This order includes over 300 species of mostly diurnal hunters. They are grouped into 5 families: the Cathartidae, comprising the 7 living New World VULTURE and condor species, all principally carrion feeders; the Falconidae, 63 species including the caracaras, forest falcons and falcons; the Sagittariidae, a single species of secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius); the Pandionidae, a single species of OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus); and the Accipitridae, 219 species of kites, eagles, Old World vultures and hawks.
Although many of the Falconiformes are superficially alike, each family is highly specialized and individuals vary widely in habitat requirements and food preferences.The birds range in size from the diminutive falconets, barely larger than sparrows, to the giant condors, with wingspans exceeding 3 m. All have keen day vision; many are fierce predators, spotting small animal prey while in flight or perching and then swooping to kill.
The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is the sole representative of the Cathartidae to breed as far north as Canada. The falcons are well represented in the Northern Hemisphere; 5 species breed in Canada. They are most easily identified in flight by their long, pointed wings and rapid flight. The only pandionid, the osprey, a fish-eating bird, breeds in Canada.
The Accipitridae are represented by one species of kite, 2 eagles and 10 "hawks." Hawk is a general name given to several predatory birds that are smaller than eagles. The Canadian hawks can be subdivided into 3 species of forest hawks; 6 buteos, large, soaring hawks; and one harrier, ground-nesting hawks of open fields and marshes.
Owls have superb night vision made possible by enormous pupils and light-efficient retinas. The large eyes do not move in their sockets, but an owl can rotate its head more than 180°. Acute hearing allows an owl to locate its prey by sound, as when a great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) plunges through deep snow to catch mice it cannot see. Soft feathers permit almost noiseless flight.
Sixteen species are represented in Canada; one in family Tytonidae, 15 in family Strigidae.
C. STUART HOUSTON
Authors contributing to this article:
Author C. STUART HOUSTON, R.W. FYFE
Links to Other Sites
All About Birds
Search this online bird identification guide for information on specific bird species found in North America. Click on the dynamic map of eBird sightings for a magnified view. From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US.
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
Canadian Raptor Conservancy
An organization dedicated to breeding and protecting birds of prey in Canada.
Hinterland Who's Who
Check out the extensive "Hinterland Who's Who" website for illustrated "Species Fact Sheets" about mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects found in Canada. Also covers related conservation and biodiversity issues and includes related multimedia and educational resources. From the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Species at Risk Public Registry
A searchable database of Canadian species at risk. Provides illustrated natural histories of each species as well as information about recovery programs, a glossary, and more. From Environment Canada.