The Falcon Family: Family Falconidae
This family consists of falcons and caracaras. They are mainly gray or brown, long-winged birds that have long, usually barred tails. Falcons are fast fliers, catching animal prey with their feet. Caracaras are long-legged, slow fliers that feed mainly on carrion.
Falconids inhabit mainly forest and open country, nesting on the ground, on ledges, or in trees. Only caracaras build nests of their own.
There are ten genera in the family with about 62 species found worldwide.
The Owl Family: Family Strigidae
This is a family of small to large owls that have brown, gray and black cryptically marked plumage. They have facial discs and many have “ear” tufts. They inhabit forest, grassland and desert habitats, feed on fish, mammals, birds and insects, and nest on ledges, in tree cavities, abandoned nests, or in burrows.
There are 22 genera in the family with 122 species, some migratory, and found worldwide.
Owls swallow small prey animals like mice in one gulp – fur, bones and all. The indigestible fur, bones, feathers, bills, claws and teeth are formed into a pellet in a bird’s gizzard during digestion. After several hours, the pellet is regurgitated.
The eyes are very large and capable of rapid and sharp focusing at various distances. They are directed forward and, since their fields of view greatly overlap, they provide excellent binocular vision with good depth perception. However, they are immovably fixed in bony sockets; owls must turn their heads to see an object at the side. Extra neck vertebrae provide such great flexibility that an owl can turn its head through an arc of 270 degrees. Even though we have binocular vision also, we can rotate the head only 180 degrees.
Owls, like all birds, have a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane, which protects the eyes and keeps them clean and moist. This membrane folds against the inside of the eye and comes out and across like a windshield wiper. It also provides protection when the owl flies through foliage, but this is a secondary function.
Owls also have exceptional hearing. Their ears are directed forward and are much larger than those of other birds. The ears are asymmetrical, one with the central fold of the external ear directed downward, the other upward. This enables them to locate most sounds with remarkable exactitude.
The most amazing skill of owls is their ability to locate and actually catch prey by hearing alone. Laboratory experiments recently have supported that the barn owl can do this rather easily in complete darkness.
Protection under the Law:
The Federal Migratory Bird Act of 1972 makes it illegal to kill, capture or otherwise harass any species without special permission from the U.S. Government.
In 1972, the use of DDT, a dangerous chemical pesticide, was banned in this country. Tests proved that, besides being harmful to humans, DDT poisoned raptors and other birds, and inhibited their ability to reproduce. Around this time, Peregrine Falcons were protected as Endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Since that time, though the ban of DDT and through captive breeding and releasing, Peregrine Falcons have recovered sufficiently enough to have been removed from the endangered species list. However, many states continue to protect this species through State laws.
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