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An Osprey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as any bird that hunts other animals. Their talon and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh. In most cases, the females are considerably larger than the males. The term "raptor" is derived from the Latin word "rapere" (meaning to seize or take by force) and may refer informally to all birds of prey, or specifically to the diurnal group.

Formal classification

The diurnal birds of prey are formally classified into five families:

The nocturnal birds of prey - the owls - are classified separately as members of two extant families of the order Strigiformes:

The observation that otherwise unrelated bird groups may perform similar ecological roles and bear striking morphological similarities to one another is explained largely by the idea of convergent evolution.

The common names for various birds of prey are based on structure but many of the traditional names do not reflect the evolutionary relationships between the groups.

Variations in shape and size
  • Eagles tend to be large birds with long, broad wings and massive feet. Booted eagles have legs and feet feathered to the toes and build very large stick nests.
  • Ospreys -- a single species found worldwide -- specializes in fish, and builds large stick nests.
  • Kites have long wings and relatively weak legs. They spend much of their time soaring. They will take live vertebrate prey but mostly feed on insects or even carrion.
  • The true Hawk are medium-sized birds of prey that usually belong to the genus Accipiter (see below). They are mainly woodland birds that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch. They usually have long tails for tight steering.
  • Buzzards are medium-large raptors with robust bodies and broad wings, or, alternatively, any bird of the genus Buteo (also commonly known as "hawks" in North America).
  • Harriers are large, slender hawk-like birds with long tails and long thin legs. Most hunt small vertebrates with a combination of keen eyesight and hearing, gliding on their long broad wings and circling low over grasslands and marshes.
  • Vultures are carrion-eating raptors of two distinct biological families, each occurring in only the Eastern Hemisphere (Accipitridae) or the Westernmarker (Cathartidae). Members of both groups have heads either partly or fully devoid of feathers.
  • Falcons are small to medium-size birds of prey with long pointed wings. Unlike most other raptors, they belong to the Falconidae, rather than the Accipitridae. Many are particularly swift flyers. Instead of building their own nests, falcons appropriate old nests of other birds, but sometimes they lay their eggs on cliff ledges or in tree hollows. Caracaras are a distinct subgroup of the Falconidae unique to the New World, and most common in the Neotropics - their broad wings, naked faces and appetites of a generalist suggest some level of convergence with either the Buteos or the vulturine birds, or both.
  • Owls are variable-sized, typically night-specialized hunting birds. They fly silently and have very acute senses of hearing and low-light vision.


Notes



References

  • Remsen, J. V., Jr., C. D. Cadena, A. Jaramillo, M. Nores, J. F. Pacheco, M. B. Robbins, T. S. Schulenberg, F. G. Stiles, D. F. Stotz, and K. J. Zimmer. [Version 2007-04-05.] A classification of the bird species of South America. American Ornithologists' Union. Accessed 2007-04-10.


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