BIRDS OF PREY
 WE call "Birds of Prey" those which feed on the smaller
animals, such as rabbits, mice, frogs, and snakes, as
well as on other birds. The chief kinds in our country
are eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls.
If you live in the mountains of Scotland, or the north
of England, you may, perhaps, have seen an eagle
(see picture, p. 51). But the birds
of prey you are most likely to know are hawks and owls.
I am sure that sometimes when you are in the fields,
you must have seen a bird with long pointed wings and a
tail like a fan hovering in the air. This is the
Kestrel or common hawk. Country people call him the
"wind-hover." His wings beat the air so quickly that
you can scarcely see them move, yet he keeps quite
still in the same place. His bright eyes look eagerly
on the ground. Now he darts a little up or down, and
floats along some distance. Now he hovers again, and
all at once drops to the ground. He has seen a mouse
in the grass, and rises up with it in his claws.
BARN OWL AND KESTREL HAWK.
Farmers often shoot kestrels because they steal young
partridges and chickens, when they cannot find other
food. But they are very useful in killing field-mice,
moles, beetles, and all kinds of vermin.
If you cannot tame a young hawk, nor find a
 dead one, you can see on pp. 51 and 61 how to know a
bird of prey. Look at the long toes and sharp claws of
the eagle or the hawk. They pierce the skin of any
animal he seizes. His looked beak is very strong, and
has sharp edges, so that it cuts like shears. The
upper half is pointed, and hangs over the lower half.
A few strong pecks with this cruel beak soon kill the
tiny mouse or larger animals, which are swallowed whole
or torn to pieces. After a little time the furry skins
and the bones are thrown up in a ball. The feet and
legs of a bird of prey are covered with scales, so that
when he is fighting he is not so much hurt by hard
The kestrel's wings are strong and pointed, and he can
fly quickly, or keep himself floating, as he pleases.
He is about as large as a wood-pigeon. He back and
wings are a bright brick-red, and his tail is grey,
tipped with white, with a black band across. The long
feathers of his wings are black, while his breast is
Another common hawk is the Sparrow-hawk, which has dark
grey wings and a reddish-brown breast with orange
stripes. He does not often hover, but glides along the
hedges looking for birds and mice. He does more harm
than the kestrel, for he often kills game. But he is
useful in destroying mice, and insects, and in
preventing the small birds, which eat the corn, from
becoming too numerous. The mother sparrow-hawk is much
larger than the father.
Owls, like hawks, have hooked beaks and long sharp
claws. But their beak is not so strong, and
 their feet are more useful for climbing. Their four
toes stand, three in front and one behind, like most
birds, but they can turn back the outer front toe so as
to have two in front and two behind, like the
Notice too the difference in their eyes. A hawk has
his eyes on the sides of his head, but the owl has his
in front of his face like you or I. So, when he hunts
in the twilight, he can peer down at things close to
him. He can make the pupil of his eye as large as the
cat does, so as to gather all the light there is. His
feathers are so soft and downy that he makes very
little noise as he fillies, and he has large hidden
ears with flaps over them, and can hear the slightest
sound. Some owls have ear tufts sticking up in the air
like a cat's ear.
The owl you hear so often crying "to-whoo, to-whoo" is
the brown or Tawny Owl. He hunts in the early morning
and late evening. In the day-time he hides in holes of
the trees and in church towers. If he is driven into
the sunlight he winks and blinks, and cannot see
clearly. But in the dusk, or the moonlight he flies
noiselessly along the hedges, and catches mice, moles,
frogs, and birds, swallowing the small ones whole and
throwing back the feathers and skin in little balls.
The Barn Owl is a much lighter bird than the brown owl.
His back and wings are buff colour and his breast and
face are white. He cries "te-whit, te-whee" in a loud
screech, and is therefore often called the "Screech
Owl." He hides in the barn, or in trees, by day and
hunts by night, feeding
 chiefly on mice. When he comes out by daylight the
chaffinches and other little birds tease him, for they
know he cannot see well.
Compare a hawk and an owl. Notice the cere, or
piece of bare skins at the top of the beak, which all
birds of prey have. It is partly covered by bristles
in the owls. Try to draw the foot and beak of the
eagle, pp. 51 and 73.