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Bird of Prey

Last updated date: 15th Apr 2024
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What is a Bird of Prey?

Raptors, or birds of prey, are birds that mainly hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large in comparison to the hunter. They also have keen eyesight for detecting food from distance or while flying, powerful feet with talons for grasping or destroying prey, and powerful, curved beaks for tearing flesh. Raptor comes from the Latin word rapio, which means to capture or take by force. Many birds, including fish eagles, vultures, and condors, consume carrion in addition to live prey.

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While the word "bird of prey" could theoretically be applied to any bird that primarily eats animals, ornithologists usually use the more specific meaning presented in this article. Storks, herons, gulls, phorusrhacids, skuas, penguins, kookaburras, and shrikes, as well as many insectivorous songbirds, are examples of birds of prey not covered by the ornithological description. Some extinct predatory birds, such as mousebird relatives (Sandcoleidae), Messelasturidae, and some Enantiornithes, had talons that resembled those of modern birds of prey, suggesting possible related behaviours.

Birds of Prey Meaning - A bird that feeds on animal flesh, distinguished by a hooked bill and sharp talons; a raptor.

Birds of Prey Classification (Scientific)

  • Kingdom - Animalia 

  • Phylum - Chordata

  • Class - Aves 

  • Clade - Inopinaves 

  • Clade - Telluraves 

Birds of Prey Names (Common) 

The various birds of prey names, in general, are based on structure, but many of the traditional names do not reflect the evolutionary relationships between the groups.

  • Eagles are huge birds with large feet and long, wide wings. Booted eagles have feathered toes on their legs and feet and create massive stick nests.

  • True hawks are medium-sized raptors that normally belong to the Accipiter genus (see below). They are mostly woodland birds that hunt by making quick dashes from a hidden perch. For tight steering, they normally have long tails.

  • Buzzards are medium-sized raptors with long wings and sturdy bodies, or any bird of the genus Buteo (also commonly known as "hawks" in North America, while "buzzard" is colloquially used for vultures).

  • Harriers are hawk-like birds with long tails and thin legs that are wide and slender. Most hunt small vertebrates with a combination of keen vision and hearing, gliding on their long wide wings and circling low over grasslands and marshes.

  • Kites have long, slender wings and short legs. They spend a lot of time in the air. They can eat live vertebrate prey, but their main diet consists of insects and even carrion.

  • The osprey is a single species found all over the world that catches fish and builds big stick nests.

  • Owls are large, night-hunting birds that come in a variety of sizes. Their special feather arrangement reduces turbulence, allowing them to fly almost unnoticed. They have especially good hearing and night vision.

  • The secretary bird is a single species with a large body and long, stilted legs that is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa's open grasslands.

  • Vultures are carrion-eating raptors that belong to two separate biological families: Old World vultures (Accipitridae), which only exist in the Eastern Hemisphere, and New World vultures (Cathartidae), which only exist in the Western Hemisphere. Both classes have featherless heads, either partially or fully.

  • Falcons are medium-sized, pointed-winged birds of prey. Many of them are especially fast fliers. They are members of the Falconidae tribe, which is only distantly related to the Accipitriformes.

  • Caracaras are a subfamily of the Falconidae that is peculiar to the New World and most common in the Neotropics; their short wings, naked faces, and generalist appetites indicate some degree of fusion with either Buteo or vulturine birds, or both.

  • Seriemas are wide South American birds with long, stilted legs that share an ecological niche with secretary birds. They're still the nearest living relatives of the extinction-era "terror birds."

  • Originally, several of these English language community names applied to specific species found in the United Kingdom. As English-speaking people travelled further, new birds with identical characteristics were given common names. Kite (Milvus milvus), sparrow-hawk or sparhawk (Accipiter nisus), goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), hobby (Falco subbuteo), harrier (simplified from "hen-harrier", Circus cyaneus), buzzard (Accipiter gentilis), buzzard (Accipiter gentilis), buzzard (Accipiter gentil (Buteo buteo).

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Some names have not generalised and refer to single species (or groups of closely related (subspecies), such as the merlin (Falco columbarius).

Historical Classifications

Birds (class Aves) were divided into orders, genera, and species by Carl Linnaeus' taxonomy, which had no formal ranks between genus and order. He classified all birds of prey birds into a single order, Accipitres, which he divided into four genera: Vultur (vultures), Falco (eagles, hawks, falcons, and other raptors), Strix (owls), and Lanius (birds of prey) (shrikes). Gmelin, Latham, and Turnton were among the writers who adopted this approach.

Additional ranks used by Louis Pierre Veillot were order, tribe, family, genus, and species. Birds of prey (order Accipitres) were divided into diurnal and nocturnal tribes; owls (family golii, genus Strix) remained monogeneric, while diurnal raptors were divided into three families: Vulturini, Gypati, and Accipitrine.

