, there’s no denying that some birds here are larger than others. We will count down the 11 largest birds in North America by their wingspan. Read on to learn about the biggest birds you can see in North America.
11. Great Horned Owl
Great horned owls are easily recognizable by the tufts of feathers on their heads, which sometimes earns them the nickname “cat owls.” Their wingspans reach 4.5 feet (1.37 meters), and their body is about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long. They usually weigh in at 5 lbs (2.25 kgs).
Great horned owls are highly adaptable and range throughout most of North America. Great horned owls prey on various creatures, including raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and other owls. They hunt using their large eyes and have excellent night vision.
They also have fringed feathers that allow them to fly silently and sneak up on their prey. Great horned owls are the classical owls of fairytales. Their calls are the hoo-hoo sound that most people know that owls make.
10. Snowy Owl
Snowy owls are beautiful birds with a giant wingspan of nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) and a body length of 2.5 feet (0.75 meters). They average 6 lbs (2.72 kg), and some adults have weighed in at just 3 lbs.
Snowy owls prefer to eat lemmings and can eat between three to five daily, adding up to more than 1,600 lemmings a year. They supplement their diet with rabbits, rodents, birds, and fish.
Snowy owls usually hunt by sitting on a perch and looking for prey, and once spotted they soar after it. They live year-round in the Arctic and northern Canada, and in winter have been known to come as far south as the north of the United States. Birders are always excited about the chance to see this rare bird.
9. Ferruginous Hawk
The Ferruginous hawk is the largest of North America’s soaring hawk species. Ferruginous hawks have a wingspan of 5 feet (1.5 meters) and they are up to 2 feet (0.60 meters) long. They weigh up to 5 lbs (2.26 kgs).
They can be seen swooping down to catch ground squirrels, snakes, and rabbits on the plains of the American West. They have been observed diving at 150 miles per hour.
Their preferred habitat includes lowlands, plateaus, plains, valleys, and desert edges. Ferruginous hawks come in two different color patterns, a light morph and a dark morph.
8. Great Gray Owl
Great gray owls are one of the tallest birds at almost 3 feet (1 meter) long, and their wingspan is often just over 5 feet (1.5 meters). Despite their impressive height, they weigh less than 4 lbs (1.81 kg).
Great Gray Owls spend their days in dense evergreen pine and fir forests with small openings or meadows nearby for hunting. They eat primarily small mammals, including voles, pocket gophers, shrews, squirrels, and weasels.
Great gray owls have been known to travel south when there are vole shortages in the north. They range across Canada and the extreme northeastern United States. They are secretive owls and avoid humans and are only found when looking for them.
|California Condor||10 feet||20 lbs|
|American White Pelican||9.5 feet||9-12 lbs|
|Bald Eagle||8 feet||14 lbs|
|Golden Eagle||7.5 feet||15 lbs|
|Trumpeter Swan||6.5 feet||30 lbs|
|Osprey||6 feet||2.04 lbs|
|Turkey Vulture||6 feet||3 lbs|
|Great Gray Owl||5 feet||< 4 lbs|
|Ferruginous Hawk||5 feet||5 lbs|
|Snowy Owl||5 feet||6 lbs|
|Great Horned Owl||4.5 feet||5 lbs|
7. Turkey Vulture
Turkey vultures are often seen soaring on air currents high above the ground. They are widespread and are known as buzzards in many places. They are part of the new world vultures. Their large wingspan of nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) allows them to glide through the air quickly. They have a body length of just over 2 feet (0.6 meters) and weigh just 3 pounds (1.36 kgs).
Turkey vultures are the most widespread of their family in North America, ranging from coast to coast, from southern Canada through Mexico. They have great senses of smell and sight to help them locate the carrion they feed off.
Turkey vultures can smell carrion from over a mile away and have the best sense of smell out of all birds.
Ospreys are excellent anglers, with fish making up 99 percent of their diet. They have been known to eat more than 80 different species of fish. They have a wingspan of 6 feet (1.82 meters) and are nearly 2 feet long (0.6 meters). Ospreys are light birds, only weighing in at 2.04 lbs.
