Birds of prey representative species primarily feed on vertebrates. They have strong eyesight, strong feet and powerful beaks for tearing flesh.
Every birdwatcher can identify raptors, but there are differences between various types of birds of prey which make them unique. The word raptor came from a Latin word ‘rapere’ which means to capture or take by force. Raptors or better known as birds of prey are kind of birds which feeds on mammals, rodents, reptiles, insects and other birds. They have strong eyesight and detect prey from a distance or during flight.
From wing shape to feeding habits, birds of prey are diverse. And learning the differences between them can help you know more about raptors (small and medium-size shaped). Raptor is a common term for all birds of prey. They are carnivores with large talons and strange flight capabilities.
Do you know there over 400 types of birds of prey found across the world? From bustling cities to forests and deserts to tundras, raptors are found in different habitats. The three main distinguishing features that make birds of prey different from other birds are:
The common name of the raptors is based on structure. However, their traditional names do not reflect the relationships between the groups.
Vulture representative species are exceptionally large black raptors with featherless heads. They are often seen soaring in groups. There are three species of vulture found in North America – black vulture, the turkey vulture, and the California condor. Carrion (it is flesh of an animal that serves as a food source) is their favorite diet, and they can soar for hours searching for their meal. According to studies, it is revealed that vultures won’t find carrion the day it dies but finds it after 2-3 days when it starts rotting.
The Vulture representative species usually don’t build nests. They lay their eggs on the ground or in caves and swaps. They use their sharp and hooked beaks for tearing flesh. They open their wings and stretch their neck in the heat. One of the most interesting facts about vulture is that they urinate on themselves to stay cool. Vulture rarely attacks healthy animals but kills the sick ones. According to the reports in 2016, out of 22 vulture species, nine are critically endangered, four are near threatened, three are endangered, and six are at least concern.
Do you know vultures have weak legs and feet? They don’t catch their prey; instead, they eat the dead meat.
Falcons are dangerous birds with notched beaks, distinct stripes, and a large head that could strike you to death. The term ‘falcon’ is derived from the word falx which means sickle (referencing to the bird’s talons or claws). The peregrine is the world’s fastest animal that can speed up to 200 miles per hour. There are 3-4 types of falcons present on all continents except Antarctica. The first group contains the kestrels that are generally gray and feed mainly on invertebrates like reptiles, insects, and rodents.
The second group of Falcons mainly feed on smaller birds. They are identified by the amount of dark slate-grey in their plumage. Then there is a third group which consists peregrine falcon and its relatives. They are powerful birds and also have a black malar area and a black cap. They have medium gray and brownish color on their upper sides. Falcons have tapered wings which helps them fly at high speed and change direction rapidly.
This raptor bird does not build its nests and lives in open country. Falcon bird has exceptional powers of vision. They are powerful fivers with long tails and pointed wings. It is believed that falcon vision is 2.6 times better than human beings. Some small falcons with narrow wings are called hobbies, and the one that hovers while hunting are called kestrels. The largest falcon Gyrfalcon measures up to 65-70 cm in length, while the smallest falcon Seychelles measures only 25 cm.
Eagle is a raptor bird with fan-shaped tails, strong feet, broad wings, and a powerful beak. It belongs to the family Accipitridae. Golden eagles and bald eagles are the most common species found in North America. The average wide span of an eagle varies from 7-8 feet. The mature bald eagle looks somewhat different than the regular golden eagle in color. It has a right yellow beak that does not appear until it reaches adulthood. Bald eagles usually live near lakes, rivers, while golden eagles live in the mountainous country. Do you know the bald eagle is America’s national symbol? It is unique to North America and has been since 1782.
They are the common raptor found on the earth, and few of these bird species fall into the category of extant types of eagles in the world.
There are around 60 types of eagles found on the planet. Some of them are listed below.
Philippine Eagle is a white colored predator found in thick woodlands in the Philippines. It has a shaggy crest, white-colored plumage and weighs around 5-8 kgs. This kind of eagle has a creamy-brown nape and crown. The noises made by Philippine eagle are loud and, it whistles with high pitch.
This kind of eagle species has a total length of 70-75 cm with a wingspan of 150-200cm. The adult black-chested buzzard eagle has a white underside with black stripes. With their keen eyesight, the Buzzard Eagle protects its area well. It has broad wings, slightly tapering tail with grey tips in fresh plumage. When it rests, the wings cover the tail and gives the bird a unique appearance when perched.
