Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most common and widespread birds of prey in North America. In Central Oregon, they typically can be found in open fields or perching on telephone poles or tall trees. They are primarily a sit-and-wait predator, which means they find a perch on which to stand while they search the ground for prey. Their main sources of food include mice and other small to medium-sized mammals; birds; reptiles; amphibians; arthropods; and carrion. This hawk also can be seen soaring in slow circles, rust colored tail on display.
Because of the large range of habitats in which Red-tailed Hawks live, up to 16 subspecies have been recognized by different authorities. These subspecies have different coloration on their abdomen, unique tail markings, and a variety of sizes.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey Vultures can be found in Oregon from spring to fall. They are widespread across the rest of the United States and South America. They are almost exclusively scavengers, and feed on roadkill and other carrion. Their highly developed sense of smell allows this raptor to find food relatively far away or hidden beneath a forest cover. Turkey Vultures prefer to live in farmland with both pasture and forested areas to roost, nest, and perch. They often nest in abandoned buildings and hollow trees, on the side of cliffs, and in dark patches near boulders. When they fly, their wings make a slight V shape. They can be seen soaring in tight, wobbly circles above an animal carcass.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Golden Eagles are one of the world’s largest predatory birds. They can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, and have made their way into folklore due to their vast range. When they nest, these raptors establish a territory 10-20 square miles in size, defending that area from other Golden Eagles through the nesting season. This territory is only acquired when the eagle becomes at least four years old. They build their nests out of sticks, and maintain those nests as a part of courtship. Pairs of Golden Eagles usually raise 1-3 young each year. However, when prey is scarce, females will refrain from laying eggs, and can thus skip raising young. Their diet mainly contains medium-sized birds and mammals, but can also include carrion, livestock, and large birds.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Along lakes, ponds, and rivers, Ospreys can be seen gliding in circles and waiting to see a fish. Once their prey is spotted, they will dive feet first towards the fish, and emerge with a fish between their talons. Though fish are their main source of food, Ospreys can thrive off of many different species of fish. Thus, they can occupy habitats anywhere from salt marshes to mangrove swamps to lakes. Ospreys can only access fish in the top meter of water, so they tend to nest in areas with shallow waters. They often build nests atop nest platforms, telephones, trees, and cliffs. As people moved closer into this raptor’s habitat, they began to favor nesting in artificial structures over natural ones.
In the mid-1900s, Osprey populations rapidly declined, with as many as 90% of nesting pairs in certain areas disappearing due to pesticide usage. However, thanks to conservation efforts in the late-1900s, the Osprey population has recovered, and serves as a hallmark for the positive impact wildlife conservation can create.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Bald Eagles are one of the most recognizable raptors, with a brown body and a white head and tail. They are opportunistic foragers, meaning they eat a variety of different animals depending on what the habitat offers. Their prey can include mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish. It prefers to scavenge and pirate food from other birds, and will only catch and kill its own prey as a last resort.
This raptor typically breeds in forested areas adjacent to lakes, rivers, and other large bodies of water. In more developed areas, Bald Eagles will nest farther from the shoreline than in less developed areas. This occurs due more to necessity than preference.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
American Kestrels are the smallest and most common falcon in North America. They are drawn to human-modified areas like pastures, parkland, and urban areas. They hunt mostly from perches or by hovering. Once they spot an arthropod or small vertebrate, they dive to the ground and capture it. They nest in cavities made by other species like woodpeckers, or natural cavities in trees, crevices between rocks, and nooks in buildings. These cavities have become difficult for the raptor to find, so they have begun to favor artificial nest boxes. The plumage of American Kestrels vary greatly between individuals. Females of this species are about 10% larger than males, and have different coloring.
