Birds of prey, also known as raptors are birds that pursues other animals for food.
The term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word rapio, meaning to seize or take by force.
There are more than 500 species of raptors found throughout the world.
Birds of prey are widely distributed on all continents of the world except Antarctica.
The sizes of these birds can vary greatly, but they are generally larger and bulkier than most other birds, which allows them to hunt a greater variety of prey.
One of the smallest diurnal birds of prey is the pygmy falcon of Africa, which reaches a weight of about 60 g (2.1 oz) and has a wingspan of about 0.3 m (1 ft).
The smallest North American diurnal bird of prey is the American kestrel. It weigh about 120 g (4.2 oz) and has a wingspan of about 0.2 m (0.7 ft).
The largest diurnal bird of prey is the Andean condor, which weighs up to 14 kg (31 lbs) and has a wingspan of up to 3.2 m (10.5 ft).
The largest North American bird of prey is the California condor with a wingspan of up to 2.9 m (9.5 ft).
The tallest diurnal bird of prey is the secretary bird with a height of up to 1.3 m (4.3 ft).
In general, the bodies of diurnal birds of prey are fusiform in shape (rounded and tapering at both ends). This body shape reduces drag while flying.
The visual ability of birds of prey is legendary, and the keenness of their eyesight is due to a variety of factors. They can see clearly up to 8 times as far as humans can, allowing them to spot and focus in on a rabbit or other animal at a distance of about 3.2 kilometers (2 miles). Their
extraordinary eyesight can keep three different fields of view in focus at any one time.
Owls have very large eyes for their size, 2.2 times greater than the average for birds of the same weight, and positioned at the front of the head.
All birds of prey have hook-tipped beaks and sharp curved claws called talons.
Unlike many birds that gather in flocks, raptors are almost always anti-social to avoid competition for prey. Only in rare circumstances will these birds be seen in large flocks, such as during peak migration periods or at winter feeding grounds.
While most birds are adept fliers, raptors have different flight styles that help them hunt. Easy gliding and soaring can help a raptor find its prey, while powerful dives and swift pursuit is essential to capture each meal.
Most raptors are nearly silent birds, with only a few calls used in extreme circumstances, such as an alarm call or the dramatic begging calls of young hatchlings. Silence is beneficial to a raptor since excessive vocalizations could scare off potential prey.
Hunting styles vary between species. Some birds hunt animals on the groundand others catch their prey in the air.
Different types of birds of prey eat a wide range of different animals. In general, the larger the hunter the larger the prey, but many medium and large raptors will also choose easier, smaller meals, especially when small prey is more abundant. The most common prey includes: small and medium mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and large insects. In addition to hunting live prey, many birds, such as fish eagles, vultures and condors, eat carrion.
Raptors eat whole prey which means that they eat the fur, feathers, bones, and teeth of their animal meal along with the muscle and organs. Bones and fur are hard to digest. To get rid of these indigestible parts, raptors cast (regurgitate or vomit) a pellet of fur and bones every 1-2 days. The
regurgitated pellet is called a cast. You can sometimes find these on the ground and with close examination, tell what the raptor had to eat! You will find more bones in an owl’s cast because they haven’t been digested as well as those from a hawk.
Birds of prey usually mate for life.
For millennia, countless cultures have revered birds of prey as representatives of strength, freedom, and the power of nature.