How to Identify Birds of Prey

How to Identify Birds of Prey
In the United States that are several different species that are considered to be birds of prey, or birds that kill and eat other birds, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals. American birds of prey can be divided into the hawks, the eagles, the owls, the falcons, and the ospreys. Each can be identified by certain features or behaviors that can give a bird watcher a clue as to what it may be.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Step 1
Purchase a guide book to birds that you can bring with you into the field. These books have excellent photographs of various species of birds in them, including birds of prey. One such guide is the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Prey by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting.
Step 2
Identify the osprey by its behavior. The osprey is the only North American bird of prey that will swoop down from above and actually dive into the water after its target. Ospreys live almost exclusively off of fish and they can be frequently seen carrying their catch headfirst to their nest. Ospreys will build a large nest of sticks on platforms provided by people and in such places as on the very tops of telephone poles. One way to identify them is by their talons, which are very sharp like other birds of prey, but have reversible outer toes.
Step 3
Identify falcons by their incredible speed. Falcons, specifically the peregrine falcon, are the fastest of birds, with the peregrine falcon able to swoop down at speeds of 200 miles an hour to capture unsuspecting birds on the wing. Falcons are slim-shaped birds with pointed wings. Their tails are also long, as the falcon is built for speed.
Step 4
Identify hawks by their hooked bills. There are several types of hawks in the United States with some of the more common species being the red-tailed hawk, the Cooper's hawk and the red-shouldered hawk. Hawks also possess great eyesight and very sharp talons. The behavior of a hawk can also help to identify it; they will hover in the breeze and then descend after prey or perch up high before attacking small mammals or snakes on the ground.
Step 5
Identify owls by their appearance and nocturnal habits. Most owls will hunt at dusk and then during the night, using hearing and eyesight to locate prey. Owls have eyes that face forward. They are an upright bird and have sharp talons and hooked bills that are smaller than those of most birds of prey.
Step 6
Identify eagles by their size. The two species of eagles in the United States are the golden eagle and the bald eagle. Both are very large birds that resemble hawks in terms of body shape. The bald eagle has a white head and tail with a darker body, while the golden eagle is brown.

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