10 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, there are six major biomes ranging from the tundra to the desert. With such a diverse landscape, its no wonder that the wildlife here is just as diverse. There are many species of birds in North America. 

Whether you measure in wingspan or weight, there’s no denying that some birds here are larger than others. We are going to countdown the 10 largest birds in North America by their wingspan. Read on to learn about the biggest birds you can see in North America.

10. Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl
NPS / Jacob W. Frank Flickr PD

Great horned owls are easily recognizable by the tufts of feathers on their heads, which sometimes earns them the nickname “cat owls”. Their wingspan reaches 4.5 feet and their body is about 2 feet long. They normally weigh in at 5 pounds. 

Great horned owls are highly adaptable and range throughout most of North America. Great horned owls prey on a huge variety of creatures, including raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and even 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.

9. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Tambako Flickr CC ND 2.0

Snowy owls are beautiful birds with a large wingspan of nearly 5 feet and a body length of 2.5 feet. They are on average 6 pounds but some adults have weighed in at just 3 pounds. 

Snowy owls prefer to eat lemmings, and can eat as many as three to five every day. 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 northern United States. Birders are always excited for the chance to see this rare bird.

8. Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk
Emilie Chen Flickr CCND2.0

This bird is the largest of North America’s soaring hawk species. Ferruginous hawks have a wingspan of 5 feet and can be 2 feet long. They only weigh up to 5 pounds. 

They can be seen swooping down to catch ground squirrels, snakes, and rabbits in 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.

7. Great Gray Owl

Great gray owl
Fyn Kind Flickr CC2.0

Great gray owls are one of the tallest owls at almost 3 feet long and their wingspan is often just over 5 feet. Despite their impressive height, they weigh less than 4 pounds. 

Great Gray Owls spend their days in dense evergreen pine and fir forests with small openings or meadows nearby for hunting. They eat mostly 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 normally only found when people are looking for them.

6. Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture
Deborah Freeman Flickr CC2.0

Turkey vultures are often seen soaring on air currents high above the ground. They are very common and are known as buzzards in many places. Their large wingspan of nearly 6 feet allows them to easily glide through the air. They have a body length of just over 2 feet and weigh just 3 pounds. 

Turkey vultures are the most widespread vultures 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 are said to have the best sense of smell out of all birds.

5. Osprey

Osprey
Colin Durfee Flickr CC2.0

Ospreys are excellent fishers 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 and are nearly 2 feet long. Ospreys are light birds, only weighing in at 4.5 pounds. 

Because of their appetite for fish, these birds can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways around the world. 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 on.

4. Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan
Marneejill Flickr CC2.0

Trumpeter swans are North America’s largest native waterfowl. They have a wingspan of 6.5 feet and a body length of 5 feet. The trumpeter swan can weigh up to 30 pounds but are still able to fly on long migrations. 

They often feed on underwater greenery, dabbling around like ducks.  Trumpeter swans live in wetland areas near rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, and prairie regions. 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 mostly found in Alaska but efforts are underway to reintroduce them to their old habitats. Captive breeding programs release new individuals every year.

3. Golden Eagle

Golden eagle
Imran Shah Flickr CC2.0

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 7.5 feet and they can weigh up to 15 pounds. They have an average body length of 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 speeds of more than 150 miles per hour when in pursuit of 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 were a threat to 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.

2. Bald Eagle

Bald eagle
Andy Morffew Flickr CC2.0

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. With a wingspan of nearly 8 feet, it just barely outmeasures the Golden Eagle. A body length around 40 inches and weighing in at nearly 14 pounds, this bird commands the skies. 

Bald eagles range from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between. They have been known to eat fish and small mammals but they mainly eat 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 in diameter, 20 feet deep, and estimated to weigh 4,409 pounds. Their numbers plummeted in America due to the use of pesticides such as DDT. The pesticide made their eggshells weak and hatching rates were extremely low. With careful measures and new laws, bald eagles have rebounded in the wild and are considered a conservation success story.

1. Californian Condor

California condor
Stacy Flickr CC2.0

Californian condors are the largest birds in North America. They have an enormous wingspan of up to 10 feet wide, a body length of 4.5 feet, and weigh up to 20 pounds. Californian condors live in the rocky forested regions of Southern California, Arizona, and Utah. Condors generally feed on carrion and the Californian condor is no exception. They have been known to travel up to 160 miles in search of a meal. 

When in flight, this huge bird glides on air currents, soaring as high as 15,000 feet. The Californian Condor is another conservation success story. The population fell to just 22 birds in the 1980s, but thanks to conservation efforts there are now 230 birds in the wild. There is an additional 160 birds in captivity that are part of careful breeding programs to help rebuild wild populations. The goal of these breeding programs is to reestablish the birds in their historical habitats so they can maintain their populations without human intervention.

North America has some truly amazing birds. From eagles and swans to owls and condors, the wildlife here is truly impressive. With the Californian Condor coming in at number one on the list with a wingspan of 10 feet, some of these birds are huge. If you get a chance to go birdwatching in North America, be sure to check some of these massive birds off of your list.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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