IGP0641Perhaps you have seen one swooping through your backyard on a quiet afternoon as you stand at your back door, or maybe there was one perched high in a tree, calling to its mate that caught your attention. Maybe it was the bird skimming across the surface of the lake that extended its legs into the water and came up with a fish in its talons. Either way, the beauty of a hawk or eagle has captured your eye as you have enjoyed wildlife nearby.

Raptors are important birds in a balanced ecosystem and are often more common than we realize. As carnivores, they are at the top of their food chain, eating rodents large and small, and insects, while others prefer birds, fish, lizards, and snakes.

Raptors are birds, both diurnal and nocturnal, that typically catch their prey with their sharp talons and use their beak to kill that prey. While there are other birds that are also carnivores (herons eating fish or robins eating worms), these other birds use only their beaks to capture their food.


The most common raptors in our area are Red-tail hawks that tend to hunt over open fields or yards and nest on the edges of the wooded areas; Red-shouldered hawks (slightly smaller than red-tails) that like more wooded areas and tend to be the ones typically calling to one another in our neighborhoods; and Coopers hawks with their long tails that visit our feeders or might be seen chasing other birds. Bald eagles are also common around Lake Robinson as their favorite food is fish.

Do not forget about nocturnal visitors to the neighborhood. While we rarely see one of these raptors, they are excellent night hunters with their silent flight and extraordinary eyesight. Great-horned owls, Barred owls, and Screech owls are all common to our area. Great-horned owls are the largest of our owls and are known to eat small raccoons, skunks, and rabbits. Barred owls are the night raptors you are most likely to hear with their “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoot between mated pairs. And we cannot forget the small Screech owl who only really screeches when it is in danger but has a more common trill-like hoot.

The things you can do to encourage these amazing animals to hang around the area is encouraging a habitat that includes both live and dead trees, open and wooded spaces, and clean water sources. Nature will take care of the rest in providing them with the rodents, insects, birds, and fish that they require for their prey sources.

If you would like to learn more about raptors, visit carolinaraptorcenter.org or make a trip to Huntersville, NC to Carolina Raptor Center at the Latta Nature Preserve where you will see live raptors common to the Carolinas as well as those from other parts of the world.


Written by: Ruth Pollow.
Ruth lives locally and has volunteered at Carolina Raptor Center for more than 20 years in both the education/resident bird area as well as the medical center. She rescues and transports injured birds from the Upstate area to the Center for medical care and occasionally brings birds back to the Upstate for release.

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