My Life With Raptorial Birds

Generally, ones introduction to raptorial birds is in the negative vein. Chicken Hawk, Buzzard, Butcherbird, Shite-hawk, Carrion Crow, Quail Hawk, etc., all derogatory titles to describe members of this group of avian predators. Farmers wrongly believe they choose to primarily prey on their poultry; sport hunters promote the false premise that they significantly reduce the populations of those small game species (quail, rabbits, etc.) they seek to shoot themselves; and children are taught animals that kill other animals are in some sense, “bad” (of course, exempting we humans).

Red-tailed Hawk (“Chicken Hawk”)


When I was a child my Dad identified American kestrels (sparrow hawks) as “Butcherbirds,” confusing their predatory activity with the shrike ( a passerine bird that impales its insect and small rodent prey on thorns or barbed wire fences because it has no grasping talons to hold it while it feeds.) The kestrel’s practice of hovering in place while seeking prey would entice him to throw rocks at it. Later, I wondered why he’d want to protect the kestrel’s prey species (grasshopper, mice) since he set traps for mice in the garage and sprayed DDT in our vegetable garden to kill grasshoppers. I doubt he ever thought much about it.

American Kestrel (“Butcherbird”)

Kestrel 10a

Loggerhead Shrike (“Butcherbird”)

Loggerhead Shrike 5

Recently, my neighbor insisted a large oak snag be removed from the field behind our homes because it was occasionally used as a nighttime roost for a half-dozen turkey vultures that she termed ‘harbingers of death.” (The snag eventually fell in a winter storm much to her delight).

Turkey Vultures (“Buzzard”, “Carrion Crow”)

IMG_4299 (3)

My interest in birds, including raptors began early in life and increased exponentially as I studied birdlife through college. I vividly recall seeing my first bald eagle; identifying the various species of raptors in Arizona; and, later, being hired by the US Forest Service to study California condors. That work allowed me to spend a bulk of my time in the field with Fred Sibley, a Fish and Wildlife Service ornithologist who schooled me in observing and identifying many raptorial species. Red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and many others. Later, Sandy Wilbur shared these experiences with me.

California Condor


Moving on to northern Idaho I became intricately involved in the osprey populations that frequented the rivers and lakes– St. Joe, Coeur d’Alene, Pend Oreille– of that area. Although the area provided ideal habitat for this species–significant fish populations, natural and man-made nesting structures–the populations had declined due to reduced reproductive success. Becoming participant in the studies conducted by Wayne Melquist and Don Johnson of the University of Idaho, we surveyed osprey populations, banded nestlings and assessed DDT levels in the population. As the DDT levels began to decline due to the ban in 1972, reproductive success began to rise and there is currently a healthy viable population in that area, not to speak lightly of the return of nesting bald eagles, once extirpated from the area.

Osprey (“Fish Hawk”)


From Idaho I returned to California and headed up Forest Service programs to recover endangered species. None the least of these were the California condor, bald eagle, peregrine falcon and spotted owl. Here I was lucky enough to spend field time with Butch Olendorff, Dave Harlow, and Brian Walton and other pillars of the raptor community of biologists. And, then as now, my photographic efforts always highlighted raptorial bird species.

Peregrine Falcon (“Duck Hawk”)

Peregrine 10
A few species, such as the osprey, are termed circumpolar because they are found world-wide. Others are found in both North and South America and others spend the winters on one continent while spending the summers on another. In review of my photo portfolio I realized I now had images of 23 of the 33 North American raptor species and 26 found in South America and South Africa that I’ve taken on my photography excursions.

Ornate Hawk Eagle (Central America)

Ornate Hawk-Eagle 4copy

I continue to add to this collection but for now, these are my chosen images, Part One includes the North American Species and Part Two, those from other countries. Enjoy!


Part One-North American Raptors


Bald Eagle (Washington)

Bald Eagle, Seabeck, WA

Golden Eagle (California)

Golden Eagle, Clovis, CA

Red-tailed Hawk (California)


Rough-legged Hawk (Oregon)

Rough-legged Hawk 3

Red-shouldered Hawk (California)

Red-shouldered Hawk 16

Swainson’s Hawk (Texas)

Swainson's hawk 4

Harris Hawk (Texas)

Harris Hawk 1

Gray Hawk (Arizona)

Gray Hawk 7

Cooper’s Hawk (California)

Cooper's Hawk 6

Northern Goshawk (Montana)


Northern Harrier (California)


Swallow-tailed Kite (Florida)

Swallow-tailed Kite 1

White-tailed Kite (California)

Black-shouldered Kite 1

Snail Kite (Florida)

Snail Kite 1

Crested Caracara (Texas)

Northern Caracara 5

Peregrine Falcon (California)

Peregrine 12

Merlin (Oregon)

Merlin 10

American Kestrel (California)

Kestrel 15

Turkey Vulture (California)


Black Vulture (Baja)

Black Vulture 1

California Condor (California)

California Condor 2

Barn Owl (California)

Barn Owl 2

Great Gray Owl (Montana)

GGOwl 1

Burrowing Owl (Idaho)

Burrowing owl 14

Long-eared Owl (California)

Long-eared Owl 2

Pygmy Owl (California)

Pygmy Owl 10

Great Horned Owl (California)

GtHOwl 2

One response to “My Life With Raptorial Birds

  1. To tell you the truth, it is surprising that there are some people that don’t understand why birds of prey are important part of nature. A lot of times, they capture the weak and helpless, because they are in a doomed state of peril anyways. People that shoot game animals do so simply for entertainment purposes. The reality is that people choose to kill animals that will never be consumed by themselves, whereas a raptor will consume it. Also, if they don’t finish eating their prey, they’ll save it for later by caching and storing . If some people think that birds of prey are considered “pests” because they scare off songbirds at bird feeders, then they should realize what would happen if all the birds of prey suddenly got extinct. Rats would run rampant in the street and we’d have another case of the deadly “Black Plague” back in 1347. Also, if there were no Kestrels around to eat insects, we’d have too many of them overflowing from garbage cans and into peoples’ homes. There would also be another imbalance, and that’s a lack of fear from other birds. If they have nothing to fear, then they would all compete against each other and run out of food sources because they’d be grouped together consuming it all. That’s my theory on the matter, and I hope someone out there realizes that nature has amazing powers that cannot be messed with.

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