DESCRIPTION AND ROLE OF BIRDS OF PREY
A bird of prey (or raptor) is a hunter, a predator, and a carnivore. They are birds perfectly adapted for their all meat (carnivore) diet. Birds of prey can be distinguished from other bird families by these three main characteristics:
- Excellent vision;
- A strong hooked beak, specialized for slicing meat;
- Feet equipped with powerful talons and sharp nails.
The role in nature
In Nature, each and every living thing is important, and the fine connections that exist between all organisms are what help maintain balance. The food chain is a group of living things where each member is eaten by another member. Plants and animals in a community are linked by what they eat or what gives them energy.
The food chain is what keeps an ecosystem in balance. All living things depend upon each other. As predators, birds of prey have their own role to play in this equilibrium.
The food chain is made up of five (5) links :
- Plants: The first level or the start of the food chain cycle. Plants get their energy from the sun.
- Herbivores: Animals that eat plants (seeds, leaves, etc). Rabbits eat foliage and buds; birds, like the Black-capped chickadee, eat seeds and fruit, as do mice and other rodents.
- Primary carnivores: Animals that eat herbivores. The Sharp-shinned Hawk eats small birds; foxes eat rabbits, and the Red-tailed Hawk eats small rodents.
- Secondary carnivores: Animals that eat primary carnivores. The Great Horned Owl is a predator to other species of birds of prey, like the Red-tailed Hawk. The Golden Eagle can catch foxes.
- Decomposers: The living organisms in the earth that break down plant litter, dead animals and excrement. They transform this matter into elements that can be re-used by plants. Examples include: worms, mushrooms, insects, bacteria and other microorganisms. This last level of the food chain is what allows the cycle to continue.
Raptors are at the top of the food chain and play a key role in their ecosystems. When populations of birds of prey go down, then the numbers of their prey species go up, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. For example, if a population of Red-tailed Hawks declines, there would be more rodents like mice and if there are too many mice they will start to eat all the grass and plants in the area and as a result damage the ecosystem.