'Bumbarrel' is an old name for the Long-tailed Tit, everyone's favourite garden bird. And the reason they're called that is for the shape of their nest. It's almost spherical, with a little hole at the front, and made from a special weave of moss, lichen, spiders' webs and feathers.
Although I find most birds
endlessy fascinating, there always seems to be something particularly magical
about catching a glimpse of a bird of prey – whether it’s watching a
sparrowhawk that’s just landed in my back garden, or seeing buzzards catching
some thermals in the air above me.
But what makes birds of prey so
good at, well, being birds of prey? Below I let you into a few of the secrets
that make birds of prey top predators.
Barn owls have the keenest sense
of hearing of any known animal. By just listening, they can calculate exactly
where a noise is coming from, helping them catch some 2,000 mice, voles and
small animals every year!
Their secret? Having a face
shaped like a satellite dish and ears that are positioned ever so slightly
askew from each other.
As sound waves hit their
dish-shaped face the sound is channelled into their ears allowing them to work
out the direction that the noise is coming from. Kind of handy when most of
your prey likes to remain hidden in vegetation.
Another bird of prey whose prey
would also rather stay out of sight is the kestrel. But rather than hearing, a
kestrels main weapon is its eyesight.
Voles are a much-preferred meal
for kestrels, and while they might be small and difficult to see when scurrying
about under long grass, that poses no problem to a kestrel.
Voles and other small rodents lay
scent trails of urine and faeces, both of which reflect ultraviolet (UV) light.
And while UV light is invisible to you and I, kestrel are able to see it.
Bad news for small mammals, great
for kestrels looking for their next meal!
Not so slippery customer
Having spotted a fish from 30 m
up in the air, an ospreys next meal doesn’t really stand a chance.
With (nearly always) perfect
accuracy, ospreys take a near vertical plunge dive towards the water with wings
half-folded and feet thrown forward at the last moment plucking the chosen fish
clean out the water.
While you could probably have
guessed that ospreys have great eyesight, have you ever wondered what other
weapons they have to help keep slippery fish in their grasp?
Well, ospreys have big feet and an
opposable toe, allowing them to get a firm grip on their catch, while sharp
spines on their feet give extra grip.
To protect themselves as they hit
the water, ospreys also have a patch of dense feathers on their chest. Pretty
Clocking up speeds of nearly
200mph when in a hunting ‘stoop’, peregrines are one fast bird.
But being able to hit such top
speeds wouldn’t be of much use if you couldn’t breathe! As you would expect,
peregrines have that covered.
To protect their lungs from the
damaging change in air pressure such a feat produces, small growths on their
nostrils change the airflow and reduce the pressure experienced, making
Peregrines also have a third
eyelid which allows them to clean their eyes while still being able to still
see! Definitely useful when you move at such speeds.
What other techniques do birds of
prey use? Do let me know in the comments below, as I’m sure I’ll have missed