Raptors - Birds of Prey

Red-tailed Hawk perched on pine tree
Red-tailed Hawk perched on top of a pine tree


Seeing a raptor in the wild is an incredible experience that many people highly value. Raptors, also known as birds of prey, rely on their keen eyesight, sharp talons, and hooked beaks to hunt and feed on other animals.

Did You Know?

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is home to 25 documented species of raptors including eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, and more. Imagine seeing a Golden Eagle soar above you. This massive raptor has a six-foot wingspan. Smaller, but faster, is the Peregrine Falcon which can dive at speeds of 200 mph to catch prey.


Why are Raptors Important?

Raptors have a critically important role in ecosystem health. Known as “keystone predators,” raptors help to regulate prey populations of small mammals, other birds, fish, and reptiles. The status of raptor populations in the park can be an indicator of ecosystem health, with dips in breeding success signaling an imbalance in the ecosystem.


What Are the Threats to Raptors?

Raptors are sensitive to stressors such as habitat loss, disease, pollutants, climate change, and disturbance by people.

While RMNP continues to provide good raptor habitat, human activity in the park can cause raptors to avoid establishing nests or to abandon nests. Human activity also can temporarily flush, or startle, adult birds away from their nests, leaving eggs or young birds vulnerable to predators or weather; young birds may miss essential feedings.

Flushed adult birds may also inadvertently knock eggs or young from the nest or ledge. Additionally, disturbed young may attempt to fly prematurely, resulting in injury or death.

Reproductive rates are low in most raptor species, with breeding pairs producing 1-2 offspring (also known as fledglings) per year. Repeated breeding failures can cause declines in raptor populations overall.

Raptor Conservation - How Are We Working to Help Protect Raptors?

Raptor species are afforded protections to ensure their longevity within the park’s borders and beyond. Federal protections, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act protect raptors across the country.

Within Rocky Mountain National Park, many different people have worked over time to help contribute to the park's rich history of raptor preservation and protection. This has included the work of park staff, volunteers, and members of the rock climbing community.

  • 1970s – After Peregrine Falcon populations crashed by as much as 90% due to DDT, scientists, conservationists, and rock climbers released more than 6,000 captive-bred falcons across North America. As part of this effort, RMNP served as the first “hack site” for Peregrine Falcons in the Western United States. Raptor “hacking” entails raising and releasing young raptors from artificial nests. In total, 58 peregrine falcons were hacked successfully from 1978 until 1990.
  • 1988 - Rocky Mountain National Park began enacting temporary closures to protect raptors during their roosting, breeding, and nesting seasons. The park adaptively manages these closures using monitoring program data.
  • 1989 - Rocky Mountain National Park began monitoring raptors to track raptor occupancy and biodiversity, breeding activity, and nesting locations, activity, and success. Continuous monitoring since then has produced a 30+ year dataset used to inform decisions about raptor management, including the timing and extent of temporary closures.
  • Today - Park volunteers, climbers, and hikers all play important roles in helping to protect raptors. Skilled raptor monitoring volunteers observe known nesting sites and contribute observations to the park's database. Trailhead volunteers provide information about raptors to visitors at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. Climbers and hikers do their part by respecting temporary closures.


Two juvenile Red-tailed Hawks are perched top of a tree
Learn about Raptor Closures

Temporary raptor closures help ensure that birds of prey will be undisturbed during their roosting, breeding, and nesting seasons

Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree
RMNP's Raptor Monitoring Program

Learn about RMNP's Raptor Monitoring Program

Rough-legged Hawk in flight
2022 Raptor Monitoring Survey Results

Learn more about the 2022 Raptor Monitoring Survey Results

Last updated: February 13, 2023

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