Raptor Resources: Frequently Asked
Questions about Raptors.
This FAQ page was provided by the Alaska Raptor
Center, and the views and commentary are as written
by that author.
©2004 Alaska Raptor Center
All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.
What is a raptor?
Raptors are "birds of prey" - meat-eating
birds that hunt for their food.
What adaptations does a bird have that makes
it a "raptor"?
There are three main characteristics all raptors share.
strong feet with sharp talons
a hooked, sharp beak.
What are the two main groups of raptors?
Diurnal raptors and nocturnal raptors. Diurnal raptors
hunt during the day and include eagles, hawks, falcons
and kites. Nocturnal raptors hunt at night, and include
How many species of raptors are there?
There are 320 species of diurnal raptors (hawks, eagles,
falcons, kites, harriers and osprey) worldwide. There
are 71 species of eagles and 200 species of owls worldwide.
In the United States, there are 34 diurnal raptor species
and 19 species of owls.
How many species of eagles are there in Alaska?
There are two species - bald and golden eagles - found
in the United States, including Alaska. Occasionally,
Steller's sea eagles have been sighted in Alaska, but
they usually are out of their range, as they are not
indigenous to the state.
Are birds of prey intelligent?
Birds of prey have very strong instincts and are very
good hunters. Each has his own personality, just as
Can a raptor turn its head all the way around?
Owls can turn their head about ¾ of the way around
(270 degrees). This is because they have 14 vertebrae
that are loosely connected, making their necks more
flexible (humans, for example, have only seven vertebrae
in their necks.) Eagles also have fourteen vertebrae
in their necks, and can turn their heads about 210 degrees.
Do raptors mate for life?
Raptors form lasting pair bonds and are considered monogamous
- which means they have one mate. However, researchers
are working to determine whether it's actually the mate
or the nest site that holds the strongest loyalty. Both
birds may be strongly bonded to a nest site where they
have had success in breeding, and, as a result, both
birds return to that site year after year and mate with
each other. Each season the pair bond is reestablished.
If one of the pair dies, the other often will take a
Can birds get diseases from humans and vice
No. There are diseases that can be transmitted from
birds to people, especially if a person has a compromised
immune system. These include salmonellosis, aspergillosis
and psittacosis. Birds who come to the Alaska Raptor
Center with these diseases are kept in isolation, away
from contact with humans.
What is the punishment for killing an eagle
or for possessing parts (including feathers) of an eagle
The Bald Eagle Protection Act authorizes a maximum criminal
fine of $100,000 and up to five years in prison per
How many feathers does a bald eagle have?
The bald eagle has 7,192 feathers.
Are there other raptor centers elsewhere?
Yes, there are raptor centers located throughout North
America. In Alaska, the Alaska Raptor Center is the
primary treatment center for bald eagles.
Is there a bounty on eagles in Alaska?
Until 1952, there was a bounty on bald eagles that ranged
from $.50 to $2.00 per bird. This was put in place because
eagles were thought to compete with fishermen. During
the bounty years, more than 100,000 bald eagles were
turned in, but even with this kind of persecution, the
Alaskan population of bald eagles never has been endangered.
How did bald eagles become endangered in the
In the lower 48, DDT, heavy metal poisoning and loss
of habitat nearly wiped out bald eagle populations.
By the time DDT was banned in 1972, there were fewer
than 450 breeding pairs left in the continental United
States. The bald eagle was added to the Endangered Species
List in 1978 and was removed from that list and downlisted
to threatened in July 1999. Now, the bald eagle population
is estimated to be about 100,000, with half of those
found in Alaska.
What happens to the eagles (and other birds)
that can't be released at your Center?
Some non-releasable bald eagles are placed in captive
breeding facilities around the country. The offspring
of these eagles then are released to help restore wild
populations. Other non-releasable birds are placed in
zoos and other educational organizations to help educate
the public about raptors.
What are some common injuries treated at the
Alaska Raptor Center?
Common injuries of our patients include broken wings
and other bones, gunshot wounds and poisonings.
How do these injuries typically happen?
About 85% of the injuries we treat are due to the intervention
of man. Most injuries are caused by collisions with
power lines, cars and other man-made objects. Birds
may swallow poisonous chemicals at dumps and those used
on lawns and gardens, or someone may have left fishing
line and tackle for them to get tangled in.
How can these injuries be avoided?
By teaching people about these birds, we hope to let
people know how they can help prevent these injuries.
Why is it important for us to find homes for
eagles that can't be released?
Eagles who can't return to the wild can help repopulate
the species and teach others about conservation by being
placed in breeding facilities and other educational
What should you NOT do if you see a baby bird
that has fallen from the nest?
Do not pick him up and take him home! Don't feed him.
His parents still may care for him, and it is very important
to give that baby bird the chance to be with his natural
parents. Taking him away from his parents can result
in that bird becoming imprinted on humans - bonding
to humans instead of his natural wild parents. An imprinted
bird cannot survive in the wild.
What can you do to help an injured or sick bird?
You can stand back and watch him. See if his mom or
dad comes back to care for him - if they don't, call
someone to help.
Who in your community can you call to get help
for the bird?
You can call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a local
raptor center, a zoo, a veterinarian or an environmental
Why is it so important to preserve wildlife?
We need to preserve wildlife so that future generations
may enjoy all the wonderful birds and animals that we
enjoy today. We all are connected by a food chain. For
example, mice actually consume about 1/5 of what a human
eats in a year, so it is very important that we have
raptors to help control the mice populations, as well
as the populations of other small rodents.