October 4, 2011
Our articles on wildlife often highlight the importance of conservation. We need to embrace conservation in right earnest because several bird species are under threat due to chemical pollution, poaching & widespread habitat loss. This article helps nature lovers identify and protect birds of prey right in their own back yard and also helps students distinguish between individual birds and their personalities. It is our understanding that a keen eye can spot many of these birds in one’s own back yard, or in a small wooded area.
Please note that all the bird pictures have their respective names, except the last five. Kindly try to identify the same. (SLIDE –A,B,C,D,E)
There are hundreds of species of birds of prey all distinctive in their look and ability. These Birds are so important to our wellbeing. They play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature. Often, we fail to realize how significant their presence is to us and to our green planet. Birds of prey have beautiful wings and include hawks, vultures, osprey, eagles, harriers and falcons. Incidentally, hawks are also referred to as raptors, a Latin word meaning “Plunderer”.
Birds of prey are extraordinary hunters with outstanding qualities like incredible eyesight, flexibility, sudden change in wing speed and keen senses. Irrespective of their sizes, these birds swoop down on their prey, striking it with sharp clawed talons and eventually killing it. The birds have evolved a set of unique adaptations over thousands of years that enable them to bring down prey with accuracy. Primarily these meat eaters possess hooked beaks adapted for tearing apart food, & dominant feet with sharp, curved claws for killing prey. Most of these birds are widely distributed and only a few species are restricted to certain regions.
Birds of prey are commonly defined as birds that hunt their prey in order to survive (The only exception is the vulture which consumes dead prey), unlike man who hunts them for pleasure or for sport. Birds of prey are highly intelligent; examples of brilliance in birds continue to flow from wildlife experts worldwide.
Birds of prey have been important power symbols in ancient dynasties and civilizations. These birds were used as deities, signifying magical powers and aristocracy. Some Countries worshipped these birds, especially the eagles for their phenomenal strength and power. Falcons were closely associated with the Egyptian culture and were worshipped in their temples and buried in their tombs. Coins dating back to the fourth century BC show Alexander the great with a falcon on his fist.
Falcons are the most common birds associated with falconry. In all probability falconry originated in China .Records prove that during the Genghis Khan era, eagles were used to chase and capture wolves. In Japan, emperors and shoguns engaged in the art of falconry on horseback. Believe it or not, falconry became so popular during the 13th and 14th Century that nuns carried birds of prey to chapels and a 14th century French husband advised his wife to take her Hawk, with her everywhere, even to church.
Falconry was a status symbol during the 16th Century and was practiced by both common men and Kings. The species and type of bird used reflected social status. Eagles were reserved for Emperors, Gyr falcons were used by the kings (Largest of the falcons, 22 inch in length). Peregrine falcons were valued by royalty and used for hunting by Princes, Earls, Dukes and Barons.
Last on the social order were Knaves-persons of humble birth who flew the common kestrel, a small falcon 13 inches long.
Hawks include birds like vultures, osprey, harriers, kites –southern hawks, accipiter and buteo hawks, eagles and falcons.
Hawks are diurnal in nature, -Active during daylight
Worldwide distribution accounting for approximately 280 species,
The smallest hawk is the 3 to 8 ounce sharp shinned hawk to the 20 pound harpy eagle of South America.
SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS & ADAPTATIONS OF BIRDS OF PREY:
Both male and female birds differ in size, with females much larger than males.
Raptors are gifted with strong, powerful legs , toe muscles and sharp talons, a hooked beak used to tear prey, keen eye sight and excellent flying ability. The length and size of the bird’s toes, and the curvature and thickness of its talons are associated with the type of prey it pursues.
Raptors are supposed to have the keenest eyesight in nature because of the size of the eyeball and the eye muscles designed for quick focus.
Females are more aggressive hunters than males.
Many game hunters use hawks for falconry because of their superior strength and shrewd hunting ability.
Hawks and owls prey on animals smaller in size. Frogs, rodents, insects, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals, fish
Hawks and owls disgorge undigested parts of their prey in the form of a pellet. It consists of fur, feathers, bones and other parts. A close examination of the pellet provides vital clues on the birds food habit.
MAJOR CAUSES OF BIRD LOSS:
The use of DDT as insecticide was discovered in 1939. It was also discovered to be highly toxic to fish. Birds, like the bald eagle, ingest DDT after eating contaminated fish. The DDT makes the eggshells brittle and thin. Eggs often are broken in the nest when the parents sit on them during incubation. This was one of the reasons populations declined to dangerous levels. DDT was banned in the United States in 1973, although it is still used in other parts of the world. Birds that migrate to other continents are still at risk. (Primary source: University of Oxford, Department of Chemistry.)
Birds of prey are extremely important as natural agents of pest control. They eliminate the need for chemical control of pests and diseases. Evolution has maintained a perfect balance between predator and prey populations over thousands of years. On the other hand, it is man who has upset the balance of nature. We also need to realize that increased protection and more effective management of India’s wetland habitats is the key in securing a better future for birds of prey.
The local Government bodies as well as respective State governments should recognize the outstanding efforts of local groups, students, and Teachers across the Country, who are devoting precious time and money towards bird conservation. They are working closely at the grassroots level to protect and preserve the various bird species for future generations. Recognition by way of presenting environmental excellence awards at the State & National level will go a long way in stimulating the interest of all concerned with respect to bird conservation.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We wish to acknowledge and specially thank Mr. Ashley Rasquinha M.S. (U.S.A), (DIRECTOR-TECHNICAL, ELECTROPNEUMATICS & HYDRAULICS (I) PVT. LTD. Pune.) For photographing the birds of prey in. Ashley is a friend of nature and devotes his spare time for the conservation of wild life.
Dr Anand & Geeta Pereira - Archives
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- The Value of Forests
- The World of Pelicans
- Impact of Climate Change on Wildlife
- The Winged Wonders...
- Rare Leopard Cat
- Mushrooms and Health...
- Bird Biodiversity
- A Walk Through the Wilderness
- Coffee Forests - a Gateway to Wild Life
- Bird Paradise of Western Ghats
- Amazing Slender Loris..
- Coffee - The Amazing Elixir for Young and Old
- Butterflies - The Flying Jewels of the Western Ghats
- The Fascinating World of Mushrooms
- Rare Aquatic Bird Species of Western Ghats
- Human - Elephant Conflict