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Bird of prey

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Birds of Prey
Australasian Osprey
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Bald Eagle at Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park, North Devon, England

Birds of prey (also called raptors) are birds that mainly use their claws (called talons) to seize prey. They are not classified into one natural family or group. The behaviour evolved many times in different groups. This is known as convergent evolution.

Different groups


Those bird of prey that are active during the day (diurnal) are classified as follows (Falconiformes)

Other groups

Nocturnal birds of prey – the owls – are classified separately, considered to be members of two families of the order Strigiformes:

The vultures are usually also regarded as birds of prey, although they may not be closely related to the other groups. The Eastern vultures and the western New World vultures are two groups which have evolved separately. Their similarities are due to convergent evolution.

Raptor names

  • Eagles are large birds with long, broad wings and massive legs. Booted eagles have feathered legs and build large stick nests.
  • Kites have long wings and weak legs. They spend much of their time soaring. They will take live prey but mostly feed on carrion.
  • Falcons are small to medium sized birds of prey with long pointed wings. Unlike most other raptors, they belong to the Falconidae rather than the Accipitridae. Many are particularly swift flyers. Instead of building their own nests, falcons appropriate old nests of other birds but sometimes they lay their eggs on cliff ledges or in tree hollows.
  • Owls are variable-sized nocturnal hunting birds. They fly soundlessly and have very acute senses of hearing and sight.
  • Harriers are large, slender hawk-like birds with long tails and long thin legs. Most hunt by gliding and circling low over grasslands and marshes on their long broad wings.
  • Hawks are medium-sized birds of prey that usually belong to the genus Accipiter (but see below). They are mainly woodland birds that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch. They usually have long tails.
  • Buzzards are raptors with a robust body and broad wings, or, alternatively, any bird of the genus Buteo (also commonly known as Hawks in North America).
  • Vultures are carrion-eating raptors, found in both the Old and New World. They usually have heads which are bare of feathers.


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