Bird Identification Maine
The term “raptor” is derived from the Latin “rapere” meaning “to seize or take by force. ”There is a wide variety of raptors, but several traits are common to most of these birds:
- Talons are enlarged, curved claws for gripping prey.
- Beaks are relatively large and powerful for tearing flesh.
- Generally keen eyesight facilitates locating potential prey.
- Scavenging (eating carrion) is an option when food stressed.
- Wing shapes and size are specialized to aid foraging strategies.
- Females are larger than males (to varying degrees) amongst raptors.
Many people get only a fleeting glimpse of raptors and understandably wonder which one they saw!Learn to focus on the overall shape and silhouette proportions of those flying overhead.
There are many wonderful bird identification guides; here are a few links to useful raptor identification on-line that are especially applicable to Maine:
Mankind has had a long fascination with raptors’ flight skills and hunting prowess. Declines in many raptor populations and conservation efforts to aid them have further elevated our awareness. Some raptors have had considerable conservation attention in Maine. Click on the header for additional information on bald eagles, golden eagles, and falcons. The “falcons” webpage features the peregrine falcon and Maine’s recovery efforts. The “nesting ecology, ” “delisting, ” and “research – longevity records” tabs on the bald eagle webpage provide many photographs and background on special topics.
Diurnal birds of prey that occur in Maine are in one of 4 taxonomic families.
- Family Accipitridae = hawks, eagles, and the northern harrier
- Family Falconidae = falcons
- Family Cathartidae = vultures
- Family Pandionidae = osprey
Only two types of eagles are native to North America. Both occur in Maine throughout the year. Except in midwinter, at least 2, 000 bald eagles can be found across the state. Golden eagle almost certainly number < 100 individuals at any time of year: perhaps fewer than 10 in most months. More visit Maine as fall or spring migrants.
Peregrine falcon, Waldo County
© Sharon Fiedler
Four members of the genus Falco can be seen in Maine. The Kestrels and merlins are broadly distributed but occur at low density; neither has a special status in Maine. Peregrine falcons are a State Endangered Species.
Northern harrier, Aroostook County
© Paul Cyr, Crown of Maine Photography
A Species of Special Concern in Maine
Harriers are often seen soaring low over fields and marshlands where they hunt. Wings raised in a “V” dihedral and a conspicuous white “rump” at the base of a relatively long tail are very characteristic. The loss of farmlands (especially pastures) is a setback for northern harriers and other grassland birds that nest on the ground. Harriers are one of the few raptors where the sexes have distinct plumages. Males have gray heads and backs, but are mostly white underneath. Females are brown above and “dirty white” underneath with dark streaks. Juveniles resemble females but tend to have rusty-tan colorations with streaking underneath.
Osprey and bald eagle in aerial combat, Hancock County
Osprey at nest, Waldo County
The osprey is an abundant, widely distributed raptor in Maine. Once recognized as Endangered or Threatened in many other northeastern states, ospreys have never been listed in Maine.