MEET THE RAPTOR INSTITUTE BIRDS

The Raptor Institute is licensed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to use non-releasable raptors for educational purposes. All of our birds have some form of disability that prevents them from being released back into the wild. At The Raptor Institute we make that disability a positive thing by using our birds as ambassadors to teach us about the importance of their species. To learn more about our educational ambassadors, click below.

Our Peregrine Falcon, Celerity

Celerity came to us in 2016 through a rehabilitator in Los Angeles. She was found with an injured wing and when examined by a veterinarian it was determined that she had fractured her coracoid bone. The wing was bound and allowed to heal and while the bone mended there was permanent damage to the surrounding tendons that causes her to hold the wing in a slight droop. While she is able to make short flights she does not have the lift or endurance to be able to hunt successfully in the wild and will therefore spend the rest of her career as an educational ambassador. We believe that Celerity was 2-3 years old when she came to us but due to the fact that she already had her adult plumage we have no way of being certain. We decided to name our Peregrine Celerity which means swiftness or speed. A word that we find very fitting for the fastest animal alive.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Celerity through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of his care. Your support will directly help to pay for Celerity’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Celerity receives the top-notch care that he deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


 ABOUT THE PEREGRINE FALCON

Falco peregrinus
The Peregrine is the second largest falcon found in North America and one of the most widespread. They are found throughout the Americas along with every other continent except Antarctica. Peregrines are found throughout North America and on many islands in the Gulf of Mexico. In North America we have 3 subspecies of Peregrine including the Peale’s of the Pacific Northwest, the Tundra race of the northern and eastern coasts, and the Anatum which is found throughout the central and western US.

Appearance
In Peregrine Falcons males and females look very similar and the only way to confidently distinguish between the sexes is based on size. As in all raptors, females are larger than males and with Peregrines this difference can be quite substantial. Some females can weigh over double that of their male counterparts. Sizes in height range from 16-20 inches tall with wingspans of up to 4 feet in females.

Vocalizations
Peregrines have a few different vocalizations, but the one most commonly used is the rapid “kak-kak-kak” call which is most often heard in and around the nesting area often as a defensive call or warning to potential intruders.

Habitats
The Peregrine utilizes a variety of different habitats that is among the most widespread of any bird species. They can be found from the arctic tundra to southern deserts to cities, forests, and tropical islands. Recently Peregrines have been appearing in and around urban environments to take advantage of the increasing supply of urban birds such as pigeons and doves.

Diet
Peregrines almost exclusively eat other birds taken in flight. Prey species vary widely but are commonly flocking birds such as waterfowl, shorebirds, doves, and pigeons. Prey is normally struck or grabbed in flight often in spectacular dives called “stoops.”

Nesting
Like other falcons, Peregrines do not build their own nest. They typically nest on ledges or hollows in tall cliff faces that are protected from the elements. Occasionally they will even nest on manmade structures such as tall buildings and bridges. 3-4 eggs are laid and incubation is done primarily by the female. The eggs take about 1 month to hatch. During this time the male provides her with the majority of her food although he will take turns incubating for short periods so the female can go hunting. The young chicks grow very quickly and fledging usually takes about 5-6 weeks.

Population Status
As a population the Peregrine is increasing across its range. Their population was decimated by DDT and other pesticides in the 1950’s and 60’s leading them to be added to the endangered species list in 1970. At that time there were only 39 known breeding pairs left in the US and the species had disappeared from all areas east of the Mississippi River. With the ban of DDT and through an extensive captive breeding program utilizing Peregrines of falconers across the country, the species has made an outstanding recovery. Over 4000 birds were raised in captivity and released into the wild in 28 different states. In 1999 the species was removed from the endangered species list and the current estimate is there are over 3000 breeding pairs. This number has been increasing and is approaching historical data which estimated the number of breeding pairs before the introduction of pesticides such as DDT at 3875.

