Kites, Eagles and Hawks (Accipitridae)
The five bird families of the taxonomic order FALCONIFORMES (pronounced fal-kon-ih-FOR-meez) include raptors such as hawks, eagles, vultures, and the Osprey (it should be noted that these birds are alternately classified in an order named ACCIPITRIFORMES (pronounced ak-sip-it-ruh-FOR-meez) by some ornithological authorities).
Raptors such as hawks, eagles, and kites, and are members of the Accipitridae (pronounced ak-sip-IT-ruh-dee); a globally distributed family of two hundred and forty-nine species in sixty-five genera.
The Accipitridae in North America are represented by fifty-four species in twenty-four genera. This large family includes various hawks, the more delicate kites, and the national bird of the United States of America, the Bald Eagle.
Members of the Accipitridae are known for their strength and predatory prowess. Some species, such as the Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle, are capable of taking prey that approaches them in size.
All members of this family share a hooked raptorial beak for tearing flesh, and long sharp talons on strong feet for grasping and killing their prey. Tactics for catching prey vary among species and are reflected by the structure of the bird; Sharp-shinned Hawks have short wings and a long tail for catching birds in dense vegetation, Red-tailed Hawks have long, broad wings and a short tail for prolonged soaring, and the kites have long, thin wings and long tails for catching insects during flight.
The Accipitridae are devoid of bright colors except for yellow in the bills and feet. Plumages are cast in browns, grays, and black, many species with barred or pale underparts and a few species with entirely dark plumage. Juveniles tend to have brown, streaked plumage and can take a few years before they resemble adults.
A variety of niches in North America have been filled by members of this family found from the tundra to the southern bottomland swamps. While the swamps provide habitat for Red-shouldered Hawks and Swallow-tailed Kites, soaring hawks of the genus Buteo and the Golden Eagle hunt the tundra and other non-forest habitats. Forests are home to the swift, aggressive Accipiters such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk, while the Bald Eagle reigns along lakes, rivers, and coasts.
Short distance migration to milder climates during the winter months is undertaken by most hawks and eagles; longer distance migration to Central and South America by the kites, and Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks produces the famous "river of raptors" each autumn along the eastern coast of Mexico when tens of thousands of these birds may pass overhead in a mere few days.
Hawks, eagles, and kites are for the most part solitary birds with flocking limited to migration and rare occasions when a food source becomes abundant (such as groups of Bald Eagles during salmon runs). While eagles will scavenge for carrion like vultures, they also swoop down upon and grasp fish and other animals with their talons. Hawks and kites use their talons in a likewise manner with a variety of hunting strategies.
Formerly endangered by DDT, populations of Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and other raptors have increased in numbers since the banning of this chemical. In fact, on August 9, 2007, the Bald Eagle was removed from the U.S. federal list of threatened and endangered species.
The Zone-tailed Hawk has coloration and a flight style similar to that of the Turkey Vulture. Unlike the Turkey Vulture, though, this hawk does not eat carrion but preys upon small mammals and birds fooled into complacency by its mimicry. The desert-dwelling Harris's Hawk is one of the few bird species known to hunt cooperatively in groups and use tactics similar to wolf packs.