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Birds of Prey: Top 10 Questions

March 2014

Thanks to Bill Heinrich, Interpretive Center Director, World Center for Birds of Prey, Boise; and Greg Kaltenecker, executive director, Intermountain Bird Observatory, Boise State University for the answers.

1: What makes a bird a bird of prey?

Birds of prey have keen vision, sharp talons, and a hooked bill. (From Piper at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

2: How many birds of prey are there?

There are about 130 owl species and over 200 raptors. Overall, roughly more than 500 different birds of prey have been identified. (From Ryan at Kamiah Elementary School in Kamiah)

3: What is the most endangered bird of prey?

There are several species of birds of prey that are endangered or in trouble. The Philippine eagle is one, and there are several that have fewer than 200 members. The Mauritius kestrel was endangered and down to only two breeding pairs. Now there are over 200 breeding kestrels on the island. The California condor was down to 22 individual species and now there are 400. This shows that a bird species can be really down in numbers and still be able to recover. (From Zach at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

4: Which bird of prey has the largest wingspan?

The Andean condor is the largest bird of prey with a wingspan right around ten feet. (From Elliot at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

5: How do eagles swoop down and get their fish?

Eagles swoop down to get fish, but they only go into the water as far as their legs. Their talons go just under the surface of the water and are able to grab the fish. The osprey, on the other hand, will sometimes dive completely into the water to catch fish. (From Dillon at Kamiah Elementary School in Kamiah)

6: Does an eagle have eyelids to protect its eyes against the wind when it dives?

Eagles have two eyelids: a lower and an upper lid. When they are diving, however, they are flying in rapid flight and a nictitating membrane comes across the eye sideways from front to back. This membrane protects the eye when the bird is in flight. (From Garret at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

7: Do birds of prey have a really good sense of smell?

Most birds of prey do not have a good sense of smell. There are a few exceptions though. The turkey vulture is one of these exceptions and has been shown to have a keen sense of smell. If a carcass is completely covered up, this vulture will still find it. (From Jaden at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

8: How do eagles sneak up on their prey?

Most birds of prey will try to sneak up on their prey. Frequently eagles will do it simply by flying high so the prey cannot see them. Or they may try another successful method by following the contour of the land and fly over the top of a hill where there will be an unsuspecting ground squirrel or rabbit. This will give the eagle an advantage to see their prey before the prey sees them. (From Brayden at Dalton Gardens Elementary School in Dalton)

9: Why do turkey vultures have two holes in the middles of their beaks?

The bill of a turkey vulture is called perforate. That means that they don't have a septum. You can see from one side of their nostril to the other side. The reason for this may be because they are scavengers. They have their head down when busy with a carcass and the perforate nostril makes it easy for them to clean after feeding on a carcass. It also helps with their keen sense of smell. (From Deborah at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

10: Why do hawks fly low and eagles fly high?

Both hawks and eagles fly low and high. Most diurnal raptors, those active during the daytime, use thermals, which are air currents that consist of warming air that rises up during the day. Both hawks and eagles use these air currents to fly very, very high. (From Cooper at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)


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