Birds of Prey

Raptors are carnivorous birds with keen eyesight, sharp talons for seizing live prey, and hooked beaks for tearing flesh. Raptor families include hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and vultures (who usually feed on animal carcasses). This guild provides several ecosystem services, including reducing rodent populations and regulating waste, while also serving as cultural icons. North American raptors suffered major declines throughout history as a result of human persecution, trapping, pesticides and heavy metals. With the passing of stricter conservation and environmental regulations, raptor populations have rebounded. However, many species are still vulnerable to habitat loss, human disturbance, and collisions with buildings and motorized vehicles.

Red-tailed hawk
Buteo jamaicensis

Food web role: Eats rodents, rabbits and birds such as pheasant and waterfowl. Has few natural predators; humans cause most deaths.

Habitat: Open areas with patches of trees or similar structures like telephone poles, which it uses for nesting.

Did you know? When teaching hunting tactics, parents will drop live prey for their young to chase.

American kestrel
Falco sparverius

Food web role: Eats large insects and small vertebrates. Eaten by larger birds of prey like red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons.

Habitat: Found in woodland borders, grasslands, open fields, marshes, and suburban areas. Needs perches for hunting.

Did you know? At ten inches in length, it is the smallest falcon in North America.

Turkey vulture
Cathartes aura

Food web role: Feeds on animal carcasses almost exclusively. It can smell carrion from miles away. Sometimes eaten by foxes, raccoons, and dogs.

Habitat: Open fields, woodlands, and  farmlands.

Did you know? It can soar for 6 hours without flapping its wings, and is often seen soaring with its wings in a “V” shape.

Bald eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Food web role: Prefers fish, but will prey on waterfowl, small mammals, and carrion. Eggs and nestlings eaten by crows, ravens, and raccoons.

Habitat: Forested areas adjacent to bodies of water. Nests in tall, preferably dead, trees.

Did you know? They do not get their characteristic white head feathers until they are 5 years old.

Eastern screech owl
Otus asio

Food web role: Eats songbirds and rodents. Occasionally eaten by larger owls and hawks, but most deaths are caused by humans.

Habitat: Tree-dominated habitats with sparse shrubbery in rural and urban areas. Nests in tree hollows. Photo on right is a nest at Duke Farms.

Did you know? Swallows prey whole and later regurgitates bones, fur, and feathers as a dry pellet.

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