12 Coolest Types of Birds of Prey

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: September 19, 2023
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Birds of prey are apex predators, ruling the skies with razor-sharp talons and wings giant enough to envelop a full-grown man. They spend their lives at the top of the food chain because they have evolved exceptional senses and features that allow them to dominate their prey and conquer any rivals. Discover the coolest types of birds of prey, including what specialized features they possess.

Infographic showing the twelve birds of prey highlighted in this article.
The bald eagle is likely the most recognizable bird of prey on our list.

1. Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Golden eagles can reach speeds up to 150 miles per hour.

©Al Carrera/Shutterstock.com

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Golden eagles are among the coolest birds in existence; from their hunting prowess to their fast, agile flying, they are awe-inspiring to humans and fear in the animal kingdom. This species is highly regarded in ancient and tribal cultures and is one of the most familiar birds in falconry. They are one of North America’s largest, fastest birds of prey and look remarkable as they soar through the air with their golden feathers gleaming in the sunlight.

Golden eagles can reach speeds up to 150 miles per hour and are ferocious enough to take down deer, rams, and wolves. They are also resourceful hunters, flying up to 60 feet above the ground and dropping tortoises to break their shells.

2. Harpy Eagle

Largest Eagles in the World: Harpy Eagle

Harpy eagles have the largest claws of any eagle.

©ChepeNicoli/Shutterstock.com

Harpy eagles are among the largest living eagle species in the world and the most powerful within their range. Their natural habitats include tropical lowland rainforests, and local Brazilians call them “royal hawks” due to their stately and imposing appearance. These eagles are typically silent, but their occasional calls sound like sharp wispy screams or wails.

Harpy eagles are fierce predators with the largest claws of any eagle, which look similar to dragon claws and easily rip animals like sloths from their tree homes. These enormous birds have human-like faces, and many people mistake them for people wearing a costume when they encounter them in the wild.

3. Northern Goshawk

Goshawk

Northern goshawks are mainly solitary and can be highly territorial and aggressive.

©Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock.com

Northern goshawks are medium to large “true hawks” native to the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate regions. These raptors were highly revered during the middle ages when people with noble stature used them for falconry. Today, they are among the most prolific raptor predators in their range. Their natural habitats include mixed forests and woodlands, which they rapidly maneuver through at impressive speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Northern goshawks are mainly solitary and can be highly territorial and aggressive, viciously defending their nests.

4. Kestrel

kestrel

Kestrels are the only birds of prey capable of hovering.

©Dennis Jacobsen/Shutterstock.com

Kestrels are raptors in the falcon genus and are well-known for their unique hunting behavior, where they hover 65 feet in the air before swooping down on their prey. They are the only birds of prey capable of hovering, using the wind to keep them afloat. While they are the smallest falcons in North America, they are fierce predators, often hunting in family groups in areas of open country. They use ultraviolet light to track their prey, which includes small mammals, lizards, and large insects. There are 15 kestrel species located throughout the world, and they can be identified by their smaller size and brown plumage.

5. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon in flight, ready to land

The name peregrine means “wanderer.”

©TPCImagery – Mike Jackson/Shutterstock.com

Peregrine falcons are large falcons renowned worldwide for being the fastest animals on earth, reaching speeds over 240 miles per hour! They are ferocious hunters who perform high-speed dives when attacking their prey and will even ambush other raptors who get too close to their nests. Peregrine falcons will occasionally use their full-dive ambush attacks to kill birds of prey, such as golden eagles and bald eagles. The name peregrine means “wanderer,” a proper name given they can travel over 15,000 miles in one year. Some populations winter in South America and breed in the Arctic tundra. This species has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird.

6. Andean Condor

The Andean Condor can live to be 50 years old.

The Andean condor can live to be 50 years old.

©Gus Martinie/Shutterstock.com

Andean condors are giant vultures native to the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast of South America. They are among the largest flying species on earth, measuring over four feet long and weighing nearly 30 pounds. They are intelligent and transparent creatures, able to communicate their emotional state through the color of their fleshy heads. Groups of condors also develop “pecking orders,” with mature condors at the top and young males at the bottom. These enormous predators can live up to 70 years old and fly over 100 miles without flapping their wings. 

7. African Fish Eagle

An African fish eagle with a fish in its talons skimming the surface of a lake

African fish eagles feed primarily on fish.

©Tomas Drahos/Shutterstock.com

African fish eagles are large birds of prey native to Sub-Saharan Africa and resemble the North American bald eagle. They are the national birds of several countries, and their shrill calls are often described as the sound of Africa. African fish eagles feed primarily on fish, and they swoop down from a perch to grab their prey from the water. Their clawed talons feature sharp barbs which allow them to hold on to their slippery meal. They will also steal food from other birds if they don’t feel like hunting. These birds have a long lineage and are descendants of ancient sea eagles.

8. Great Horned Owl

a great horned owl ,center frame, flying toward to camera. The owls massive wings are spread in flight. The bird is varying shades of brown, with a lighter face. Trees with fall foliage of red, gold and brown compete the background.

Great horned owls can carry up to nine pounds and occasionally take off with small cats and dogs.

©Imran Ashraf/Shutterstock.com

Great horned owls are large species native to North and South America. They have an extensive range and are highly adaptable, thriving around humans and their habitations. These owls can give the ultimate stare-down using their huge bright yellow eyes and swivel necks. And their nighttime call is solemn and terrifying. They are known as the tigers of the sky, viciously attacking anything small enough they can get away with.