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
Northern Harriers are found in tundras, grasslands, shrublands, agricultural fields, and marshes. They build their nests on the ground in dense clumps of grasses or other vegetation. They nest both alone and in loose colonies. During nesting season, females take care of eggs and offspring and males provide food. They glide low to the ground to capture their prey, which consists of small- to medium-sized mammals and birds. They rely on auditory and visual cues to hunt, rather than solely visual. During the winter months, Northern Harriers roost communally on the ground. Though their population has declined in recent decades, they are not federally recognised as endangered or threatened.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
Sharp-shinned Hawks are widespread across North America. Their preferred habitat is a forest, whether it be deciduous, coniferous, or mixed pine-hardwood. Their nests are often found in densely vegetated areas inaccessible to humans. Due to this and their secretive nature, they are seldom observed. They forage in the upper canopy of forests for songbirds, small mammals, and insects. They frequently nest in conifers, choosing a similar location each season. To construct a nest, both males and females gather materials, but only females actually build the nest.
Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Cooper’s Hawks can be found in deciduous and mixed-deciduous forests, as well as in urban and suburban areas. They are about the size of a crow. They feed on medium-sized birds and mammals that dwell in shrubs and grasses along the ground. Their primary prey includes doves, jays, robins, chipmunks, and other rodents.
In the mid-1900s, populations of Cooper’s Hawks declined rapidly due to trapping, hunting, and pesticide contamination. In the late-1900s they were recognized as endangered or threatened by many states. However, these designations were rescinded when the breeding populations of Cooper’s Hawks were found to have recovered.
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainson)
Swainson’s Hawks are migratory birds, traveling more than 10,000 km from Canada to South America between summer and winter. They are found in Central Oregon only during migration. They migrate and forage in flocks numbering in the thousands. During breeding-season, this raptor eats rodents, rabbits, and reptiles; outside of breeding season they almost exclusively eat insects like grasshoppers. Their habitat primarily includes grasslands, shrublands, and wide-open woodlands. Due to a decline in prey and an increase in pesticide usage, populations of Swainson’s Hawks have significantly declined in the past 50 years.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Found in a vast variety of habitats, the Peregrine Falcon is one of the most widely distributed warm-blooded terrestrial vertebrates in the world. They can thrive in habitats from forests to deserts, grasslands to mountains. Their food sources vary with the habitat; they prey on many different birds, bats, and rodents. Their style of hunting, however, is uniform. While perched, they search for prey. When they find something, they dive to grab it with their talons. Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of up to 200 mph while in a dive, making them the fastest animal on earth.
In the mid-1900s, Peregrine Falcon populations decreased due to pesticide usage. In the 1970s they were federally protected in the United States, and the pesticides that harmed them were almost entirely banned. Peregrine Falcon populations have now made a recovery in the United States.
Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)
Dry environments like cliffs, bluffs, and open plains in western North America are often home to Prairie Falcons. They feed on medium-sized desert mammals and birds, especially ground squirrels. When ground squirrels are not available, these raptors will leave their nesting area in search of other food. They nest in cliffs, often shared with other species like Common Ravens and Red-Tailed Hawks. Because they thrive in desert areas, droughts have little impact on their populations.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Great Horned Owls have adapted to survive in all habitats except arctic and alpine regions. It thrives in deserts, grasslands, suburban areas, and forests alike. Their vast range of habitat leads them to prey on a diverse range of animals and nest in a variety of sights. They are usually nocturnal hunters, but sometimes hunt during daylight as well. They are perch-and-pounce hunters, which means they sit and wait until they spot prey, then attack. Their prey includes scorpions, small mammals, hares, ducks, and geese. They can turn their head up to 180 degrees, and have large eyes with pupils that can open widely to enable night vision.
Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)
Western Screech-Owls are common along the Pacific Coast. They prefer to live in low-elevation woodlands and deserts, nesting in tree cavities excavated by primarily woodpeckers. As human development has spread, however, Western Screech-Owls increasingly began to favor nest boxes. When they nest, the male provides the food while the female incubates and cares for the young. These Owls are tolerant of humans, often hunting or nesting in suburban parks. Their diet consists of small animals like rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and macroinvertebrates.