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Identifying Birds of Prey E-mail
African birds of prey are difficult to identify for a variety of reasons:-
  • One being species diversity
  • Their stage in development (i.e. change in appearance between immaturity and adulthood)
  • Male and females also differ, some showing different colour forms and size variation (Females a third larger than males)

When identifying birds of prey it is important to be able to distinguish between the six major groups:

Group one:- Secretary bird:

Unmistakebly large this long legged bird of prey can only be confused with a crane at long range.It has a hooked bill , bear face and drooping crest. These birds kill prey such as snakes and rodents by stamping on them with their feet.

Group two:- Osprey:

Resembles a medium size eagle. Although the Osprey is the only member in its group it has an almost world wide distribution.Its feet are specially adapted for catching fish, which it preys exclusively on.

Group three:- Accipitridae:

This group consists of:-

  • Eagles:

    Medium to large birds of prey, with long broad wings and feathered legs. Their are 13 species in South Africa.
  • Buzzards:

    Similar to Eagles in shape, Buzzards are generally smaller and have unfeathered legs. Six species occur in South Africa.
  • Goshawks and Sparrowhawks:

    Small to medium size birds with rounded wings and long tails. Most have yellow or red eyes and their long toes are designed for gripping prey.
  • Harriers:

    Medium size birds with long, narrow wings and tails. They are distinctive in flight as they glide low over the ground in search of prey. Mostly seen over marshes and open fields.


Group four:- Vultures:-

The biggest Raptor in the world belongs to this group, the Andean Condor. These are large birds with long, very broad wings designed for soaring. The heads of most are unfeathered. These scavengers gather round carcasses, feeding with their powerful hooked bills. Eight vulture species occur in South Africa.

Group five:- Falconidae:-

This group is made up of the Falcons and Kestrels. These are small to medium size raptors. They have large heads and their wings are long, narrow and pointed. The size difference between males and females is distinctive in this group. Some species are dynamic aerial hunters , stooping at great speeds to strike at their prey in mid air, Such as a Peregrine Falcon. Kestrels are markedly different. Most hover when hunting and some forage and roost in large flocks. Falcons and Kestrels do not build their own nests, but instead lay their eggs on cliff ledges. Mostly diurnal, some are crepuscular, hunting at dawn and dusk.

Group six:- Owls:-

In this group we get two subgroups:

  • Family Tytonidae:

    These are the Grass owls and Barn owls. They have distinct heart shaped facial disks. This design enables them to channel sound into their sensitive ears and aid their binocular vision.
  • Family Strigidae:

    This family includes all other owls found in South Africa. Their distinguishing feature being their ear tufts. Owls are nocturnal but several species are active during dusk and dawn. Their faces are dominated by their large eyes. They all have distinctive calls in the form of hoots, whistles or shrieks. Owls are silent fliers and their prey ranges from insects to mammals and birds, and one species fish.

Sadly, many Birds Of Prey are threatened today and hopefully the SA National Bird of Prey's increased knowledge and familiarity with them will ensure an ever stronger determination to conserve and protect them.

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