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The Accipitridae, one of the two major families within the order Accipitriformes (the diurnal birds of prey), are a family of small to large birds with strongly hooked bills and variable morphology based on diet. They feed on a range of prey items from insects to medium-sized mammals, with a number feeding on carrion and a few feeding on fruit. The Accipitridae have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found on all the world's continents (except Antarctica) and a number of oceanic island groups. Some species are migratory.
Many well-known birds, such as hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and Old World vultures are included in this group. The Osprey is usually placed in a separate family (Pandionidae), as is the Secretary bird (Sagittariidae), and the New World vultures are also usually now regarded as a separate family or order. Karyotype data indicated that the accipitrids hitherto analysed are indeed a distinct monophyletic group, but whether this group should be considered a family of the Falconiformes or one or several order(s) on their own is a matter of taste.
The accipitrids have been variously divided into some 5–10 subfamilies. Most share a very similar morphology, but many of these groups contain taxa which are more aberrant. These are placed in their respective position more for lack of better evidence than anything else. It is thus not very surprising that the phylogenetic layout of the accipitrids has always been a matter of dispute.
As mentioned above, the accipitrids are recognisable by a peculiar rearrangement of their chromosomes. Apart from this, morphology and mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data gives a confusing picture of these birds' interrelationships. What can be said is that the hawks, kites, eagles and Old World vultures as presently assigned in all likelihood do not form monophyletic groups:
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