Most of the time, when we spot a Raptor in Michigan, it ends up being a silhouette of the bird flying overhead or soaring. Sometimes we get lucky and get a close enough view of the bird, to observe colors and distinct markings. So we put together an updated silhouette ID sheet for Michigan Raptors.
It is a great way to start to become familiar with what Raptors are in the area, allowing us to get closer and actually see the details of these magnificent birds. Michigan has seen an big increase in Raptors these last few years. At Stony Creek Metro Park HIKING Trails, there was an Eagles nest and a Osprey nest withing a 1/2 mile of one another.
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as any bird that kills its prey with its talons. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh. In most cases, the females are considerably larger than the males. The term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere” (meaning to seize or take by force) and may refer informally to all birds of prey, or specifically to the diurnal group.
The diurnal birds of prey are formally classified into five families:
- Accipitridae: hawks, eagles, buzzards, harriers, kites and Old World vultures
- Pandionidae: the Osprey (sometimes classified as subfamily Pandioninae of the previous family)
- Sagittariidae: the Secretary Bird
- Falconidae: falcons and caracaras
- Cathartidae: New world vultures including condors.
The nocturnal birds of prey – the owls – are classified separately as members of two extant families of the order Strigiformes:
- Strigidae: (typical owls)
- Tytonidae: (barn and bay owls).
Types of Birds of Prey
* Eagles tend to be large birds with long, broad wings and massive feet. Booted eagles have legs and feet feathered to the toes and build very large stick nests.
* Ospreys, a single species found worldwide that specializes in catching fish, and builds large stick nests.
* Kites have long wings and relatively weak legs. They spend much of their time soaring. They will take live vertebrate prey but mostly feed on insects or even carrion.
* The true Hawks are medium-sized birds of prey that usually belong to the genus Accipiter (see below). They are mainly woodland birds that hunt by sudden dashes from a concealed perch. They usually have long tails for tight steering.
* Buzzards are medium-large raptors with robust bodies and broad wings, or, alternatively, any bird of the genus Buteo (also commonly known as “hawks” in North America).
* Harriers are large, slender hawk-like birds with long tails and long thin legs. Most use a combination of keen eyesight and hearing to hunt small vertebrates, gliding on their long broad wings and circling low over grasslands and marshes.
* Vultures are carrion-eating raptors of two distinct biological families, each occurring in only the Eastern Hemisphere (Accipitridae) or the Western (Cathartidae). Members of both groups have heads either partly or fully devoid of feathers.
* Falcons are small to medium-size birds of prey with long pointed wings. Unlike most other raptors, they belong to the Falconidae, rather than the Accipitridae. Many are particularly swift flyers. Instead of building their own nests, falcons appropriate old nests of other birds, but sometimes they lay their eggs on cliff ledges or in tree hollows. Caracaras are a distinct subgroup of the Falconidae unique to the New World, and most common in the Neotropics – their broad wings, naked faces and appetites of a generalist suggest some level of convergence with either the Buteos or the vulturine birds, or both.
* Owls are variable-sized, typically night-specialized hunting birds. They fly with extremely little audible turbulence due to special feather structure and have particularly acute hearing.
Download our recently updated Michigan Raptors silhouette sheets here: