Diurnal ‘Birds of Prey’

My title 'understanding bird orders and families' makes some reference to the way that the diurnal ‘birds of prey’, or raptors as they are commonly called, are treated by various authorities. There is no common or correct way of listing these species and, therefore, I’ve based this document around the “Taxonomy in Flux” (TiF) proposals in respect of orders and families, but with some adjustment to the sequence of certain species as noted below.

Whilst owls are also classed as ‘birds of prey’ they are primarily nocturnal birds, so are not included on this list. They are under a separate order STRIGIFORMES, containing over 230 species in around 30 genera.

There are three orders for diurnal ‘birds of prey’ under the TiF system :-

       CATHARTIFORMES (New World Vultures)
       ACCIPITRIFORMES (Eagles, Hawks, Kites etc., and the Old World Vultures)
       FALCONIFORMES (Falcons and Caracaras)

Fortunately the structure of these orders break down quite easily with CATHARTIFORMES comprising just one family Cathartidae containing 7 species of New World Vulture under 5 genera. ACCIPITRIFORMES comprises three families, two of which are monotypic - Sagittariidae for the Secretarybird and Pandionidae for the Osprey. The other is Accipitridae for all the Eagles, Hawks, Kites etc and the Old World Vultures, with that family broken down further into 10 subfamilies containing 252 species in 73 genera. And finally, FALCONIFORMES, comprising one large family Falconidae, which contains all the Falcons and Caracaras, broken down into 3 subfamilies containing 67 species under 12 genera.

In total there are around 330 species listed under 90 plus genera.

Traditionally all the families were grouped together in the order FALCONIFORMES. If you take the most current information available most authorities acknowledge that they are now split into two orders FALCONIFORMES and ACCIPITRIFORMES, with further recognition that the New World Vultures could be placed into an order of their own, named CATHARTIFORMES.

Notwithstanding any issues regarding their respective orders, the five families are generally agreed as follows :-

Families :-
       Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
       Sagittariidae (Secretarybird)
       Pandionidae (Osprey)
       Accipitridae (Eagles, Harriers, Hawks, Kites, Buzzards and the Old World Vultures)
       Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

However, the problem I found in trying to compare the TiF system with information off the Internet, or from various specialist books, such as the excellent “Raptors of the World” field guide, is with the categorisation into subfamilies and the renaming of certain species. The TiF system has divided Accipitridae into 10 subfamilies. This may well be scientifically correct from a taxonomical point of view, but it does confuse matters for a simple list like this. The latest issue of “Raptors of the World” makes specific mention of the problems above family level and confirms that their structure is based on the five agreed families as shown above, but with only two subfamilies and with both of those being in Falconiformes. It’s also interesting to note that the book extends to 338 species under 78 genera, which is slightly more species than TiF, but in 12 less genera. But, what we have to remember is that the TiF proposals are current, updated on an almost monthly basis, whereas printed guides are always going to be out of date to some degree. In fact, at the time of writing, the latest 2005 (reprinted 2007) issue of “Raptors of the World” is around 10 years old, so obviously there are going to be differences!

The following is an abridged ‘species by family / subfamily’ list in a slightly adapted order to help keep certain groups of species together. I’ve tried to show the families and subfamilies as the TiF proposals, but with some adjustment in respect of the order that certain species have been listed. Under some families I have only shown selected species as I do not want a long list of birds that I am unlikely to encounter. The individual species (those shown indented and bulleted, with their specific scientific name) that I’ve personally seen and photographed in the wild have been highlighted (currently 74no). The list will be updated if, or when, I encounter anything new.


Family : Cathartidae (New World Vultures), with 7 species under 5 genera, which are :-
  • Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
  • Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture - Cathartes burrovianus
  • Greater Yellow-headed Vulture - Cathartes melambrotus
  • Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus, also known as the American Black Vulture
  • King Vulture - Sarcoramphus papa
  • California Condor - Gymnogyps californianus
  • Andean Condor - Vultur gryphus


Family : Sagittariidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera
  • Secretarybird - Sagittarius serpentarius (seen at distance on a couple of occasions, but not photographed)

Family : Pandionidae, containing a single monotypic species and genera
  • Osprey - Pandion haliaetus, at present shown as a single species, but with some debate regarding the possibility of different clades around the world being considered as further species in their own right.

