15 Facts About Raptors

Random and amazing tidbits about birds of prey.

1. Before bringing prey to its mate or young, a male sharp-shinned hawk will tear off the head and eat it.

2.  A bald eagle nest discovered in St. Petersburg, Florida was more than 9 feet in diameter and 20 feet high. Another nest in Vermilion, Ohio was formed like a wine goblet and weighed nearly two metric tons. Eagles used the nest for 34 years before the tree toppled in the wind.

3.  The peregrine falcon inhabits all continents except Antarctica.

4.  Hear the scream of a bald eagle in a movie? That’s actually the call of a red-tailed hawk. Hollywood most often uses the hawk’s shrill cry as a stand-in for the eagle’s high-pitched whistles.

5. A Cooper’s hawk will catch a smaller bird with its feet and repeatedly squeeze the prey until its dead. They’ve also been known to hold a bird underwater until it drowns.

6. The Northern hawk owl can detect a vole to eat—primarily by sight—up to a half a mile away.

7. Hunting peregrine falcons dive at more than 200 miles per hour.

8. Red-shouldered hawks are born target shooters. By the time they are five days old, nestlings can fire their feces over the edge of the nest.

9. Caribou bones and sticks have been found in nests made by rough-legged hawks.

10.  In fat years when mice are plentiful, usually monogamous Boreal owls are apt to be promiscuous. Males have been caught mating with up to three females, while females have been seen with at least one beau on the side.

11.  Researchers have discovered 400,000 year-old fossils of broad-winged hawks in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, and Puerto Rico.

12.  Some raptors “cache” food. One gyrfalcon (pronounced “JER-falcon”)was seen using a frosty dead ptarmigan like a spear of Brazilian bbq, chipping off hunks of meat to eat as it waited out winter in the Aleutian Islands.

13. Saw whet owls have been known to travel over large bodies of water. One showed up 70 miles from shore near Montauk, New York.

14. Swainson’s hawks go the distance, migrating more than 6,000 miles from Canada to Argentina—in as little as two months, averaging 124 miles per day.

15.  Barn owls swallow their prey whole—skin, bones, and all.