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  • In general raptors are swift, capable and agile flyers.
    • Bateleur eagles (Terathopius ecuadatus) get their common name from the French word "bateleur", which means tumbler. These birds demonstrate amazing feats of flight. During courtship displays, bateleur eagles accomplish spectacular dives and even 360° lateral rolls.
    • Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) usually fly low and pounce suddenly on prey such as birds and rabbits.
    • Red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) can swoop down from a perch to catch prey or hover in one spot by flapping against a breeze before diving after a prey animal.
  • Most eagles are large in size with a wingspan around 1.8 m (6 ft.). The American harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) has a wingspan up to 2.4 m (8 ft.).
  • From high altitudes peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) dramatically dive, or stoop, at birds with their wings nearly closed. Peregrines are the fastest diving birds on the planet and can stoop at least 290 kph (180 mph).
  • Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) have an enormous wingspan more than 3 m (10 ft.) in length.
    • Condors fly effortlessly for hundreds of miles in search of food. They do so by efficiently riding thermal currents.
    • Some condors have been seen gliding at 4,472 m (15,000 ft.).


  • Some raptors such as golden eagles and owls have feathers that extend down their legs and toes.
  • Owls have soft, dense and specialized plumage.
    • Owl feathers are specially adapted for silent hunting. The fringed flight feathers are coated with down on the leading, trailing, and upper surfaces to deaden the noise of flight.
    • Owls are able to surprise prey except those with sensitive hearing.
    • Owls have tightly-packed facial feathers that act as a parabolic disc to trap sound much like cupped hands do around human ears.
    • Flaps of skin around a barn owl's ears form "outer ears" which are hidden by feathers.
  • Peregrine falcons have a black "mask" of feathers around their faces. The black feathers may help to absorb light, thus reducing glare from the ground. This would help these birds to better identify prey below them.
  • Many vultures lack feathers around their faces. Such feathers would become matted with blood as the vulture pushed its head into a carcass.


  • Raptors generally have sharp, hook-shaped beaks used to rip and tear apart the flesh of their prey.
  • Many falcons (family Falconidae) have "tomial teeth" - cutting edges on the upper bill that match grooves on the lower bill.
  • If a human dove as fast as peregrine falcons, he or she would not be able to breathe. Peregrines therefore have special adaptations in their nostrils that allow them to dive and breathe at such fast descents.
    • Each nostril contains a rod and two fins behind it. As air rushes past the nostrils, the flow is broken up and slowed by the rods and fins. This makes breathing less of an effort.
    • Other fast diving raptors share this similar adaptation.

Talons & Feet

  • Raptors generally have extremely sharp, non-retractable talons that are used to seize and tear prey.
  • Red-tailed hawks usually deliver a death blow to a prey animal with their talons. Other raptors, such as peregrine falcons, use a combination of their talons and their beak to kill a prey animal.
  • Red-tailed hawks also have feet equipped with rough, bulging pads to facilitate the capture of food.
  • White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) descend upon a carcass once it is discovered. They plant their feet into the remains and pull apart the flesh with their beaks.
  • Owls have zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes point forward and two toes point backwards.
  • Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are the only birds of prey known that have reversible front toes. This allows an osprey to more easily fly down and grasp slippery fish with their talons.


  • Birds have specialized bones that are usually lightweight with many of them being hollow. Lightweight bones allow for greater flying abilities.
  • The feathers of an adult bald eagle weigh more than their bones.
  • Owls have more neck vertebrae than humans and are able to move their heads horizontally 270°, and completely twist their heads upside-down 180°..