show #1210

Peggy visits a raptor center that specializes in treating wounded birds of prey. Segment length: 7:19


Insights & Connections



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Try This!


Raptors are majestic birds that can vary greatly in size and habitat. But they have one thing in common--they feed on carrion or meat taken by hunting.

Although a large raptor like a bald eagle can have a wingspan up to 8 feet long and body length up to 31/2 feet, it and other raptors are nevertheless vulnerable animals. Birds of prey may encounter many things in their environment that could harm them--often because of their proximity to humans. The birds may be poisoned by eating prey that has consumed poison. They may get hit by a car or caught in a leg hold trap. They could become ill from disease or parasites.

When people find an injured bird of prey, they often contact a veterinarian, a raptor center, or their local conservation department. Commonly, raptors that come to a veterinary center have injuries to bone or flesh. Through expert care, many of them can be nursed back to health and returned to the wild.

A veterinarian thoroughly examines the injured raptor to assess its illness or injury. The examination might include blood tests and radiographs, pictures taken with X rays that show the bird's bones and internal organs. Depending on what the doctor finds, the raptor may need to be kept in captivity and treated with medication, surgery, and bandages. To repair a broken bone, the veterinarian may fix the break surgically, applying a pin, a plate and screws, or an external splint. A cast or bandage prevents the broken bone from moving. The injured bird is confined and fed its natural diet. Meanwhile, caretakers monitor its health and recovery.

While it is recovering, the bird loses some muscle strength due to its limited activity. Once it is healthy again, its rehabilitation takes a new course, shifting to a program that prepares it for reentry into its natural habitat. At the raptor center, the bird receives physical therapy appropriate to its specific injury. For a broken wing, for example, the program would help restore the bird's range of motion and coordination and prepare its muscles, heart, and airways for the physical exertion critical to its survival in the wild.

Controlled practice flights are an important part of rehabilitation. Outdoor flights lengthen as the raptor's strength improves. Once the bird has gained endurance, the center's staff releases it into its natural habitat. From there, it reestablishes itself in its environment, hunting and soaring overhead. Hopefully, it will reproduce, ensuring its species' place in the ecosystem.


carrion dead and decaying flesh

food chain a natural order that starts with a simple organism being consumed by a higher-order organism which, in turn, is eaten by yet a higher organism

habitat environment in which a species thrives and is normally found

hawk More than 200 species of birds are classified as hawks,including eagles. Hawks are active during daylight and form three main categories: buteos, accipiters, and falcons.

ornithology branch of zoology that studies birds

pellet a bolus of waste material that owls and hawks spit up or regurgitate after consuming prey. It contains parts of the prey the bird can't digest.

raptor bird of prey, such as hawks, osprey, falcons, owls, and vultures

rehabilitation a program to bring an injured or weakened creature back to health so it can perform its natural activities in the wild

talons nails on a bird's foot that are sharp, curved, and long


Additional sources of information

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Assn.
RR 2, Box 191
Kempton, PA  19529-9449
(215) 756-6961

National Audubon Society
700 Broadway
New York, NY  10003
(212) 9793000

Raptor Education Foundation
21901 E. Hampden Ave.
Aurora, CO  80013
(303) 6808500

The Raptor Center
The World Wide Medical
and Educational Facility
Devoted to Birds of Prey
World Wide Web Access:

The Rap on Raptors

You can identify various raptors as they fly through the sky.


We often see raptors only as they are flying through the sky. By studying raptor silhouettes, you can learn to identify different species from the ground. Although raptors may have different outward appearances, they share many features that help them catch their prey. Discuss which features various species of raptors share and learn about the food chain leading up to a bird of prey.


  1. Enlarge and make transparencies out of the three silhouettes on this page. Project the silhouettes on the overhead projector.
  2. Study each silhouette and try to identify each type of raptor. (The three pictured are identified at the bottom of the page.)
  3. Project the detailed drawings of various types of raptors on the overhead projector. Observe the different parts of the bird's anatomy. Take note of the similarities among various raptor species.
  4. Sketch a bird of prey's food chain. Start with a raptor at the top of the food chain and work down. Where does each "layer" in the food chain get its food?


  1. Discuss the parts of a raptor's anatomy that are crucial for it to catch prey. How do these parts differ from nonraptor bird species?

  2. What factors in a raptor's food chain could contribute to the decline or health of a raptor species? Have these factors changed over time?


Plan a trip to a zoo to visit the raptors. Schedule a period with the zoo's raptor specialist to learn why the birds are in captivity, what foods they eat, and what role they serve as examples of raptors in the wild.


If you have a raptor center nearby, schedule a tour of its facilities. Or ask a special ist to bring a raptor to class for close inspection. Have the tour guide or specialist explain what people should do when they find an injured raptor, and what steps the center takes when a bird is brought to the facility.


Invite a wildlife specialist from your state conservation department to discuss the types of nests in which various raptors hatch and care for their young. What are the nests made of and where are they located? Will nesting raptors adopt young birds that are not their own?

Newton's Apple is a production of KTCA Twin Cities Public Television. Made possible by a grant from 3M. Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.