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Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

When you take a bite of food, you usually use your teeth to chew it before you swallow it. Birds have to swallow their food whole.

For some birds, this is not a problem because they drink nectar, a sweet liquid produced by flowers, or eat small seeds, worms, or insects.

However raptors (birds of prey such as Northern Harriers, Prairie Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Great Horned Owls) hunt much larger prey. The things raptors eat can't always be swallowed whole.

But thanks to their beaks, they don't go hungry. Instead raptors have sharp, hooked beaks they use to pierce prey, pull off fur, tug away skin, pluck out feathers, and tear meat into bite-sized, easy-to-swallow chunks.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

In addition to the specialized shape of their beaks, raptors also have a unique "tooth" tucked inside their upper mandible (upper beak). This "tooth" is shaped like a small triangle and is called a tomila.

The tomila helps a bird kill its prey quickly by cutting the prey's spinal cord. After the prey is dead, a raptor can fly away with it and eat in a safe place.

Even so, these birds of prey keep a sharp eye out and eat quickly to avoid becoming prey themselves from the likes of foxes, coyotes, or larger raptors.


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