Photo by George Andrejko
Raptor Management Program
Raptors are birds of prey that have talons (claws) and beaks specially designed to capture prey and tear flesh. The term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere,” which means to snatch, grab, or carry off. This is an appropriate term for an animal that hunts their food while in flight. Common groupings for raptors in North America include: accipiters, eagles, falcons, kites, hawks, harriers, ospreys, owls, and vultures.
These groups share many things in common. First, they are all raptors, or birds of prey. They descend from a common ancestor, the Archaeopteryx, which inhabited the earth 140 million years ago. They are also terminal predators. They eat a variety of animals that range in size from insects (i.e. American kestrel) to newborn deer (i.e. golden eagle), and scavenge on the largest of animals (i.e. California condor). Finally, as top predators and habitat specialists, they share common threats to their status and existence on this planet.
Over the past 70 years, raptor populations have declined in North America. The most common cause for the decline is the post-World War II use of the pesticide DDT. Exact raptor population numbers were largely unknown before the use of DDT, so the precise impact the chemical had on the abundance of each species remains unclear. But by 1972, the federal government realized the cause of the dwindling raptor numbers and banned the use of the pesticide in North America. Ultimately, species such as the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle had such low numbers that they needed the added protection of the Endangered Species Act to recover. Other raptor populations stabilized after the ban without the need of added protections. Some continue to remain low, while others have rebounded due to intensive management programs. However, questions remain about many species’ ability to recover in an ever changing environment.
This changing environment is due, in part, to the expansion of the human population, metropolitan areas, and the resources needed to meet new demands. As growth infringes upon habitat, aspecies must: 1) adapt to the new environment, 2) concentrate in the remaining habitat outside the developed areas, or 3) abandon the habitat where they were historically present.
Arizona has a wide range of habitat types that support a variety of raptor species. Ranging in elevation from the San Francisco Peaks at 12,500 feet to the lower Colorado River basin at 75 feet, vegetation characteristics range from mixed conifer forests to the lowest desert biomes. This variety offers the opportunity for many raptor species to breed and winter throughout the state. Forty-four raptor species have been documented in Arizona, of which 37 breed annually. Four species are federally-listed as threatened or endangered, and 13 are identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (Tier 1a and 1b). Two species that have been extirpated from Arizona include the aplomado falcon and the California condor (both of which are now being reintroduced into New Mexico and northern Arizona, respectively), The cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl is in danger of disappearing from Arizona, while the short-tailed hawk is a recent natural arrival.
All North American raptors are protected by federal and state laws including (depending on the species): the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Airbourne Hunting Act, and various state statutes. The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Raptor Management Program was developed to address the management and monitoring needs of this unique group of bird species. In addition to addressing the threats to population numbers and species occurrence, the Raptor Management Program assists with the incorporation of raptor conservation measures in development projects and urban expansion, and regulates sport falconry.
During the winter months in Arizona, many raptor species visit the metropolitan areas during their migration. This causes concern for some residents and excitement for others who do not normally see these large birds in their neighborhoods the rest of the year. To answer questions about raptors living in your community, visit Living with Raptors
- Forty-four species of raptors occur in Arizona, and 37 breed in the state. To learn more about an individual species or see pictures, visit Raptor Species.
- Falconry is the sport of using a trained raptor for the pursuit of prey. The Arizona Game and Fish Department regulates the use of North American raptors in hunting through various federal and state laws, and Arizona Game and Fish Commission Rules and Orders. Click here for more information on sport falconry in Arizona.
- The Arizona Game and Fish Department also is currently engaged in research, monitoring and management activities for several raptor species. To learn more, visit Raptor Management Projects.