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Science of the flying hunters (Eagles, Hawks, Vultures)
This article is about the birds of prey i.e. eagles, hawks, vultures, etc. Their body and different styles of flying are describe briefly. Carrion eaters and specialist eaters are also defined along with their examples.
Birds of prey
Birds of prey include eagles, hawks and falcons. Their excellent eyesight, along with their amazing flying skills makes them a great flying hunter. Their sharp talons and hooked beak can tear up the food easily. Not all the birds of prey feed in this way, such as, some feed on snails and nuts, some eat dead animals.
Features of birds of prey:-
Following are some distinct features of a bird of prey:-
- Eyes:-Birds of prey have superb eyesight. Their eyes face forwards, which is quite helpful in judging the distances. Their eyes are several times better than that of a human being.
- Beak:-Birds are unable to cut the meat into pieces before swallowing as they lack teeth. So, they use their beak to tear up the food. But an amazing fact is that, a beak, hardly ever gets used as weapon.
- Talons:-Birds of prey have large feet with toes ending into talons. These talons are their major weapon for killing a prey. These talons also help in carrying the food while flying. Their talons along with their wings make them capable of lifting a prey which is more than a half of their weight.
Birds like eagles soar on the current of rising air looking for prey. This uses very little energy. So, a bird capable of using this technique of flying can cover some large distances in a given period of time without getting its energy drained. Whereas, birds like hawks, usually fly very swiftly but in short bursts. Some other birds, such as a kestrel, fly in a very unusual fashion of hovering around. Following are some briefly defined flying styles :-
- Hovering:- While making a hunt, a kestrel hover close to the ground which consumes a lot of energy. But once a prey is spotted, it stops hovering and dive quickly, darting itself towards its victim.
- Soaring:-Some species, such as eagles and vultures, almost glide in the air using very little amount of energy. Their large wings when kept straight and steady soar them upwards. They usually fly very smoothly in the air.
- Low-level flight:- The low-level flying technique is only used by the smaller species, such as, hawks. They fly with great speed showing great maneuverability as well. A hawk has such control on its body that it can swerve between the trees and over hedges without lowering down its speed.
Different flying styles are defined below in the pictures:-
The carrion eaters feed on the dead animals. Vultures are the most famous of the carrion eaters category. They live in deserts, mountains or any other open space, so that they can fly around in search of an animal carcass. They have very weak talons. By eating a carcass, they also play a vital role in cleaning the environment.
Vultures are always in search for a carrion. Their long neck enables them to eat the carrion from inside. If a vulture spots carrion, then it has to reach there as quickly as possible because in just a matter of minutes, all the vultures start to arrive from all around. Then, no matter who reached their first, the largest and the most dominant always gets the major portion of the food.
Following are some common examples of carrion eaters:-
- Turkey vulture:-A turkey vulture has slender legs and toes. It is found in a large area stretching between Canada and Tierra del Fuego (South America).
- Black vulture:-It is a vulture with slender legs and toes. It is mainly found in the Americas.
- Andean Condor:-It is found in the Andes mountains of south America as suggested by its name. It is the largest of all the vultures.
- White-backed vulture:-As suggested by the name, a white-backed vulture has white feathers behind its neck. It has a bare head like all other vultures. It has very few feathers on its neck.
There are a few birds of prey which eats only a specific type of food using some specific techniques. Some of these are vegetarians as well. Where as, some feed on the food crap thrown away by the human beings in urban areas. Following are some birds which fall into the category of specialist eaters:-
- Snail kite:-A snail kite is mainly found in wet and marshy areas stretching between southern USA to Argentina. It feeds almost entirely on snails which are found in freshwater. The snail usually gets snatched by one foot of a snail kite. Its long and strong beak pulls out the snail body from its hard shell.
- Palm-nut vulture:-It feeds on the fruits of oil palms. It also eats some small animals. It usually is comparatively smaller than the other species of vultures.
- Egyptian vulture:-It is a very sharp minded vulture. It eats ostrich eggs. But to break an egg, instead of using its body parts, it picks up some stones and starts thrashing them against the shell of the egg until it breaks. It is found in Egypt, Asia, Africa and Europe.
- Secretary bird:-A secretary birds has very strong legs. It hunts on the ground. It feeds on snakes. When a snake is spotted, the secretary bird picks up its one leg and muscles it down on that snake. Its wings act as a shield to protect itself from the attacks of the opponent. It has feathery quills behind its head. These feathery quills, like those once used for writing, also gave the secretary bird its name.
Largest and the smallest birds of prey:-
The Andean condor is the largest bird of prey. It is a carrion eater. It has a wingspan of more than 3M or 10 ft. The Pygmy falcon is the smallest bird of prey. It mainly feeds on insects. They are about 15 cm long.
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