Getting to know your Raptor (Bird of Prey)
What is a Bird of Prey?
“Bird of prey” simply refers to eagles, hawks, falcons, ospreys, vultures and owls. These amazing birds are all adapted for a lifestyle of aerial hunting. Birds of prey are also called raptors, from the Latin raptor (a robber) and rapere (to seize) referring to their ability to catch and carry off prey. Raptors share some common characteristics including:
- Powerful talons for gripping and killing prey
- Sharp, curved beaks for tearing food
- Keen eyesight to spot prey from great distances
Why are Birds of Prey so important?
The presence and number of raptors in the wild serves as an ecological indicator. Not only the health of these birds but also as the functioning of ecosystems. Birds of prey are excellent predators at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately pesticides, drought and habitat loss are creating the most dramatic impact on these top predators. Scientifically this refers to them as indicator species. Raptors important role is controlling populations of rodents and other small mammals to maintain a proper ecological balance.
Raptors are needed to maintain a healthy and thriving environment. If their disappearance were to occur from an area future environmental problems could arise. Their prey species will no longer be kept within a balance population and may expand to a point where there is a “population bloom”. In this case the carrying capacity of the land may be exceeded where food resources will be greatly depleted resulting in a major prey collapse. This may cause other ecological problems which may change the ecological balance of the area or region.
Raptors are also important as a sustainable raptor-based tourism industry providing income to individuals, conservation groups and bird watching organizations.
Why are so many species of raptors declining?
In many cases raptors are declining due to several individual issues or a collective of several. These frequently are secondary pesticide uptake (SPU) by the raptors. What does this mean? When SPU occurs the raptor has caught and eaten a prey species that has consumed one or more pesticides. This results in the raptor becoming affected by the pesticide frequently resulting in death.
Other causes of decline are loss of habitat which results in the loss of the raptors food resource. Shooting of raptors also can cause raptor populations to decline.
In some cases a combination of these causes of raptor decline occur in regions worldwide.