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