Fun Facts
The Peregrine Falcon’s claim to fame is that of being the fastest animal on planet Earth! While difficult to clock, data has been collected from a skydiver who used his trained peregrine to chase a lure in a dive that measured the bird’s speed at 247 miles per hour. This makes the Peregrine Falcon over 3 times as fast as the Cheetah!

who5Our Great Horned Owl, Who

Who came to us in 2012 as a young chick. He was found on the ground by someone and taken immediately to a local rehabilitator. Unfortunately, Who’s right eye was damaged, and upon inspection by a veterinarian he was determined to be completely blind in that eye. We don’t know how that damage occurred, however it could have been the result of an attack by a predator, or even a squabble with siblings in the nest over food. Luckily for Who, he now has a good home with us at The Raptor Institute where he is able to go out on a regular basis and educate the public. He is a favorite at our owl pellet dissection workshops. Who was given his educational name because of the classic “who” hooting sound that these owls are known for.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Who through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of his care. Your support will directly help to pay for Who’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Who receives the top-notch care that he deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


ABOUT THE GREAT HORNED OWL

Bubo virginianus
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl found in San Diego County. They are found throughout all of the Americas, ranging from Alaska and Canada all the way to the tip of South America.

Appearance
Great Horned Owls are characterized by their grayish, brown barred plumage and distinctive ear tufts. Their yellow eyes are quite large and stand out in their face. If seen in flight they appear almost white underneath with only some brown mottling. Like all owls they have a facial disc, however it is less defined than other owls as the Great Horned Owl relies more on sight than hearing to locate its prey.

Vocalizations
Great Horned Owls are our classic hooting owl. They make that deep, resonant hooting sound that we think of when we think of what an owl should sound like. This call is most commonly heard in the winter and spring as a way for Great Horned Owls to announce their territories and attract and communicate with their mate.

Habitats
Great Horned Owls are found in so many different habitats across their range that it is hard to define a specific type of habitat that they prefer. They can be found in urban/suburban areas, open grasslands, deserts, mountain forests, and everywhere in between. Their only requirements for suitable habitat are availability of nest sites, and an abundant food source.

Diet
Great Horned Owls will eat a variety of different animals ranging from as small as insects to as large as jack rabbits and geese. They commonly eat small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels, as well as birds such as ducks and herons. They are also known to eat skunks, an animal that is not eaten by anything else owing to their noxious odor. However lacking a sense of smell, Great Horned Owls will commonly attack and consume this otherwise smelly animal.

Nesting
Great Horned Owls do not build their own nests. They will commandeer nests built by Red-Tailed Hawks and Common Ravens as well as using natural sites such as the decayed crown of a dead tree. Great Horned Owls are among the earliest nesting of birds, often starting courtship and egg laying as early as December.

Population Status
As a population, Great Horned Owls are stable across their range. They suffer a high mortality rate in their first year from natural causes such as starvation and predation. They are also susceptible to car strikes, electrocution, and other man made hazards

Fun Facts
Great Horned Owls are closely related to their much larger cousin the Eurasian Eagle Owl that is found throughout Europe and Asia. People quite often see the Eurasian Eagle Owl on TV and in movies and mistake it for our American counterpart the Great Horned Owl.

 

gho_expressions

buster7Our Red-Tailed Hawk, Buster

Buster came to us in 2013 from a local rehabilitator who was forced to remove him from the nest. His parents had chosen to make their nest on an SDGE power transformer, which obviously posed a potential hazard for the birds as well as for the power company. Therefore the nest was removed and the chicks where raised by a rehabilitator to be released back to the wild. Despite efforts by the rehabilitator, Buster imprinted on his human handlers, and did not display the traits needed to survive in the wild like his siblings. Buster is a unique, dark-morph Red-Tailed Hawk and we are happy to be able to give him a home at the Raptor Institute. Buster’s distinctive, eagle-like appearance makes him a favorite at our Scout programs. Buster was given his name after the iconic mascot Buster Brown of the Brown Shoe company of our youth due to his dark brown plumage.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Buster through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of his care. Your support will directly help to pay for Buster’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Buster receives the top-notch care that he deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


ABOUT THE RED-TAILED HAWK

Buteo jamaicensis
The Red-Tailed Hawk is the most commonly seen hawk in North America. They are found through out the US and reach as far north as Canada and as far south as Northern Central America. They are most frequently seen alongside roads and highways perched on telephone poles and light standards keeping a keen eye towards prey below.

