From prehistoric times, birds of prey have been a part of people's lives. Many people admire the birds, and some even worshiped them as part of their religion. But others are afraid of them or think they are bad because they kill other animals. Pictures of raptors are used to symbolize power, freedom, strength, and speed. The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States, and birds of prey appear on flags, coins, and shields in many countries.
Many farmers appreciate the way raptors kill mice and other animals that eat the grain in their fields. But other people blame the birds for killing farm animals, pets, and racing pigeons. Usually the damage done by the birds is not nearly as great as some people think it is. In the United States and many other countries, it is illegal to kill these raptors, but some people do it anyway.
In some parts of the world, people participate in a sport called falconry. Falconers are hunters who train falcons and hawks to catch pheasants, rabbits, and other wild game animals for their trainers. The birds are rewarded with a treat, but they do not eat the animals they kill.
Raptors usually fly long distances by riding on rising bubbles of warm air called thermals. They find the thermals above land, so they do not fly long distances over water. At migration time, bird watchers gather at places such as Panama where the land narrows. Thousands of hawks may pass over the area every hour for weeks.
Some raptors are able to live in cities because they can find conditions similar to wild habitats. For example, peregrine (PER-uh-grun) falcons nest on cliffs in the wild. Now they have discovered that window ledges on skyscrapers make great nesting places too. There are plenty of pigeons and songbirds for
Raptors are the top predators in many habitats. That means that nothing eats them. It may sound like an easy life, but raptors have to be skillful fliers in order to catch a mouse zipping along the ground or a bird flying past them. When a bald eagle spots a fish swimming below, it has to drop through the air at just the right speed and judge where the fish will be when it hits the water. If all goes well, the eagle will lock the slippery fish in its talons and swoop up. But raptors are not always that lucky. The prey animals often get away and the raptor has to keep hunting.
the peregrines to catch on the wing. And people are thrilled to look out the window of a tall office building and see a falcon zooming past.
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