Birds Of Prey, Pacific Northwest
Birds Of Prey are the lords of the air realm, they are the forest hunters, the warriors, the Raptors. They are the predators that hunt with their powerful beaks, strong feet, and razor sharp talons. They are the ones with extraordinary eyesight and incredible hearing.
The term “bird of prey” is applied to two groups of birds, first is the vultures, eagles, hawks, and falcons, these are the day hunters. They are the raptors.
Turkey Vultures are widely found in North America and are also known as turkey buzzards. The adults can weigh up to 3 kilos, reaching up to 85 cm in length. The wingspan of the vultures can be about 2 meters. The name turkey is given to them due to the bald, red head that closely resembles that of a wild turkey and their feet closely resemble the feet of a chicken, which they cannot use them to lift or carry food. Instead, their feet are specially designed to hold food in place while they tear it apart.
They generally prefer wide open spaces, especially coastline, deserts, and plains. However, they can live in a wide range of habitats, including tropical and temperate forests and grasslands. The pacific northwest has a large population of turkey vultures and if you look up, on a warm day, you more than likely will see them riding the thermal air currents high in the sky.
Vultures are basically scavengers, that feed on dead animals. They usually thrust their heads inside the carcass. The fact that their head is bald keeps it clean while eating.
Turkey vultures have an extraordinary sense of smell, which enables them to find out a dead animal within 24 hours of its death. They are also empowered with sharp eyesight, which helps them to search out food. If the need arises, turkey vultures can also live on vegetation.
Turkey vultures have limited vocalization capabilities, as they do not have vocal organs. Their vocalization capabilities are restricted to making hisses and grunts. A hiss is made when they sense danger or feel threatened. On the other hand, a grunt is made either when they are hungry or while courting. Turkey vultures usually lay up to 3 eggs in a year. The incubation period is generally 40 days, after which the eggs hatch. All the responsibilities for incubating as well as caring the young ones are shared by both parents. The young ones become capable of flying by 80 days after they hatch. Turkey vultures do not build a nest for laying eggs; instead, they lay eggs in caves or on the ground. A turkey vulture can live up to 16 years in the wild, while in captivity, they can live till 30.
One of the most interesting turkey vulture facts is that it is a very gentle and non-aggressive bird. It basically uses vomiting as a means of self-defense. So, whenever the bird feels threatened by a predator, it throws up semi-digested food. The foul smell of the semi-digested food forces the predators to move away from it. At the same time, the body weight of the bird gets reduced due to vomiting, which allows it to fly away quickly.
While driving in the woods with my family one day, we came across a group of vultures feeding on a deer carcass, we were able to get within 3 meters of these birds. The smell was so bad that we had to hold our breath. It was incredible to watch these birds feeding.
The Pacific Northwest has a large population of Bald Eagles. Sometimes when the herring spawn begins you can find them in the hundreds in trees that overlook the sea.
The adult bald eagle is easy to identify but the immature birds are easily confused with the golden eagle, both have dark brown bodies but the golden eagle has a much redder color to it and his head is almost golden. It is 5 years before the bald eagle fully matures.
The bald eagle will build huge nests made of sticks and will quite often return to the same nest year after year. Sometimes these nests can get to be over ten feet wide and eight feet tall.
When l was a young man, l owned a couple of guide boats and spent my summers fishing with guests who were looking to hook into one of our big tyee salmon. Once in a while you would hook into a small codfish that would not survive the trip to the surface, instead of just throwing these fish back, I would keep them on board until l saw an eagle perched over the water in a tree.
I would tell my guests to get their cameras out and when they were ready to take pics, l would toss the small cod a short distance from the boat.
There are so many eagles on our coast and it is such a wonder to watch them.
The Red Tailed Hawk is one of my favorite hawks to watch. The Pacific Northwest has a very large population of red-tailed hawks.
The red-tailed hawk is the largest of hawks weighing an average of 1 to 2 kilos and reaching up to 65 cm in length. Its wingspan can reach up to 175 cm long. It has a dark brown crown, cheeks, back, and wings. It has a white neck, chest, and belly, and has heavy brown markings on the lower chest and flanks. Its tail is broad with a distinctive rusty red color and usually has a black bar on the end.
Male and female red-tailed hawks look alike although females are usually 1/3 larger than male hawks. Juvenile hawks resemble adult ones except for their tail color which is brown with dark bars. Their tail molts becoming red during their second year.
Red-tailed hawk nests are usually found at the top of our tallest old growth trees. They choose such sites because they prefer a clear view of broad areas for protection from predators.
The nests are built of sticks, twigs and are lined with bark strips and their own feathers. Red-tailed hawk nests are shallow and wide and are often used by the same hawks for many years. Old damaged nests are still used after being repaired. Both sexes help in the construction of the nest. The female hawk will lay 2 eggs colored white or bluish white with reddish blotches. During incubation, the male hawk hunts alone and brings food to the female who stays at the nest.
This hawk’s courtship display is awesome. The display starts with both hawks soaring in circles at great heights. The male then proceeds to dive down in a steep drop then goes up again at a steep angle, repeating this several times before he approaches the female hawk from above to touch or grasp her briefly. When this happens the pair sometimes interlock their talons and they go on a dizzying downward spin, plummeting to treetop levels before separating again.
