Birds of Prey in Utah
Utah is home to many raptors, several of which are commonly partnered with by falconers!
This is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America, bulky and broad-winged, designed for effortless soaring. An inhabitant of open country, it is commonly seen perched on roadside poles or sailing over fields and woods. Although adults usually can be recognized by the trademark reddish-brown tail, the rest of their plumage can be quite variable, especially west of the Mississippi: Western Red-tails can range from blackish to rufous-brown to nearly white.
Our smallest falcon, the kestrel is also the most familiar and widespread in North America. In open country it is commonly seen perched on roadside wires, or hovering low over a field on rapidly beating wings, waiting to pounce on a grasshopper. Kestrels nest in cavities in trees; in places where there are few large dead snags to provide nest sites, they may rely on nesting boxes put up for them by conservationists.
One of the world's fastest birds; in power-diving from great heights to strike prey, the Peregrine may possibly reach 200 miles per hour. Regarded by falconers and biologists alike as one of the noblest and most spectacular of all birds of prey. Although it is found on six continents, the Peregrine is uncommon in most areas; it was seriously endangered in the mid-20th century because of the effects of DDT and other persistent pesticides.
A large falcon of the arid west. The Prairie Falcon is nearly the size of the famous Peregrine, but differs in its hunting behavior, often pursuing small prey with rapid, maneuverable flight close to the ground. Although it is characteristic of desolate plains and desert wilderness, this falcon has also adapted to altered landscapes: in winter, it is often seen flying over southwestern cities, or hunting Horned Larks in farm country.
A medium-sized hawk of the woodlands. Feeding mostly on birds and small mammals, it hunts by stealth, approaching its prey through dense cover and then pouncing with a rapid, powerful flight. Of the three bird-eating Accipiter hawks, Cooper's is the mid-sized species and the most widespread as a nesting bird south of Canada.
A powerful predator of northern and mountain woods. Goshawks hunt inside the forest or along its edge; they take their prey by putting on short bursts of amazingly fast flight, often twisting among branches and crashing through thickets in the intensity of pursuit. In some years, perhaps when prey is scarce in the north, autumn invasions may bring Goshawks well to the south of their normal range in the east and into lowland valleys in the west.
A rather small falcon, compact and fast-flying, the Merlin is a common breeder across the northern forests of North America and Eurasia. It feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit. The Merlin is generally found in wild places, but since about 1960 it has become a common urban bird in several towns on the northern prairies; there it nests and remains to winter, relying on a steady supply of House Sparrows as prey.
The smallest of our bird-hunting Accipiter hawks, this one is also the most migratory, breeding north to treeline in Alaska and Canada and wintering south to Panama. It is during migration that the Sharp-shin is most likely to be seen in numbers, with dozens or even hundreds passing at some favored points on coastlines, lake shores, and mountain ridges. At other seasons the hawks lurk in the woods, ambushing songbirds and generally staying out of sight.
This regal bird is the largest of our soaring Buteo hawks, a fitting raptor for the wide skies and windswept plains of the west. It soars with its broad wings held in a shallow V, and swoops down to catch ground squirrels, snakes, young jackrabbits, and other good-sized prey. It is often seen sitting on the ground in open fields. Except when nesting, the Ferruginous Hawk seems curiously unafraid of humans, often allowing close approach.
Great Horned Owl
Found almost throughout North America and much of South America is this big owl. Aggressive and powerful in its hunting (sometimes known by nicknames such as "tiger owl"), it takes prey as varied as rabbits, hawks, snakes, and even skunks, and will even attack porcupines, often with fatal results for both prey and predator. Great Horned Owls begin nesting very early in the north, and their deep hoots may be heard rolling across the forest on mid-winter nights.
This magnificent bird is widespread in the wilder country of North America, Europe, and Asia. About the same size as the Bald Eagle, the Golden is less of a scavenger and more of a predator, regularly taking prey up to the size of foxes and cranes. The Golden Eagle was important to many Native American tribes, who admired the eagle's courage and strength, and who ascribed mystical powers to the bird and even to its feathers.
Descriptions credit the National Audubon Society
Photography by Rob Palmer