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Hawks are carnivores (meat eaters) who belong to the category of birds known as raptors -- birds of prey. They have strong, hooked beaks; their feet have three toes pointed forward and one turned back; and their claws, or talons, are long, curved and very sharp. Prey is killed with the long talons and, if it is too large to swallow whole, it is torn to bite-sized pieces with the hawk's beak.



Based on general body shape and flight habits, hawks are classified into three different groups (genera): the Accipiters, the Falcons and the Buteos. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, the Cooper's Hawk and the Goshawk are Accipiters. They have long tails and short, rounded wings that enable them to dart through and around trees in pursuit of other birds, their principal prey. Typically, they fly low with a series of rapid wing beats followed by a brief period of sailing, then another series of wing beats. Accipiters are associated with brush and timbered areas.









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Falcons prefer open country. They include the Prairie Falcon, the Peregrine Falcon (Duck Hawk), the Merlin (Pigeon Hawk), and the dainty little American Kestrel, also called the Sparrow Hawk. Falcons have a streamlined body, long, pointed wings and long tails. A series of strong, rapid wing beats gives them extremely fast flight in open country, and their swiftness allows them to overtake and capture other birds on the wing.

The American Kestrel is the smallest of our hawks and feeds mainly on mice and insects. It is the only one of the falcons that hovers over its intended prey. Because of its habitat and range, it is also the only Falcon or Accipiter that most people are likely to see. The Buteos are the largest of the hawks. They are the broad-winged, broad-tailed soaring hawks that are more readily seen because of their habit of circling high in the air or perching in dead trees or on telephone poles along the road. They include the Red-tailed, the Red-shouldered, the Swainson's, the Rough-legged and the Ferruginous hawks.


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