Harriers have long, narrow wings, a long tail, and a brilliant white rump that often clinches its ID. They also have a unique, owl-like facial pattern made up of stiff feathers that form a 'facial disk'. This helps them to hunt by sound as much as sight, sometimes in near complete darkness.
Harriers are fun to watch in flight, as they buoyantly teeter side-to-side over marshes and fields in search of mice and voles. Harriers perch on the ground or on low posts, unlike most raptors that perch in trees or higher surfaces. Harriers attain an adult appearance in their second year, when males and females are markedly different. Kites are a diverse, lesser known, group of raptors that reside in warmer climate territories. Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kite in particular are masterful fliers, able to "float" in the air with ease even on windless days.
They twist and turn with a slight move of the tail or wings, and their ability to catch small prey on the wing is unmatched. The other two North American kites, Snail Kite and especially Hook-billed Kite, have paddle-shaped wings and eat mostly snails. Most kites attain adult appearance in years. Since most owl species are nocturnal active at night and difficult to see, they are thought of as mysterious and regarded with superstition.
Most people are taught that seeing an owl will potentially bring bad luck. However, that is far from the truth -- seeing an owl is one of the most exhilarating experiences in bird watching. Owls are not always easy to spot; they have cryptic plumage that helps them blend in with their surroundings. Owls even go undetected by other birds, but when songbirds or crows do spot an owl, they pester them every chance they get! Even though most owls hunt at night, some, such as the Northern Hawk Owl, Burrowing, and Snowy Owl, are active during the daytime.
All Owls have a defined facial disk that is distinct, and many have feathers on the top of their head called "ear tufts. There are 19 species of North American owl, and the variation in size, range, behavior, and habitat between species is extensive. The Great Horned Owl is the most common, widespread, well known, and powerful of the owls, whereas species such as Elf Owl smallest N. The preferred habitat ranges from dense forests, semi-open habitats, wide-open grasslands, and suburban woodlots, parks, and golf courses depending on geography and species.
Most Owls prey primarily on small mammals, but many will take small birds and reptiles, and some smaller owls feed primarily on insects. Owls, such as the Great Horned and Screech Owl, sit and wait on a perch for prey to come into view and then pounce with silent wings, taking their prey by surprise without warning. Other owls, such as the Short-eared, Flammulated, and Barn Owl, actively search for food.
Owls have powerful feet with short toes relative to their size. For instance, Screech Owls have been known to kill the similarly sized Sharp-shinned Hawk without a problem. Most owls have fairly short, rounded wings and short tails, but some such as the Northern Hawk Owl have tapered wings and long tails similar to an accipiter, which allow them to maneuver and chase songbirds.
Owls are not often seen at HWI migration sites, but they are present at all of them, as documented through banding studies, satellite tracking data, and night observations! A few owls, such as the Short-eared Owl, may be seen migrating down a ridge top or soaring high above during the day -- but for the most part, owls migrate during the nighttime hours.
Vultures are large, dark birds with long, broad wings, and naked heads. They are often talked about as "ugly and skittish," but they are beautiful and graceful in flight. There are 3 vultures that occur in North America. There are around species of raptors worldwide. In North America, we have about 34 common diurnal active during the day and 20 common nocturnal active at night raptors.
Diurnal raptors include: eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, Northern Harrier, and Osprey. Only owls are nocturnal raptors. Fall migration, spring migration, summer nesting, and wintering make up the annual lifecycle of raptors. Understanding these predators during each phase paints the most accurate picture regarding their conservation status and needs.
Many North American raptors make a daunting migration journey twice a year, with several flying as far south as South America, and as far north as Alaska. They spend the spring and summer in northern areas where they nest and rear young. During the winter, food supplies become scarcer and the birds fly to more southern latitudes where food is more abundant.
There, they spend the winter before returning north to start the cycle over again. As raptors migrate in the fall towards wintering grounds, and in the spring towards their nesting territory, they exert a tremendous amount of energy, often times covering thousands of miles within a matter of weeks. They navigate numerous borders and habitats, often facing multiple threats along the way. For scientists, migration serves as the most optimal time to keep tabs on overall population numbers, which over time can alert us to a decline in numbers of a particular species.
Spring is a critical time for all animals. Raptor nests typically hold eggs, unlike songbird clutches that are typically made up of more than 4 eggs.
If a nest does not fail entirely, as is always possible, it is likely that only nestlings will successfully fledge from the nest. Many factors act as barriers to nestling survival, including human disturbance, low prey availability, and competition for increasingly limited nesting territory due to encroachment from human development.
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Winter is the most harrowing time for raptors. These raptors use their sharp, hooked beaks for tearing meat and have weaker legs and feet and small hind toes. Owl species vary in size, but typically have large, round heads, with forward-facing eyes framed by a feathered facial disk.
They have wide wings, short tails, lightweight bodies, and unusually soft, fluffy body feathers. Owls are typically nocturnal predators, relying on their excellent vision and hearing to catch food.
Some owls have tufts of feathers on the tops of their head, often called horns or ears. They are not really horns or ears but are thought to serve as camouflage or behavioral signaling devices. Owls have large asymmetrical ear holes located behind the eyes on each side of the face, underneath their feathers which aid in hearing and flight direction to catch prey. Each ear catches sound at a different time allowing for pinpoint accuracy of prey location.
The round face and facial disks of feathers around the eyes also help in hearing and funneling light to increase visibility. Owls have binocular vision.
Raptors of California
Their eyes are fixed in sockets so they are only able to see what is in front of them. To see the things around them, owls must use the added bones in their neck 14 total to rotate their head. Owls have four toes; a permanent back toe and three front toes, one of which when the feet are spread wide apart is capable of rotating to the front or back to improve their grip on prey once captured.
Most owls have feathers down to their sharp toenails unlike most birds of prey. It's believed to help keep them warm and protect from prey bites. Owls have soft-edged flight feathers that allow them to fly almost silently; the flight feathers of an owl are slightly spaced to allow air to move around and through them when flying which helps to keep noise down.
An owl's diet consists of rodents and small mammals. Their digestive system makes use of the nutritious portions of the prey, and the undigested parts hair, bones, claws, teeth, etc. Worldwide there are over species of meat-eating birds that comprise the order Falconiformes, the scientific name for hawk. Some hawk species undertake long migration journeys, traveling thousands of miles each year - a testimony to their strength and stamina. Hawks have excellent hearing and eyesight.
The Raptors of North America | University of New Mexico Press
Their vision is 8 times greater than that of a human! In our region, hawks typically breed in early spring, and many will pair for life, unless a mate is lost to death. Eagles are large bodied raptors, mostly dark brown in color with long, broad wings, and fan-shaped tails and have large, strong feet and a powerful beak. There are 2 species of eagles widespread throughout North America, the bald eagle and the golden eagle; both can be observed in our region!
The bald eagle is America's national symbol — has been since — and is unique to North America! The average wingspan of an eagle can vary from six to seven feet! That's a BIG bird! The mature bald eagle appears very different than its relative the golden eagle in color; it has a distinctive white head and tail, and a bright yellow beak.
These distinguishing bald eagle traits do not appear until the bird reaches adulthood when they are three to four years old. Bald eagles usually live near water oceans, rivers, lakes , while golden eagles live in open, mountainous country.