Great horned owls are among the most dangerous birds of prey, often reported for pet and livestock attacks. They can carry up to nine pounds and occasionally take off with small cats and dogs.

9. Red-Tailed Hawk

Animals That Molt - Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks are skilled and tactical hunters.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

Red-tailed hawks are another North American bird of prey, and they are often called “chickenhawks” in the United States due to their propensity for preying on chickens. They are the most distributed raptors on the continent and are famous for their loud, hoarse screams as they soar through the air.

Fun fact: movies and TV dub the red-tailed hawk call over the bald eagles because it sounds more fierce. These birds are skilled and tactical hunters. They wait on a perch until they spot prey and swoop down for the kill. They also participate in group hunting, especially when capturing tree squirrels. One flushes the squirrel from its hiding spot while the other attacks.

10. Osprey

Animals That Live in Coral Reefs: Ospreys

Ospreys have sharp spikes on their claws and reversible outer toes for gripping slippery fish.

©LMIMAGES/Shutterstock.com

Ospreys, or sea hawks, are large raptors found throughout the world’s coasts. Fish make up 99% of their diet, and they have specialized features to help them hunt. They have excellent vision that allows them to see their prey moving beneath the surface. They can hover feet first before hitting the water and completely submerging themselves.

Ospreys also have sharp spikes on their claws and reversible outer toes for gripping slippery fish. Their nostrils close when underwater and their plumage is dense and waterproof to keep them from getting waterlogged.

11. Philippine Eagle

Largest Eagles in the World: Philippine Eagle

Philippine eagles feature a highlighted mane-like crest, dark facial features, and piercing blue eyes.

©Michal Lukaszewicz/Shutterstock.com

Philippine eagles, also known as monkey-eating eagles, are fierce, striking birds. They feature a highlighted mane-like crest, dark facial features, and piercing blue eyes. Other than looking really cool, these birds are rumored to feed on macaques native to the islands and are apex predators in their range. They are endemic to the Philippine forests, where they are endangered due to deforestation. And killing a Philippine eagle is punishable by up to one year in prison. 

12. Bald Eagle

bald eagles perched over water

Bald eagles are fast fliers, diving over 100 miles per hour.

©FloridaStock/Shutterstock.com

Bald eagles are synonymous with freedom and are the national symbol of the United States. While they are relatively common in North America, these birds still have a way of captivating their audience with their enormous wings and probing no-nonsense gaze. The bald eagle is North America’s second largest bird of prey, after the California condor. Bald eagles are fast fliers, diving over 100 miles per hour and easily maneuvering through their terrain. Their wingspan reaches over seven feet.

Summary of 12 Coolest Types of Birds of Prey

#Bird of PreyCool Fact
1Golden EagleCan reach speeds up to 150 miles per hour and are ferocious enough to take down deer, rams, and wolves
2Harpy EagleLargest claws of any eagle, which look similar to dragon claws, and easily rip animals like sloths from the trees
3Northern GoshawkWere highly revered during the middle ages when nobles used them for falconry
4KestrelThe only birds of prey capable of hovering, using the wind to keep them afloat
5Peregrine FalconOne of the fastest animals on earth, reaching speeds over 240 miles per hour
6Andean CondorAre among the largest flying species on earth, measuring over four feet long and weighing nearly 30 pounds
7African Fish EagleThey are the national birds of several countries, and their shrill calls are often described as the sound of Africa
8Great Horned OwlAre among the most dangerous birds of prey, often reported for pet and livestock attacks
9Red-Tailed HawkMovies and TV dub the red-tailed hawk call over the bald eagles because it sounds more fierce.
10OspreyCan hover feet first before hitting the water and completely submerging themselves
11Philippine EagleFound only on the Phillippines, they feed on macaques native to the islands
12Bald EagleThey are the national symbol of the United States and are the second largest bird of prey in America

What is the Coolest Type of Mythical Bird of Prey?

Phoenix

The phoenix spirit animal symbolizes hope, rebirth, and transformation.

©Anastasiya_g/Shutterstock.com

There are several mythical birds of prey that are really cool. They range from supernatural to just really large!

The Phoenix’s legend carries that this great golden and red bird will burn to ashes and be reborn. This symbolizes rebirth, hope, the eternal spirit, and renewal. It has different variations that can be found in different cultures, such as the Slavic Firebird and the Chinese feng-huang.

Another amazing mythical bird is the Thunderbird, which specifically comes from Native American folklore but similar beings can be found in lore from across the world. The Thunderbird is said to create thunder and rain from its body, and they are accompanied by other, smaller birds of prey. While the beast was fierce and powerful, vegetation and needed water came from its wake.

Some mythical birds take on a more hybrid form of appearance, such as Sirins and Alkonosts from Russian lore. These creatures would have the head of a woman but the body of a bird. They were known for their perfect and enchanting songs, much like the Sirens of Greek mythology. These two were paired together in myth as one would oversee day and the other night.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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Sources
  1. The Golden Eagle, Available here: https://books.google.com/books?id=DzmOUBbTbngC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
  2. San Diego Zoo, Available here: https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/harpy-eagle
  3. The Cornell Lab, Available here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/