Red-Tailed Hawk
The red-tailed hawk is a common raptor in North America. Tim Lenz


(noun) A generally large bird that hunts and kills other animals for food, including small birds, fish, mammals, lizards and insects.



About Raptors

The Latin word “raptor” means “to seize or capture” and describes how these birds hunt with their large, strong talons and sharply hooked bills. But there is more to raptors than just their hunting style. Many characteristics make raptors unique, including...

  • Larger Size: 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. Their talons are often thicker and larger than most birds, and they have broad wings for powerful flight.
  • Meat Diet: Raptors are carnivorous and eat only meat, though the type of meat varies. Some raptors are fish-hunting specialists, while others may hunt snakes or other specialize in hunting birds. Many raptors are generalist hunters and will take a variety of prey.
  • Quiet Voice: 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, so it does not scare off potential prey.
  • Powerful Flight: 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.

    Many other characteristics can help distinguish raptors from other types of birds, including sociability, individual territory size and patient behavior.

    Types of Raptors

    There are more than 560 species of raptors around the world. Common and familiar raptor classifications and examples of popular raptors include...

    • Accipiters - Sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern goshawk
    • Buteos - Red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, forest buzzard
    • Eagles - Bald eagle, golden eagle, Steller's sea-eagle
    • Falcons - Peregrine falcon, American kestrel, Eurasian hobby
    • Harriers - Northern harrier, pallid harrier, pied harrier
    • Hawks - Broad-winged hawk, red-shouldered hawk, grey hawk
    • Kites - Swallow-tailed kite, snail kite, brahminy kite
    • Osprey - Only one bird in this classification, the osprey
    • Owls - Barn owl, great horned owl, great gray owl
    • Vultures - Andean condor, turkey vulture, king vulture

    Each of these types of raptors has unique characteristics that distinguish them from one another, but they all share traits and behaviors that make them birds of prey.

    Birding for Raptors

    Many birders are interested in seeing more raptors, and fortunately it is easy to add birds of prey to one's life list. Raptors are found in all types of habitats, and because these are larger birds, they are often easier to see and identify, particularly for novice birders. At the same time, since raptors require large territories and are relatively solitary birds, it can be difficult to find many raptors within a small region. Understanding the where, when and how to find raptors can help any birder see more of these phenomenal birds.

    Other Familiar Raptors

    Because raptors are powerful, iconic birds, they are often used as symbolic representatives for many things that involve strength, power, fierceness and nobility. Such popular raptors include...

    • Official symbols as national birds for different countries
    • Mascots for sports teams, businesses or schools
    • Names of comic book characters and superheros
    • Names of vehicles, including cars and military aircraft

    Even many places are named after birds of prey, such as Hawk Inlet in Alaska, Eagleville in Connecticut and Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. Bird place names with raptor connections are also popular throughout the world, often naming locations after the birds of prey that can be found there.


    Also Known As:

    Bird of Prey, Raptorial Bird

    Common Misspellings:


    Photo – Red-Tailed Hawk © Tim Lenz