There are literally dozens of different species of birds of prey that are native to North America. Most of the birds are from the Accipitridae family which includes hawks, eagles, buzzards, harriers and kites; however there are a number of species that of falcon and caracara which belong to the family Falconidae. Each species has its own unique habitat and feeding behaviors, but they all have one thing in common, they are the predators of the air.
The only caracaras indigenous to North America is the Crested Caracara, native to Mexico. They are commonly associated with Falcons as they are in the same family; they are the largest bird in the family, standing up to 25 inches tall and measuring four-feet from wingtip to wingtip.
There are four distinct species of eagle found in North America; Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Washington’s Eagle, and the Gray Sea-eagle. Bald Eagles are the most recognizable with their distinct white heads; they are found throughout the wildernesses of North America. They were once nearly extinct; however numerous conservation efforts have brought them back to stable numbers. Meanwhile the impressive Golden Eagle is also found throughout the continent. Standing 3 feet tall and with a 7 and ½ foot wingspan, these brilliantly colored birds are one of the largest raptors in the entire world!
A Golden Eagle glides along effortlessly in search of a meal.
With six species, Falcons make up a small but deadly percentage of the raptors of North America. Perhaps the most well known falcon is the Peregrine Falcon; weighing in at less than two pounds, this bird can reach speeds of 220 miles an hour when chasing down its prey in some of nature’s most amazing aerial displays. The Prairie Falcon is one of the largest falcons in North America and patrols the plains and fields searching for small rodents to catch. Other species of falcon include Gyrfalcon, native to the cold rocky coasts of Alaska and Canada and the Aplomado Falcon which prefers the warmer climes of Mexico and the Southern United States.
A Peregrine Falcon, the world’s fastest bird can dive bomb prey at 220 miles per hour!
The lone harrier of North America is the Northern Harrier, also known as the Marsh Hawk. With wingspans between 40 and 55 inches, these birds are found throughout the continent with the exception of the tropics or tundra and are usually a light grey color with a darker grey underbelly and black-tipped wings.
There are more than a dozen unique species of hawk that inhabit North America. Hawks are very closely related to eagles, kites, harriers and buzzards and being in the same family share many characteristics with them. Hawks however are unique because they have small, slender bodies that help them easily maneuver during flight as well as long legs and a long beak for easily tearing flesh from its prey. Some hawks commonly found throughout North America are; Broad-winged Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Common Black Hawk.
The special group of raptors called ‘Kites’ is related to both eagles and hawks, but tend to have much bigger wingspans and larger bodies. Of the five species of Kite; Hook-billed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Everglade Kite and White-tailed Kite, only the Swallow Tailed Kite is found in the Northern States, though this itself is rare. Most kites prefer the warm temperatures of the Southern United States and Mexico. Kites are also found in abundance in both Central and South America as well.
Only one Osprey lives in North America, but it is still one of continent’s largest birds.
The only osprey found in North America is known by the Latin name of Pandion Haliaetus. Mainly a fish eater, this raptor stand up to two feet tall and is usually found around rocky sea cliffs where they can stay away from predators but remain near the sea, their primary source of food.
Last but not least are the vultures; four distinct species of which live in North America. The Turkey Vulture is probably the most recognizable and widely distributed of these birds standing at nearly three feet tall and with a 7 foot wingspan and inhabiting everywhere from Mexico to Canada. The California Condor however is probably the most famous though; due to human encroachment, these birds nearly died out by the mid twentieth century. Today there are less than 400 birds alive and less than 200 in the wild.
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