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Birds of Prey


This young white-tailed eagle is one of about 304 species of birds of prey.

This young white-tailed eagle is one of about 304 species of birds of prey.

Photo © Sylvain Cordier / Getty Images.

Birds of prey (Falconiformes) also known as raptors, are formidable avian predators, armed with powerful talons, hooked bills and acute eyesight. Raptors generally have broad wings well-suited for soaring. Raptors hunt by day and feed on a variety of prey including fish, small mammals, reptiles and carrion. The group includes eagles, hawks, kites, the secretary bird, ospreys, falcons and old world vultures and comprises a total of 304 species.

Most birds of prey have drab plumage consisting primarily of brown, grey or white feathers that blend well with the palette of the surrounding landscape. Their eyes are forward-facing forward, an orientation that makes it easier for them to spot prey. The shape of their tail reflects their aerial behavior—species that require greater in-flight maneuverability have broad tails, species that rely more on speed than maneuverability have short tails, and species that require the ability to fly at slow speeds have forked tails. Raptors' sharp, hooked bills enables them to tear the flesh of their prey with ease.

The distribution of raptors varies among the subgroups. Falcons, hawks and ospreys are among the more cosmopolitan birds in the group, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. In contrast, the Secretary bird inhabits a restricted range in sub-Saharan Africa. New World vultures live only in North and South America. Within their various ranges, species occupy many different habitats including arctic, tundra, forest, deserts and coastlines.

Size and Weight:


The largest raptors are the Andean condors, whose wingspan can reach more than 9½ feet. On the smaller end of the spectrum are the lesser kestrel and the little sparrowhawk, birds whose wingspan is less than 2½ feet.


Animals > Chordates > Birds > Birds of Prey

Birds of prey are divided into four subgroups including falcons, accipiters, osprey and the secretary bird.


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