Perhaps you’ve seen them, perched in a tree or soaring overhead, our region’s raptors—eagles, hawks, and falcons. Good news: Nearly all the species gracing our skies are here in healthy numbers. “Raptors are pretty common, especially the ones that are breeding here,” says Jeff Hays, who has been working with injured raptors for more than 30 years with Milford-based nonprofit RAPTOR Inc.
Recognized for their sharp, curved beaks and talons, these birds eat live prey, including mice, rabbits, fish, reptiles, amphibians, worms, insects, and even other birds. Species with the most diverse diets—and that aren’t too particular about where they live, be it forest, pasture, suburban, or urban setting—are the most common and increasing in number, Hays says.
Their rebound over the last half century is mostly tied to habitat improvements, Hays says. The 1972 federal ban of the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane—DDT—played a big part. It became the go-to bug killer after World War II, but its residue washed into nearby waterways, where it was absorbed by aquatic plants and fish. Fish-eating birds became poisoned by the contaminated prey and died in great numbers, devastating bald eagle populations. (The chemical also interfered with the birds’ ability to produce strong eggshells).
The end of DDT, the passage of the Clean Water Act, and habitat protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act have all benefited raptors. Yet one local species, the American kestrel, is not doing so well. In other parts of North America populations remain steady, but numbers are declining in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest. Scientists aren’t sure why.
As some of our region’s apex predators, raptors are important—they keep rodents, fish, and other species in check. Want to see and learn more about our birds of prey? Stop by one of RAPTOR Inc.’s open houses, held 1–4 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month, March through November.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Almost exclusively a fish eater, therefore usually found near water, where it plunges in, feet first, to snatch up prey. Spiny projections on its talons provide extra grip.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
North America’s smallest falcon; typically not much larger than a blue jay. Known for hover hunting, it scans the landscape while remaining in the same airspace as it looks for a target. Numbers are declining in Ohio.
Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
Identified by white bands on a dark tail, this broad-winged hawk generally prefers wooded, swampy river corridors but has adapted to live inside the Interstate 275 loop in the suburbs and city.
Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Ohio’s most common hawk, adults have a red tail and a white breast. Diets vary, but they favor agricultural areas and have adapted to live near the suburbs.