Appearance
Red-Tailed Hawks are one of the most variably colored raptors and have several different subspecies across the country including various different color morphs. The most commonly seen western subspecies is a large hawk with a dark brown back often with some pale mottling on the shoulders. Breast is predominantly cream colored with variable brown spotting on the chest. The tail is bright red in adults but is brown with black barring in first year juveniles.

Vocalizations
Red-Tailed Hawks are most commonly known for their piercing scream used as a warning to other raptors or as a communication between mates. This scream has been made popular by Hollywood movie makers that use it ubiquitously as the voice of any large hawk or eagle portrayed on the big screen.

Habitats
Red-Tailed Hawks will take advantage of any habitat with a suitable population of prey. They are found from deserts to prairies to forests and wetlands. They have adapted well to urban areas taking advantage of suitable hunting perches such as telephone poles and an abundant supply of rodents.

Diet
Red-Tailed Hawks will eat anything they can catch and have a very diverse diet. They are most commonly found hunting small mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels and rabbits. But they will also eat snakes, lizards, pigeons, ducks, and other birds.

Nesting
Red-Tailed Hawks like many raptors mate for life. Once the pair has established a breeding territory they will often use the same territory and nest year after year. They build elaborate stick nests in the crown of tall trees such as eucalyptus and sycamores. Nests are added to each season and can reach very large sizes after several years of use.

Population Status
As a population, Red-Tailed Hawks are stable across their range. Like many raptors they suffer up to an 80% mortality rate in their first year. However after reaching adulthood they often live up to 10-15 years in age.

Fun Facts
Red-Tailed Hawks are well adapted to soaring with their broad wings, broad tails, and individually separated primary feathers that look like fingers in flight. When temperatures heat up under the afternoon sun they are quite often seen circling up through thermals of rising warm air often riding these thermals for hours without ever flapping their wings.

 

buster_expressions

Our Female American Kestrel, Violet

Violet came to us in 2012 as a juvenile. Unfortunately she had been found as a nestling on the ground having probably fallen out of the nest. Whoever found her did the wrong thing and took Violet home and kept her in a wire cage and fed her a less than ideal diet. Eventually she was turned over to rehabilitators, but by that point she was severely imprinted on her human caregiver and would not have the skills needed to be able to survive in the wild. When we first received Violet, she had extensive feather damage from her harsh living arrangements and poor diet. Several of her feathers were broken and twisted. We immediately upgraded Violet’s diet to a healthy regiment of whole animals to approximate what she would eat in the wild. Her new facility allowed her plenty of room to fly around and receive ample sunlight for healthy feather growth. Luckily, after her first year at her new home with The Raptor Institute, Violet molted out her damaged and broken feathers and grew in a new set of healthy feathers. She is now proud to be a shining example of what a beautiful, female American Kestrel should look like. Violet received her educational name because of her ability to see ultra violet light.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Violet through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of her care. Your support will directly help to pay for Violet’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Violet receives the top-notch care that she deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


ABOUT THE AMERICAN KESTREL

Falco Sparverius
The American Kestrel is the smallest and also the most common falcon found in North America. It is found from coast to coast and ranges from Canada all the way into Southern America.

