Birds of prey

Description

Birds of prey, or raptors, are the hunters of the bird world. They typically have large, strong feet to grab and kill their prey. Their powerful hooked beaks are used to tear prey into bite-sized chunks.

Raptors of the Northwest Territories

A wide variety of raptors can be found in the Northwest Territories (NWT). These inlcude:

American Kestrel              Bald Eagle                       Barred Owl

Boreal Owl                        Broad-winged Hawk        Golden Eagle

Great Horned Owl            Gyrfalcon                          Long-eared Owl

Merlin                               Northern Goshawk           Northern Harrier

Northern Hawk Owl          Osprey                             Peregrine Falcon

Red-tailed Hawk               Rough-legged Hawk        Sharp-skinned Hawk

Short-eared Owl               Snowy Owl                       Swainson’s Hawk

Life cycle

Raptor nests (eyries) are usually found in a location inaccessible or invisible to most predators. A nesting pair will return year after year to the same nesting area and frequently to the same nest. It is important a strong bond develops between a mated pair as the cooperation of both birds is required to incubate the eggs, feed the young (eyasses) and defend the nest site. This pair bond is often weakest during the initial breeding stages. It is very important not to disturb raptors at their nest sites. Human activity near a nest site during mating and incubation may cause a nest to be deserted.

Population trends

The number of raptors in the NWT varies annually.  This fluctuation is generally tied to prey abundance, especially for rough-legged hawks and northern harriers (voles and lemmings), northern goshawks (snowshoe hares) and kestrels (insect and voles).
Raptors eating mostly birds (peregrine falcons, sharp-shinned hawks, merlins) or fish (osprey, bald eagles) and species hunting a broader variety of prey (Swainson's hawk, red-tailed hawk, gyrfalcon) have more stable populations.

Protection

In the NWT, all raptors and their nests and eggs are protected by legislation. A person found to be in illegal possession of such a bird or egg, whether it is alive or dead, is subject to a fine between $2,000 and $10,000 and/or up to two years in prison. If you find a dead or injured raptor, it must be turned into the nearest Renewable Resource Officer.

Raptor research

The NWT maintains an active raptor research program. Every five years, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, golden eagles and rough-legged hawks along the Mackenzie River, thousands of square kilometres, are surveyed by helicopter. The information collected is used to determine the status of the peregrine falcons along the Mackenzie River as part of a larger continent-wide survey.

For more information, visit the NWT Species Monitoring Infobase or email wildlifeobs@gov.nt.ca.