Golden Eagle has lighter golden-brown plumage on their napes. Immature golden eagles have white markings on their wings. They use their sharp talons and powerful feet to catch a variety of preys like rabbits, ground squirrels, and hares. They build nests in cliffs and at other high places to which they return after breeding years. While most eagles have a strong voice, this type of eagle is known for silence. The voice of a golden eagle is weak and has been called puppy-like. They are unique and often fly in a slight dihedral (the wings are held in upturned V shape).
African Fish Eagle is one of the largest eagle species found in sub-Saharan Africa. It resembles a Bald eagle in appearance though each of the species is found in different continents. It breeds in the dry season when the water levels are low. The adult African Fish Eagle has a brown body with a white head and black wings. Their feet have rough souls and are equipped with talons to allow the eagle to grab slippery prey. They are mainly seen near rivers, lakes and sometimes can be found near lagoons.
Hawks are a group of birds of prey that belong to the family Accipitridae. They feed on reptiles, insects, and mammals. The subfamily Accipitridae includes sharp-shinned hawks, goshawks, and others. Large species of these raptor birds can reach the length of 22 inches with a wingspan of 50-55 inches. They are identified by muscular legs and sharp talons.
They have keen eyesight and can locate the prey from a distance of 150 feet. Hawks are sometimes called as opportunistic feeders meaning they can eat whatever is available – snakes, rabbits, birds, frogs, squirrels, and other animals. Smaller species of hawks lays 4-5 eggs. They reach adult size in a month, while larger species of hawks become mature after 12 weeks.
Some hawk species take long migration journeys and travel thousands of miles each year. The crested goshawk is found in the Himalayan foothills of India. They inhabit different types of habitats – rainforests, coastal regions, grasslands, and prairies. It may have the widest distribution in the family of Accipitridae. It has relatively short wings and a long tail. It is blue or grey from the upper body with dark streaking or white base color below.
The Shikra is a medium-sized bird of prey and the most common falconers in India. The breeding season in India starts from March to June. Male shikra hawks have a red iris, while the female hawks have yellowish-orange iris. The Red-tailed hawk has rounded wings and a short and wide tail. They have streaked belly and dark bar between wrist and shoulder. Their vision is ten times better than a human being.
Do hawks attack humans? Yes, they do, but there are only a few cases where hawk attacked a human.
Kites are medium-sized birds of prey with graceful flight and deeply forked tails. It is usually found in southern areas in North America. Some species of this raptor bird have different beak shape to eat snails. Their appearance resembles falcon, but both have different tails. The black kite is thought to be the most abundant species of Accipitridae. It appears black with a light brown bar on the shoulder.
It has dark brown eyes with a yellow cere (skin around the nostrils). Its tail is barred with darker brown. That is the reason why sometimes it is also called as Fork-tailed Kite. They spend most of their time in search of food. The black kite is distributed around tropical parts of Oceania and Australasia. They prey on small mammals, especially on grasshoppers.
A Red kite is another raptor bird in the family of Accipitridae that breeds in the Palearctic region of northwest Africa. It usually measures up to 70 cm with 180 cm wingspan with a long forked tail. Male red kite weighs around 1200g, while females weigh around 1300g. Red kite feeds on voles, rabbits, and young hares. Do you know that red bird is considered the ‘most beautiful bird of prey in Britain’? Its plumage is a mix of grey, and black. The reddish-brown wings with white patch make them look even beautiful. They require open habitats and can be seen drifting over grasslands in the search for food.
Owls have round heads and forward facing eyes with a feather facial disk. They are nocturnal birds with excellent hearing and strong eyesight. They have asymmetrical ear holes located behind the eyes and underneath their feathers which help them in hearing and regulate flight direction to attack prey. They have binocular vision, sharp talons, and binaural hearing. Owls hunt on insects, mammals, and birds and are found in all regions of the earth except remote islands. They can rotate their necks and heads as much as 270° in one direction.
Owls have four toes. One front toe and three back toes, when spread apart, are capable of rotating and to improving the grip on prey when attacked. They have soft-edged flight feathers which allow them to fly silently. The smallest owl is elf owl measuring 13.5cm. The largest owl Tamaulipas Blakiston’s fish owl measures nearly 75 cm.
Have you ever thought of owning an owl as a pet? If so, there are several beautiful owl breeds which make for good companions.
Birds of prey live in different habitats. Watching them flying high is a beautiful experience. During the 20th century, many birds of prey suffered from the severe effects of pesticides like DDT. They are under threat, and it is our responsibility to work towards a better landscape. Promote wildlife-friendly practices and make everyone aware of the threats that these birds experience.
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