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Harriers are medium-sized hawks that fly low or hover while hunting over open country, often marshes or grasslands. Their unique facial disk helps them hear prey much better, and they hunt small mammals and rodents. These birds can also hover for brief periods as they hunt. The northern harrier is the only species regularly seen in North America, but other harriers can be found throughout the world. The word hawk is another relatively generic term for many different birds of prey.

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Raptors that are considered hawks generally have short, rounded wings and longish tails, but there are many variations among individual species. Hawks are generally divided into accipiters forest hawks and buteos grassland hawks. There is a great deal of overlap, however, between the two types and their preferred habitats.

Kites are small to medium-sized, agile birds of prey with tapered wings and graceful flight, and often with long, deeply forked tails. Most kites are regularly seen only in southern areas in North America, except the white-tailed kite, which can be found along the Pacific coast.

The osprey is a fish-hunting raptor and one of the most widespread birds of prey in the world found on every continent except Antarctica.

Osprey 01, Birds of Prey in America

There are only one species of osprey, and it is the only bird in the family Pandionidae. Its facial markings and long wings are good field marks , though this raptor is often confused with the bald eagle because of its size and it also has a white head. Owls are generally nocturnal birds of prey with upright posture and forward facing eyes set in a facial disk.

Owls have keen vision, excellent hearing and nearly silent flight that make them superb night predators.

Tales of a Low Rent Birder

The great horned owl and barn owl are widespread and familiar species, and the snowy owl is also well known, thanks to its popularity in the Harry Potter books and movies. Though not actually birds of prey, shrikes are passerines that have behavioral characteristics similar to many raptors.

North American Birds of Prey: The Deadly Skies of North America

These birds generally prey on insects, small birds, lizards, and similar animals. The loggerhead shrike and northern shrike are the only species in North America, but there are many more in Europe and Africa. Vultures are exceptionally large, scavenging raptors with bald, featherless heads.

Carrion is their preferred diet and vultures often also called condors or buzzards can soar for hours while searching for a meal. When a kill is found, many vultures may gather to take advantage of the same food source. Unfortunately, vultures face many threats, including lead poisoning from contaminated carcasses.

Different Types of Birds of Prey

Continue to 5 of 12 below. Regardless of the interesting birds you may have seen in the wild, some of these colossal birds of prey are sure to dwarf them by comparison. With astounding wingspans and hooked beaks, these massive raptors soar through the skies untouched by other predators. Source: flickr. These fierce, winged hunters can take down prey such as sloths and monkeys with little effort.

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However, they also have a softer side: Harpy eagles are also known to work tirelessly alongside a mate to nurture their young. Male and female birds look alike in terms of plumage , with both sporting a double crest and similarly distinct markings. Females, however, can grow to be nearly twice as heavy as males.

The beautiful Harpy Eagle stands proud as the national bird of Panama. Source: wikimedia. This large bird generally prowls coastal areas and frequents the Russian coast in search of food. Its diet consists very largely of salmon, but is supplemented with other varieties of fish as well as the occasional shellfish or crustacean. This sharp-sighted hunter can utilize either monocular or binocular vision depending on what its current situation calls for.

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Using its superb senses of sight and smell , the Lappet-faced vulture glides through the sky to locate the carrion that it feeds upon. This bird uses its formidable, hooked beak to tear through the hide to reach the meat it craves, and plays an important role in opening the carcasses for other birds that are too small to break through on their own.

While most all other vultures have bald heads, the Lappet-faced Vulture has a unique coating of fine, downy hair on its head. The Lappet-Faced Vulture is generally a solitary bird, and does not nest in colonies like many other types of vultures do. This reclusive bird builds massive nests out of sticks in more secluded areas and has a wide territorial range.

Raptor Challenge

Easily the largest flying bird in North America, the California Condor can soar on its massive wings at up to 55 mph by hitching onto wind currents mid-flight. This giant bird of prey can also roam the skies for an unusually long lifespan of 50 years or more in the wild. California condors prefer to nest in cliff caves, rock crevices, or redwood hollows. This bird tends to seek out ready nesting spots rather than building a nest, and does not generally refine its nest with sticks or other materials.