Living in Ohio and saw some big birds but are not sure which ones they were?
Ohio is known for its wildlife.
According to the Ohio Bird Records Committee (OBRC), there are over 440 species of birds there. And just like in Florida, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas, there is plenty of those that can grow up to impressive sizes.
The list of large birds in Ohio includes herring gulls, great horned owls, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, bald eagles, turkey vultures, mute swans, trumpeter swans, and many others.
The largest bird in Ohio is the all-white Trumpeter swan with a length of up to 5 ft 11 in and a wingspan of up to 8 ft 2 in. It is the largest extant species of waterfowl and both the heaviest and longest native bird of North America.
Some of these Ohio’s giant birds, like the great horned owl and the black vulture, can be seen year-round in the state, while others, like the osprey, turkey vulture, and sandhill cranes, will spend only summers there.
Here are their photos, sizes, and fun facts – from the smallest to the largest bird.
Table of Contents
Large Birds In Ohio
Scientific name: Dryocopus pileatus
Lifespan: 12 years
Length: 16-19 in
Wingspan: 26-30 in
Weight: 7.9-14.1 oz
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident in southern and eastern Ohio
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers found in Ohio. They are permanent residents there and can be found in habitats ranging from forests to suburbs.
The word “pileated” comes from the Latin word “pileatus” which means “capped” – pileated woodpeckers are primarily black with a prominent red crest on their heads. They also have white lines on their throats and white on their wings. Males are with red lines on the side of their heads; this is absent in females.
Look for them hitting dead trees in pursuit of ants and making rectangular holes in the process. These black and red woodpeckers are omnivores that feed on insects (especially carpenter ants), fruits, nuts, and berries.
They are rare around bird feeders; the only way they visit them is if the winter is extremely cold. Try to attract pileated woodpeckers to your backyard by adding suet to your feeders, leaving dead trees for them to forage or roost there, or putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair.
Fun Fact: The famous cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, is said to have been based on pileated woodpeckers.
Scientific name: Larus argentatus
Lifespan: up to 50 years
Wingspan: 47-61 in
Length: 24-26 in
Weight: 2.31–3.64 lb
Range In Ohio: Winter resident in northern and eastern Ohio
This large gull will grow up to 26 inches and can be seen in the north and eastern parts of Ohio in winter. Look for herring gulls in smaller numbers hanging around other gulls on reservoirs and beaches, usually from September to April.
You will identify them by their massive beaks with a red spot on the lower mandible and pink legs. Herring gulls have white plumage with gray backs and wings and black wingtips with white spots.
Herring gulls are the largest gulls in Ohio and the second most likely gulls to be found inland in the state, after the smaller ring-billed gull.
These birds are omnivores, primarily scavengers (like other gulls). They feed on invertebrates, fish, insects, carrion, and human refuse. Herring gulls can be often seen dropping clams and mussels from a height on hard surfaces to open them.
They nest on rocky cliffs which makes Gibraltar Island in Put-in-Bay a good place to see these large birds in Ohio.
Scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo
Lifespan: 3-5 years in the wild
Wingspan: 49.2-56.7 in
Length: 30-49 in
Weight: 5.5-24 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident throughout Ohio
Wild turkeys are native to North America and are considered to be ancestors of domestic turkeys. They are the main course on Thanksgiving and Benjamin Franklin called them “a true original native of America.”
Wild turkeys are permanent residents of Ohio, found statewide around the woods and mountains. Since their reintroduction into the state in the 1950s, wild turkeys have been doing well there. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, wild turkeys had an estimated population of around 170,000 birds in 2022 in Ohio.
Wild turkeys are among the largest birds in North America and can be identified by their large bodies, long legs, and small heads. They are mostly brown and males have red wattles on their throats and necks.
Adult males called toms usually weigh 11 to 24 pounds; females (hens) are smaller and weigh 5.5–11.9 pounds. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the heaviest wild turkey ever recorded weighed 37.1 pounds!
These enormous birds have good eyesight and hearing and prefer to stay hidden. Wild turkeys are most known for the gobble call (ll-obble-obble-obble) males use to attract females.
Read More: What are some examples of songbirds in Ohio?
Scientific name: Buteo lagopus
Lifespan: 15 years
Length: 18-24 in
Wingspan: 47-60 in
Weight: 1.3-3.6 lb
Range In Ohio: Winter resident throughout Ohio
Rough-legged hawks or rough-legged buzzards are large birds of prey found in Europe, Asia, and North America. Females are bigger than males and weigh from 2.3 to 3.6 pounds; males are 1.3 to 2.2 pounds heavy.
In Ohio, they are winter residents throughout the state and can be seen around the open country.
Rough-legged hawks come in different morphs. Light morphs have pale plumage with dark bellies and dark “wrist” patches while dark ones are brown-black with white flight feathers.
