The order of Falconiformes includes all diurnal raptors. Modest or imposing in size, these raptors are characterized by a hooked beak capable of shredding meats, and powerful talons, except in vultures which do not capture their preys alive. The plumage is tight and, with a few exceptions, poor in bright colors, with a common dominance of brown and gray. Except among harriers, and certain hawks, male and female appearance is very similar; the females are distinguished from males by having a larger size. Their highly developed eye has two foveae, ensuring maximum visual acuity, which is far superior to that of other birds and mammals.
The voice, which raptors may use outside of the nesting season, consists of short, often shrill calls, and sometimes hissed meows. In hunting or scavenging flights, quick or indolently slow, raptors are magnificent sailboats, real masters in the conquest of airspace. Distinctly broad in the largest raptors, thin and pointed in falcons, flexible in vultures and hawks, the wings are suitable for all hunting styles. All raptors feed on fresh flesh or carrion, which contain powerful digestive juices. On the other hand, hair, bones, feathers and chitin of the insects are rejected later in ball forms.
Most of these raptors nest in isolated pairs some prefer to breed in colonies. The nest is often large, solidly built and sometimes used for several years. Many are built on the top of tall trees and between inaccessible rocks. The harriers establish themselves on land or in the marshes, only hawks are content to build nests on supports. The broods range from 1 egg for vultures to 5 or 6 for falcons. Male and female participate in the upbringing of their young chicks.
Discovered, trapped, shot, these birds of prey, these “hooked beaks” of the countryside, paid and still pay, a heavy price of human ignorance. Long considered pests, famous thieves of chickens and even destroyers, they have been accused of every conceivable misdeed and even, at times, of attacking humans. Fortunately, mentalities are changing, and while the idea of ominous birds is still alive, many protective measures have been taken; some countries such as Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands have granted full protection to all raptors since 1964. Long discredited, raptors – whose convergence of interests with humans has been scientifically proven thanks to the rigorous studies of their manners and eating habits – are helping to regain their true values nowadays, especially among young people. However, it is important not to slow down efforts, and continue to convince unceasingly, through articles and studies, in order to overcome, to the last, the most stubborn prejudices.
Long discredited, raptors – whose convergence of interests with humans has been scientifically proven thanks to the rigorous study of their manners and their eating habits – today enjoy growing popularity, especially among young people. However, it is important not to relax the information effort undertaken, and to convince unceasingly, through text and photography, in order to overcome, to the last, the most stubborn prejudices.
But even if respected and preserved, raptors will not be saved. Intensive agriculture, the constant decline of breeding sites which leads these birds into exile, the abandonment of traditional mountain breeding, and especially the excessive use of organochlorine pesticides, represent an unprecedented danger since it threatens no not the individual but the whole species. When raptors are not sterile, their eggs are shelled too fragile, or contain so many poisons that the embryos often die before hatching. Others even give up reproducing themselves.
For the most part great destroyers of rodents, the diurnal birds of prey are also by their elegance, their savagery and the beauty of their flight, the jewels of our avifauna. And just for that reason, they deserve to live in peace. The order of falconiformes which counts 274 species in the world, is divided into 5 families: cathartids (vultures and condors), sagittarriids (serpentines), accipitridae (eagles, buzzards, vultures, hawks, kites, harriers), pandionids (ospreys) and falconids (hawks). Present in all environments, arctic tundras, steppes, deserts, mountains, forests, marshes and coastlines, diurnal raptors are represented in Europe by 39 species. With the exception of sagittariids, all families are known there, but only accipitridae and falconids have breeding fields and woods.