Birds of prey, also called raptors, include
hawks, eagles, owls and falcons. This diverse
group of birds has a huge range of sizes and
behaviors, but the one thing most have in common
is a tendency to catch live animals to eat. Some
raptors are more likely to live near people than
others. For example, red-tailed hawks, Harris’s
hawks and great horned owls are common residents
in Tucson, Phoenix and other urban areas of Arizona.
Cooper’s hawks are also increasingly common
residents in Tucson.
Description and Habits
- Falcons are known for
their incredible speed and agility, and usually
feed on smaller birds, which they dive at and
capture in mid-air. Commonly observed falcons
in Arizona include the peregrine falcon, prairie
falcon and American kestrel. The merlin and
crested caracara are also in the falcon family.
Accipiters, such as Cooper’s and sharp-shinned
hawks, have short rounded wings and long tails
and are common forest-dwellers. They are expert
at chasing small birds through trees and catching
them mid-air. The larger northern goshawk is
an accipiter, too.
Buteos, large broad-winged hawks, including
the red-tailed hawk, common black-hawk, Harris’s
hawk and zone-tailed hawk, often catch rodents
and other prey on the ground. Buteos are usually
perch-and-wait raptors that you will commonly
see sitting on tall structures like telephone
poles, trees, signs or billboards.
Most owls fly very quietly, have excellent
eyesight, and hunt ground-dwelling or flying
animals in low light conditions or at night.
One exception in Arizona is the burrowing owl,
which is often active during the day and lives
in underground burrows that are usually created
by burrowing mammals. Arizona’s owls
include the large great horned owl and barn
owl, as well as tiny elf, pygmy and screech
Two types of eagles live in Arizona. Golden
eagles are related to buteos, but are much
larger with longer wings. They are found statewide
and usually prey upon rabbits and ducks. Bald
eagles are usually found near water and feed
primarily on fish and waterfowl, which they
hunt or scavenge.
Raptors nest in various places, including stick
nests (most buteos and eagles), ledges (some
owls and falcons), and cavities like woodpecker
holes (smaller owls and American kestrels)
or burrows (burrowing owls).
Raptors have extremely keen eyesight; the average
raptor’s vision is approximately ten
times better than a human’s.
Birds of prey are common in urban areas,
and they can be beautiful and enjoyable
to watch, as well as helpful for controlling
rodents, rabbits and birds. Raptors can
occasionally cause problems for people
when they pursue small pets or domestic
animals, nest in an inconvenient location,
leave droppings or meal remains behind,
or defend their nests when people get
too close. Urban areas can actually be
dangerous for raptors as many are injured
or killed by running into power lines,
being electrocuted by power lines, hitting
reflective windows, or being disturbed
within their nest area.
What Attracts Them?
Raptors may inhabit an area to find
food, water, shelter or the space they need
Food items, including rodents, birds, snakes,
rabbits and insects, are attractive to raptors.
Large birds of prey may also hunt small domestic
animals, including dogs, cats and chickens,
especially during raptors’ winter migration
period from September to April.
Water sources, such as fountains, pools and
birdbaths, may attract raptors because a raptor’s
prey (doves and pigeons) congregates around
bodies of water.
Shelter for raptors can include high perches
that offer a view for hunting. These perches
can be located in a tree, on a building or
tower, on a telephone or electric pole or line,
or on any other tall structure. Some raptors
build large nests of sticks high in trees,
saguaros or power distribution equipment. Cavity-nesting
raptors may seek shelter in birdhouses or holes
in trees or cacti. Barn and great-horned owls
may seek out large buildings, such as hangars
or barns, for shelter.
Raptors can be found almost anywhere, but
especially near bird feeders or farms because
prey animals are attracted to those areas.
Because raptors are protected by law, common
solutions include tolerating small disturbances,
staying away from nest sites until the
young are able to fly, and keeping small
pets inside or in enclosures with a roof.
Attempts to keep raptors off your property
may or may not be effective, and harming
a raptor will result in a large fine.
- Diving at people or pets
Raptors sometimes defend their nest or nestlings
by swooping very close to a person or pet.
- Avoid the area until the young can
fly and put up temporary barricades or
signs to warn
residents in busy areas.
- Cover your upper body with an open
umbrella to keep the animal at a distance
if the area
cannot be avoided.