Evidence suggests that red-tailed hawks pair for life. It has been observed that female hawks will defend their mates even outside of breeding season.
The red-tailed hawk is an opportunistic feeder with its diet consisting mainly of small rodents. They also like to eat birds, reptiles, insects, and crayfish.
Did you know that the Peregrine falcons are the fastest flying birds in the world? They can reach speeds of up to 320 km an hour during a dive. That’s pretty fast.
Peregrines chiefly hunt birds such as starlings, pigeons, robins, jays, shorebirds, and waterfowl, but will sometimes take mammals, reptiles, or insects. Peregrines may use a variety of hunting techniques, but typically prey is captured in the air after fast pursuit or a rapid dive to catch the prey. We had one around our house for a few years who would grab birds from my yard and throw them against my house, he would then pick up the unconscious bird and sit under a special tree to eat them.
Peregrine falcons frequently nest near water on ledges of rocky cliffs or buildings, but occasionally will use abandoned stick nests of other species. Peregrines lay up to 4 eggs, which are incubated for about 35 days. The young falcons fledge in about 6 weeks from hatching.
Then there are the night hunters, those that hunt in the dark. This group consists mostly of owls, which include the barred owl, barn owl, short-eared owl, great gray owl, great horned owl, western screech owl, and the northern pygmy owl. There are 421 species of birds of prey in the world and 133 of them are owls.
Typical Barred Owl habitat consists of forests with some mature trees near open country. Their historic range covered the eastern half of North America, but recently the owl’s range is expanding into western North America, they are now breeding in parts of the pacific northwest.
We see them every year on Vancouver Island. Though this owl is basically a nocturnal bird, it is a very opportunistic hunter and will hunt even before dark. They tend to feed mainly on small mammals such as field mice, shrews, and deer mice. It also eats small squirrels, bats, moles, rabbits, and mink. They often sit on a tree branch or any other perch waiting for prey and then swoops down quickly to grab its food. Aside from small mammals, the barred owl will also eat fish, frogs, snakes, lizards, and crayfish. In fact, it is said that the pinkish tinge to its belly is due to the amount of crayfish that it eats.
The western screech owl is essentially non-migratory. On the coast, it is found in all woodland habitats, but it prefers mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, usually near a source of water. Hooting has been recorded every month on the coast but begins in earnest in February.
Similar to other owls, the screech owl females are larger than the males of their species. They have a compact size and shape. The screech owls are small and agile. They are about 25 cm tall and have a wingspan of about 65 cm. They have prominent, wide set feather tufts with bright yellow eyes. They have brownish hues with a whitish, patterned underside. They have well developed raptorial claws and curved bill. They use them as a tool to tear their prey into pieces that are small enough for them to swallow. They tend to carry their prey to the nest and then eat it.
The screech owl habitat includes semi-open landscapes with old trees with hollows. Screech Owls have a good sense of hearing to help them locate their prey.
They are basically solitary birds and make their nests during the late winter breeding season. The male screech owls prefer making nests in cavities or even reuse the abandon nests of other birds. This is their way of attracting female screech owls for mating. The females select their mate based on the best cavity or nest and the amount of food present inside. After laying an egg, the male is responsible for feeding the female during the incubation period. The screech owls carry out biparental care of the young one. They fledge only one young per year.
The screech owl diet consists of a variety of prey like small rodents, rats, insects, reptiles, small mammals like bats and rabbits and other small birds.
These two groups of birds are the most threatened birds in the world. In the last 30 years, the destruction of their habitat by logging, mining, and oil/gas extraction along with human encroachment has reduced their numbers dramatically worldwide and this is happening right here on our coast.
Man has sometimes thought of these birds as cruel and even hunted them almost to extinction for this reason. But like all the wild creatures on our coast, they are only doing what they need to in order to survive. There is no motive or malicious reason in their actions other than survival.
Our world has many varieties of animals that live in balance with one another in the chain of life, birds are a big part of this with many types, in all sizes.
The birds of prey come with sharp hooked beaks, sharp talons, and amazing eyesight that allows them to spot and home in on prey from great distances. Birds of prey are carnivorous, they are easily identified by their hooked beaks and sharp talons to capture and tear apart their prey. Therefore, these birds are the kings of the air.
The pacific northwest has many types of raptures that call it home, they are the eagles and falcons, the owls and ospreys, the hawks and vultures. They all play a role and have their place in the ecosystem.
All raptors beaks are similar in design, curved at the tip with sharp cutting edges to rip and tear apart their prey. Falcons will sever the spinal cord of its victims with their sharp beaks.
These hunters, these birds of prey have very strong claws that end with sharp talons. These claws are very formidable. They are perfectly designed to capture, hold, and carry prey. These claws are quite powerful and can literally crush their prey to death. Osprey being fish eaters, have one hinged toe that can be held in a forward or backward position. This allows them to hold fish with two talons on each side for a secure grip. Osprey also has spiny scales on their feet that help them grip fish more securely.
Birds of prey have very keen eyesight with forward-looking eyes, this allows them to home in on prey from a great distance. All raptors are meat eaters. Their diets may change from location and species but they all eat meat.