Birds of prey or ‘raptors’ can be distinguished from other birds in a number of ways including;
- Hooked beaks
- Strong feet and talons
- Outstanding eyesight
- Reverse sexual dimorphism i.e. the female is larger than the male
The term ‘raptor’ is Latin and means ‘to seize and carry away’. Raptors are found on all continents except Antarctica and on many small islands. The 287 species vary from the tiny falconets weighing only 60 grams to large eagles and vultures that may be as heavy as 9 kilograms.
24 species of raptor breed in Australia, a relatively small number for such a large continent. Of these, six are falcons and 18 are hawks, kites and eagles. We have no vultures or true buzzards.
Broadly speaking the raptors can be divided into two main groups, the Accipitridae and Falconidae. The accipitrids include the hawks, kites, harriers, vultures and eagles. The falconids, or falcons, fall into the falconidae.
For further information on raptor biology, and Australian birds of prey in particular, we highly recommend ‘Australian Birds of Prey’ by Penny Olsen, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney. ISBN 0 86840 039 4
Falcons are generally long-winged, dark-eyed birds. Some, like the Nankeen Kestrel, hunt by hovering and then dropping on prey. Many species, however, such as the Peregrine Falcon or the Black Falcon pictured here, kill quarry by ‘stooping’ on it from a great height. Falcons almost never build nests: They take advantage of rock ledges, building ledges, hollow tree branches or the abandoned nests of other birds.
Hawks and eagles, like this Juvenile Spotted Harrier, usually have broader wings than falcons. Some, like eagles, use their broad wings to soar effortlessly at great heights. Others, such as Goshawks, are ‘sprinters’. Their short rounded wings give them excellent acceleration and their long tails allow them to steer and break effectively in wooded environments. The accipitrids often build impressive nests.