- In rare situations, such as a nest
in a dangerous or high traffic area,
be possible to
have the nest removed by approved experts
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s
Bird Permit Office at (505) 248-7882.
- Bird on the ground
Young raptors spend several days on
or near the ground while learning
to fly. The young
birds may seem abandoned,
but the parents are usually within sight
watching the fledgling.
- Keep pets away.
- Leave the bird alone; the parents
it is and will feed it on the ground
until it is
able to fly.
- If the bird is sick
(fluffed up, shaking
call a wildlife rehabilitator.
- Trapped bird
If a raptor is trapped in a building, you
can take several actions.
- First, try leaving a door open and
shutting the lights off. Have people
the area for several hours or overnight.
- If the bird still doesn’t
leave, please call
Game and Fish office for assistance.
- A permit from the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife
Bird Permit Office is
needed, if you wind
up choosing to trap
and remove the bird.
- Pets and domestic animals
Raptors may be attracted to small pets
or domestic chickens
because they are similar
to the size of a raptor’s
- Always keep
small pets and
animals in a sturdy
enclosure with a roof when outside to
them safe, or stay outside
with your pets when
- Arizona raptor
April) as northern
birds arrive and
to lower elevations.
Pay close attention
to small pets during
Raptors are often injured or killed on electric
- If you find
pick it up
because of human health
live or dead raptors
you can help
an area supplied
Removal is usually not an option:
Raptors are protected by both state and
federal laws, and harassing, trapping,
killing, or even possessing bones or
feathers without the proper permits can
result in large fines. Raptors are territorial,
and moving a bird to another area may
cause it to fight with the current occupants
or just fly back using its excellent
sense of direction. Most problems are
short-term and can be resolved with tolerance
or a few small changes. Learning about
raptors is the best way to understand
how to live with them.
To prevent further problems:
- Avoid feeding doves and pigeons; feeding
can attract large numbers of doves and
pigeons, many with diseases that raptors
catch when they eat the smaller birds
or feed them to their young. Keep in mind
that bird feeders can attract raptors
because raptor prey, including birds and rodents,
are attracted to bird feeders.
- Feed pets indoors.
- Accompany small pets outdoors, especially
during the winter raptor migration months
of September through April.
- If small pets or other domestic animals
are left outside unattended, keep them
in a sturdy enclosure with a roof.
- Report electrocutions to the local
Game and Fish office and local electric companies.
- Remove nests or their support structures
only when necessary and if they do not
contain eggs or nestlings. Doing so otherwise
is a violation of federal and state laws.
- Cover reflective windows with non-reflective
cellophane, screen or a similar material
to prevent raptors and other birds from
crashing into them.
- Appreciate raptors for their natural ability
to control rodents.
- Look for products
that can be used as helpful animal deterrents.
Raptors generally do not have major disease
outbreaks because of their solitary nature; most
diseases are likely to have been carried by the
prey they ate.
- Trichomoniasis - Raptors can become sick with
trichomoniasis after eating infected doves
or pigeons. The Trichomonas protozoa cause painful
lesions in the mouth and throat area or
in other organs, and can cause deformities, swelling and
death. Nestlings are especially susceptible.
Trich is treatable, but the medicine is
expensive and not widely available. The disease is best
prevented by not feeding birds or using
birdbaths where birds can congregate and pass the disease
from one to another.
- West Nile Virus - This disease is passed to birds
by mosquitoes and is fatal in most birds,
but has not been thoroughly studied.
Aspergillosis – This is the most frequent
fungal infection in birds and is commonly
transmitted through the inhalation of fungal
under high stress with lowered immune systems
are most susceptible. Asper accumulates
in the lungs and air sacs until lowered immune
or stress triggers the chronic and often
Laws and Policies
- It is illegal to harm, trap, kill
or harass raptors, according to federal and
state laws. However, certain Commission rules
allow for the take of raptors for falconry
with the proper permit.
Raptors are protected by the federal Migratory
Bird Treaty Act,
which makes it illegal to kill, trap, possess,
trade, sell or harm them. Raptors are also
protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection
Act, the Lacey Act, the Airborne Hunting
Act, and the Convention on International
Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
Licensees must also obtain the proper permits
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bird Permit Office.
Game and Fish Department issues
licenses to qualified individuals for falconry,
wildlife rehabilitation, education, and
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