Eyes on the Skies – Birds of Prey (GMHDRNC)


Owls, hawks, eagles and falcons are birds of prey or raptors. Learn how these animals use their physical and behavioral specializations to catch prey.

Grade Level:

K - 12

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, Pine Bluff


Education Program Coordinator, 870-534-0011


45 minutes - 1 hour

Suggested Number of Participants:

10 - 30


  • Learn the physical and behavioral characteristics of raptors.
  • Understand the importance of raptors to the ecosystem.
  • Study raptor characteristics using feathers, skulls and other visual aids.

Key Terms*:


Bird of prey




Notched beak


Sexual dimorphism

Tomial tooth


*See glossary for definations


Live raptor

Pictures of various raptors

Examples of feathers, talons or skulls


Birds of prey or raptors are carnivorous birds that capture prey with their powerful feet and sharp talons. “Raptoraa" comes from the Latin word “raptus,” which means “to seize or to grasp,” referring to how these birds catch their prey. As predatory birds, raptors have been represented as heartless killers. However, they are unique and important birds.


  1. Our focus is on two common types of raptors: strigiformes and falconiformes. Strigiformes are nocturnal raptors more commonly known as owls. Falconiformes are falcons, eagles, hawks, kites and vultures. Discuss some raptor basics:
    • All raptors are protected by federal and state laws; it is illegal to kill or possess any part of a raptor without the proper federal permit.
    • Most raptors have strong feet, sharp talons, excellent vision, hooked beaks for tearing prey, and most exhibit sexual dimorphism, with female birds being 25 percent to 35 percent larger.
  2. Owls are nocturnal and have several characteristics that help them survive. Explain the major physical adaptations of owls for survival.
    • Owls use their large eyes and asymmetrically placed ear canals to locate prey. Also, unlike our eyes, their eyes are fixed in the socket so that they must turn their heads to see. Owl ears are just as important for feeding. In fact, if it were too dark to see, owls could still locate their food just by listening. Owls have flat facial discs that help to direct more sound to their ears, acting like a satellite dish.
    • To sneak up on prey in the middle of a quiet night, these birds rely on fringed feathers for silent flight. Using their zygodactylous toes, they can catch their prey and grasp onto branches. They will catch rodents like mice or, depending on the size of the bird, anything from moths to rabbits.
  3. Falconiformes are diurnal raptors, meaning they hunt in the daytime, and they have important physical characteristics that help them.
    • Hooked beaks, strong feet and talons and highly refined sight are all important. Members of this family are classified by their style of flight. Falcons have long, pointed wings, large feet in comparison to body size and a tomial or notched beak. They can be seen “kiting,” or flying into the wind so that they remain suspended in the air.
    • Bring in some history: falcons and hawks have long been symbols of both beauty and ferocity. The Persians began hunting with hawks around 4,000 years ago. In Arkansas, the Quapaws believed hawks were descendants of the gods.
  4. Using our educational animals, point out some examples on one or two of the raptors at GMHDRNC.
  5. Answer any questions.


  • Why are owls, hawks, eagles and other raptors called birds of prey?
  • How are members of the falconiformes classified?
  • What is sexual dimorphism, and how does it aid in the reproduction of birds of prey?


Asymmetrical – not identical on both sides of a central line

Bird of prey – flesh-eating birds such as eagles, hawks, kites, vultures, falcons and owls which have sharp, downwardly curved beaks, talons and, usually, soaring flight

Carnivore – any animal that consumes other animals, whether living (predation) or dead (scavenging) (Web definition)

Diurnal – active by day (as opposed to nocturnal)

Nocturnal – active at night (as opposed to diurnal)

Notched beak – a notch in the upper beak of birds of prey that enables them to kill by severing the spinal column at the neck

Raptor – bird of prey; also a type of bird often characterized by a hooked beak, sharp talons and keen eyesight

Sexual Dimorphism – physical differences between a male and female in the same species other than differences in sex organs; includes differences in size, color or body structure

Tomial tooth – cutting edge of a bird's bill

Zygodactylous (of a bird) – having the toes of each foot arranged in pairs, with two toes in front and two behind