Family : Accipitridae, with a total of 253 species under 74 genera, split into 10 subfamilies

Subfamily : Gypaetinae (Harrier Hawks, and African Vultures), with 5 species under 4 genera, which are :-
  • African Harrier-Hawk - Polyboroides typus, also known as the Gymnogene
  • Madagascan Harrier-Hawk - Polyborides radiates
  • Palm-nut Vulture - Gypohierax angolensis, occasionally called the Vulturine Fish Eagle
  • Bearded Vulture - Gypaetus barbatus, more commonly known as the Lammergeier
  • Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus

Subfamily : Gypinae (Old World Vultures), with 13 species under 6 genera, which are :-
  • Red-headed Vulture - Sarcogyps calvus
  • White-headed Vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis
  • Cinereous Vulture - Aegypius monachus, also known as the Eurasian Black Vulture or the Monk Vulture
  • Lappet-faced Vulture - Torgos tracheliotos
  • Hooded Vulture - Necrosyrtes monachus
  • White-backed Vulture - Gyps africanus
  • White-rumped Vulture - Gyps bengalensis
  • Himalayan Vulture - Gyps himalayensis
  • Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus, also known as the Eurasian Griffon
  • Ruppell’s Vulture - Gyps rueppelli, also known as the Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • Cape Vulture - Gyps coprotheres
  • Slender-billed Vulture - Gyps tenuirostris
  • Long-billed Vulture - Gyps indicus, also known as the Indian Vulture

Subfamily : Circaetinae (mainly Serpent and Snake Eagles), with 15 species under 4 genera, including :-
  • Bateleur - Terathopius ecaudatus
  • Black-chested Snake-Eagle - Circaetus pectoralis
  • Western Banded Snake-Eagle - Circaetus cinerascens
  • Brown Snake-Eagle - Circaetus cinereus
  • Short-toed Snake-Eagle - Circaetus gallicus, also known as the Short-toed Eagle

Subfamily : Harpiinae (Harpy Eagles), with 4 species under 4 genera

Subfamily : Aquilinae (Booted Eagles), with 37 species under 10 genera, including :-
  • Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
  • Tawny Eagle - Aquila rapax
  • Spanish Imperial Eagle - Aquila adalberti
  • Bonelli’s Eagle - Aquila fasciata
  • African Hawk-Eagle - Aquila spilogaster, formerly Hieraaetus spilogaster
  • Crowned Eagle - Stephanoaetus coronatus, also known as the African Crowned Eagle and Crowned Hawk-Eagle
  • Lesser Spotted Eagle - Clanga pomarina, formerly Aquila pomarina
  • Greater Spotted Eagle - Clanga clanga, formerly Aquila clanga
  • Booted Eagle - Hieraaetus pennatus, although sometimes classified as Aquila pennata
  • Long-crested Eagle - Lophaetus occipitalis
  • Martial Eagle - Polemaetus bellicosus

Subfamily : Accipitrinae (Harriers, Goshawks and Sparrowhawks), with 73 species under 12 genera, including :-
  • Northern Harrier - Circus hudsonius
  • African Marsh Harrier - Circus ranivorus
  • Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus, sometimes just called the Marsh Harrier
  • Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneus
  • Montagu’s Harrier - Circus pygargus
  • Pallid Harrier - Circus macrourus
  • Lizard Buzzard - Kaupifalco monogrammicus, also known as the Lizard Kite
  • Gabar Goshawk - Micronisus gabar
  • Dark Chanting-Goshawk - Melierax metabates
  • Eastern Chanting-Goshawk - Melierax poliopterus
  • Shikra - Accipiter badius
  • Little Sparrowhawk - Accipter minulla
  • Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipter nisus

Subfamily : Lophospizinae (Crested Goshawks), with 2 species under 2 genera

Subfamily : Perninae (Honey-Buzzards and Bazas, and a couple of species of Kite), with 17 species under 8 genera, including :-
  • European Honey-Buzzard - Pernis apivorus

Subfamily : Elainae (Elainine or Elanid Kites), with 7 species under 4 genera, including :-
  • Black-winged Kite - Elanus caeruleus
  • Scissor-tailed Kite - Chelictinia riocourii, also known as the African Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Swallow-tailed Kite - Elanoides forficatus, but could be classed subfamily Perninae as genus is close to Pernis)

