Stuff You Should Know: Birds of Prey

eagleBirds of prey are the Fonzies of the sky, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Not only do they boast wicked hooked beaks and insanely deadly talons for tearing animal flesh, but they also have an equally rad second name, ‘raptors.’   It’s like finding out Dolph Lundgren is both a genius and a martial arts expert and goes by the amazing 2nd name of Ivan Drago.  Some birds get all the breaks.

1. All the Cool Birds are Birds of Prey

o rly?Falcons, eagles, hawks, vultures and owls; all birds of prey.  So, basically, any bird that is hardcore enough to have a football team named after it is a bird of prey.  (Cardinals don’t count.)

2. Raptors are Born Bullies

raptors‘Raptors’ comes from the Latin ‘rapere,’ which means to take by force.  Raptors hunt other vertebrates, including smaller birds.  But everyone has to eat, so you can’t exactly blame them for hunting down their food.  You can, however, blame falcons for stealing the nests of other birds instead of building their own.  Or peregrine falcons and bald eagles for stealing other animals’ prey when they’re perfectly capable of killing their own dinner.  If humans try to pull off those behaviors, we get arrested for squatting and food theft.  And I should know.

3. The Female of the Species is More Deadly Than the Male

female eagleAnd by ‘more deadly’ I mean ‘much bigger.’  This is called reverse sexual dimorphism, and apparently produces less competition among coupled birds.  The husband bird will shoot for smaller prey, while the bigger, stronger wife bird hunts for the meatier stuff.  It turns out there’s a lot less marital strife when you’re not competing with your lover for food.

4. Their Diets Vary in Badassness and Also Grossness

birds of preyFalcons and some hawks eat other birds, while other hawks prefer small mammals like mice.  Ospreys stick to fish, honey buzzards favor wasps, and lazy vultures like carrion, which is the rotting carcass of an animal that has already been killed for them.  For the most part, raptors will pick on animals that are 12% to 50% of their own body weight.  Just like Snooki, but opposite.  Zing for pop culture relevance!

5. The Alaskan Golden Eagle is Nothing to Mess With

alaskan golden eagleBecause the Alaskan Golden Eagle is no minder of size, weight or physics when it comes getting dinner.  They’re known to prey on baby sheep and caribou calves.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this, but only if you’ve got a strong stomach:

For those too lazy or too squeamish to watch it, that video is footage of an Alaskan Golden Eagle swooping down dramatically and carrying a sheep off a mountain.  Sweet dreams are made of the opposite of that video.

6. Birds of Prey Range From Teeny Tiny to Ginormous

smallest manWith around 500 different birds classified as ‘birds of prey’ there’s bound to be a big gap between the largest and the smallest of the group.  The preciously named ‘Elf Owl’ can be as small as 5 inches tall and weigh under 2 ounces, while the Andean Condor can grow up to 53 inches tall with a wingspan of ten and a half feet.

elf owlBut it’s not nearly as lovable as an elf owl.

7. The Phrase ‘Eagle Eye’ Was Invented for a Reason

eagle eye movie posterAnd surprise!  It’s because eagles have freaking amazing vision.  Birds of prey have proportionally bigger eyes than other animals, and they also have more sensory cells in their retinas.  More sensory cells means they can see more.  Like us, they have binocular vision, but unlike us, they can also see stuff from just one eyeball while the other one chills.   And hawk eyes are ten times more powerful  than human eyes.

hawkeyeBut seven times less rapey.

8. The Peregrine Falcon is the Fastest Animal on the Planet

peregrine falconFaster than a cheetah, faster than those lizards that can run on water, faster than Usain Bolt.  The Peregrine falcon has been clocked at 200 mph when executing a ‘stoop’ or dive for prey.  And this stoop business is one of the most sophisticated moves a bird can pull.  The peregrine starts up high, like at 3000 feet in the air.  When he spots his prey, he does a roll, folds his wings in and then plunges to the earth like a maniac.  On the way down it will feel 25 g.  Comparably, this is what a human looks like hitting 22 g:

22gHere’s the peregrine falcon pulling off his maneuver and looking a whole lot less vomity while doing it:

9. Which Might be Why the Egyptians Worshiped It

egyptBy 3100 BC, the Egyptians had firmly established the half man, half falcon god Horus as their god of the Sky, War and Protection.  Here’s how Horus was conceived:  his dad, Osiris, was murdered and dismembered.  His mom , Isis, gathered all the scattered body parts of Osiris, except for his penis, because his penis was eaten by a catfish.  No biggie, because she just used her magic to resurrect him with a new penis of gold, which was promptly used to make baby Falcon Head.

egyptNo harm, no fowl.

Eventually Horus became the patron of the pharaohs and the national god of Egypt.  He also wore a bitchin’ hat.

10. Birds of Prey are Apparently Available for Employment

hawkIn spite of their scary talons and vicious beaks, some birds of prey are totally trainable, as any falconer or hawker could tell you.  Not only are they trainable, but you can apparently hire them to work with small, vulnerable children if you feel like it.  Which exactly what a school in Plymouth, England did to rid their playground of pesky seagulls.

Administrators at St. John Community College (which isn’t actually a college college apparently) hired hawks Jaspar, Hope and Monty the Falcon to come to the school twice a week to scare away the 90 or so gutsy seagulls who populated the playground.  The seagulls were getting braver by the day, swooping at kids and stealing their lunches and whatnot. So the principal did what any other victim of bullies would do – he sought out the services of three birds of prey to come to his school and clean house.

The best part?  No kids were carried away and eaten by the raptors.  The 2nd best part?  The raptors actually did their job and kept the seagulls away.

school kidsNo word on their effect on Mr. Frownypants attitude back there, though.