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What is a Raptor?

A raptor is a bird of prey, distinguished by keen vision, sharp talons, and a hooked beak designed for hunting. These majestic creatures rule the skies, from the formidable eagle to the stealthy owl. Each species plays a pivotal role in the ecosystem. Discover how these winged hunters have adapted to thrive in diverse environments. What secrets do their survival strategies hold?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “raptor” is used to refer to a group of birds which hunt for meat and share several common physical traits. These avians are also known as birds of prey because most of them seek out and kill animal foods, eating little to no plant material. They vary widely in size from miniature owls to majestic Andean condors, and also have different body shapes, although all of them are built for speed and efficient hunting.

The Latin word rapere, meaning “to seize” is the root for the word raptor, a reference to the way in which most raptors hunt: flying overhead and then swooping in for the kill. The highly efficient and accurate hunting skills of the raptor have been used by humans for thousands of years to supplement their own hunting skills. Falconers who pursue live prey with raptors for food and sport can be found all over the world practicing their ancient art.

All modern raptors are descended from prehistoric dinosaurs.
All modern raptors are descended from prehistoric dinosaurs.

All raptors share a hooked beak, sharp talons, and excellent vision. The talons of the raptor can be used to grip and manipulate prey, and are usually quite large, comparable to the claws of hunting mammals. A hooked beak is useful for tearing at prey and can be used to slice through skin and flesh. The excellent vision of raptors allows them to soar overhead, out of sight of their prey, and still be able to spot potential sources of food.

Owls are raptors.
Owls are raptors.

Hawks, eagles, falcons, osprey, secretary birds, condors, vultures, and owls are all considered raptors. All of these birds are associated with the consumption of meat, and as can be seen, some raptors prefer to scavenge for their meat, rather than actively hunting it. Most raptors build a nest together and raise their young in tandem, helping the young raptors to learn how to hunt prey successfully as they are weaned. In many cases, a raptor pair will return to the same nest year after year, making them unfortunately highly sensitive to human encroachment on their habitat.

All falcons, including the peregrine, are raptors.
All falcons, including the peregrine, are raptors.

In most parts of the world, strength, beauty, and grace are associated with the raptor. Some nations have made raptors their national or state bird; the Bald Eagle, for example, represents the United States. Sadly, because raptor habitat is increasingly under threat by humans, some raptors are seriously endangered. The case of the California Condor was typical; the elegant raptor was almost extinct before serious efforts were made to restore the population, which is still considered endangered. Hopefully global efforts by wildlife advocacy organizations will keep these beautiful birds cruising the skies for future generations to enjoy.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • All modern raptors are descended from prehistoric dinosaurs.
      By: Bastos
      All modern raptors are descended from prehistoric dinosaurs.
    • Owls are raptors.
      By: hitman1234
      Owls are raptors.
    • All falcons, including the peregrine, are raptors.
      By: falconhy
      All falcons, including the peregrine, are raptors.
    • A hawk is a type of raptor.
      By: garytog
      A hawk is a type of raptor.