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13 Large Birds in Virginia (With Pictures)

large white bird in shallow water

13 Large Birds in Virginia (With Pictures)

Virginia is a state in the eastern United States that is well-known for various reasons. Yet, wildlife lovers always point out its beautiful nature and diverse fauna.

Virginia is particularly inspiring for bird watchers, who can enjoy watching 487 bird species.

Considering the diversity of the bird world, you can spot many specimens that temporarily or permanently inhabit this state. But if you’re particularly attracted to large species, here’s the list of the large birds in Virginia.

List of Large Birds in Virginia

Trumpeter Swans

white trumpeter swan in the water

Scientific Name: Cygnus buccinator
Weight: 21 – 30 pounds
Length: 55.2 – 62.4 inches

Trumpeter swans are not a common sight in Virginia, but you might spot them in northern areas, like Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane. 

You can’t miss these big birds, as they’re pretty unique with their white bodies, black bills, and legs.

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in Virginia. In fact, trumpeter swans are among the biggest flying birds on the planet, weighing more than 30 pounds and having a wingspan of more than 100 inches.

These swans usually reside in northwestern Canada and Alaska but spend the colder seasons in Virginia. 

At some point, the graceful birds were near extinction due to habitat loss and pollution. Luckily, due to conservation efforts, their number is currently on the rise.

Turkey Vultures

red-headed bald Turkey vulture

Scientific Name: Cathartes
Weight: 2 – 4 pounds
Length: 25.2 – 32.5 inches

Turkey vultures or turkey buzzards are common big birds in Virginia. In fact, they are whole-year Virginia residents and are the most abundant vulture species in the entire state.

Due to its dark feathers and bald head, this bird of prey resembles a wild turkey, as suggested by its name. Interestingly, turkey vultures weigh no more than 4 pounds despite their enormous size.

Turkey vultures live in both open spaces and wooded areas. But, they are frequently seen soaring through the air or feeding on dead animals by the roadside.

Like other vulture species, turkey buzzards only consume dead animals. However, they will try to grab their meal as soon as the animal has passed away because they like “fresh” carrion.

As for their nesting, these vultures prefer laying eggs on abandoned buildings, caves, fallen logs, and crevices.

Tundra Swans

tundra swan swimming in the water

Scientific Name: Cygnus columbianus
Weight: 13 – 25 pounds
Length: 48 – 60 inches

Tundra swans are smaller and lighter than Trumpeters but still big enough to find their place on the list of the biggest birds in Virginia. 

Males can grow over 55 inches and weigh up to 25 lbs. A unique feature of these large birds is the yellow spot under the eyes.

As their name implies, the natural habitat of these birds is the tundra in subpolar North America. Virginia is a temporary stay since the entire flocks come here to spend the winter. They usually land in coastal areas, most often in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Tundra swans are not picky eaters. They mainly eat aquatic plants, worms, bugs, and shellfish, which they hunt by plunging their necks into water or digging their feet into the muck. And if they stray onto land, they dine grass and crops.

American Oystercatchers

american oystercatcher on the shore near the water

Scientific Name: Haematopus palliatus
Weight: 0.9 – 1.2 pounds
Length: 17 – 21 inches

These birds inhabit the Atlantic east coast, so they can often be seen in the Chesapeake Bay and wherever oysters are available. 

If you’re interested in watching American oystercatchers, remember that they reside in Virginia during the summer and migrate to warmer climates in the winter.

If you walk along the lower Eastern Shore, you’ll probably spot one pecking around for shells and fiddler crabs. They have long, pointy beaks for easier probing in mud and sand and for cracking their prey. 

Oystercatchers make their nests in hidden spots in the sand. Both parents lie on eggs and use tricks to fool the predators. For example, they build several nests to confuse vultures.

Rough-Legged Hawks

rough-legged hawk on a tree branch

Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
Weight: 1.33 – 3.66 pounds
Length: 19 – 23 inches

Rough-legged hawks aren’t Virginia natives, but they love to spend the winter here. These raptors have been spotted in birding locations in the northern and eastern coastal areas. 

Over the summer, rough-legged hawks reside in the tundras, and that’s why they have leg feathers to keep them warm. 

These large birds of prey mostly hunt in open areas. Thanks to their large wingspan (up to 60 inches), rough-legged hawks can hover on air currents and spot targets even from great heights.

Lemmings and voles are their most preferred foods, especially during summer.

Related: Largest Birds in California

Great Horned Owls

close up photo of great horned owl

Scientific Name: Buteo lagopus
Weight: 2.1 – 5.5 pounds
Length: 19 – 25 inches

Horned owls look odd and a bit frightening. They’ve earned that name because of the feathery tufts on their heads. 

They are also known as Tiger owls because their facial feather patterns resemble those of this predator.

If you’ve seen these large birds in Virginia, they’re likely there forever and will stay there for the rest of their lives. They do not migrate and instead spend the entire year in areas with plenty of food and shelter.

Great horned owls are skilled predators, preying on everything from small birds and mammals to fish and amphibians. But, they can also adapt to limited food resources, although Virginia is an ideal place for them due to the abundance of forest wildlife.

As for nesting, great horned owls can make their home almost anywhere, from overpasses to hollow trees and even dead livestock. In the best case, they build nests near open areas where they can hunt, most often at dusk or dawn.

Bald Eagles

bald eagle flying near the ground

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Weight: 8 – 12 pounds
Length: 28 – 40 inches

Virginia is also home to America’s national symbol, the bald eagle. 

