Raptor Week: Introduction to Raptors

The Discovery Channel gets to have Shark Week and I think the birds deserve to have Raptor Week! I’ve had the idea for Raptor Week since I came up with the idea for this website. I wanted to do a special week dedicated entirely to some of the most interesting, unique birds in the world. There will be this article, three different “birds of the week,” and a spotlight on the Eagle Valley Raptor Center right here in Kansas.

This article is just going to be an overview on the various raptors found in Kansas as well as the different types found around the world. Hopefully, you learn something from me or at least just find a discussion on these incredible birds interesting.

“Raptor” is an interchangeable term with “bird of prey.” Unlike most other birds, raptors primarily eat larger vertebrates, including other birds and rodents. Some raptors eat fish, which isn’t unique to raptors, but will also happily eat other larger foods. Raptors don’t eat birdseed could not care less about your birdfeeders outside of maybe wanting to snack on your backyard visitors.

This is Gracie, she is a Golden Eagle who currently lives at the Eagle Valley Raptor Center in Cheney, KS. On her right eye, Gracie has severe cataracts that make her effectively blind in one eye.

Owls, eagles, falcons, hawks, vultures, and ospreys are all generally considered raptors. They all fall in this category due to shared characteristics like sharp, hooked beaks, large, strong talons, and keen eyesight. But mostly what keeps these birds grouped together is their choice of food. They are carnivores and predators.

My favorite animal of all time is actually a raptor: the Peregrine Falcon. While falcons might look mostly like a hawk, they are actually more closely related to parrots. Falcons differentiate from hawks by generally by being smaller, with bodies built for speed and aerodynamics. Hawks tend to be larger, more muscularly built.

Falcons specialize in using their speed to their advantage. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal in the world, with a top measured speed of 242 miles per hour! The peregrines achieve this by diving, taking full advantage of their aerodynamic frame. They use their dives to hunt by flying high above their prey and taking them by surprise from above. No bird can hope to escape a diving falcon, who won’t immediately snatch up their target, but rather will use its talons to stun its prey. This move may kill the prey, or simply break a few bones and disable it.

Also in the falcon family are kestrels, who are roughly robin-sized and absolutely adorable. Unlike other raptors, kestrels tend to favor large insects such as grasshoppers for their meals. Kestrels are remarkably small and I make sure to mention them here because I actually have a photo of one!

This is an American Kestrel. You’d be amazed how small these birds actually are! They are the cutest things!

Owls typically hunt mice and other small rodents by eating them whole. Owls have large specialized eyes, with many possessing excellent hearing to detect even the slightest movement on the ground. Their senses are incredibly keen, able to spot hidden prey over large distances. Add to that, owls are stealthy, with their flight purpose-built for quiet.

Hawks are larger than falcons, smaller than eagles. They are stockier and slower than falcons, preferring to eat animals from the ground like rodents, snakes, lizards, and the like. Typically they just eat whatever they can get their talons on. Some species will eat other birds, such as pigeons, but largely, hawks are not fast enough to catch up with most other birds. Like owls, hawks have incredible eyesight for spotting prey from high up in the air.

Eagles are the largest of the hunting raptors. They are not the largest. That honor belongs to the condor, specifically the Andean Condor, but condors don’t hunt. Condors are scavengers. Eagles, on the other hand, do. Eagles hunt the largest prey, with some even hunting animals as large as goats! Many eagles, however, to eat fish. Bald Eagles in particular love them some salmon.

Vultures, which includes the aforementioned condors, don’t hunt. Vultures are scavengers who search for dead animals to eat. Vultures are known to follow around other birds of prey, hoping to snack on their leftovers. They are an excellent cleanup crew, cleaning up dead bodies left behind everywhere. Vultures are typically seen as ugly beasts, but there’s a certain charm to them, I think. They play an important part in our ecosystem.

This fellow is a Great Horned Owl, who is due for release soon from the Raptor Center. He doesn’t much like humans, which is exactly how the Raptor Center wants their birds due to be released.

The last group I mentioned are the ospreys, who are kind of a category all on their own. Ospreys are most similar to hawks in their builds, but the big difference is that like to each fish. Their bodies are highly specialized specifically for catching fish, such as their more rounded talons and reversible outer toes. Both of these adaptations make grasping slippery fish easier.

This is only a very general overview of the various types of raptor. There hundreds of different species that fall into this category and all of them interesting, all with different adaptations making specifically suited for their roles. Raptors are endlessly fascinating, incredible to watch, and more than worth the extra effort I’m putting in to this week at my website.

What is your favorite bird of prey? Do you have any cool stories to share? I hope you are as excited about Raptor Week as I am! I am going to try my best to make this a special week for all of you.

Thanks for dropping by!

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