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Barn Owl

Barn Owl
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

Raptors are birds of prey, like eagles, hawks and falcons. Their toes are sharp, powerful claws called talons and they use them for catching food.

Raptors usually have three talons pointing forward and one talon pointing backward. This foot arrangement is called raptorial.

The back talon, known as the hallux, is often longer than the other three forward-pointing talons. When a raptor catches its prey, the raptor will typically push the large hallux through its prey. This kills the prey and also helps the raptor get a better grip for carrying the prey away.

Owls have an unusual adaptation that involves their feet. Like other raptors, owls typically have three talons pointing forward and one pointing backward. But owls can rotate one of their forward-pointing toes to the back, making their toe arrangement more like the woodpecker's.

The advantage of this talon talent is evident when the owl grasps its food. When a rabbit or mouse is struggling to get away, it's very helpful to have an equal number of talons on each side to ensure the prey won't get free.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle
(Courtesy NEBRASKAland Magazine/NGPC)

Osprey also have this useful ability to rotate one toe to the back.

Many raptors, including osprey and eagles, have a thick Velcro-like skin on the inner side of their feet. This rough skin helps the raptor keep hold of its prey.

Once the raptor has carried its prey to a safe place to eat it, the raptor usually uses its talons to hold the food while using its beak to rip off pieces of the food.


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