7 Dramatic Portraits of Raptors


A new photography book showcases birds of prey looking their best.

In Raptors: Portraits of Birds of Prey, a new book of images by Rhode Island-based photographer Traer Scott, sharp-taloned birds get the star treatment. The book is devoted to dramatic portraits of birds that many of us rarely get to see in the wild, and almost never up close. Scott—an animal photographer who has previously devoted whole books to shelter dogs, baby animals, and wild horses—photographed birds at wildlife rehabilitation centers like Horizon Wings in Connecticut and the Carolina Raptor Center near Charlotte, North Carolina. During her time working on the book, she encountered bald eagles, vultures, owls, falcons, and other birds of prey, taking studio portraits of them that highlight their every feather.

“Raptors are without fail among the most enigmatic and powerful creatures in the animal kingdom,” Scott writes. “They are uniquely graceful and intelligent, fluid and fierce. They deserve our fascination, respect, and reverence.”

Here are just a few of the birds featured in the book.


"Although many species of birds hunt and eat meat, there are a few physical characteristics that set raptors apart," Scott explains. All raptors (including this barred owl) have a great sense of sight, hooked beaks, and sharp talons. The word raptor comes from their hunting strategy—it's derived from the French word rapere, meaning to grab or snatch.


Eagles, falcons, ospreys, kites, vultures, owls, and hawks (like this red-tailed hawk) all qualify as raptors.


“If you have never tried to hold a golden eagle on a falconer’s glove for a prolonged period (and who has?), then I suggest you take a 10-pound dumbbell, grasp it, stick your arm straight out at a 90° angle, and try holding it there," Scott writes. "Then pretend that the weight you hold is restless, flapping its 7-foot-wide wings in your face, screeching at you, and digging 3-inch-long talons into your glove.” The Aplomado falcon above was probably a little easier to hold—most weigh less than 1 pound, though they do boast an impressive 3-foot wingspan.


“Something I had not entirely considered," Scott writes of starting her project, "is that most birds of prey rarely walk or even stand—they almost always perch. Their feet and long talons are made for gripping, tearing, and piercing, not standing." Over the years she spent photographing the birds (like this short-eared owl) that appear in her book, she and her husband developed a special black perch that could be broken down so that she could carry it on planes as she traveled to different bird sanctuaries.


Like this barn owl, the birds that Scott photographed were residents of wildlife sanctuaries, and she spent time at a number of raptor rescue centers. "The dedication that it takes to devote one's life to rescuing wildlife is admirable no matter what the species, but raptors are not for the faint of heart," Scott writes. "Their diet demands that caretakers have a large supply of small mammals available and often means recycling roadkill, buying large quantities of frozen dead chicks, and slicing up mice like cucumbers."


Raptors features 70 photos of 25 different bird species. Scott calls this one, the crested caracara, a "flashy opportunist." Closely related to falcons, the birds steal carrion from vultures, prey on wounded animals, dig up insects, and feast on turtle eggs. Native to the Americas, they are largely found in South and Central America, but live as far north as Florida.


This portrait of a Mississippi kite appears in Raptors, which is available for $14 on Amazon.


All images by Traer Scott unless otherwise noted