The Little Red Riding Hood’s Test for Birds of Prey
Imagine you were strolling down a forest trail one beautiful day. You smell the sweet saint of several exotic flowers in the cool breeze and hear the soothing sound of nature around you dotted with the occasional calls and songs of different birds.
This was the scene that faithful day when you suddenly saw it ─ a majestic bird soaring high above the tree-line! Luckily your camera happens to be with you, and you take a quick picture of it and show it to your friends on getting home. "This has to be a raptor,” a friend says, “a bird of prey!” You ask how she knows, but the only reply you get is ─ “I just know it is.”
Unsatisfied, you picked up your device to do some more research on the topic of raptors, and by doing so, you ended up here ─ with the experts! Well, congratulations, because we’ve got you covered! In this article, we present the Little Red Riding Hood’s test for birds of prey to help put you at ease!
The Little Red Approach ─ 4 Questions To Ask
Just as little red was able to see her false grandma for what she really was (that naughty, naughty wolf) by asking the right questions, you too can determine whether or not that fascinating bird is a raptor or not just by doing the same.
Here the top 4 questions to ask when using the Little Red Riding Hood Approach to determine birds of prey:
1. What Kind Of Beak Does “Grandma” Have?
If you are familiar with the story of Little Red Riding Hood, you probably remember the last observation she made before the big bad’s wolf’s trickery was exposed ─ "But Grandmother! What big teeth you have!"
In this case, though, this should be the first thing on your mind ─ What type of beak does this bird have?
As a rule of thumb, birds of prey generally have hooked, sharp beaks. This feature is so common in fact, it is probably their most distinguishing factor as no other bird group has such beaks.
All raptors have similar beaks, which serve as a great way of identifying them. While each species' beak might vary in terms of size and other such small differences, every raptor’s beak is still essentially the same ─ short compared to the rest of their heads, curved at the tip, and sharp at the edges.
Take into account the diet of these birds (and the big bad wolf’s reply in the folklore ─ The better to eat you with!), and it becomes immediately obvious why this type of beak is vital. These birds are meat-eaters. Just like all carnivorous mammals have tools designed to help them pierce and tear into flesh ─ their teeth, so also do raptors ─ their beaks.
So when you look at that bird you are inspecting and find out that it, in fact, has a long straight beak/bill, don’t bother investigating any further. It is decidedly not a raptor.
2. What Kind of Talons and Limbs Does “Grandma” Have?
But what happens when you do not get a clear view of the bird’s beak, or what if you want a bit more proof? Well then, you take from Little Red’s book and make our next observation ─ “But Grandma! What big, strong hands you have”.
Alright, let’s face it. This is as basic a law of the animal kingdom as you can find: if it has strong limbs and wicked-looking claws attached to them, you need to ask no further questions ─ It is almost definitely a meat-eater.
This law holds for birds as well!
The talons and legs of any bird is another good indicator as to whether this bird is a raptor or not. A bird with powerful looking leg and toe muscles and with wickedly sharp- looking hooked talons attached to each leg is most likely a bird of prey. This is actually the case over 90% of the time.
The reason for such claws and powerful limbs is similar to the reason for their hooked and sharp beaks ─ their choice of food.
Since these birds are meat-eaters, with most of them needing to catch their prey alive first and then transport them a considerable distance before finally getting to feast on them, these birds need sharp, hooked talons to carry this out successfully. "The better to grab you with," so to say.
These hooked dagger-like talons also help these birds tear into their prey, making it easier for them to tear-off chunks of meat with their powerful beaks.
So when you see strong, powerful feet on with hooked, sharp claws, that bird is going to be a bird of prey at least 9 out of 10 times.
3. What Kind of Eyesight Does “Grandma” Have?
Now, let's look at a case where the bird is soaring above you, and you can not get a good enough view of the bird’s limbs or its beak? How then can you decide whether or not the bird is a raptor? Well, in such a case, your best bet is to use the bird’s eyes!
Raptors are known to have one of the best eyesights in the entire animal kingdom. Capable of spotting prey clearly from several miles in the air, this keen eyesight is yet another feature one can use to identify birds of prey. And while a beginner might be unable to tell how keen an eyesight a bird might have just by looking at the bird at rest, this is a great tool for identifying raptors in flight.
A bird soaring high in the sky with its head scanning the space below is most likely a raptor searching the ground for prey. Basically, no other bird does this.
Raptors have been known to go higher than other birds would dare go, taking advantage of their incredible eyesight to hunt unsuspecting prey from several miles in the sky.
This is not to say that a bird flying relatively low to the ground is definitely not a raptor, though, as many raptors can also be seen hunting closer to the earth's surface. Regardless of how closer to the ground or far from it the bird is, however, if the bird seems to be searching the ground below it keenly, then this bird is likely a raptor looking for a meal.
4. What Kind of Meal Does “Grandma” Eat?!
Just as it was with little red, the revelation of what kind of diet the bird being investigated eats is the biggest and most accurate sign of whether or not it is a raptor.
If the bird in question is consistently carnivorous, then you have your answer ─ the bird is a bird of prey. This is probably your best bet to recognizing birds of prey as a beginner as you need to expertise to come to this decision. Just always remember this: If the bird is a meat-eater ─ especially if it kills to get this meat ─ the bird is a bird of prey.
It is important to note that while all of the signs listed on this list are accurate for most raptors, there are a few exceptions. In fact, apart from the last diet, a few raptors exist that do not possess some of the other qualities lifted above. For example, the shoe billed stork has a beak that looks like a shoe and is larger than the rest of its head, and penguins do not have such strong looking limbs and deadly talons.
Nevertheless, these signs still hold for most groups of raptors, and can still be used as a great means of identifying these birds most of the time.
Some Raptor Fun Facts
Are you a big raptor lover? Below are a few fun facts about birds of prey:
● Three Eyelids!
Raptors basically have three eyelids! Apart from the regular eyelids they share with other birds, birds of prey usually have a third, transparent eyelid. This eyelid is usually underneath the first two and covers the eyes laterally. This extra eyelid is believed to be present so as to give the eye extra protection during flight and when the raptors feed.
● Bigger Females
Female raptors are generally larger than their male counterparts. While the reason for this is not certainly known, it is theorized that this is so because each raptor the females spend more time on their nests and the bigger they are, the easier it would be to fend off larger predators.
● Birdtitude Loves Raptor!
Know any other fun facts about raptors or means of Identifying them? Share them with the Birdtitude community in the comment section below.