How well do you know your birds of prey?

By: Dyann Joyce
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Do you know your birds of prey? Birds of prey also referred to as raptors, can easily be identified by their hooked bills and sharp talons. They are also known for their keen eyesight. This group of birds includes various species of hawks, eagles, owls and even gulls. Take our quiz to find out if you know as much as you think you do about birds of prey!

How does a bird of prey such as a hawk, find its prey?

Birds of prey have very keen eyesight and can see animals as small as a mouse from very far away, even while flying high in the sky. Birds of prey have eyesight about five to six times better than humans. Although they can see far away, many do not see well up close.

Why do hawks have such a keen ability to see their prey from great distances?

Birds of prey have such keen eyesight because they have more photoreceptors per square millimeter in their retinas than other animals. For example, humans have about 200,000 per square millimeter and a bird of prey has about 1 million per square millimeter. They also have four types of color receptors enabling them to see the ultraviolet spectrum as well as the visible light color spectrum.

What was once a common nickname for the red-tailed hawk years ago?

Years ago, when more people kept chickens, many of those were free range chickens, meaning they roamed around openly. These free ranging chickens made easy targets for the juvenile red-tail hawks and so the nickname chicken hawk was given to them. You may remember the chicken hawk from the Saturday morning cartoons when you were a kid.

Many bird species migrate (travel distances in large groups called flocks). Hawks also are known to migrate but a group of hawks is often called something else, what is it?

When most bird species migrate in large groups it is called a flock (except for a gaggle of geese, or a rafter of domestic turkeys). While in other countries they may call it something different, in North America when hawks migrate we call them a kettle of hawks.

How long can a red-tailed hawk live in the wild?

While some species of raptor like the golden eagle can live over 30 years, the red-tail hawks can live anywhere from 10 to 15 years in the wild. The red-tail hawk, like most other species, can live longer in captivity. They reach breeding maturity at about 3 years of age.

How fast can a red-tail hawk fly when “cruising” and how fast can they dive when attacking prey?

The red-tail hawk cruises at an average speed of about 30 mph, while in their diving attacks they can reach speeds up to 120 mph. This is fast, but seems slow when compared to the speeds reached by the fastest birds of prey, like the Peregrine falcon, which can reach speeds nearing 200 mph when it dives.

How many species of eagle are there around the world?

Amazingly, there are 60 species of eagle, most of which can be found in Eurasia and Africa. Of these 60 species, only two are found in North America, while nine are known to inhabit Central and South America and three species inhabit Australia. Eagles generally populate mountainous regions.

Of the many species of eagle, which sex is the larger bird, the male or the female?

The female is always the larger bird, no matter the species of eagle. Even when they are mere hatchlings, the female is larger than the male. This is called sexual dimorphism, which also occurs in some species of flightless birds and in hummingbirds.

Eagles build large nests high up in trees or on mountainsides and cliffs. These nests are often as wide as six to eight feet to accommodate the large birds. What is an eagle’s nest called?

Eagles build their eyries high up in trees and on mountains to keep their eggs and fledglings out of the reach of predators. Besides the height, any potential predators would also have an angry momma eagle to contend with. Some of these eyries have been known to reach eight feet in diameter and weigh as much as a half ton.

Although their eyrie is built high up to discourage predators, what danger still must be faced by the male hatchling?

Many species of eagle lay two eggs but both chicks rarely survive because the females, being larger than the males even as hatchlings, will often kill the male while vying for dominance in the nest. The mother eagle doesn’t try to stop this from happening.

Besides their main diet of fish and small mammals, what else have bald eagles been known to feed on?

Bald eagles have been known to take game many times their own size. If they can’t carry it away after they kill it they will shred it and eat it on site or carry pieces back to their nest. Bald eagles have been spotted carrying deer fawns weighing as much as 15 pounds, an amazing feat to say the least.

Although not the largest of the apex predator birds of prey, what is the bald eagle noted for?

Although not the largest of the birds of prey, the bald eagle is among the largest. What it is best noted for is carrying the heaviest load of any bird. An eagle weighing 12-14 pounds was verified carrying a fawn weighing about 15 pounds. While most birds carry about half their weight the bald eagle can carry its own weight, making it the strongest.

What North American eagle species is closest in size to the American bald eagle?

The white eagle closely resembles the bald eagle in appearance but is notably smaller. The golden eagle is nearly the same body mass, weighing about one pound less, but has a wing span about an inch longer, so the golden eagle is the next closest in size to the bald eagle.

What is a North American golden eagle’s primary prey?

The bald eagle's main food source is fish, but it will eat pretty much anything it can catch. The golden eagle, on the other hand, prefers small mammals as its primary source of prey. Rabbits, hares and ground squirrels are top on its list.

What is the golden eagles' main area of habitation in the United States?

The golden eagle is the most familiar bird of prey in the Northern Hemisphere because they are the most widely populated eagle species inhabiting the Northern Hemisphere. They may claim a habitat as large as 75 square miles in size. They prefer mountainous regions and open spaces and so are more commonly seen in the Western part of the country.

How much meat does a golden eagle generally consume in one sitting?

The golden eagle typically eats about eight ounces of meat at one sitting; however it may often go for several days, up to a week before a meal. They have been known to eat as much as two pounds at one meal after having gone for days without food. This would be like a 200-pound person eating 40 pounds of food at one meal.

In what other parts of the world can the golden eagle be found?