Appearance
The American Kestrel is one of the few raptors where the male and female have distinct plumage coloration that allows them to be distinguished by sight. Males are slightly smaller than females and have a slate blue head with a reddish crown. The wings are blue grey with a rusty brown back. Their tail is solid red with a single black band across the tip. Chest and breast are pale to cream colored with black spotting. Females are different than males in having both rusty brown wings as well as a rusty brown back and tail barred with black stripes. American Kestrels range from 9-11 inches tall with a wingspan of up to 24 inches.

Vocalizations
American Kestrels have 3 distinct calls. The one heard most frequently is the “killy” call used when alarmed or in courtship displays. Juveniles make a piercing begging call when soliciting food from adults.

Habitats
The American Kestrel takes advantage of any habitat where sufficient prey is available. It particularly favors grasslands, deserts, oak woodlands and urban areas. The only habitat where it is not commonly found is interior forests.

Diet
American Kestrels are very opportunistic hunters and will take whatever prey is available. They frequently catch insects including grasshoppers and dragonflies. They are very successful rodent hunters frequently catching mice in open fields from a hovering flight. When insects are scarce in the winter they will even catch small birds such as sparrows and doves.

Nesting
American Kestrels do not build nests but instead use abandoned nests of other species. They prefer cavities such as old woodpecker holes, but will also use old crow and jay nests. Click here to learn how to build your own nest box.

Population Status
As a population the American Kestrel is stable across its range. Their adaptability and utilization of a wide variety of prey items make them a very resilient species. However, scientists have noticed some unexplainable population declines across their historical range. Find out how you can join us in helping provide scientists with the data they need to study American Kestrels by clicking here.

Fun Facts
The American Kestrel can see into the ultraviolet light spectrum. Rodent urine reflects ultraviolet light which Kestrels can see. This allows them to concentrate their hunting efforts in areas they know to be frequented by rodents.

 

ak_expressions

Our Male American Kestrel, Blue

Blue came to us in 2016 as a juvenile through a rehabilitator in Los Angeles. He had been brought to a humane society in Pomona by someone who had found him on the ground as a nestling unable to fly. Unfortunately during his stay at the humane society he was in contact with people and those feeding him and therefore imprinted on humans. By the time he made it to the rehabilitator it was too late and there was nothing they could do to raise him in a way that he would learn the wild instincts that he should have learned from his parents. Because of this he was not suitable for release but will make a great educational ambassador owing to his lack of fear of people. We’ve named this little guy Blue owing to the fact that his blue wing feathers are his main distinguishing characteristic from female kestrels. We’re excited to be able to show our supporters up close the difference between males and females of these tiny predators.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Blue through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of her care. Your support will directly help to pay for Blue’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Blue receives the top-notch care that she deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


ABOUT THE AMERICAN KESTREL

Falco Sparverius
The American Kestrel is the smallest and also the most common falcon found in North America. It is found from coast to coast and ranges from Canada all the way into Southern America.

Appearance
The American Kestrel is one of the few raptors where the male and female have distinct plumage coloration that allows them to be distinguished by sight. Males are slightly smaller than females and have a slate blue head with a reddish crown. The wings are blue grey with a rusty brown back. Their tail is solid red with a single black band across the tip. Chest and breast are pale to cream colored with black spotting. Females are different than males in having both rusty brown wings as well as a rusty brown back and tail barred with black stripes. American Kestrels range from 9-11 inches tall with a wingspan of up to 24 inches.

Vocalizations
American Kestrels have 3 distinct calls. The one heard most frequently is the “killy” call used when alarmed or in courtship displays. Juveniles make a piercing begging call when soliciting food from adults.

Habitats
The American Kestrel takes advantage of any habitat where sufficient prey is available. It particularly favors grasslands, deserts, oak woodlands and urban areas. The only habitat where it is not commonly found is interior forests.

Diet
American Kestrels are very opportunistic hunters and will take whatever prey is available. They frequently catch insects including grasshoppers and dragonflies. They are very successful rodent hunters frequently catching mice in open fields from a hovering flight. When insects are scarce in the winter they will even catch small birds such as sparrows and doves.

