A White-tailed Kite raises its wings on a perch.

White-tailed Kite by John Emerson

Raptors are commonly known as birds of prey, hunting live meat for food. They can be diurnal (active during the day like hawks, falcons, and eagles) or nocturnal (active during the night like owls). Three physical characteristics set raptors apart from other birds: (1) strong grasping feet with sharp talons used to seize prey, (2) a hooked or hook-tipped beak used to kill and consume prey, and (3) a diet that consists entirely of meat. Raptors also have great eyesight, but a poor sense of smell. In many ecosystems, raptors can be found near the top of the food chain, making them ideal indicators of ecosystem health.

The Santa Monica Mountains supports a large diversity of raptors. Today, over 10 raptors reside and breed within the mountains with an additional 2 that can be seen in the mountains during migration. Historically, though, California condors and bald eagles nested in the recreation area. Threats to raptors include loss of foraging and nesting habitat, electrocution, and nest disturbance from recreationalists.

Common diurnal raptors include the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii), white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), and American kestrel (Falco sparverius). Less common diurnal species include the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus). Common nocturnal raptors include the barn owl (Tyto alba), great-horned owl (Bubo virginianus), Western screech owl (Otus kennicottii), and long-eared owl (Asio otus).

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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