The largest is bird of prey is the Andean condor, weighing almost 30 pounds and with a wingspan that can stretch to more than 10 feet! Click on the icons below to learn where birds of prey live, what they eat, how they hunt and how they reproduce. You can even pet them in Zoobooks Virtual Zoo!
Most birds of prey are falcons, eagles, hawks, or vultures. There are about 420 different kinds of birds of prey, a name which describes their lives as predators. The smallest is the Bornean falconet, which weighs about one ounce and is less than six inches long. The largest is the Andean condor, weighing almost 30 pounds and with a wingspan that can stretch to more than 10 feet!
All birds of prey, except for vultures, catch their food. Usually, a bird swoops down and tries to grab the prey with sharp talons. Some birds can dive at speeds of 80 miles per hour. When the prey is caught, the force of impact and the piercing talons are usually enough to kill the prey instantly. A harpy eagle has talons as big as the claws of a grizzly bear, and can carry away a small sheep; barn owls have delicate talons good for taking rats, mice, and other small animals. But 9 out of 10 attacks are unsuccessful, and the prey gets away. Vultures don’t have to worry about catching their prey; they feed on animals they find already dead.
The kinds of prey taken vary as much as the birds themselves. The Everglades kite likes to probe the insides of snail shells; some eat only insects and small animals. Many take rats, mice, and rabbits, doing much to keep down the populations of these potential pests. Some, like bald eagles, prefer fish. Even larger animals can be taken by some birds of prey, and the birds’ interest in domestic animals can sometimes put them in jeopardy.
There is evidence that some birds of prey, like golden eagles and condors, mate for life. The female will lay between one and four eggs, staying with the nest while the male provides food. Eagles will return to the same nest year after year, adding nesting material to it each time, so that the nests can grow to a really amazing size. One nest in Scotland, used for continuously for 45 years, was 20 feet high, 9-1/2 feet wide, and weighed more than 4,000 pounds. Other birds of prey, like the tiny elf owl, make nests less conspicuous, sometimes hidden inside a cactus.
Birds of prey live on every continent and in every habitat of the world. They live in dense tropical jungles and scorching deserts, on rocky seacoasts and grassy plains, and high on the world? tallest mountains. Many, like peregrine falcons, have adjusted to the city’s encroachment on their world—they live atop skyscrapers as though they were the rims of canyons, diving after the pigeons that live below.
Some birds of prey are doing wonderfully. Peregrine falcons and barn owls are two examples of birds who have adapted well to an increasing human presence. Other species are less fortunate. The California condor, a bird that existed before recorded history, battles extinction because it is shot at and eats poisoned bait meant for other animals. In order to save them, the few birds remaining in the mid 1980’s were taken into captivity. In zoos they managed to reproduce and now are being reintroduced to areas like the Grand Canyon. The range of the bald eagle is also increasing, although not nearly what it was decades ago. If enough open space is left, there is still hope for birds of prey.