They were named after their feathered legs that help keep them warm in the Arctic regions.
They also love to hover by beating their wings quickly, just like kestrels, osprey, and kites. Rough-legged buzzards have small talons which explains why they mostly hunt small mammals.
They have an interesting adaptation for locating their prey – rough-legged hawks have UV vision.
Some small mammals, like voles and mice, leave trails of urine as they move. Those urine trails reflect ultraviolet light – rough-legged hawks see them glowing bright yellow which helps them locate their next meal and highlight hunting areas with high prey densities.
They nest in trees and cliffs, lay 1-7 bluish-white eggs with brownish spots, and males feed the females as they incubate the eggs – the species are monogamous.
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Lifespan: 15-25 years
Wingspan: 35.8-60.2 in
Length: 17-25 in
Weight: 2.7-3.5 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident throughout Ohio
The majestic great horned owl is the largest owl in Ohio measuring almost two feet in length. It can be found throughout the year in the state.
It is also the largest owl in North America and lives in mountains, grasslands, conifer forests, deserts, chaparrals, and many other habitats.
The great horned owl has the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. An aggressive and excellent hunter, this big bird feeds on rabbits, hares, rats, mice, voles, other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
It might occasionally even attack larger prey, including raptors such as ospreys, Peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, and other owls.
This nocturnal bird of Ohio hunts using its acute hearing and excellent eyesight and can fly in near silence to catch the prey by surprise.
In case you see a great horned owl in person, you will notice long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow eyes, and a deep hooting call. It has a gray-brown plumage with a mottled pattern and a white patch at the throat.
Great horned owls are monogamous birds and pairs may stay together for over five years, sometimes even for a lifetime.
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Lifespan: 10 years in the wild (up to 25 years)
Wingspan: 52-66 in
Length: 22–29 in
Weight: 3.5-6.6 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident in southwestern Ohio
The black vulture, also known as the American black vulture, is a large raptor.
It has a sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and white wingtips.
Black vulture can be found in forests and open areas of southeastern United States, Mexico, Central, and South America.
The black vulture population has increased in Ohio in recent years. This large black bird has historically lived in southern regions but is now expanding its range further north. It can be found throughout the year in the state.
It is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and you can’t kill it without a permit.
The black vulture is often mistaken for the turkey vulture – the black vulture is a bit smaller, has shorter wings and tail, and the wings have white wing patches (stars).
Black vultures are monogamous and pairs are believed to mate for life – both the male and female will take turns incubating their eggs.
They are very aggressive so other vulture species tend to avoid them.
Black vultures are also carnivores that feed on carrion but may also hunt and eat small reptiles, birds, and mammals.
To escape from danger, black vultures might regurgitate partially digested food, to distract the attacker and become lighter before flying away.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Wingspan: 50–71 in
Length: 19.7-26 in
Weight: 2-4.6 lb
Range In Ohio: Summer resident in eastern and central Ohio
Ospreys are very large raptors found during summer in eastern parts of Ohio. After crossing over 3,000 miles from wintering territories in South America, ospreys return to their breeding grounds in the state from March through May, repairing old or building new nests.
They have now spread to over 30 Ohio countries with over 200 nesting pairs discovered in 2021.
Ospreys are large birds of prey in Ohio that can reach 26 inches in length and 71 inches across the wings. They have brown upperparts and predominantly greyish heads and underparts.
What is unusual for ospreys is that they have a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. Such adaptation prevents fish from slipping away.
They are also known as “sea hawks” or “fish hawks” and will hover above the water, locate their prey and then swoop down for capture with their talons extended.
Ospreys are piscivorous and fish makes up 99% of their diet. You will mostly find them near water, just as one might expect from a fish-eating bird.
During their 20-year-long lifetime, these migratory birds can travel over 160,000 miles.
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
Lifespan: 16 years in the wild
Wingspan: 63–72 in
Length: 24–32 in
Weight: 1.8-5.3 lb
Range In Ohio: Summer resident throughout Ohio
These are the most widespread of the New World vultures and the largest vultures in Ohio. Turkey vultures are a familiar sight in the sky over the entire state throughout the summer months. Some populations might migrate to southern Ohio to spend the winter there.
Turkey vultures usually leave the state around November and return from late February to early March.
Turkey vultures got their name due to their resemblance to a wild turkey and are also known as the turkey buzzards (or just buzzards).
You will recognize them by their bald heads, dark plumage, and long, broad wings. These birds have an impressive wingspan of around 67.5 in and are bigger than other raptors, except eagles and condors.
They have a huge range and an estimated population of over 18 million birds.
Look for them in the open areas including mixed farmland, forest, and rangeland.
Turkey vultures are also very social birds that roost in large community groups that can include several hundred individuals.
