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11 Largest Birds Of North America

North America is a continent of diverse landscapes. It ranges from the barren Arctic of the far north to the southern heat of Florida. In North America, six major biomes range from the tundra to the desert. With such a diverse landscape, it’s no wonder the wildlife here is just as diverse. There are many species of North American birds. 

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.

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Great horned owl
NPS / Jacob W. Frank Flickr PD

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 1.37 meters (4.5 feet), and their body is about 0.6 meters (2 feet) long. They usually weigh in at 2.25 kgs (5 lbs.)

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 owls are known to make.

There are at least 22 species of owl in North America.  Find out what they are in this article I wrote

Snowy Owl
Tambako Flickr CC ND 2.0

10. Snowy Owl

Snowy owls are beautiful birds with a giant wingspan of nearly 1.5 meters (5 feet) and a body length of 0.75 meters (2.5 feet.) They are, on average, 2.72 kgs (6 lbs) pounds, but some adults have weighed in at just 3 lbs. 

Snowy owls prefer to eat lemmings and can eat as many as three to five daily. This adds 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 off after it. They live year-round in the arctic and northern Canada, and in the winter, they 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.

Do you know why birds of prey are great hunters?  Find out in this article I wrote.

Ferruginous Hawk
Emilie Chen Flickr CCND2.0

9. Ferruginous Hawk

This bird is the largest of North America’s soaring hawk species. Ferruginous hawks have a wingspan of 1.5 meters (5 feet) and can be 0.60 meters(2 feet long.) They only weigh up to 2.26 kgs (5 lbs.)

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.

Click here for the ten most common birds of North America.

Great gray owl
Fyn Kind Flickr CC2.0

8. Great Gray Owl

Great gray owls are one of the tallest at almost 1 meter (3 feet long), and their wingspan is often just over 1.5 meters (5 feet.) Despite their impressive height, they weigh less than 1.81 kgs (4 lbs.) 

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 usually are only found when looking for them.

If you want to know which falcons and caracaras you can see, then click here

Turkey vulture
Deborah Freeman Flickr CC2.0

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 1.8 meters (6 feet) allows them to glide through the air quickly. They have a body length of just over 0.6 meters (2  feet) and weigh just 1.36 kgs (3 pounds.) 

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.

There are some dangerous birds in North America.  Click here for this top 10 list.

Colin Durfee Flickr CC2.0

6. Osprey

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 1.82 meters (6 feet) and are nearly 0.6 meters (2 feet long.) 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 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.

Do you want to know what cormorants live in North America? Find out here

Trumpeter Swan
Marneejill Flickr CC2.0

5. Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are North America’s largest native waterfowl. They have a wingspan of 2 meters (6.5 feet) and a body length of 1.5 meters (5 feet.) The trumpeter swan can weigh up to 13.6 kgs (30 lbs) 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, usually 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.

Want to know what the ten smallest birds in North America are?  Find out here in an article I wrote.

Golden eagle
Imran Shah Flickr CC2.0

4. Golden Eagle

This powerful bird is the largest eagle in North America by weight and the national bird of Mexico. The Golden Eagle’s wingspan can reach 2.28 meters (7.5 feet), weighing 6.8 kgs (15 pounds.) They have an average body length of 0.9 meters (3 feet.) 

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 miles per hour 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.

Do eagles have predators?  Find out here in this article I wrote

Bald eagle
Andy Morffew Flickr CC2.0

3. Bald Eagle

Here is a list of all the birds found in the United States

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. With a wingspan of nearly 2.4 meters (8 feet, it barely out measures the Golden Eagle. This bird commands the skies with a body length of around 40 inches (3.33 feet) and weighing about 6.35 kgs (14 lbs.) 

Bald eagles range from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between. They have been known to eat fish and small mammals but mainly 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 2.89 meters (9.5 feet) in diameter, 6 meters (20 feet deep), and estimated to weigh 2,000 kgs (4,409 pounds.) 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.

Why don’t birds fall when they sleep?  Find out in this article I wrote.

2. American White Pelican

The American white pelican has the second largest wingspan in North America. They have a square-cut wingspan of 2.89 meters (9 and a half feet), although there have been reports of larger specimens up to 3.65 meters (12 feet.)

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. They can be found in shallow waters in Northern California, Minnesota, and Manitoba from March to May during breeding.

They have white plumage with an orange-pink bill and a pouch. During breeding, they grow a bump on top of their accounts. They have black flight feathers, although these can only be seen in flight. Juvenile American white pelicans have brown crowns and accounts, 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.

Want to know what 10 of the largest animals in North America are?  Find out here

California condor
Stacy Flickr CC2.0

1. California Condor

California condors are the largest birds in North America. They have an enormous wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 feet) wide, a body length of 1.37 meters (4.5 feet), and weigh 9kgs (20 lbs). 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, this many birds glide on air currents, soaring as high as 4,500 meters (15,000 feet0.) 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. These breeding programs aim to reestablish the birds in their historical habitats to maintain their people without human intervention.

North America has some genuinely amazing birds. The wildlife here is awe-inspiring, from eagles and swans to owls and condors. With the California Condor number one on the list with a wingspan of 10 feet, some of these birds are huge. If you can go birdwatching in North America, check some of these massive birds off your list.

Do you want to know which vultures live in North America?  Find out here