Rapacious Birds and Owls

                                      Accipiters--{ Birds of prey }

The Accipiters include a diverse range of birds, numerous and highly interesting. With a few exceptions, they nearly all prey on warm blooded animals. These are caught by speed of flight and raw strength. Many rapacious birds feed  on one type of food and thus are wholly dependent on it, and, they would go to the extremes of hunger before they would turn to another food source. Thus their habitat and distribution depends greatly on the prey available and their means of obtaining it.

This order of birds, apart from their swift flight, have the ability to kill. They rely on fecund creatures that produce surplus offspring, such as the field vole, a creature that produces so many young per season, that if rapacious birds did not take them, they would soon attain plague proportions, and many would become a health hazard for example rats and mice. Throughout nature this fact occurs, the surplus of one race providing food for another.. This order includes the vultures, but as they do not naturally occur in the UK they are not under review here.

The first group of birds under review are the Falcons { Falconidae}. The birds from this group that occur in northern England include Merlin, Peregrine falcon and Kestrel. 


Merlin is in the family Falconidae--below larger rapacious birds. Harriers.

Image courtesy of Dave Herr

The characteristics of the Falcons are striking and well defined .  The head and neck are feathered. The eyes are shaded by a projection above, which gives the impression of an eye brow and gives the bird a keen, intelligent look. The eyes are bright and ever alert. The cere { a waxy swelling at the base of the upper beak containing the nostrils} is in the majority of species coloured and the basal part is adorned with stiff hairs.

Both mandibles, are in general, hooked throughout their whole length. they are very strong; the upper mandible pointed at the tip, the lower mandible obliquely rounded, and the cutting {tearing} edges are furnished with a "tooth" or notch, more or less perfect. The nostrils are pierced in the cere and rounded or oval in their outline.

The tarsi {foot of the bird including the ankle and heel}  are short and stout and of moderate length and covered either by feathers or scales. The outer toe is often united to the middle one, with a membrane base, but the inner toe is quite free and independent. The claws are very pointed and sharp but can be retracted {but not into sheaths } when at rest.

In many species there are considerable differences between the plumage of the young and mature birds. this causes confusion for the novice birder trying to indentify the species correctly.The same applies to a certain degree to the male and female of the same species. The female is by far the most powerful bird, often a third heavier than the male, and, strong bold and fierce in proportion.

The principle differences in the plumage are, the young have colours more the hint of the female than that of the male, and females are more inclined brown than the males.

This group of birds are very strong and some are capable of carrying prey, as heavy as themselves, many miles through the air. They prefer prey they can kill, which are, most often, warm blooded creatures, animals and birds. However, some species may feed on reptiles, amphibians, fish and even beetles. They are generally quiet birds and seldom break cover unless it is to seek food { or on migration to breeding grounds}. They tend to stay in lofty positions and more rarely in trees or on the ground. 

They eject by mouth the bones and other indigestible parts in the form of globular " castings".  

Members of the Accipitrformes that occur in northern England.

Golden eagle { a single pair in Cumbria}

Red Kite.

Hen harrier.

Marsh harrier. 




The Osprey is now placed in the family Pandionidae. 

The species we have had under review are all diurnal hunters {hunt by daylight}; now we turn to the owls. 

Nocturnal birds of prey---the Owls.

The above section on diurnal birds of prey have plumage that is compact and firm and when flying they are formed to be aerodynamic. The nocturnal species, on the other hand, are birds of twilight and gloom. They reside during the day {most species} in holes or thick cover of trees, and most of them, when they resolve to fly while the sun shines seem out of place, with the exceptions { at least in the UK }, are short eared owl and the little owl.

The plumage of the owl is often " fined off" at its extremities into a very soft and delicate fringe, which enable them to fly and glide in complete silence. This is also the case of owls that inhabit dense forests and woodland. 

Tawny Owl

Image courtesy of nottsexminer CC BY-SA 2.0 License. {Flickr}

The general characteristics of owls

The general characteristics of owls are these----The head is large and round, their eyes very large, and directed forward, and capable of great dilution in the pupil, and are surrounded more or less with fine downy feathers. Indeed, in some species they form a complete circle which nearly hide the beak.

Their external ears are hidden by feathers, but they have large cavities in the skull and their sense of hearing is acute. Their bodies in consequence of their thick downy plumage are very small and light in proportion to their apparent size and their bones are not as strong as those that hunt by day.  Their beaks also, though hooked, and very sharp are much more slender and without any notched mandibles. Their tarsi are weaker, and the claws although sharp, are much more slender in proportion to the size of the birds.

Their feet have three toes in front and one behind. The outer toe is capable of being reversed so that the toes act two against two in clutching. Some of them have erect feathers, or a sort of crest upon the sides of the head, which has given rise to the names of eared owls, horned owls or even sacred owls. Those that have no such feathers were once referred to as smooth headed owls.

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Timid birds ?

Although in general they are timid birds, preying in the dusk and the dark there are some that are much bolder and more powerful in character. 

From the nature of their food which is chiefly mice, rats, voles and other small mammals, of which they kill in large numbers, they are often regarded as birds that provide a great service to man. And those that are of greater use in this respect are those that are not so timid and inhabit barns, farm yards and other so places to perform their services.

Owls that feature on this site can be seen below under the Associated pages. 

Associated pages. Click on the content banner at the top of this page. Scroll down to view.




Peregrine falcon.

Tawny owl.

Barn owl.

Short eared owl.

The BTO.

All other birds that feature on this site can be viewed by clicking on the relevant content banners on  the right hand side of this page { they are all grouped together}


Also see Birds via Link banner.


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