Their diet mostly includes carrion and human garbage located through the use of smell, although they might occasionally catch live prey, including young or sick birds and mammals.
Don’t be surprised if you see these large black birds in Ohio sitting in trees on the sides of roads, waiting for their next meal.
They have extremely strong stomach acids which allow them to eat and digest carcasses tainted with anthrax, tuberculosis, and rabies, without getting sick.
Turkey vultures might be giant and look scary, but they actually do a great service across the US. by removing dead animals and preventing the transmission of any diseases those dead animals could have carried.
Scientific name: Branta canadensis
Lifespan: 10-24 years
Wingspan: 50-73 in
Length: 30-43 in
Weight: 5.7–14.3 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident throughout Ohio
These large wild geese have black heads and necks, white cheeks, white under their chins, and brown bodies. In Ohio, Canada geese are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Ohio state law.
Before the 1960s, Canada geese could be seen in Ohio only during spring and fall migration, and they rarely nested. After a successful re-introduction, they now nest on many water bodies in all 88 Ohio counties. Some wildlife experts estimate that there are around 100,000 of these troublesome birds in Ohio.
That’s because Canada geese tend to visit the areas humans created for themselves (lawns, parks, beaches, golf courses) fouling waterways, leaving piles of green droppings everywhere, causing erosion problems, and even attacking humans.
They breed in urban and cultivated habitats with lots of food and few natural predators.
There are 7 subspecies of Canada goose – one of them, the giant Canada goose (B. c. maxima), is considered the largest goose in the world.
Canada geese are known for flying in a distinctive V-formation and series of loud “honks” calls.
Scientific name: Grus canadensis
Lifespan: 20 years
Wingspan: 78.7 in
Length: 47.2 in
Weight: 6-14.8 lb
Range In Ohio: Summer resident in northern Ohio
Sandhill cranes are very large, tall birds with long necks and legs, and very broad wings. These large birds in Ohio with red heads have a truly unique look.
Sandhill cranes can be identified by their mostly slate gray plumage, rusty washes on the upperparts, pale cheeks in adults, red head patches, and black legs.
Sandhill cranes arrive in late February to nest and breed in the northern part of Ohio.
You can see them at a few wildlife areas in the state, including the Sandy Ridge Reservation of Lorain County in North Ridgeville, Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area near Wooster, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge by Lake Erie, Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area near Cleveland, Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, and Deer Creek Wildlife Area.
The best time to spot them would be during fall migration in September. At this time, many cranes pass Ohio on the way to Florida, Mexico, and Texas.
Look for them in marshes, swamps, and grassland or crop fields adjacent to these wetlands.
Of the many giant birds in Ohio, sandhill cranes are also one of the most striking.
With a wingspan of almost 7 feet, a height of 4 feet, and an average weight of 10 pounds, these beautiful birds are just slightly smaller than their endangered cousin, the whooping crane.
Sandhill cranes are fairly social birds and can be usually found in pairs or family groups throughout the year. They are also monogamous and mate for life, staying together for years, until one of the cranes dies.
Their diet mostly consists of plant material, including waste grain, roots, berries, nuts, some insects, and snails.
Sandhill cranes are endangered species in Ohio. In 2021, the number of breeding pairs observed in the state was around 160, and in a 2022 areal survey, around 370 sandhill cranes were found in Ohio (84 in Wayne county and 60 in Lucas).
Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
Lifespan: up to 30 years
Wingspan: 70.8-90.1 in
Length: 26-40 in
Weight: 7.9-11 lb
Range In Ohio: Rare winter visitor in Ohio
Ohio is lucky to see one of North America’s largest eagle species, the golden eagle. This enormous bird can be seen during winter in some parts of the state.
They might be a rare sight in Ohio but some of the golden eagles that nest in Canada will winter in Ohio. In the state, golden eagle sightings are common along the Lake Erie shoreline on the coldest of days, and during spring and fall migrations.
Golden eagles are migratory birds that mostly move late in fall and early in spring. They tend to spend more time in southern states during the cooler months of the year.
They are one of the largest, fastest, and most agile birds of prey in North America and can be identified by the overall dark brown plumage, with the lighter golden-brown color of their napes.
Their agility and speed together with powerful feet and large, sharp talons allow golden eagles to hunt rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs.
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Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Lifespan: 20-30 years in the wild
Wingspan: 70.8-90.5 in
Length: 28-40 in
Weight: 6.6-13.9 lb
Range In Ohio: Winter resident throughout Ohio
The two eagle species found in Ohio are the bald eagle and golden eagle – bald eagles are the largest raptors found in Ohio.
According to the 2022 survey from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), there were about 806 bald eagle nests in 85 out of the 88 counties of the state. This is 14% more than the 707 bald eagle nests found in Ohio in 2020. The region along Lake Erie has the highest numbers.
