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Garden Allies: Raptors

Articles: Garden Allies: Raptors

American kestrel (Falco sparverius). Ilus: Craig Latker

Powerful Winged Hunters

Standing in our narrow side yard, my husband and I were startled by the sudden arrival of a red-tailed hawk scooping up a snake less than fifteen feet away. It seemed a rare experience, but a quick, informal survey of other gardeners revealed many a close encounter with a backyard raptor. Sharing curved talons for capturing and hooked beaks for tearing apart prey, raptors vary in size, general appearance, and life histories. They are generally well camouflaged, and can be hard to spot unless in flight.

True falcons, such as American kestrels and peregrine falcons, are in the genus Falco, but a few raptors share the common name "falcon" for their streamlined appearance and long wings. "Hawk" is a general term that refers to all raptors other than vultures, falcons, and owls, while "eagle" usually indicates a large hawk. Owls are unrelated to other raptors—an example of convergent evolution, where unrelated species have evolved to fill similar ecological niches. Nocturnal owls and diurnal raptors avoid competition by hunting a...

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