Birds of prey -- eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, osprey, owls and vultures -- also called raptors, are strong, powerful birds. These birds are meat-eaters that catch their prey with their feet, not their beaks. Share with your preschooler the traits and characteristics of these mighty birds in experiential learning activities.
Ospreys and eagles often fly low over a lake, dipping down and coming up with a fish in their talons. Hawks eat other birds. Owls protect farmers' crops by capturing t rats and mice that destroy fields. Vultures prefer prey that is already dead -- the garbage men (birds) of the forest. Owl pellets are regurgitated hairballs that the owl expels. An owl cannot digest hair or bones, so he gets rid of these in one to two pellets a day. Order sanitized owl pellets from a science supply store (see Resources). Supply your child with an owl pellet and let her take it apart. Finding the skull of a rat in an owl hairball helps your child understand the feeding of an owl better than any picture or diagram will. You will think she won the lottery when she finds her first skull.
Birds of prey rely on their keen eyesight to catch prey. Play predator/prey with your child. Take your child to a thicket to play this "hide and seek" game. Mark an area with a rope which represents the predator's home. Let your child be the predator first, while you, the prey, hide. The prey has to be able to see the predator at all times from her hiding spot. The child counts to 10 with his back to the thicket. He turns and tries to spot the prey, staying in the marked area. If the predator doesn't find the prey within a reasonable time, he turns around and counts to 10 again. The prey has to move closer. Continue until the predator spots you hiding in the thicket. Your child will understand how hard it is to find something to eat each day. Reverse the roles with your child.
Watching the birds of prey in their natural habitat is easier to do than taking a field trip. Webcams provide a birds-eye view of birds eating, parenting, sleeping and preening. Audubon.com has a section of live cams. Watch a pair of nesting osprey ready their nest for eggs and hatchlings. Once the eggs hatch, a male osprey brings as many as three fish a day to the nest for the new hatchlings.
The largest North American raptor is the California Condor. This condor's wingspan is 9.5 feet. Make a pattern of the wings out of paper for your child to understand how powerful this bird is. Not all raptors are this big. The American kestrel has a wingspan of about 22 inches. Make a pattern to cut out the kestrel's wings. Measure your child's arm span and compare it to the largest raptor's and smallest raptor's wingspan.
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