Raptors

Bald Eagle Flying 512

Raptors are at the top of the food chain, in more than one way. They soar high over the refuge or glide low over the meadows and wetlands looking for vertebrates that they can catch and kill with their large curved beaks and their sharp curved talons (or claws). They often kill and eat prey larger than themselves. The Eagles, falcons, hawks hunt during the day mostly, while the owls generally (but not always) hunt at night. Both use their keenly developed sense of sight to spot prey from a distance and swope down upon them, grabbing them with sharp claws.

  • Eagles

    Bald Eagle Juv 150

    Of the more than 60 species of Eagles in the world, only 2 are found in the United States, the Bald Eagle, commonly found in the refuge, and the Golden Eagle, which is not so common. These are large birds with thick beaks, and large sharp claws able to kill prey often much larger than themselves. The Bald Eagle mainly eats fish and some rodents, both of which are plentiful at the refuge. Their nest is the largest of any bird in North America; it is used repeatedly over many years and with new material added each year may eventually be as large as 13 ft deep, 8.2 ft across and weigh 1 ton);The eagles migrate south to warmer climes in winter. Read More about Bald Eagles Read More about Golden Eagles.

    Learn More
  • Hawks

    Hawk Swainsons Curious 150

    The most common hawk in the United States and the refuge is the Red-tailed hawk. Another common hawk here is the Swainson's Hawk. Swainson's Hawk is probably the longest migrant of any North American raptor. The flight from here to South American pampas in southern Brazil or Argentina can be as long as 14,000 miles. Hawks have excellent eye-sight and hunt small rodents, fish, snakes and insects, like grasshoppers. The hawks have 1 million retinal receptors per square millimeter compared to 200,000 for humans. Rarer hawks that can be found occasionally in the refuge include the Cooper's hawk, the Sharp shinned hawk, the northern goshawk, the Ferruginous hawk and the Rough-legged hawk. 

    Read more about specific hawks on WikiPedia:
    Swainson's Hawk
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Northern Harrier

     

    Learn More
  • Falcons

    Peregrine Falcon Thumbnail

    The refuge is home to a few falcons. Adult falcons have thinly tapered wings, which enable them to fly at high speed and to change direction rapidly. The Peregrine falcon which can be seen occasionally in the refuge have been recorded diving at speeds of 200 miles per hour making them the fastest moving animal on earth! They are able to see more than 2.5 times more clearly than humans. The falcons at the refuge include the small American Kestrel, the Peregrine falcon, the Prairie falcon and the merlin. The falcons typically eat smaller birds and rodents. The American Kestrel eats grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice, and voles.

    Learn More
  • Osprey

    Osprey male 150

    The Osprey is a large "bird of prey" living near water and eats fish exclusively. It is not a common bird in the refuge but is seen here occasionally. The Osprey and owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish. Ospreys have vision that can detect underwater objects from the up to 130 feet above the water. It hovers momentarily then plunges feet first into the water dragging its prey from the water. The Ospreys winter either in South America or Florida or California. They mate for life. Read more about the Osprey on WikiPedia.

    Learn More
  • Owls

    Owl short eared 150

    Owls are usually nocturnal. In the refuge, the most common owl is the Great Horned owl who nests in the surrounding forest areas and the Short-eared owl who nests on the ground in the meadow habitats. The Great Horned owl eats almost anything that moves that isn't a large mammal. The short-eared owl tends to fly only feet above the ground in open fields and grasslands until swooping down upon its mouse or vole prey feet-first. It is in competition with the Northern Harrier which shares the same habitat. The Long-eared owl, the Great Gray Owl, the Burrowing owl and the Northern Saw-whet owl can also be found occasionally on the refuge.

    BACK to Birds Section

    Learn More