Look for them around marshes, swamps, and river systems throughout Ohio and remember that bald eagles are still protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act – it is illegal to disturb them and you have to stay at least 100 yards away from the animal or nest.
One of the largest and most iconic birds of North America, this enormous bird of prey is easy to recognize by its commanding presence, white head and tail, brown plumage, and bright yellow beak.
They are carnivores and opportunistic feeders that mostly consume fish, which they snatch from the water. Bald eagles might even use their 2-inch-long talons to attack young wolves.
These birds are hard to miss as they soar through the air with their 7.5-foot-wide wingspan.
Bald eagles build the largest nests of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species. Their nests can be up to 13 ft deep and 8.2 ft wide.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
Lifespan: 15 years
Wingspan: 66–79 in
Length: 36–54 in
Weight: 4.0-7.9 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident throughout Ohio
The largest of North American herons and one of Ohio’s largest birds, the great blue heron is easy to identify by its large yellow-orange bill, short black plumes on its head, and black and chestnut pattern on the shoulders.
The great blue heron is quite common in Ohio around shallow water areas with trees for nesting nearby.
During the flight, it will hold its neck in an S-shape with legs trailing behind. And despite the large size and stocky build, the great blue heron is a very fast bird that can reach speeds of around 30 mph.
They are monogamous only for a single season and will go through some interesting courtship rituals, locking and rubbing their bills on the feathers of the other bird before mating.
Both parents will take turns in incubating the eggs, and after hatching, the chicks can fly at only 2 months of age.
They nest in colonies called heronries that can occasionally have more than 500 nests.
Great blue herons are carnivores that feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, small mammals, and even other birds. These birds will slowly stalk their prey in shallow waters, striking with lightning speed, catching them with their long and sharp beaks.
They are one of 14 birds found in Pennsylvania that have blue plumage.
Scientific name: Cygnus olor
Lifespan: up to 10 years in the wild
Wingspan: 79-94 in
Length: 49-67 in
Weight: 18.7-26.2 lb
Range In Ohio: Year-round resident in northern Ohio
This huge white bird has a long neck, reddish-orange bill, and black face. Mute swans can be commonly found on large public lakes and are widespread throughout northern parts of Ohio.
They are the second-largest species of swans found in Ohio, after the native trumpeter swan.
The aggressive, territorial, and invasive mute swans will fight with the native trumpeter swans on Lake Erie marshes and other locations, pushing them out of their nesting area.
You will easily recognize mute swans by their all-white plumage, orange bills that have a black knob at the base, and necks held in an S-curve.
Mute swans are the second largest birds in Ohio and got the name “mute” for being less vocal than other swan species. They will still produce a variety of hisses, bugles, and other sounds.
Mute swans are omnivores that feed on aquatic vegetation, aquatic insects, fish, and frogs.
Read More: List of Northeastern Ohio birds
Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator
Lifespan: up to 25 years
Wingspan: 72.8-98 in
Length: 54.3-70.8 in
Weight: 15–30 lb
Range In Ohio: Summer resident in northern Ohio and winter resident in southeastern Ohio
Trumpeter swans are the largest swans in Ohio and North America.
Although once widespread in the Great Lakes region, these huge birds were hunted down and wiped out in Ohio hundreds of years ago. Trumpeter swans were reintroduced to the state about 25 years ago.
Thanks to conservation efforts, according to some estimates, the total population of trumpeter swans in Ohio in 2020 was around 650 individuals.
Out of the 98 breeding pairs noted in 2020, many could be seen in Lorain, Medina, Summit, Geauga, and Portage counties. Look for them in Sandy Ridge Reservation in North Ridgeville and Bath Nature Preserve in Bath Township.
You will best identify trumpet swans by their white plumage and black bills. They are big and North America’s heaviest flying birds that can weigh over 25 pounds.
With a wingspan of up to 98 inches, a length of almost 71 inches, and a weight of up to 30 pounds, trumpeter swans are the largest birds in Ohio.
Trumpeter swans are loud birds and their calls sound similar to a trumpet, which resulted in the specie’s name.
They are mostly vegetarians and mainly eat plants found in or near the water. They might eat insects, small fish, and eggs, but trumpet swans prefer plants overall.
Occasionally, you might see a group of white pelicans who are larger birds than trumpeter swans on the Lake Erie shore around late fall – these birds do not nest in Ohio, only migrate through the state.
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This concludes our list of large birds in Ohio.
There is plenty of large birds in Michigan, including cranes, eagles, owls, geese, vultures, gulls, and others.
Ohio has large areas of different natural habitats that make great homes for a wide range of bird species.
Next time, should you see these birds in person, you should be able to recognize any of them with ease!
And if you enjoyed our article, here are two other popular reads on birds: list of blue birds that can be seen in Maryland and 15+ stunning green birds commonly found in Florida