For thousands of years, birds of prey have had a unique place in our culture. From the walls of ancient pyramids to medieval book margins and modern flags, they have symbolized bravery, aristocracy, wisdom and skill.
There are many different species of birds of prey. All birds of prey hunt food while in flight, using their large, strong talons and beaks that are adapted for seizing and killing their victims. They have excellent eyesight and can discern their prey from great distance.
Birds of prey are subdivided into two groups, diurnal and nocturnal, that evolved independently to have similar predatory characteristics. Diurnal birds hunt by day and belong to the order falconiformes. These include hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons. As a group, these daytime hunters are also known as raptors.
Nocturnal birds of prey belong to the order strigiformes, commonly known as owls. They have large eyes and binocular vision for hunting by moonlight and mainly prey on rodents.
Birds of prey species are found in almost every habitat – from the equatorial rainforests to the high arctic tundra. Buzzards and vultures can be found in the most remote and inhospitable deserts while other species such as falcons have made homes on the skyscrapers of major cities.
Larger birds of prey tend to live in open areas and hunt over deserts or water where trees and foliage are less restricting. The largest hunting birds of prey, the sea eagles, live along lakes, oceans and rivers where they live on a diet of mostly fish and small rodents. The smaller hawks and falcons live in forested areas. In urban and suburban areas, bald eagles make their homes along highways where they can easily pick off small animals that lose the protection of forest canopy as they cross the roadways.
Being at the top of the food chain, birds of prey are especially susceptible to diminishing food sources as humans encroach upon their habitats. Fortunately conservation efforts have been successful at maintaining and rebuilding many populations of these cherished birds.