The buteos are a group of raptor species that are characterized by having broad wings that are long and tails that fan out. Buteos have evolved so that they are able to hover in the air and don't have to flap their wings often to do so. Buteos do the bulk of their hunting for creatures, such as small mammals, reptiles, other birds and amphibians, by waiting in a tree or other high perch during the daylight hours and watching the action on the ground with their incredibly good eyesight. Buteos will then plunge down onto their victim and whisk it away to eat. The red-tailed hawk is the most common and widely dispersed buteo type of raptor in the United States and is found across the country. Other species of hawks, such as the ferruginous hawk and the red-shouldered hawk, are also classified as buteos.
The accipiters mainly eat other birds, which they capture in flight, but also can kill mammals such as rabbits. Most live deep within woodlands and forests and have shorter wings and a long tail to give them the ability to maneuver in close quarters. Accipiters will pursue a potential meal only for a short distance before either killing it or giving up the hunt. They have strong legs and feet that are used to kill and then carry prey. Accipiters are capable of soaring like buteos but flap their wings more often while doing so. The Cooper's hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk and the goshawk are the accipiters found in the United States.
The fastest of the raptors and indeed some of the fastest birds in the world are the falcons. These birds include the peregrine falcon, the fastest animal on the planet; it can reach speeds of up to 200 mph while diving in flight. The falcons are designed for quickness and have long wings. Falcons eat birds, insects, and smaller rodents. Other falcon species found in the United States are the merlin, the gyrfalcon, the American kestral and the prairie falcon.
The largest American raptors are the bald eagle and the golden eagle. Both have wingspans that can reach 8 feet and both are more than capable of killing larger mammals such as rabbits, herons and even some livestock. However, the bald eagle prefers fish and normally lives close to a body of water, while the golden eagle inhabits mountainous areas and open land in the western portion of the nation. There are several other species of raptors that don't quite fit into the aforementioned categories as well. The osprey, also known as the fish hawk, is the only American raptor that swoops out of the sky and into the water to grab its favorite meal--fish. The owls have large eyes, fine hearing and a head that can rotate as far as 270 degrees. Owls hunt mostly at night and can detect prey while using their senses in the dark. The vulture is the raptor with the best sense of smell, which it uses to locate rotting carrion on the ground. The northern harrier has acute hearing as well as excellent vision, which it needs to pinpoint its prey.