Because of their appetite for fish, these birds can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways worldwide. They can be seen diving from 100 feet in the air to pluck fish from the water. Ospreys can dive up to three feet deep into the water to grab fish, but they prefer to hunt in shallower areas.
Ospreys prefer to nest on the tops of dead trees and have adapted to urban areas, often using light posts and utility poles to build their nests.
5. Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter swans are North America’s largest native waterfowl. They have a wingspan of 6.5 feet (2 meters) and a body length of 5 feet (1.5 meters). The trumpeter swan can weigh up to 30 lbs (13.6 kgs) but still fly on long migrations.
They often feed on underwater greenery, dabbling around like ducks. Trumpeter swans live near rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, and prairie regions in wetland areas. They are monogamous and mate for life, not even taking a new mate if their mate dies.
They historically ranged from Alaska through Canada to the Northern United States. Today they are primarily found in Alaska, but efforts are underway to reintroduce them to their old habitats. Captive breeding programs release new individuals every year.
4. Golden Eagle
The Golden eagle is the largest eagle in North America by weight and the national bird of Mexico. The Golden Eagle’s wingspan can reach 7.5 feet (2.28 meters), weighing 15 pounds (6.8 kgs). They have an average body length of 3 feet (0.9 meters).
Golden eagles range from Mexico to as far north as Alaska. Golden eagles can also be found in Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe. They are extremely fast, reaching more than 150 kph to pursue their prey. They are known to eat rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. However, they are opportunistic and have been observed eating carrion, fish, and birds.
Many farmers used to worry that Golden Eagles threatened their livestock. However, it has been shown that they have minimal impact and rarely prey upon livestock. Golden eagles are so large they have been documented attacking full-grown deer.
3. Bald Eagle
The Bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. With a wingspan of nearly 8 feet (2.4 meters), it barely out measures the Golden Eagle. This bird commands the skies with a body length of around 3.33 feet (40 inches) and weighing about 14 lbs (6.35 kg).
Bald eagles range from Alaska to Florida. They have been known to eat fish and small mammals and also carrion. Because of their scavenging nature, Ben Franklin protested their use as the symbol of the United States. He believed them to be “a bird of bad moral character” and argued that the turkey should be the national bird instead.
Bald eagles build massive nests. The biggest on record was 9.5 feet (2.89 meters) in diameter, 20 feet (6 meters) deep, and estimated to weigh 4,409 pounds (2,000 kgs).
Their numbers plummeted in America due to pesticides such as DDT. The pesticide made their eggshells weak, and hatching rates were low. With careful measures and new laws, bald eagles have rebounded in the wild and are considered a conservation success story.
2. American White Pelican
The American white pelican has the second largest wingspan in North America. They have a square-cut wingspan of 9 and a half feet (2.89 meters), although there have been reports of larger specimens up to 12 feet (3.65 meters).
The wingspan of the American White Pelican is approximately 9.5 feet (2.89 meters), and their weight can vary, but they typically weigh around 9 to 12 pounds (4 to 5.4 kg).
The American white pelican can be found in coastal areas during winter after migrating in fall. They can be found in winter in Florida, the Gulf Coast, and California, and in shallow waters in Northern California, Minnesota, and Manitoba from March to May when breeding.
They have white plumage with an orange-pink bill and a pouch. During breeding, they grow a bump on top of their beaks. They have black flight feathers, although these can only be seen in flight. Juvenile American white pelicans have brown crowns and beaks, and their bodies appear slightly dirtier.
They generally lay 2 or 3 white eggs, sometimes up to 6. Both parents share incubation for 29 days.
1. California Condor
California condors are the largest birds in North America. They have an enormous wingspan of up to 10 feet (3 meters) wide, a body length of 4.5 feet (1.37 meters), and weigh 20 lbs (9 kgs).
California condors are found in the western United States and live in the rocky forested regions of Southern California, Arizona, and Utah. Condors generally feed on carrion, and the California condor is no exception. They have been known to travel up to 160 miles searching for a meal.
When in flight, these birds glide on air currents, soaring as high as 15,000 feet (4,500 meters). The California Condor is another conservation success story. The population fell to just 22 birds in the 1980s, but there are now 230 birds in the wild, thanks to conservation efforts. An additional 160 birds in captivity are part of careful breeding programs to help rebuild wild populations.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.