Profile of a Predator
Red Tailed Hawk
Raptors exhibit an array of specialized evolutionary traits unique in the bird world. Some of them can be examined in this closeup profile of a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk spotted in Green Wood Cemetery.
For starters, all raptors have very large forward facing eyes, allowing for binocular vision that aids in the hunt. This is a commonality across many animal types, with grazers and prey animals having eyes more to the side of their heads, to help see behind them defensively. Predator’s eyes aim clearly to the front, specialized to focus on the kill. Look in the mirror. Yup, you’re a predator.
That’s where our similarities end, as raptor’s have significantly better vision than humans. How much better? I’ve read estimates up to 8 times better! The ‘ol saying that they can see a rabbit from a mile away? It’s probably true. Some raptors can even perceive ultra-violet frequencies. How might this help? It lets them track the urine that rodents leave behind and therefore see their common thoroughfares in the fields. Sick.
Hawks and Eagles especially, which are diurnal (aka daytime) hunters, have evolved a pronounced ridge over their eyes that works as a built in sun visor. Look in this photo how effective it is at shielding their retinas from the sun. Yup, this is also to help them productively hunt prey.
Anyone of you who is comfortable around the kitchen may be familiar with chicken sheers. You know that notch in one of the blades that acts to help hold bones in place when you cut them? We weren’t the first to come up with that idea. Look at this hawk’s beak and you can see that notch is already built into its razor sharp beak, for just the same reason. Neat stuff. And that beak is powerful, likely able to exert several hundred pounds of pressure per square inch. Luckily for you it’s unlikely that a hawk will ever bite you, since they kill with their talons and don’t associate their beak as being a weapon. A falcon, which uses its beak to sever the spinal cord of its victims….yeah, it might bite you.
And by the way, it's not easy to notice, but this hawk is pretty much looking directly behind himself….they can rotate their heads with absolute ease.
So next time you see a beautiful raptor in your neighborhood, not only can you think to yourself “Holy crap, look at that thing!”, but you can also think to yourself, “Wow, what a marvel of evolutionary engineering!”