Facts about Hawks“Hawk” is a general term for birds of prey that are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They are classified in the order of Falconiformes, of which there are 304 worldwide and 17 in British Columbia. All hawks are strong and powerful, with good eyesight, hooked beaks and taloned feet, but there is a wide diversity of forms and sizes among them.
What makes a Hawk a Hawk?
Raptors have sharp, hook-shaped beaks to tear the flesh from their prey. On their upper beak, falcons have a “tomial tooth”, a pointy triangle which helps bite through the neck of prey.
Raptors have long sharp talons to grab and tear prey. Talons are made of keratin, the same as human fingernails. Raptors’ toe pads are sensitive and tell the bird when it’s time to clamp shut.
Hawks are unusual in that the females are larger than males. An extreme example is the female sharp-shinned hawk, which is twice as big as the male. Vultures are the exception where males are 10-15% larger than females.
Eyes like a Hawk
Hawks have excellent vision for hunting and avoiding danger. Their eyes are larger and have more sensory cells (rods and cones) in the retina, compared to other animals. Like humans, they have binocular vision, meaning they use both eyes to see, which gives better depth perception. They also see in colour and have a third, clear eyelid for protection. A hawk’s vision is the best in the animal world and is up to eight times better than humans.
Hawks have good hearing, but not as good as owls. Their ears are small holes below the eyes and are covered in feathers.
Most raptors are not sensitive to smell. An exception is the turkey vulture, which uses it’s keen sense of smell to find carrion.
Unlike owls, whose food goes directly to the stomach, hawks have a storage area, called a crop. Food can be held there for later digestion. It allows them to eat quickly and limit exposure to predators. It’s also a stopping-point for indigestible bits like fur and bones. These pieces are formed into an oval pellet and regurgitated.
Hawks are known for amazing aerial displays to find a new mate or for bonding between an established pair. Individuals will do high-speed dives, head bows, repeated calls, figure eights and circles. Pairs can be seen chasing, passing food and locking talons and cartwheeling towards the ground until the last minute.
Reference Library – Hawks
Cornell University Lab of Ornithology has kindly provided links for greater detail on each bird listed below. Click on the link to get specific information on identification, habitat, sounds & much more.