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Birds of prey

A lanner falcon from South Africa, about to seize its prey Birds of prey include eagles, falcons, kites, buzzards, harriers, hawks, vultures and the osprey. Often called raptors from the Latin word rapere, to seize, they are all meat-eating birds, with sharp, hooked beaks for tearing flesh and strong talons for gripping or killing prey. They swoop down through the air, often at very high speeds, on to their prey: small mammals, other birds, reptiles, insects or fish. Most birds of prey, especially the vultures, also eat carrion. Birds of prey have excellent long-distance vision, and hunt during the day.

Common buzzard, Europe and Asia, 40–58 cm (16–23 inches) long, with a 109–136 cm (43–54 inch) wingspan
Golden eagle, Europe, North America, Asia, wingspan of 2.3 m (7 ft 6 inches)


Eagles are large birds of prey. They build their nests, called eyries, in trees or up cliffs, returning to the same nest each year. Most eagles feed on mammals or other birds, except for the fish-eating sea eagles, which feed on fish, and the snake eagles which eat reptiles. They usually grab their prey without landing then carry it to a perch where they tear it apart. All eagles have excellent eyesight and can spot their prey from a great distance, whether it be in the mountains, over the sea or in a rainforest.


Harris's hawk, from the Americas, is the only bird of prey that hunts in family groups. This enables it to kill larger prey than would otherwise be possible.

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