Adaptations are the way birds of prey have changed over time so
that they can get enough food, mate, and successfully live in
the world. We chose a couple of adaptations so that you
could see how a bird of prey's body helps it to actually get
Birds of prey always use their beaks to get food. Most of the
time, beaks are used to rip their food up into smaller pieces so
that they can eat it. Birds of prey have beaks that are curved
down. They grab their prey, puncture it with their beak while
they hold it with their talons, and yank on the meat until they
pull it out to eat. These birds will sometimes use their beaks
to help them kill their prey. For example, owls will use their
beaks to put lots of pressure on the animal to kill it.
Kestrels and falcons use a slit in their beak to break the necks
of their prey.
How they capture and eat their prey depends a lot on the size
and shape of their beak. For example, vultures eat prey that is
already dead. With their long and skinny beaks, they can grab
meat that is between bones left from other vultures and
meat-eating animals. They don’t have to hurry to ‘dinner’
because there will still be food left that other birds of prey
Another example is owls. Many owls swallow their prey in one
piece, throwing up what they can’t digest later. Their beaks
are small which is okay because they don’t have to tear up their
food before eating it, like other raptors do. They get
small prey so they don't need a large beak for that, either.
Different raptors use their beaks to catch different things.
Most birds of prey eat small mammals. If you ever have the
chance, look at a bird of prey’s beak and make a guess at what
it eats. You may be surprised how close your guess is.
Birds have feet that are used in some way for their
survival. Most of the time
birds use their feet to walk on. An example
is robins that use their feet to walk around to find worms in the
ground. They have to be on the ground so that they can feel and hear
the worms. They would not live without this food.
A bird of prey depends on its feet and talons even more than
a robin would. Most raptors use their feet to capture, hold, and kill
their prey so their feet and talons need to be very strong. A few
raptors, like vultures, don’t kill their prey. Their prey is already
dead so their legs and feet don’t have to be strong enough to kill
A raptor’s legs are usually covered with feathers down to its
ankle. The feathers are used for warmth and to help them fly
quieter. The bird that flies quieter is a more successful hunter.
The muscles that make it possible for the bird to perch and grab prey
are at the top of the leg. Raptors have the ability to ‘lock’
their feet around a branch, relax their muscles, and actually stay
firmly in place.
A bird of prey has scaly skin on its feet. Each foot has
three toes that face forward and one that sticks out of the back of the
foot. The strongest, or gripping toes, are the back one and the inside
front one. The outside ones are used for balance. At the end of each
toe is a claw, or talon. Sometimes the claws make it hard for the bird
to walk. An example of this is the Osprey. They catch fish so their
talons are curved or bent so much that they have a hard time walking on
the ground. Since they are hunting fish, not being able to walk around
on the ground is not a big problem. Birds of prey have legs, feet and
talons that are equipped to hunt whatever they like to eat like the
Osprey. Snake hunting birds have shorter toes so that the snake can’t
wiggle its way out of its grip.
Owls have weaker feet but sharper talons because they don’t
use them to tear apart their prey, but rather to puncture their prey.
Owls have feathered legs and feet to keep them warm. They also leave
less of their body open to bites by prey. This is different from most
raptors that have ‘bare’ feet. Most raptors kill and tear apart their
prey and end up with blood on their feet and talons. Owls don’t have
this problem because they don’t use their feet in the same way. The
bottom of an owl’s foot is bumpy so that prey can be gripped better.
When owls are perched on a branch they can move there outer toe to the
back because of a special joint they have. Owls are the only raptors
that can do this.
When we visited
Mr. Sliker, a falconer, we were able to see
talons up close. Their grip is amazing! They can put about 1400 pounds
of pressure on their prey when humans are capable of only 400. Talons
can pierce right through the body of a rodent! Talons are used for
hunting, climbing, and perching. No matter where you sit, talons are
We thought that feathers were all the same, but that isn’t true. There
are different kinds of feathers that are used for different jobs.
feathers: These feathers are used to keep the birds warm
and, with owls, help them fly quietly.
feathers: These are on the wings and tail. The tail
feathers help the bird steer and stop. The other flight
feathers are fanned and moved as the bird flies.
feathers: These are used to cover the bird, keep it warm,
and to mold the shape of the body so that air flows easily
When we visited Mr. Sliker, we learned that feathers can determine
whether the raptor is a silent flier, like an owl, or one that can be
heard, like a Peregrine Falcon. Raptors that can be heard while flying
have stiff feathers which are strong enough to handle the wind
resistance when they dive. This resistance is caused by the speed of
the dive. Owls have feathers with soft, fluffy edges so they can’t be
heard while flying in the dark. Then they can swoop down on their prey
Feathers are made of keratin which is the same thing that
claws and fingernails are made from. Birds have more feathers in the
winter than the summer to keep them warmer. Once a year, feathers will
fall off and new ones will take their place. This is called molting.
Molting takes a few months to do and all of the feathers are dropped and
others are grown in their place. It is like baby teeth that you lose.
You grow adult teeth to replace them. It’s the same with feathers—only
it happens once a year.
Feathers are used for more than flying. Males use their
feathers to attract a female for mating and they can be used to
camouflage the birds when they are nesting. They can also help sounds
get into an owl’s ears.
Birds get dirty and their feathers sometimes get messed up.
When this happens, they use their beaks and talons to ‘preen’, or clean
and straighten out their feathers.
Wings come in many different shapes and sizes, such as an owl, whose
wings are normally large and rounded. It takes powerful muscles to
allow the bird to fly, and the muscles react differently to do different
things. To flap up, the wings have to separate and allow air to come
through. To flap down, the feathers close, not allowing any air to come
were able to see a raptor swoop down through a forest of trees to grab
its prey on the ground, you would be amazed at how flexible the wings
are. As wind currents change or the bird has to turn to avoid a tree,
he bends down, to veer left or right- all while he is flying
unbelievably fast. They can use their wings and feathers to speed up or
slow down, turn or hover. Their tail feathers are used like a ship’s
rudder, steering left and right.
can see better than humans!
of day (day or night) when a raptor hunts determines how its eyes
work. Owls are mostly night time hunters (nocturnal)
and to help them out seeing, they have binocular vision like humans
do. This means that they use both eyes at the same time when they
look at something. Think about how you look at things with
Both of your eyes are
focused on one area. This helps the night time raptors to see how
far away their next meal is. We call this depth perception. It
also allows them to clearly see a larger area at one time.
Owl eyes are very big compared to their body. If you compare
the size of an owl's eyes compared to the size of his body, you
would see how they compare to human eyes. With the same
comparison of eyes to body size, human eyes would be a big as a
grapefruit! The size of their eyes helps them to capture more
light from the stars and the moon to see with.
Day time raptors have eyes that let them see their meals far
away with lots of detail and color. They can focus on far away
objects clearer than we can. A lot of
diurnal raptors are looking for MICE
hiding and running through tall grass.
Diurnal raptors can also see movement in a larger area than
we can without moving their head in another direction because they
have monocular vision. Monocular vision means that the raptor's
eyes are able to work separately. That's kind of cool because
they can see different things with each one. The raptor's eyes are
toward the side of its head and its side vision is great. They can
see predators coming up from behind them easier than nocturnal
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