What is a Raptor?

A harris hawk.
A harris hawk.

Raptors are predatory birds often referred to as birds of prey. The birds are mainly members of the Accipitridae subfamily. Raptors have a highly developed sight often spotting their prey from the sky. Raptors mainly feed on small vertebrates like rodents, birds, and fish. Others attack and kill larger animals while some display scavenging behavior such as vultures. Raptors have well-developed talons and beaks for tearing flesh and strong feet to carry their catch.

Examples Of Some Notable Raptors


Eagles are strong powerfully built birds of prey found in all habitats of the world except for Antarctica. Eagles are carnivorous birds that locate their prey while flying or when perched. They feed both on terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates such as fish, rodents, snakes, rabbits and water birds. Depending on the species and habitats, Eagles have different predatory techniques and bodily adaptations. Most of the eagles are capable of killing animals larger than themselves after which they carry the catch to their nests in small pieces. Other large or heavy prey is eaten at the point of capture.


Like the eagle, the osprey inhabits all continents except Antarctica. The osprey feeds primarily on fish but may supplement its diet with birds, snakes, small mammals, and carrion. The Osprey has well-developed talons, beak, and sight to enable it to locate, capture, and carry its catch. Ospreys attack their prey from the air or perch near the prey’s habitat. When they notice the prey, they dive into the water with their feet first and attack. The feet of the Osprey are large, covered with scales, and have a reversible fourth toe which aid in holding their slippery prey.


Kites occupy warm regions all over the world notable for their graceful flights. Kites have a light build compared to eagles. Kites feed on fish, rabbits, insects, lizards, snakes, eggs, snails, and rodents depending on their species. Some kites rummage in garbage, looking for food. Kites are opportunistic hunters and are capable of adapting to new diets depending on their locations. Due to their weak legs, kites spend most of their time soaring from which they locate possible food in smoky areas, garbage mounds or scavenge for carrion.


Hawks are medium-sized raptors commonly found in areas of North and Central America. Hawks have very keen sense of sight and can locate their prey from great heights. Hawks have outstanding hunting skills. Hawks hunts mainly at dusk killing its prey with its claws or beak. The hawk feeds on lizards, snakes, grasshoppers, crickets, doves and smaller birds, mice, rabbit, squirrels, and other small ground-dwelling species. Hawks are known to be violent hunters though some display gentler qualities.

Other famous raptors include buzzards, harriers, vultures, falcons, caracaras, and owls.

Role of Raptors In The Ecosystem

Raptors play an important role in the ecosystem in that they provide for biodiversity. Raptors rank as the top most consumers in food chains due to their highly developed predatory tactics as well as the scavenging habits of some species. Through their dietary patterns, raptors regulate the prey within an ecosystem and contribute to the nutrient and energy cycle in food webs.

What is a Raptor?

RankBird nameDistribution
1EagleAll continents except Antarctica
2OspreyAll continents except Antarctica
3KitesWorldwide; warm regions
4HawksNorth and Central America
6HarrierEurasia, Africa, North America
7VultureEvery continent but Australia and Antarctica
8FalconAll continents except Antarctica
9CaracaraSouthern North America, Central America, and South America
10OwlAll continents except Antarctica

More in Environment