It’s impossible not to notice these majestic birds proudly cruising the sky. They have famous white heads and tails and an impressive wingspan of over 7 feet.

Bald eagles reside in Virginia all year round because the climate and flora of this state suit them. However, the best places to see these birds in all their glory are the Cliffs Overlook, Boyd’s Hole, and the Potomac Overlook cliff.

These famous eagles mainly eat fish, so you’ll often see them on coasts and along water courses. Still, they also sometimes kill other small game, rodents, and smaller birds, and they are not afraid of snakes either.

Bald eagles begin nesting in the spring and end it before winter. They choose tall conifers and oaks for their nests and prefer areas in Virginia like Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Alexandria and Riverbend Park in Fairfax County.

Glossy Ibises

glossy ibis caught mid-air flying

Scientific Name: Plegadis falcinellus
Weight: 1.2 – 1.7 pounds
Length: 20 – 23 inches

The glossy ibis is an exotic-looking bird with ruffled feathers, long legs, and a curved beak. 

In Virginia, you can most often see this big bird during the transition, i.e., in spring and summer, sometimes in early autumn.

Some birds stay in Virginia’s wetlands and marshes during the winter if they find a food source. Their favorite nesting place is Smith Island, where females lay 3 or 4 eggs in one cycle. After incubation, the cubs need only a few weeks to become independent.

The legs and beak are the killer weapons of glossy ibises, and they use them to catch fish and insects in the shallows and search for snails and crabs in the sand and mud. 

Interestingly, despite their clumsy look and weird behavior, these large birds are quite long-lived – up to 25 years in the wild.

Peregrine Falcons

peregrine falcon on a rock

Scientific Name: Falco
Weight: 0.73 – 3.3 pounds
Length: 14 – 23 inches

Peregrine falcons usually reside on the cliffs of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains in Virginia. However, they’re also often seen in Richmond, Alexandria, and Norfolk, nesting on tall buildings. 

Also, falcons from northern areas gladly spend winters on Virginia’s barrier islands.

These raptors are quite a sight for bird watchers in Virginia. They’re the fastest creatures in the world (reach up to 200 mph) and have enviable hunting skills – they can spot prey from great heights and grab it at full speed.

Peregrine falcons’ menu includes almost all animals smaller than them. But they’re fearless in attacking larger birds, such as geese and seagulls, which have no chance against these sky racers.

Broad-Winged Hawks

broad-winged hawk sitting on a fence

Scientific Name: Buteo platypterus
Weight: 0.71 – 2.2 pounds
Length: 13 – 18 inches

Broad-winged hawks like warmer regions, so Virginia is just a breeding stopover. In summer, large flocks swarm the sky, usually near the north of Charlottesville, the west of Leesburg, and Snicker’s Gap.

These hawks have broad wings and fan-shaped tails, allowing them to glide through the air and cruise around treetops easily. But they don’t hunt while flying. Instead, they sit on a tree and patiently wait for their prey.

As for nesting, broad-winged hawks don’t bother with it too much. Since they will be staying in Virginia shortly, they often use the nests of other birds and even squirrels. There, they lay eggs and hatch the young before continuing their journey.

Great Blue Herons

great blue heron walking over a fallen tree

Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
Weight: 4.6 – 5.5 pounds
Length: 38.4 – 54 inches

Standing up to 57 inches, great blue herons are the largest heron species in Virginia. As a matter of fact, they are the largest and most widespread herons in the whole of North America.

These huge birds have lengthy legs and necks, are gray-blueish (as their name implies), and have a dark spot over their eyes. They are typically seen hunting around bodies of water, so look no further than marshes, riverbanks, or lakes if you want to see them.

Speaking of their diet, great blue herons primarily feed on fish. However, they’ll often hunt insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and other small aquatic animals.

Great blue herons generally nest in trees, even though they will sometimes nest on the ground, mangroves, and even bushes.

Red-Tailed Hawks

Red-tailed hawk perched on wooden railing

Scientific Name: Buteo jamaicensis
Weight: 1.6 – 2.9 pounds
Length: 18 – 26 inches

Unlike the broad-winged hawk, the red-tailed hawk spends the entire year in Virginia. 

You can see them often, even in unusual places like billboards and telephone poles. They’re very territorial and rarely leave their habitats.

Like every other hawk species, red-tailed hawks are carnivores who enjoy eating meat. And although they like to hunt, they can be opportunistic eaters, so they don’t hesitate to grab the remains of trampled animals or prey from another predator.

Breeding and nesting happen in early spring, and the cubs become independent before summer. Red-tailed hawks have one mate for life and are very devoted parents. 

They build nests in high and inaccessible places to have complete security and an overview of the environment.

Great Egrets

white great egret on green grass

Scientific Name: Ardea alba
Weight: 1.5 – 3.3 pounds
Length: 31 – 41 inches

The last member on our list of big Virginia birds is the great egret. A tall waddling bird characterized by a long s-shaped neck and a pointed bill.

With a huge wingspan of 5.5 feet, great egrets are the second-largest birds in the whole heron family.

In the state, great egrets can be found in various habitats, including swamps, marshes, and wetlands, where they hunt their favorite food – frogs, fish, insects, and even small mammals.

Despite being solitary birds, great egrets congregate in colonies during breeding seasons, and they usually build their nests near bodies of water.

What’s interesting about great egrets is that they during breeding season change their appearance. Namely, they grow ornamental feathers on their back while their bills turn darker and their legs lighter.

Read Also: Birds of Prey in North Carolina




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