Birds of Prey

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A bird of prey, or raptor, is characterized as having excellent eyesight, long sharp talons, and a strong rounded beak. All are carnivorous; most hunt live prey in some capacity. Included in this classification are hawks, eagles, falcons, owls and vultures. Keen-eyed visitors to the mudflats and wetlands of Bandon Marsh NWR can reliably see various species of raptor preying on shorebirds and other wildlife throughout the year.

  • Barn Owl

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    Barn Owls are distributed throughout the country and on every continent except Antarctica. In Oregon, they are common west of the Cascades. The Barn Owl does not make a nest; instead it finds hollow tree cavities, barns, bridges, and cliff recesses to raise its brood. Keen of sight and hearing, Barn Owls swoop soundlessly upon their prey with piercing talons and beak, usually swallowing them whole; afterward they regurgitate gory little pellets comprising the animal's indigestible bone and hair. With its heart-shaped face, ghostly tan-and-ivory plumage, and startlingly abrasive cry, Barn Owls are an ethereal and unmistakable presence in coastal habitats.

  • Northern Pygmy-owl

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    Despite being one of North America’s smallest owls, this sparrow-sized predator is no featherweight. Agile passerines and small mammals make up the bulk of its prey, and the Northern Pygmy-owl isn’t shy about nabbing birds right off backyard feeders, in broad daylight. They range across much of the continent’s western edge, from southern Mexico to northern British Columbia. In Nestucca Bay’s forests, listen for the Pygmy-owl’s hollow, high-pitched hooting, at intervals so regular as to be almost metronomic—or if you’re lucky enough to espy one, look for the deceptive “eyespots” at the back of its head, thought to deter behind-the-back predation.

  • Red-tailed Hawk

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    The Red-tailed Hawk is a broad-winged raptor found in open spaces everywhere, perched on fenceposts or telephone poles or soaring high in wide, insouciant circles in search of their small mammalian prey. Their piercing cry is made famous by countless Hollywood depictionsthough films almost always pair the recording with raptors other than a red-tail. Of all North American birds of prey, Red-tailed Hawks seem best suited to sharing space with humans: they readily use—and in fact thrive upon—our cleared land and towering infrastructure, and appear unfazed by our species' inexorable spread.

  • Bald Eagle

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    The Bald Eagle is resident throughout North America and can be found in almost every region of Oregon. With their distinctive white head and yellow beakand incongruous, tittering callthese enormous birds stand out. The Bald Eagle's wingspan can reach up to eight feet across, and its disheveled stick-built nest can weigh more than a ton. Listed as an endangered species until 2007, Bald Eagles are increasing in number across the country, becoming almost plentiful in some areas. The eagle's diet is primarily fish, but can include rodents, small mammals, and other birds.

  • Osprey

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    Osprey are a truly cosmopolitan species, occurring in a broad latitudinal swath around the world. In the United States, Osprey breed in forested areas from Alaska to Newfoundland and down to the Southwestern states, and from the Atlantic coast south to Florida. Look for their unkempt nests of twigs and branches piled atop trees, utility poles or similar such scaffolds near water. Like other raptors, Osprey use their sharp talons to catch prey. But unlike any other North American raptor, these birds are almost entirely piscivorous. They hunt over shallow bodies of water and dive feet-first to snatch fish from the surface. Identify Osprey overhead by the noticeable kink in their wings; watch as they scan the water's surface for telltale ripples before a dive.

  • Turkey Vulture

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    Turkey Vultures are a common sight along the Oregon coast in spring and summer, soaring high on thermals or perched on sea stacks, wings spread to the warming sun. Almost purely scavengers, these iron-stomached birds feed on a wide variety of inert flesh, from pinniped afterbirths and seabird eggs to roadkill and washed-up whale carcasses. A singular trait of Turkey Vultures is their sharp sense of smell, enabling them to home in on malodorous carrion from incredible distances.

  • Merlin

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    Merlins are dun-colored falcons whose petite size belies their formidable hunter's prowess. Picture the approximate dimensions of a pigeon and imagine every passerine and shorebird even marginally smaller than that: these are the Merlin's prey. Watch for their quick and powerful wingbeats as they strafe shorelines and fields, scattering smaller birds helter-skelter in pursuit of a hapless idler. Unlike the similarly-proportioned American Kestrel, Merlins lack distinctive facial stripes and are far more inclined to eat birds than bugs or mammals.

  • Peregrine Falcon

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    Once an endangered species—imperiled chiefly by DDT, like so many birds of preythese falcons have recovered well, and can be found on every continent but Antarctica. Peregrines use cliff ledges near water to build their nests, called "aeries". In cities they'll use window ledges, a testament to their adaptability. Peregrine Falcons prey primarily on other birds, but will take rodents and fish as well. Famously known as the fastest animal in the world, Peregrines can strike prey at speeds of 200 miles per hour. A pair of Peregrine Falcons can be seen at Cape Meares NWR from the viewing decks located within the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport also hosts nesting pairs on its coastal rocks and islands.

    Learn more about these swift hunters here