Veillot's families were therefore close to Linnaean genera, with the exception that shrikes were no longer classified as birds of prey. Veillot adopted four genera from Savigny: Phene, Halietus, Pandion, and Elanus, in addition to the original Vultur and Falco (now reduced in scope). He also introduced five new vulture genera (Gypagus, Catharists, Daptrius, Ibycter, Polyborus) and eleven new accipitrine genera (Aquila, Circatus, Circus, Buteo, Milvus, Ictinia, Physeta, Harpia, Spizaetus, Asturina, Sparvius) to the world.

Modern Systematics 

The order Accipitriformes is thought to have split from the common ancestor of the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) and the Accipitridae species 44 million years ago. Accipitriformes phylogeny is complicated and difficult to decipher. Many phylogenetic studies revealed widespread paraphylies. Similar findings have been found in more recent and comprehensive research. The sister relationship between larger clades of Accipitriformes was well supported, according to the findings of a 2014 review (e.g. relationship of Harpagus kites to buzzards and sea eagles and these latter two with Accipiter hawks are sister taxa of the clade containing Aquilinae and Harpiinae).

The Diurnal Birds of Prey are Formally Classified Into Six Families of Two Orders.

  • Accipitridae: Hawks, eagles, buzzards, harriers, kites, and Old World vultures

  • Pandionidae: The osprey

  • Sagittariidae: The secretary bird

  • Falconidae: Falcons, caracaras, and forest falcons

  • Cathartidae: New World vultures, including condors

  • Cariamidae: Seriemas

These families were once classified as a single order, Falconiformes, but are now divided into two orders, Falconiformes and Accipitriformes. The Cathartidae are often classified separately in the Ciconiiformes, an expanded stork family, and maybe elevated to their own order, Cathartiformes.

Sagittariidae and Pandioninae, respectively, are subfamilies of Accipitridae that include the secretary bird and/or osprey. Although it is a nocturnal species, Australia's letter-winged kite belongs to the Accipitridae tribe.

The nocturnal birds of prey—the owls—are classified separately as members of two extant families of the order Strigiformes:

  • Strigidae: "typical owls"

  • Tytonidae: barn and bay owls


Accipitrid raptors' migratory behaviour has evolved many times. Nearly 14 to 12 million years ago, the first occurrence occurred. This appears to be one of the earliest dates ever published in the field of birds of prey. The research, for example, supported a previous reconstruction of migratory behaviour in one Buteo clade as a result of the origin of migration about 5 million years ago.

Since it appears that all of the major lineages within Accipitridae had an origin in one of the biogeographic domains of the Southern Hemisphere, migratory species of raptors may have had a southern origin. The emergence of migratory behaviour coincided with the expansion of migratory species' ranges into temperate environments in the tropics. In other taxonomic groups, similar findings of southern origin have been identified in the literature.

The origin of migration in birds of prey is heavily influenced by their distribution and biogeographic history. Diet breadth has an impact on the evolution of migratory behaviour in this population, according to some comparative studies, but its significance requires further study. Animal migration evolution appears to be a complicated and challenging subject with many unanswered questions.

New links between migration and the ecology and life history of raptors were discovered in a recent study. A quick glance at the abstract of the published paper reveals that "The most important variables in shaping distribution areas have been shown to be the clutch size and hunting strategies, and geographic dissimilarities can mask important relationships between life-history traits and migratory behaviours. Because of the presence and absence of ecological barriers, the West Palearctic-Afrotropical and North-South American migratory systems are radically different from the East Palearctic-Indomalayan system. "Maximum entropy modelling will help address the question of why certain organisms winter in one place and others do not." In the limitation of species distributions, temperature and precipitation-related variables vary. This means that migratory behaviour differs between the three major migratory routes for these species," which may have significant conservation implications for migratory raptor security.

Sexual Dimorphism 

Raptors (birds of prey) are known to exhibit sexual dimorphism patterns. The dimorphisms present in raptors are thought to be caused by sexual selection or environmental factors. Hypotheses that ecological factors are the cause of sexual dimorphism in raptors are generally dismissed. This is because the evolutionary model is less parsimonious, requiring a more complicated interpretation than the sexual selection model. Ecological models are often more difficult to evaluate because they require a large amount of data.

Intrasexual selection between males and females can also result in dimorphisms. Both sexes of the species appear to play a role in raptor sexual dimorphism; females compete with other females for good nesting sites to attract males, and males compete with other males for adequate hunting grounds to appear as the healthiest mate. It's also been suggested that sexual dimorphism is just a stepping stone in the process of speciation, particularly if the traits that define gender aren't shared across species. Sexual dimorphism can be regarded as a factor that has the potential to speed up the rate of speciation.

Males are usually larger than females in non-predatory birds. In birds of prey, however, the reverse is true. The kestrel, for example, is a falcon species in which the males are the primary caregivers and the females are in charge of raising the young. In this genus, the smaller the kestrels are, the less food they need, allowing them to live in harsher conditions. This is particularly true of kestrels who are males. Since smaller males have an endurance advantage when it comes to protecting the nest and hunting, it has become more energetically advantageous for male kestrels to stay smaller than their female counterparts. Larger females are preferred because they can incubate a greater number of offspring and breed a larger clutch size.


