Winged killers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 March, 2009, 12:00am

Meet the raptor

Millions of years ago, bird-like creatures called raptors roamed the Earth. They shared many features with early birds. These carnivores had sharp claws for tearing apart prey.

Modern birds of prey are also known as raptors. Although they look quite different from each other, all these carnivorous birds have sharp, hooked beaks and sharp, curved claws called talons. These beaks and claws are perfect for tearing meat.

Raptors are very popular birds. In medieval times, hunters used tamed hawks and falcons to hunt pigeons, rabbits and other game.

Modern farmers encourage owls that kill mice and rats to live around their farms. They also love kites because they eat insects. Even vultures which eat animals that are already dead are useful because they tidy up the landscape.

In the film Jurassic Park, raptors were very clever. Scientists say modern raptors are also very clever.

The Bateleur eagle likes to eat pigeons and rabbits. When they hide in bushes or burrows, the eagle throws stones to scare them into running out.

The Egyptian vulture likes to eat ostrich eggs. But as the shell is very tough, so it breaks them open by holding a stone in its beak.

True or false?

1 Birds of prey are also known as raptors.
2 Birds of prey only eat dead animals.
3 Some birds of prey are used for hunting.

Eagles: kings of the skies

Fill in the gaps with the following words: eyesight, symbol, wingspan

Eagles are powerful birds of prey. The monkey-eating eagle from the Philippines has a 2-metre ________. The harpy eagle in the US and the Steller's sea eagle from Russia and Japan are almost as big.

Eagles are famous for having excellent ______. When they hunt, they soar high up in the sky. This is why people with good eyesight are described as eagle-eyed.

Eagles build their nests or eyries in high places like mountaintops. It's not easy to see an eagle up close.

In some places, the eagle is a _______ of royalty or magic. Some tribes in Borneo believe the way an eagle flies can tell you about the future. Hindus believe that the god Vishnu rides on a giant eagle called Garuda.

Birds of prey in Hong Kong

There are dozens of carnivorous birds living in Hong Kong. Black kites hunt rabbits, fish, and like to chase rats at rubbish dumps.

If you're out at night, look for the rare Eurasian eagle owl hunting rabbits in the hills. Or go to the beach and spot the white-bellied sea eagle hunting fish.

There are also famous winter visitors such as ospreys, Eurasian buzzards, bull-headed shrikes and Chinese goshawks. Country parks are good places to go bird watching.

But if you're not the hiking type, or you're not sure how to spot birds, start off with a visit to Hong Kong Park. This has an aviary with walkways so you can see birds easily. There are 600 birds comprising 90 species at this park including hornbills and owls. If you enjoy yourself, you can also join the Hong Kong Bird Watching Club.

Shrikes: serial killers of the bird world

Find the correct antonyms - words that mean the opposite to the following words: earlier, normal, ugly

Shrikes live in forests and grasslands in Asia, Africa and North America. These little birds are called butcher birds because they have really strange eating habits. In Africa, some species are known as fiscals, which comes from the Afrikaans word for hangman, fiskaal.

Shrikes hunt insects, small mammals and other small birds. When they catch something, they spear their victims on big thorns. They tear off enough meat for one meal, and leave the rest hanging for later.

There are 31 species of shrike, including five species in Hong Kong. The long-tailed shrike lives in our fields all year round. It is easy to recognise: it has a white chest, with brown and black striped wings, and pretty black head feathers.

If you can't see it hunting, look for thorn bushes and the shrike's food store.

Hornbills: rainforest meat-eaters

Find words that mean: identify, uncommon, apart

Hornbills live in forests in fields in Asia and Africa. They are easy to recognise because of their beaks. Hornbills have big beaks with a casque, a special growth that looks like a bone, on top.

Hornbills are hunted for their meat, feathers and casques. Some, like the Helmeted hornbill, have solid casques that can be carved like ivory. In some places hornbills have been hunted too much, so they are protected in those countries.

Small hornbills eat fruit, seeds, insects and sometimes lizards. But large hornbills like the Great hornbill also eat birds smaller than themselves.

Big hornbills are not called birds of prey because they also eat lots of fruit and seeds. Even so, these big birds like their meat so much that zoos have to keep them separate from other species.

fab fact!
An eagle's eyesight is about eight times as good as a human's. Eagles can see a baby rabbit from 3.5km away

fab fact!
When the peregrine falcon dives for fish, it hits the water at over 322 km/h. It's the fastest creature in the world

The Eurasian black vulture is the world's largest raptor. Its body is 1.1m long and its wingspan is 3.1m. According to Guinness World Records, the tallest person was Robert Wadlow at 2.72 m. His arm span was 2.88m

now do this

Answer the following questions without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 All birds of prey have ...
a. excellent eyesight.
b. hooked beaks and talons.
c. big wingspans.

2 Farmers use owls for ...
a. hunting game.
b. killing farm pests.
c. clearing away dead animals.

3 Great hornbills eat ...
a. only fruit and seeds.
b. mostly insects and some fruit.
c. fruit, seeds, insects and birds.

4 An eagle's nest is called ...
a. an eyrie.
b. a burrow.
c. a nide.

5 Shrikes hang their prey ...
a. in trees.
b. in bushes.
c. on thorns.

6 Which is the biggest bird?
a. Eurasian black vulture
b. Great hornbill
c. Monkey-eating eagle


Quiz: 1. b, 2. b, 3. c, 4. a, 5. c, 6. a

Raptor: true, false, true

Shrikes: later, strange, pretty

Eagles: wingspan, eyesight, symbol

Hornbills: identify, uncommon, apart

Look online for more about carnivorous birds

Birds of Prey
Find out what birds of prey have in common, and find information on owls, falcons and more.

Carnivorous Birds
Learn fascinating facts about falcons, hawks, owls and other wonderful birds of prey.

Hong Kong Park Bird List
Go to the Specialities link to find a list of birds at the park, complete with facts and pictures.