During my many photo hikes I often encounter what are known as birds of prey (the subject of my featured gallery for July), typically large birds with keen eyesight and strong talons and beaks that feed on rodents and other animals. I usually see these birds soaring over fields, searching for movement that can identify a meal. They swoop down, grab the food and fly off.
But “birds of prey” isn’t an official, scientific taxonomic group. Instead, it’s a loosely defined term used to identify birds that feed on animals and — at times — birds that feed on insects. Using that description, just about any bird could be called a bird of prey.
A Red-shouldered Hawk perches on a cypress knob in Six Mile Cypress Slough, Fort Myers, Fla.
I use what I consider a more traditional definition, including only birds that regularly hunt and consume animals as birds of prey. But nature websites are even mixed on that definition, with some including vultures in the group. Vultures dine on carrion (dead animals), so I further define my personal “birds of prey” classification to include birds that feed primarily on living animals.