Nesting
American Kestrels do not build nests but instead use abandoned nests of other species. They prefer cavities such as old woodpecker holes, but will also use old crow and jay nests. Click here to learn how to build your own nest box.

Population Status
As a population the American Kestrel is stable across its range. Their adaptability and utilization of a wide variety of prey items make them a very resilient species. However, scientists have noticed some unexplainable population declines across their historical range. Find out how you can join us in helping provide scientists with the data they need to study American Kestrels by clicking here.

Fun Facts
The American Kestrel can see into the ultraviolet light spectrum. Rodent urine reflects ultraviolet light which Kestrels can see. This allows them to concentrate their hunting efforts in areas they know to be frequented by rodents.

Our Merlin, Jack

Jack came to us in 2016 through a rehabilitator in Los Angeles. He was found on the ground with an open fracture to his right wing. We don’t know how the wing was injured, but it could have been the result of window strike or collision with a vehicle. The rehabilitator’s veterinarian wrapped the wing and administered antibiotics to prevent infection. However due to the extent of the injury, the damaged outer wing self-amputated and the remaining wing healed over. With a partially amputated wing Jack will never fly again but he still makes a very handsome educational ambassador. Even without flight Jack is still able to jump a surprising height, up to 16 inches! Because of this we’ve placed numerous perches in his enclosure allowing him to move around with ease and continue to get exercise in light of his handicap. We estimate that Jack was in his 2nd or 3rd year when he came to us, however we can’t be certain because he had adult plumage when he was first found. We’ve named our merlin Jack since this is the traditional falconry term used to distinguish a male merlin from a female.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Jack through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of his care. Your support will directly help to pay for Jack’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Jack receives the top-notch care that he deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.


 ABOUT THE MERLIN

Falco columbarius
The Merlin is the second smallest falcon found in North America and one of the most widespread. They are not only found throughout the Americas, but also in Europe, Asia, and Africa. This little falcon breeds in the northern reaches of its territory and then migrates south to winter in sunnier, southern climates. In North America we have 3 subspecies of Merlin including a Black, northern version, a lighter, prairie version, and our standard or common Merlin.

Appearance
The Merlin is one of the few raptors where the male and female have distinct plumage coloration that allows them to be distinguished by sight. Males are slightly smaller than females and are also darker ranging in color from slate grey or blue to dark black depending on subspecies. Females are larger and have browner coloration ranging from light cinnamon to darker brown depending on subspecies. Both sexes have lighter breasts with some spotting and streaking and faint white or grayish bars on the tails. Size ranges in height from 11-13 inches with a wingspan of 25 inches. While similar in size to the American Kestrel, the Merlin is built much heavier and can weigh up 50% more.

Vocalizations
Merlins have several different vocalizations that are used in various situations. The most commonly heard is the rapid kee-kee-kee call often heard around the nesting areas. This is used as a defensive call when establishing and maintaining their nesting territory.

Habitats
The Merlin utilizes a variety of different habitats depending on range and subspecies. Generally summer breeding habitat is found in forest edges usually bordering open spaces such as grassland or water. Winter habitats range from prairies to deserts to open forest and tropical islands. Merlins will take advantage of urban environments especially agricultural areas frequented by smaller birds.

Diet
Merlins are predominately bird eaters, and over 80% of their diet consists of small to medium sized birds that are usually taken in flight. Prey species range from sparrows, larks, and other songbirds to doves and even sometimes birds as large as pigeons. Occasionally Merlins will also feed on small mammals, insects such as dragonflies, and even bats.

Nesting
Merlins, like other falcons do not build their own nest. They typically use abandoned nests of other birds especially crows and ravens. They will also use cliff edges, natural cavities, and rarely scrapes on the ground. 4-5 eggs are laid and incubation is done primarily by the female and lasts about 30 days. During this time the male provides her with all the food. Once the young hatch and are old enough to keep themselves warm, the female will join the male in hunting for the family. Fledging usually takes about another month at which point the young begin following their parents around while learning to hunt for themselves.

