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Raptor Biology, Raptor Conservation

Raptors, or birds of prey, are birds having the following three distinctive characteristics: strong grasping feet equipped with sharp talons, a hooked upper beak, and keen vision. Raptors are called birds of prey because these features allow them to be predators that hunt for their food. Many raptors are, in fact, predators. Some raptors actually hunt for and consume other birds. Other members of the group, however, eat only dead animals, called carrion. Raptors consist of two taxonomic orders of birds. The order Falconiformes is comprised of falcons, hawks, eagles, vultures, condors, and related birds of prey. Falconiformes birds are diurnal (daytime) predators. The order Strigiformes is composed of owls. Owls are also birds of prey. They are, however, nocturnal predators that are adapted to hunt primarily at night. Spectacular hunters, raptors are admired for their majestic strength. For example, eagles have often been used to symbolize dignity and magnificence on family coats of arms and national flags. The bald eagle, for example, is a national symbol for the United States, representing both strength and freedom. Despite such respect, several species of raptors have in the past been hunted to near extinction. Compounding their decline was the widespread use of organic pesticides that poisoned raptor habitats. Fortunately, conservation efforts have been successful in rebuilding some threatened populations.

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