Beautiful barn owl in pink flowers.

Insight into the raptors of the Lowcountry

Eat, sleep, prey

According to the Audubon Society, around 20 species of raptors can be observed soaring through local skies. The Lowcountry is home to many hawks, eagles, owls, kites and vultures. These birds of prey use their keen eyesight, powerful beaks and sharp talons for hunting. 

Advice for owling

Sammie Jo Manning, the communications manager at The Seabrook of Hilton Head, used to be the head bird of prey trainer for the Eagles Flying Raptor Research Center in Sligo, Ireland. She offers the following advice and facts about owls. 

Sammie Jo Manning, the communications manager at The Seabrook of Hilton Head with an owl
  • Owls typically live in a territory, so if you see them in an area once, it is likely you will see them in that area again. 
  • You can hang a nesting box, and if squirrels move in, that’s OK. It will be like a bed-and-breakfast for an owl to move in. They will just take the pre-built nest. 
  • Make sure outdoor lights are on timers, especially flood lights. 
  • Cut your grass less often to help create a better hunting ground for owls. 
  • The Sea Pines Forest Preserve has barred owls. And the Seabrook has three mating pairs on the campus. 
  • Broad Creek Landing area has eastern screech owls in the palm trees. They like to hide in the hatching below the fronds. 
  • An hour before sunset, keep your eyes on trees. Owls will typically sit and wake up in the branches during that time. 
  • Don’t use rat poison or any sort of pest poison. Often a rodent will eat poison, then an owl eats that animal. We recommend humane pest control such as rat traps. Maybe you can count on an owl to swoop in and lend a talon. 

Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) perched on a fence post

Broad-winged Hawk

When: Summer

Where: Woods, groves, deciduous or mixed forests, around water, near clearings or edges. 

On the hunt: These hawks spot prey from a perch and swoop down quickly to capture it with their talons. 

Beautiful barn owl in pink flowers.

Barn Owl

When: All year 

Where: Woodlands, wooded river bottoms, wooden swamps. This breed favors habitats that are thick and dense areas with scattered clearings. 

On the hunt: They hunt mostly around dusk or dawn, sitting on a perch to spot prey. They also fly low through the forest and start to hover if they spot prey. 



When: All year 

Where: Rivers, lakes, coast. They like both salt and fresh water. 

On the hunt: They fly slowly over water, hover over their fish and then plunge in with their talons first to grab the fish.

Red-tailed hawk flying in front of the woods

Red-tailed Hawk

When: All year 

Where: Open country, woodlands, plains, roadsides. 

On the hunt: They do most of their hunting from high-up perches. They eat small mammals such as rats, rabbits and squirrels.

Sharp-shinned hawk perch on a tree stomp

Sharp-shinned Hawk

When: Winter

Where: Forests, woodlands, thickets and edges. 

On the hunt: They perch in the foliage while waiting for their prey, mostly small birds the size of sparrows and robins. 

Red-shouldered hawk sitting on a branch

Red-shouldered Hawk

When: All year 

Where: Bottomland woods, wooded stream sides and swamps. 

On the hunt: Either in a forest or the open, they perch and then swoop down to catch their prey in their talons. They eat moles, chipmunks, frogs and snakes.

A Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) spreading it's wings while perched on a stump.  These birds are the fastest animals in the world.

Peregrine Falcon

When: Winter

Where: Open country, near the coast. 

On the hunt: They often hunt by flying high in the air, spotting their prey and swooping in at speeds of up to 242 mph. It is the fastest member of the animal kingdom. Their common targets are pigeons, loons, geese, gulls and songbirds. 

American Kestrel standing on a branch with blue sky in the background

American Kestrel

When: All year 

Where: Open country, farmland, cities, wood edges.

On the hunt: They eat mainly large insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, moths, dragonflies and caterpillars. 

Bald Eagle

When: All year 

Where: Near the coast, rivers, lakes, open country. 

On the hunt: They cruise over water and even wade in shallow water to hunt. Bald eagles mainly eat fish but also go after waterfowl, turtles, rabbits and snakes.

Great-horned Owl on a tree stump

Great-horned Owl

When: All year 

Where: Forests, woodlots, stream sides, open country. 

On the hunt: They hunt predominantly at night, swooping up rats, mice, rabbits, snakes and smaller birds. 

Eastern Screech Owl hiding

Eastern Screech Owl

When: All year

Where: Woodlands, farm groves, and shaded trees. 

On the hunt: These owls eat mostly insects like beetles, moths and crickets, as well as small rodents like small birds, shrews and bats. 

Barred Owl in a moss covered tree

Barred Owl

When: All year 

Where: Woodlands, wooded river bottoms, wooded swamps. 

On the hunt: They like to watch from their perch, swoop low to catch prey and hover before grabbing.

Female Hen harrier, Circus cyaneus, or northern harrier hunting above a meadow during a cold winter

Northern Harrier

When: Winter

Where: Marshes, fields, prairies. 

On the hunt: They hunt by flying low over fields and scanning the ground. They eat rodents, smaller birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

A profile shot of a Merlin (Falco columbarius) sitting on a branch.


When: Winter

Where: Conifer woodlands, prairie groves, marshes, open country. 

On the hunt: They hunt by watching from a perch, flying out to capture their prey in the air or flying low to capture prey by surprise. Merlins hunt house sparrows, small sandpipers, bats and reptiles.

Swallowtail kite - Elanoides forficatus - flying low with tail and wings spread, mouth open hunting green meadow or prairie, towards camera

Swallow-tailed Kite

When: Summer

Where: Wooded river swamps, open country pinewoods near marshes, cypress swamps. 

On the hunt: They capture most of their food by swooping low over trees and picking small creatures from twigs. They feast on insects, frogs, lizards and birds.

Turkey Vulture sitting on tree stump with palm in the background

Turkey Vulture

When: All year

Where: Open country, pastures, woods, road kill 

On the hunt: They seek food by soaring over open areas. They feed mainly on dead animals but eat decaying vegetables, live insects, and fish as well. 

A Mississippi Kite in a Tree In Oklahoma

Mississippi Kite

When: Spring

Where: Tall trees near open country during nesting season. 

On the hunt: Kites hunt down insects in the air and eat them midair. They also eat frogs, snakes, rodents and small birds but not as much as larger insects like grasshoppers, katydids, beetles and dragonflies.

Black Vulture in a tree

Black Vulture

When: All year 

Where: Open country, coastal plains, forests. 

On the hunt: They fly high over land and watch other vultures that are locating food. They feed on dead animals as well as the eggs of other birds, turtles and lizards.

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