The term birds of prey is a common catch-all term for all raptors and other predatory birds at the top of the food chain. It is understandable why we call them birds of prey because they rely on prey species and their hunting skills. However, we often take the skills of these birds for granted. So, what is it about these creatures that makes them such incredible predators?
Birds of prey rely on their sensory perception of the world to hunt. Falcons and eagles have far better eyesight than humans, and owls have hearing skills superior to most animals. Birds of prey are skilled in the air, allowing them to pursue prey and pinpointing opportunities on the ground below.
Birds of prey are fascinating, and the way they hunt is amazing. For more information, please read on.
The eyes of birds of prey are forward-facing for depth perception. This is also true of predatory mammals that need to hone in on their prey and judge the distance to strike. Raptors need to know just how far away their prey is to catch them and make the perfect descent.
These eyes are often large compared to the size of their head. Typically, eye size is an indicator of good eyesight. Ours aren’t that big, relatively speaking, as we don’t rely on them as much as other animals. Creatures that lost the need for good eyesight have tinier eyes, such as moles.
The vision of birds of prey is acute and far better than our own. We don’t use the term eagle-eyed for anything. This allows them to see across vast distances, picking up prey for miles. The Golden Eagle, for example, can spot a rabbit on moorland from two miles away, giving them eyesight that is around eight times better than our own. This sort of strategy makes them much more efficient hunters as they can often soar on thermals and keep an eye out for possible meals without using much energy at all.
There is also the fact that birds have the ability to see in ultraviolet. This is hard to imagine because of our own eye-sight limitations, but we can get an idea by using UV lights. This ability can help detect prey like small mammals in the undergrowth because urine trails became more visible. A hawk might not have a precise idea of where a mouse is, but they know it is definitely in the area.
Feet and Talons
Then there are the feet. Large feet like these can grasp onto prey with greater effectiveness and surprising dexterity. Some hobbies can catch tiny dragonflies and eat them on the wing. Ospreys can hold fish so that they point ahead of them, reducing air resistance as they fly. Of course, the right feet also have to be proportionate to the body’s size and ability to help the bird perch on branches or the edge of a nest.
Of course, those feet are also equipped with talons that will pierce deep into the flesh of prey. These sharp weapons, combined with the animal’s strength, meaning they can take on much larger prey. Eagles, for instance, can take fox cubs and small deer.
There is also the pressure exerted onto prey through those feet as birds land on them. This can be enough to kill small prey like mice and other rodents without the need for talons. The most extreme example of the force of a bird of prey’s feet is the Harpy Eagle. This incredible bird can exert 110 pounds of pressure and crush bones, which is why they can go after large mammals in South America’s forests.
We can’t overlook the importance of flight skills for ariel hunters. This doesn’t apply quite so much to birds that target prey on the ground, although they still need to locate the right thermals and patrol the skies with ease. Eurasian Kestrels can’t fly so high to get this bird’s eye view, but they can hover in the wind. They have a special ability to keep their head in the same position regardless of the movement of their body. This allows them to lock onto their prey with greater ease, even on more turbulent days.
Other hawks and falcons will attempt to take birds from the sky. The Peregrine Falcon is possibly the most famous of all these. These birds aren’t that big, but they can still take pigeons with ease – allowing for great pest control in major cities. They will perch high up on towerblocks, wait for a flock, and hone in on a target. Their pointed wings and a top speed of 390 kmph mean they are as sleek and powerful as fighter jets. Pigeons that end up in their talons don’t stand a chance. Other small hawks will use aerobatic skills to swoop through forests after smaller songbirds.
Owls are special
Owls have to rely on different abilities and strategies as they tend to hunt in low light. This means that vision isn’t their primary weapon. Instead, they rely more on their hearing. Many species of owl have acute hearing that allows them to detect small movements in the undergrowth. The snowy owl can even do so beneath the snow. Their ears aren’t symmetrical on their heads like ours are. One is higher than the other to indicate where the sound is coming from; they are also positioned within a facial structure that is more like a satellite dish focusing the sound.
Owls also have adaptations in their feathers that make them silent hunters. They can fly across a field at night, and their prey won’t hear a thing. In fact, studies with sound-recording equipment have placed owl in competition with falcons to compare the noise made. The turbulence of the air on the wings of the falcon sounds incredibly loud with the right tech. Animals with acute hearing might pick up on it too. Owl feathers have fimbriae that create a fringe effect and stops this turbulence. As a result, there is less sound, and the owl even appears silent on high-tech equipment.
Of course, we have to remember that natural selection and the survival of the fittest plays a big part in creating the very best hunters in the avian world. Over time, the strongest, fittest, fastest males will win over females, who themselves are tough and capable, and pass on their genes to the next generation. This eventually leads to adaptations in the species to make them perfect for their niche and true apex predators.
On the subject of winning over females, birds of prey will use courtship techniques called food passes to secure their bonds. It takes a skilled hunter and flier to catch the prey, pass it to the female, and prove reliable providers.
The ability to adapt to a niche or environment is important for the most effective hunting strategies of all kinds of birds of prey. Some have evolved to catch fish instead of terrestrial prey as it is more readily available with less competition from other species. Harriers take a different approach from those that head up high to look out for food. Instead, they tend to fly low to the ground and flush out scared birds. This is a brilliant strategy for the Marsh Harrier, which flushes out small waders and waterfowl from the cover of thick reeds. Other raptors would struggle to find food here, making the harrier the top avian predator.
In short, birds of prey are such good hunters because they have evolved such incredible senses and physical features that give them an edge over their prey. They can see further, picking out potential meals with ease. Their flight skills allow them to pick up prey from the air or even the water, making quick alterations as needed to stay on target. Some can even hear prey they can’t see, giving them an edge in the dark.
There are a lot of different reasons why birds of prey are such great hunters. It is why the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and the Barn Owl are all such different creatures yet still the most feared predator in their ecosystem. It is also why we should never underestimate or undervalue them. We may have tamed some for pest control in dense populations, but they are still extraordinary predators.