Raptors of Alaska

The Wrangell Mountains Center is hosting a series of blog posts about raptors in partnership with the NEA and Copper River Valley’s Big Read. This year’s Big Read book is the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. You can learn more about Big Read Events online here.

For this first entry, we are going to discuss what raptors are, what they look like, and what types of raptors you might see flying over the Copper Valley.

The term “raptor” describes a bird of prey, which includes hawks, falcons, and owls. Raptors have three characteristics: excellent eyesight, sharp talons, and a hooked bill. A way to tell raptors apart is to look at the shape of their silhouettes when they are flying.


Eagles are large with wingspans up to 7 feet. They are buteos, or “soaring hawks” which have long, broad wings and short tails. Other examples of buteos include the Red-tailed hawk and Swainson’s hawk.

Accipiters have short, rounded wings and long, rudder-like tails. They are bird-eating specialists and can maneuver around trees in the forest. Examples include the Goshawk and Sharp-shinned hawk.

Falcons have long, narrow, pointed wings and are fast flyers. Examples include the Merlin and the American kestrel.

Illustration by Kristin Link

Illustrations by Kristin Link