A raptor is a
bird of PREY - which means it IS a HUNTER. What kinds of BIRDS are
considered raptors? EAGLES, HAWKS, FALCONS, OWLS, OSPREY, and KITES: birds
with a HOOKED, sharp BEAK that can RIP and tear FLESH, and LONG SHARP TALONS
on the end of their TOES. Raptors are
not the only PREDATORS of the bird world, but they are the only ones that
HUNT with their FEET. Predators are AT the top of their food CHAIN and
therefore AN important SIGN of a healthy ecosystem. AS CARNIVORES, birds of
prey EAT other animals - some like insects, some like MICE or other RODENTS,
some have a DIET almost exclusively of FISH, while others may choose
SALAMANDER as their favorite FOOD. You can imagine how HARD they work to
catch SQUIRRELS... or how very FAST they must be to catch BATS! Raptors are
specialized for hunting, YET it is not an easy life. You rarely see a FAT
predator - they have to work too hard! Most raptors KILL LIVE prey but some
will also eat carrion: animals that are already dead. Raptors eat the whole
body of their prey but may not digest IT all - they CAST (regurgitate) what
cannot be digested, such as the bones, teeth, hair or feathers, as a PELLET.
How can there be SO many different hunters? NO one species IS just like another: each bird of prey occupies its own NICHE. Some are NOCTURNAL (are OUT at night), some are DIURNAL (active during the DAY). Some are large and some are small, so can catch different prey; some are fast and catch birds; some hunt animals on the GROUND. Different raptors are found IN different kinds of HABITAT, from FOREST to DESERT to FIELDS. Some always NEST near WATER, some like tall CLIFFS, some LAY their EGGS in a CAVITY in a TREE or build a big nest on top of a dead SNAG, some even nest right in the grass. Some raptors stay in ONE place all year and others MIGRATE during the winter. Some fly all the way TO South America - isn't it amazing they DO not get LOST?
It is exciting to see any raptor FLY and they have many different hunting styles - some may RISE on columns of warm air called thermals, and then SOAR while looking for prey. Others SIT in one place and then POUNCE from a PERCH. Some like to HOVER in mid-air, or STOOP (a very fast DIVE) to CAPTURE their food. These birds have excellent eyesight and and can SEE quite FAR. They also have good HEARING, especially owls, who can have one EAR higher, larger, or differently SHAPED than the other! Owl FEATHERS are very SOFT to help keep their WINGS QUIET when they fly, since they need to LISTEN for animals they might hear but not see, like a RAT under snow or leaves. Owls sometimes have a hard time hunting in the RAIN, since it makes noise and when the leaves are wet they do not rustle when a mouse moves! Since most owls sleep during the day, the color of their feathers helps to CAMOUFLAGE them while they ROOST.
Some birds of prey ADAPT well to changes in the environment that humans have made; others become RARE due to habitat LOSS and end up on the Endangered Species LIST. And like other WILDLIFE, they often get HURT by things created by US. Raptors get HIT by CARS, caught by CATS, can fly into a POWERLINE or hit a WINDOW, get tangled in FISHINGLINE or FENCES, even get SHOT or get very ILL from eating other animals that have eaten POISON. They can end up with a broken wing or leg, an injured EYE, even NERVE or brain damage. Can you imagine how much your head would ACHE if you flew into a window? Sometimes birds of prey get hurt or sick as an ADULT, but sometimes it is an EYASS (another word for NESTLING) that needs help. When such a young bird comes in for care, they need to be FED very often and just the right kind of food. Sadly, sometimes people finding young birds think they are CUTE and forget they are fierce hunters that need the whole body of small animals for food; they cannot live on plain meat like hamburger or they get very weak and sick.
What happens to the birds that are sick or hurt or orphaned? IF they are found and can be caught by people (they can RUN even if they cannot fly!), they are brought to a wildlife hospital like CASCADES RAPTOR CENTER, where every effort is made to heal them and let them GO - these birds belong in the WILD, where they are FREE. Sometimes, however, they have a PERMANENT INJURY and cannot be released, because they could not survive in the wild. Such birds can sometimes be kept, with special permits, for education. You cannot SELL our native birds - they are protected by federal law. Even their feathers, nests, and eggs are protected and illegal TO possess without special permits. We have finally come to understand how important such predators are to a healthy ecosystem - they are a key LINK to a complete, wild world.