Subfamily : Buteoninae, comprising three tribes Harpagini, Milvini and Buteonini

     Harpagini (Harpagus Kites), with 2 species under a single genera

     Milvini (Milvine Kites and Sea-Eagles), with 16 species under 5 genera, including :-
  • Red Kite - Milvus milvus
  • Black Kite - Milvus migrans
  • Yellow-billed Kite - Milvus aegyptius
  • Snail Kite - Rostrhamus sociabilis (could be within Buteonini)
  • African Fish-Eagle - Haliaeetus vocifer, although sometimes classified as Icthyophaga vocifer
  • Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus, also known as the Bald Fish-Eagle
  • White-tailed Eagle - Haliaeetus albicilla, also known as the White-tailed Sea-Eagle
  • Steller’s Sea-Eagle - Haliaeetus pelagicus

     Buteonini (Buteo eagles and hawks, buzzards, and two Ictinia Kites), with 62 species under 14 genera, including :-
  • Chaco Eagle (renamed from Crowned Solitary Eagle) - Buteogallus coronatus, formerly Harpyhaliaetus coronatus
  • Plumbeous Kite - Ictinia plumbea
  • Great Black Hawk - Buteogallus urubitinga
  • Savanna Hawk - Buteogallus meridionalis
  • Black-collared Hawk - Busarellus nigricollis
  • Crane Hawk - Geranospiza caerulescens
  • Roadside Hawk - Rupornis magnirostris, formerly Buteo magnirostris
  • Galapagos Hawk - Buteo galapagoensis
  • Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo


Family : Falconidae, with a total of 64 species under 11 genera, split into 2 subfamilies

Subfamily : Herpetotherinae (Forest Falcons), with 8 species under 2 genera
  • Laughing Falcon - Herpetotheres cachinnans

Subfamily : Caracarinae (Caracaras), with 10 extant species under 5 genera, including :-
  • Southern Crested Caracara - Caracara plancus
  • Black Caracara - Daptrius ater
  • Yellow-headed Caracara - Milvago chimachima

Subfamily : Falconinae (Falcons, Falconets, Kestrels, Merlin and Hobby), with 46 extant species under 4 genera, including :-
  • Pygmy Falcon - Polihierax semitorquatus
  • Western Red-footed Falcon - Falco vespertinus, sometimes just called the Red-footed Falcon
  • Amur Falcon - Falco amurensis
  • Eleonora’s Falcon - Falco eleonorae
  • Red-necked Falcon - Falco chicquera, although sometimes classified as Falco horsbrughi
  • Saker Falcon - Falco cherrug
  • Lanner Falcon - Falco biarmicus
  • Gyr Falcon - Falco rusticolus
  • Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
  • Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni
  • Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus, also known as the Common Kestrel
  • American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
  • Grey Kestrel - Falco ardosiaceus
  • Merlin - Falco columbarius
  • Eurasian Hobby - Falco subbuteo
  • Bat Falcon - Falco rufigularis

Interesting observation :
Out of the 330 or so species of raptor only 15 are listed as having bred in Britain.

       Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
       White-tailed Eagle - Haliaeetus albicilla
       Osprey- Pandion haliaetus
       Red Kite - Milvus milvus
       Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus
       Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneus
       Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus
       Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo
       Honey-Buzzard - Pernis apivorus
       Goshawk - Accipiter gentilies
       Sparrowhawk - Accipter nisus
       Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus
       Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
       Merlin - Falco columbarius
       Hobby - Falco subbuteo

Footnote :
It must be remembered that all of this series of listings for certain groups of species started with the notes taken whilst trying to obtain a basic layman’s understanding of the current ‘bird orders’. As stated elsewhere, I have no background knowledge or any authority to produce this sort of information. It is here purely as a personal reference document to assist the cataloguing and correct captioning of my photos.

Main sources of information :
“Raptors of the World” by James Ferguson-Lees & David Christie (2005) (reprinted 2007)
RSPB’s “British Birds of Prey” by Marianne Taylor (2010) (reprinted 2014)
Natural History Museum’s “The World of Birds” by Jonathan Elphick (2014)

“Taxonomy in Flux - TiF Checklist” (
“The Eagle Directory” (
Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia - various articles (

Issue : 12 (Aug.18) - (originated Nov.15)