Birds of Prey are classified as belonging to the order Falconiformes which has 5 families, the 2 largest being the falcon family (Falconidae) and the accipiter family (Accipitridae). In Iceland there are 2 species of falcons, the merlin (Falco columbarius), and the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) and one species of accipiter, the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).
Most birds of prey, or raptors, live mainly on the animals they kill. Their prey is not always birds or mammals, however, for some species of raptors feed mainly on fish or insects, and yet others live to a great extent on carrion. All birds of prey have the characteristic features of a hooked bill, powerful legs, and sharp talons, and the female is generally larger than the male. Although owls are predatory birds and have similar behaviour to raptors, they are not classified as birds of prey and are totally unrelated to these species.
Man has always been impressed by birds of prey, especially their noble appearance and their flying and hunting skills. Emblems of birds of prey have often been proudly used on many national flags and coats of arms. Indeed the highest honour to be awarded in Iceland is the Order of the Falcon. But there is also another way of viewing the species: raptors kill other creatures for food (as man does) and can therefore be considered as merciless and cruel – and justifiable objects of persecution. The fact is, however, that birds of prey only kill to feed themselves and their offspring; moreover their powerful bills and claws have been perfectly designed by nature to ensure that their prey is killed swiftly and efficiently. Those who regard raptors as cruel often forget that even many small birds hunt insects and worms for food. It must be remembered that all life on earth is bound together in one ecological chain, and that birds of prey are just another link in that chain. All forms of life are dependent on each other for survival, and it is thus very dubious to claim that only man should have the right to kill for food.