Raptors - Eating Like A Bird

January 05, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

It may not be pretty, but it’s ok, its baby food. The three raptors shown here all had young in the nest, or fledglings that just left the nest, and were delivering or feeding food to their young babies. The Eating Like A Bird series, now enters the apex of the bird world -- raptors! Raptors, including owls, hawks, and osprey are birds of prey that feed on live caught prey, and sometimes dead animals. Three things set raptors apart from all other birds, (1) strong grasping feet with sharp talons used to seize prey; (2) a hooked beak used to kill and rip prey apart and, (3) typically a meat-only diet (some hawks and falcons are known to eat insects). Scroll through -- Photo 1 is a Barred Owl photographed in Virginia after it captured a live snake; photo 2 is an Osprey parent delivering fresh caught fish to its young, and its mate, photographed in North Carolina, and photo 3 is a Red Shouldered Hawk parent feeding a small animal to its young, photographed in Washington, DC.  Yeah, I’m not a fan of watching anything be eaten alive, but raising babies happens in nature too. Some of the hazards these adult and young raptors face in their lifetimes include pollutants in fish and fishing waters, chemically-poisoned prey, habitat loss, and other human-caused actions including vehicle collisions and gunshots.


Here’s a few facts about Barred Owls and Osprey. See my extensive blog on Red-shouldered Hawks for lots of facts about them, https://www.copperrangellc.com/blog/2020/4/red-shouldered-hawk-nest.  Barred  Owls are native to North America and fairly widespread. Like many raptors, Barred Owls have exceptional vision and hearing, and are widely successful at catching prey. Although owls are skilled nighttime hunters, they also hunt in the day. Barred Owls have traits that help them be successful night hunters. First, they have very large eyes. Owl eyes can be as much as 3% of their body weight. Not only are Barred Owl eyes very large, they’re also forward facing and provide “binocular” vision which provides better depth perception to detect prey. Larger eyes also capture more light at night, allowing for better night vision. Second, although Barred Owls can’t move their eyes in the socket (like humans can), they can turn their heads around 270 degrees in both directions, giving them great field of view.


Barred Owls preferred habitat is old deciduous and coniferous forests close to swamps or marshes. They nest in empty tree cavities or in the abandoned nests of other birds. Their nests are usually lined with a layer of soft feathers. Barred Owls don’t migrate and they usually don’t venture beyond their territory unless food is scarce. In its lifetime, Barred Owls may move no more than 6 miles from its original location. It’s becoming more usual to see Barred Owls living near or in urban and residential areas. This could be due to easier availability of squirrels, rabbits and other rodents, such as mice and rats. The Barred Owl gets its name from the bars of white and brown colors on its body. It has brown eyes, unlike the yellow or orange eyes of other owl species, including Snowy, Great Gray, and Great Horned Owls.


Osprey are hawks that feed primarily on fish which they catch from the water using their long, hooked talons. Ospreys live on every continent except Antarctica and they have a very similar appearance regardless of where they live. Most Ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter, but not all populations don’t migrate. It’s really something to watch an Osprey hunt and catch fish. An Osprey can plunge so forcefully into the water that it completely submerges. With that said, Osprey can only dive about three feet below the water's surface so they gravitate toward shallow fishing grounds, going into deep water only where schools of fish are near the surface. When carrying prey back to the nest, Osprey will arrange a fish so that’s its facing upright, head forward. Occasionally, an Osprey will catch and eat a snake, eel, or even a frog. Ospreys require nest sites in open surroundings for easy approach, with a wide, sturdy base and safety from ground predators. Nests are usually built on snags (dead trees), treetops, or forks between large branches and trunks; on cliffs or human-built platforms. Osprey differ in several respects from other diurnal birds of prey (raptors that hunt during day). Specifically, its toes are of equal length, its tarsi are reticulate, and its talons are rounded, rather than grooved. Osprey and Owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish. Osprey also have two other adaptations for their environment: (1) they can close their nostrils to prevent water going in when they dive for fish, and (2) they have dark bands around their eyes, which help reduce the sun’s glare when they scan the water for fish.  


Read More about the Eating Like A Bird series: https://www.copperrangellc.com/blog/2020/12/eating-like-a-bird


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