A raptor is a bird of prey, but there are many birds that are carnivores or omnivores like ducks and penguins. But are they raptors? No, a raptor needs to be able to fly, unlike penguins that swim, and needs to catch its food with its feet, unlike ducks that use their beak. Let's take a look at the many species of raptors!
- Owls: Owls are best known for being nocturnal. They have very big eyes to help them see in the dark, but because they are so big there is no room for muscles behind their eyes so they are fixed in place in their skull. So if an owl wants to look at something they have to turn their whole head, which is why they can rotate their neck 27-%, they also have twice as many cervical vertebrae bones in their neck as we do to help them turn around. Although they have very good eyesight they also have very good hearing. Some owls can hunt in complete darkness relying on sound alone! They can do this because they have asymmetrical ears to help them pin point exactly where a noise is coming from. After catching their prey they swallow it whole, but their stomach acid isn’t strong enough to digest everything so the next day they cough up an owl pellet containing the fur, feather, bones, and scales of their meal.
- Hawks: Hawks are part of the Accipitridae family. They are diurnal and rely on their excellent eyesight to help them find their prey. They can see up to 8 times better than us, and see into spectrums of light that we cannot including ultraviolet light. They are very intelligent and have creative ways to hunt, especially when it comes to snakes. It is believed that they can differentiate between venomous and non venomous snakes because they use very different tactics for each! When hunting a non-venomous the hawk will grab the snake with its talons, fly up into the air, and drop it onto a hard surface. When hunting venomous snakes they fan out their wings using “the matador method” to trick the snake into striking the feather which have no blood vessels or nerves and uses this to distract the snake.
- Falcons: Although falcons may look like hawks and are also diurnal, they are actually very different. In fact falcons are actually more closely related to parrots than other raptors! Falcons have some very unique characteristics that set them apart from other raptors. One is their malar stripes, which are black colored lines under their eyes that help reflect sunlight, just like the black grease football players use before a big game! They have special bones inside their nostrils called nasal tubercles that helps push air into their lungs when flying at high speeds. They also have what’s called a falcon’s tooth, which is a small projection on their upper beak which fits helps them quickly kill their prey by snapping their neck. One species of falcons called Kestrels are even able to hover or fly in place, which is impossible for most birds!
- Eagles: Eagles are apex predators of the raptor world and are usually much bigger than the other species, so they can even hunt other raptors. Eagles are categorized into four groups; The fish eagles like the bald eagle like to hunt in the water, the serpent eagles who mainly live in Africa and are known for catching snakes, the Harpy eagles lives in dense tropical forests, and lastly the booted or true eagles like the golden eagle have feather further down their feet than the other species and prefer to eat mammals. The only species of eagles in North America are bald and golden eagles, although they are territorial within their own species bald and golden eagles don’t mind living near each other because they eat very different things and don’t need to compete.
- Vultures: There are Old World Vultures that live in Europe, Asia, Africa and there are New Word Vultures that live in North and South America. The main difference is that the New Worlds have a very good sense of smell which is unusual for raptors, the Old Worlds rely on sight alone for finding food. Compared to other raptors vultures have very weak beaks and talons because they are scavengers and like to eat carrion. They don’t have any feathers on the top of their head and have very little feathers on the bottom of their feet, this helps keep them clean while eating and also helps them keep a cool body temperature when its hot outside.
- Secretary Bird: The secretary bird is a very special raptor and there is only one species left! It is very large with a body like an eagle, with long crane like legs. Unlike the other raptors, they mainly hunt by walking on the ground and only fly when escaping danger or returning to their perch at night. They are the only raptors that are able to run fast! Secretary birds are best known for their unique hunting technique called stomping, where they step on their prey multiple times in rapid succession until they’re ready to be eaten.