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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.