The word "raptor" is derived from the Latin word "rapere," which means "to seize." Raptors are birds of prey that feed on live captured prey or on carrion. Typically, birds of prey have to kill things to make a living! Raptors include birds that are diurnal—those that feed during the daytime—and the nocturnal, or nighttime feeding owls.
Raptors have three characteristics setting them apart from all other birds:
Raptors are also known for their keen eyesight; however, many other bird species are known to have excellent eyesight and thus this is not unique to raptors.
Raptors are predatory animals and are often on top of the food chain in most places where they live. Thus, raptors are bellwethers of ecosystem health. If through close study we see that raptors in the wild are threatened, then we must conclude that other animals in that ecosystem are also at risk. For this reason, the study of raptors in the wild and in captivity is like a window into the lives of all living things in our environment.
Photo credits: David Bowers, Steve Franklin, Ted Adams, and William Liljeroos