Population Status
As a population the Merlin is stable across its range. Their population was affected by DDT and other pesticides but since the ban of these products in most countries they are found throughout their range in stable numbers.

Fun Facts
The Merlin’s Latin species name columbarius comes from the Latin family name for pigeons and doves which is Columbidae. This is a result of the Merlin’s pigeon like flight style as well as their proclivity for chasing and catching doves and pigeons. In the first half of the 20th century the Merlin was known as the pigeon hawk for these reasons.

Our Western Screech-Owl, Tecolote

Tecolote came to us in 2017 from a local rehabilitator here in San Diego.  He had been found on the ground with apparent damage to both eyes.  After examination by a veterinarian it was determined that he was completely blind in his left eye and partially blind in his right eye. It was assumed that these injuries were most likely the result of some type of impact trauma such as being hit by a car or flying into a window. Owls rely heavily on their superior vision to help them find their food. With such limited vision, Tecolote would never be able to forage successfully in the wild. We believe Tecolote is a male based on his weight, however male and female Screech owls have smaller size differences then other raptors so it is impossible for us to be certain.  The name “Tecolote” is the Spanish word for the genus screech owl and was chosen by our supporters as the best name for our smallest avian ambassador.

____________________________________________________

ADOPT A RAPTOR PROGRAM

Sponsor Tecolote through our Adopt-a-Raptor program and help pay for the costs of his care. Your support will directly help to pay for Tecolote’s food, housing, equipment and medical care. Your donation goes a long way in making sure Tecolote receives the top-notch care that he deserves. For more information, please click on the link below.

 


ABOUT THE WESTERN SCREECH-OWL

Otus kennicottii
The Western Screech-Owl is one of the smallest owls found in San Diego County. Their range, as their name implies, is limited to the Western half of the US. They are found all along the west coast as far North as Southern Alaska and as far east as the Rocky Mountains and South into mainland Mexico.

Appearance
Western Screech-Owls are characterized by their grayish, black bark like plumage that helps them blend in with the trees that they call home. They are commonly found in pine and deciduous forests which account for their grayish coloration. However a subspecies found in the Pacific Northwest has a more reddish tint to their plumage as they more commonly live in fir forests.

Vocalizations
Western Screech-Owls have several vocalizations, however they are most commonly known for their “bouncing ball” call which is a series of high pitched hoots that grow closer and faster in frequency. These tiny owls are so difficult to see that sometimes the only way to find one is by listening for their call.

Habitats
Western Screech-Owls are found primarily in stands of deciduous trees such as oaks and sycamores, as well as in pine forests. In San Diego we find these birds throughout the county in our oak filled canyons and up in our mountain and foothill forests.

Diet
Western Screech-Owls will eat anything they can catch and have a very diverse diet. However they are mainly know to eat small mammals such as mice and gophers, insects, and birds such as sparrows and other songbirds.

Nesting
Western Screech-Owls are cavity nesters and will use the hollows of dead trees made by woodpeckers, or natural decay. Both male and female will help raise the young and will have on average 3-4 eggs per clutch. If you’re interested in building a Western Screech-Owl nest box, you can use the same plan for an American Kestrel nestbox found here.

Population Status
As a population, Western Screech-Owls are stable across their range. Like many raptors they suffer from habitat loss and lack of breeding areas among other things.

Fun Facts
Western Screech-Owls got their name from a screech like call they make when scared. Probably when scientists were first studying these owls and catching them in traps, this was the call they most commonly heard leading to the name of Screech-owl. However in the wild we are more likely to hear their hooting trill call. People commonly mistake the Barn Owl for a Screech-owl because the Barn Owl does indeed make a screeching sound very commonly leading people to believe that it must be a “Screech-owl.”

All images © Misael Virgen 2015

BACK TO OUR BIRDS

FOLLOW US