It has long been assumed that birds have no sense of smell, but recent research has shown that many birds actually have functional olfactory systems. Despite this, most raptors are still thought to rely primarily on vision, and raptor vision is being studied extensively. An analysis of the current literature in 2020 found that raptors have functional olfactory systems that they are likely to use in a variety of situations, based on physiological, genetic, and behavioural studies.

Attacks on Humans 

A witness account of one attack (in which the victim, a seven-year-old boy, survived and the eagle was killed) and the finding of part of a human child's skull in a nest support the theory that the African crowned eagle sometimes sees human children as prey. This will make it the only living bird is known to prey on humans, while other birds such as ostriches and cassowaries have killed humans in self-defence, and Aeschylus may have been accidentally killed by a lammergeier. Many Brazilian Indian legends tell of children being mauled by Uiruuetê or Harpy Eagle in Tupi. Various large raptors, such as golden eagles, have been recorded targeting humans, but it's unclear whether they're trying to eat them or whether they've ever killed one.

Big birds of prey animals may have preyed on prehistoric hominids, according to some fossil evidence. An eagle-like bird similar to the crowned eagle is thought to have killed the Taung Child, an early human discovered in Africa. The extinct Haast's eagle may have preyed on humans in New Zealand, which would be in line with Maori legends. Leptoptilos robustus may have preyed on both Homo floresiensis and anatomically modern humans, and the Malagasy crowned eagle, teratorns, Woodward's eagle, and Caracara major are all close in size to the Haast's eagle, suggesting that they may also pose a danger to humans.

Interesting Facts About Raptor

  1. A male sharp-shinned hawk will tear off the head of its prey and eat it before returning it to his mate or young.

  2. A bald eagle nest discovered in St. Petersburg, Florida had a diameter of more than 9 feet and a height of more than 20 feet. Another nest, in Vermilion, Ohio, was in the shape of a wine goblet and weighed nearly two tonnes. The nest was used by eagles for 34 years until the tree was uprooted by the wind.

  3. With the exception of Antarctica, the peregrine falcon can be found on any continent. 

  4. Have you ever heard a bald eagle scream in a movie? The call of a red-tailed hawk can be heard. The hawk's shrill call is often used in movies to replace the eagle's high-pitched whistles.

  5. A Cooper's hawk can use its paws to capture a smaller bird and pinch it repeatedly before it dies. They've even been known to submerge a bird before it drowns.

  6. A Northern hawk owl can detect a vole to eat from up to a half-mile away, mainly by sight.

  7. Hunting peregrine falcons dive at speeds of over 200 mph.

  8. Target shooters by nature, red-shouldered hawks are. Nestlings will shoot their faeces over the edge of the nest by the time they are five days old.

  9. Rough-legged hawk nests have been discovered with caribou bones and sticks.

  10. During fat years, when mice are in abundance, mice are normally monogamous. Boreal owls have a reputation for being promiscuous. Males have been seen mating with as many as three females, while females have been seen with at least one sidekick.

  11. Broad-winged hawk fossils dating back 400,000 years have been found in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

  12. Some raptors store food in “caches.” As it waited out the winter in the Aleutian Islands, one gyrfalcon (pronounced "JER-falcon") was seen using a frosty dead ptarmigan like a spear of Brazilian BBQ, chipping off hunks of meat to eat.

  13. Large bodies of water have been known to attract saw-whet owls. One was discovered 70 miles off the coast of Montauk, New York.

  14. Swainson's hawks fly over 6,000 miles from Canada to Argentina in as little as two months, covering 124 miles a day on average.

  15. Barn owls swallow their prey whole, skin and bones included.


The birds of prey meaning are the bird that flies high and spots a dead deer, dog or other dead animal lying in or near the road, and goes into a dive on it. In this article, we will come across different aspects of bird of prey like history, scientific classification and different common names. It is very common for these types of birds to get hit by a fast-moving vehicle, these injured birds are brought to the wildlife rehabilitation centre to recover.

FAQs on Bird of Prey

1. What Bird is Known as a Bird of Prey and Name One Bird of Prey?

Answer. Raptors are diurnal birds of prey that include hawks, eagles, vultures, and falcons (Falconiformes). There are over 500 species of raptors. The word raptor comes from the Latin raptare, which means "to catch and take away." (The term raptor is often used interchangeably with the term bird of prey.)

2. What's the Biggest Bird of Prey?

Answer. The Andean condor is the world's largest living raptor. The largest Old World bird of prey is the Eurasian black vulture.

3. Is a Raptor a Bird?

Answer. Raptor is a term used to describe any bird of prey, although it is often limited to birds of the order Falconiformes (hawks, eagles, falcons, and their allies are some of the birds of prey examples).

4. What is the Most Dangerous Bird of Prey?

Answer. Cassowaries are naturally wary of humans, but if provoked, they can cause severe, even fatal, injuries to both dogs and humans. The cassowary has been dubbed "the world's most dangerous creature" on several occasions.