The golden eagle can be found in many countries, on many continents in the Northern Hemisphere. They are the most populous species of eagle in the Northern Hemisphere including Eurasia, North America and certain parts of northern Africa.

The owl is also a bird of prey that is rather prolific as well, since there are what number of species of owl?

The owl is a nocturnal bird of prey. One of the most prolific birds of prey species, they are found everywhere on planet Earth except Antarctica and various isolated islands. This must be why there have to be about 200 species of this head-turning bird.

Speaking of head turning, what feature do only owls possess that give them a unique view of things?

Owls have 14 vertebrae in their neck compared to the seven that we humans have. This affords them the flexibility to rotate their heads as much as 270 degrees. There are also features in their circulatory system that affords this ability. These features combine to enable them to see what’s behind them without moving their body, which is a good thing since their eyes are fixed in their sockets.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what is the smallest species of falcon?

The Seychelles kestrel is the smallest species of falcon coming in at a mere 12 centimeters (about five inches), compared to the largest falcon which comes in at a whopping 65 centimeters (a little over three feet), a very big difference indeed.

Since owls primarily hunt at night, they have a specialized feature that allows them to fly slower and silently. What is this specialized feature?

Owls have specialized feathers, larger than other birds feathers, with fewer radiates, and a longer pennulum that create smoother edges with a different rachis structure. These features enable the owl to fly virtually silently.

How many species of falcons are there?

There are actually about 40 species of falcon. These various species of falcon are distributed all around the world except for Antarctica, although there was once a raptor in Antarctica millions of years ago that is closely related to the falcon.

Why does the golden eagle sometimes go for several days without eating?

The golden eagle only has about a 20 percent success rate when hunting. That means it misses four out of every five attempts at catching prey. Because of this, it may go several days at a time without eating. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad hunter --%0D you try grabbing a rabbit while flying by at 100 miles per hour.

What unique feature do owls possess that helps them to focus their hearing to better pinpoint prey in the darkness?

Having large forward facing eyes and ear opening, the owl has specialized feathers around its eyes that can be adjusted to focus sound into the ear. This enables the owl to pinpoint its prey in the dark, a very handy feature when it is pitch black outside and you’re trying to catch a mouse.

What is a species of bird of prey that is often found being a nuisance at the beach?

Believe it or not, sea gulls are also birds of prey. They hunt small animals and catch and kill them with their beaks. This by definition puts them in the classification as a bird of prey as any bird that uses its talons and/or beak to catch and kill its prey.

The smallest owl only weighs in at one ounce. What is the name of this smallest owl?

The smallest owl is a tiny little thing, weighing in at a mere one ounce and being only five inches tall. A more appropriate name, I cannot imagine: it is named, appropriately for its small size, the elf owl. It’s really cute too.

Of all the species of birds of prey, which species is capable of using tools?

Believe it or not again, the sea gull is a very intelligent bird and certain species have exhibited tool use. The herring gull for example has been seen using bait to catch fish. Other species of gull have communication skills and use a tactic of ganging up on trespassers to protect their eggs and hatchlings.

How many mates does the typical golden eagle take during mating season?

Golden eagles often mate for life. They will have a courtship display to gain their mate and once they have they generally come back to the same mate every year to breed. They typically build several nests (eyries) high in the air, usually on a cliff, in their territorial area and alternate between them. The female can lay up to four eggs in one breeding. Generally only one or two of the fledglings survive.

What feature do falcons have that enable them to reach greater speeds than other species of birds?

The falcon’s thin, tapered wing structure enables them to reach higher speeds than other birds because the wing design creates less drag, allowing them to slice effortlessly through the air. Sort of like a jet fighter compared to a propeller driven plane.

What is the common name for the two species of owl that weigh in as the heaviest owls?

The Eurasian eagle owl and the Blakiston’s fish owl are the two largest species of owl by weight and wing span. There is, however, one owl that is slightly larger, the great gray owl, which is taller than, but not as heavy as, the eagle owl.

Unlike other birds of prey like hawks and eagles which use their talons, how does the falcon kill its prey?

The falcon kills its prey with its beak, or more specifically, with a specialized tooth on the side of its beak that it uses to slash its prey. So really both answers 1 and 4 could be right, but it’s the tooth that allows the slashing, so the answer is the beak.

How long can the golden eagle live in the wild?

The golden eagle is actually a long living bird. There was a report of a banded bird being recovered in the wild 32 years after being released in Sweden. A specimen recovered in North America lived for nearly 24 years. The oldest known golden eagle was one kept in a zoo in Europe that lived to be 46 years old.

What are the owl’s primary sources of prey across all species except for a few species that are adapted for catching fish?

All owl species prey primarily on insects and rodents like mice, squirrels, rabbits and hares. There are a few species, however, that have adapted to also prey on fish, taking a cue from its larger cousins, the eagle.

Among all of the species, what is the largest species of falcon?

The peregrine falcon is noted as the fastest bird, but the largest falcon is the Gyrfalcon. Carmine Falcone was a character from D.C. Comics Batman series, not a bird at all. Of course the other Falcon is the "fastest ship in the galaxy," as it made the Kessel run in less than 14 parsecs.

What species of hawk is the most common in the United States?

Tony hawk rides skateboards, a tomahawk is a hatchet and the feathered hawk is not real, although all hawks have feathers. The correct answer is the red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk species in the U.S. They are easily identified by their tails, which are a brick red color.

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