do all birds have talons

Talons, they are what makes a bird of prey stand apart from other birds. Most birds have nails at the end of their toes which may be used to hold onto branches when perching, grasping food, or scratching in the dirt to uncover tender morsels of worms or other insects. The nails of a bird of prey are structurally the same as a chicken’s nails, the main difference is that talons are designed to seize or grab, as most dictionary definitions of a raptor explain.

Birds of prey are also carnivores and must subdue their prey. The tip of a talon is sharp as a dagger to penetrate the victim, but can also be used for slashing to disorient or slow the prey in preparation for the final kill. Think of the big battle scenes in Game of Thrones. All that slashing and stabbing could have been so much more effective had the soldiers been equipped with talons. Wait what? Well, maybe not in an epic battle of that size, but let’s consider the final “point” (couldn’t resist) about what makes talons so effective.

While it’s true that talons are sharp, anyone who has ever had a pet parrot will tell you that the nails of a parrot can pierce the skin and leave some itchy welts for a few days. All birds have tendons in their feet that “lock” so that they literally don’t fall off the perch while sleeping. In raptors, the locking mechanism serves a vital purpose in securing their kill. Imagine that all the stars have aligned for one of our raptor friends and they have managed to find and catch its chosen prey, not always a guarantee by the way. The sharp talons have successfully grasped the prey and now penetrate it. The prey struggles to escape, and those locking tendons are triggered to grasp more firmly. Any attempt to pull away, results in the tightening of that ratchet type grip. In many cases that tightening response is exaggerated and hawks will often repeatedly hammer those talons into the vital organs causing massive damage and even shock. Ultimately this leads to a rapid death and life sustaining meal for the carnivore.

At this point you are either happily engrossed in learning about how talons function, or you are completely turned off about what happens in this cycle of life. This is where the talons would come in handy for a writer such as myself. You are getting ready to leave my article, when kapow! I reach out, grab you, and say “Oh no you don’t.” You say, “ I don’t want to read anymore.” But I am locked onto you and I repeatedly stab you with my pointy talons. You simply cannot escape and must finish reading my article. Oops sorry, daydreaming. But you are here still reading unless you managed to escape, and if you did, you are like many who escape the clutches of the raptor. But if you escaped, you aren’t reading this anyway.

So do all birds of prey use their talons the same way? Not exactly. As already stated, hawks and eagles will repeatedly stab or “foot” their prey as those of us who work with birds of prey say. To be “footed” by a hawk for the first time is a life altering experience. If you are lucky, they will strike you lightning fast like a ninja “hiya!” This often leaves between 1 and 4 puncture marks which can range from annoying to moderately painful. The experience of having a raptor lock onto you with a death grip is all at once heart pounding and excruciating, especially if you are by yourself (more on that in future writings). This should serve as a warning against assisting or handling any wild raptor without proper hand protection, and one of the best arguments against why birds of prey are not considered suitable for pets. Even the most careful handlers (raises hand) sustain painful injuries occasionally

Falcons, because they have a specialized beak to kill their prey, do not have the repeated “footing” technique. Make no mistake however, the falcon talons are fierce. The anatomical shape of the falcon foot is slender with long, exaggerated toes. It is quite effective at wrapping around the body of its prey while it delivers the fatal bite that severs the spine resulting in instantaneous death.

So what about our friendly, cute owl friends? Who? Not if you are a rodent or other prey. They are considered to have one of the strongest talon strengths of any of our birds of prey.

Sources report up to 500 psi of crushing strength, and other reports claim 28 pounds of pressure is required to open the grip of a great horned owl. Likewise, the have the ability to swivel the outer toe behind resulting in a vise grip that can quickly subdue, crushing or suffocating struggling prey.

I am reminded of a question that children often ask. “Who would win in a fight between a hawk and an owl?” “How about a hawk and falcon?” You get the picture. Which leads me back to imagining an epic battle scene from the Game of Thrones series with raptors substituted for the various warring factions for the crown. Instead of dragons, wolves, and lions, we have hawks, falcons, and owls. Who’s up for one more season?

All kidding aside, birds of prey are not only fascinating, but a vital link in our ecosystem. Without birds of prey the populations of their prey would explode putting all of nature’s resources out of balance. Get to know your local birds of prey and how you can contribute to their survival by subscribing to our ongoing articles. Its easy, its free. Its at the top of our blog page (only says subscribe on mobile devices)! See you soon!

Plantigrade locomotion edit

Most birds, except loons and grebes, are digitigrade, not plantigrade. Chicks in the nest can also use their entire foot, including their tarsometatarsus and toes, while keeping their heel on the ground. [4].

Because of their highly adapted legs and pelvis for swimming, loons typically walk in this manner. Their tibiotarsus is significantly longer than the femur, and their narrow pelvis causes the femur’s attachment point to shift to the rear. This causes the feet (toes) to move behind the loon body’s center of mass. Usually, they push themselves along their breasts to walk; larger loons are unable to take off from the ground. [10] Their feet are positioned at the back, much like a motorboat propeller, making this position ideal for swimming. [2].

The shorter femur and relatively narrow pelvis of grebes and many other waterfowl also give the appearance that their legs are attached to their backs, similar to loons. [2].

Knee and ankle – confusions edit Chick of

The tibia-femur joint, also known as the tibiotarsus, is the knee joint of birds that points forward but is concealed by their feathers. The tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus joint is the easily noticeable “heel” (ankle) that points backward. [3][4] Certain reptiles also have a joint inside their tarsus. It is important to note that because the members of the Burhinidae family have large heels, the term “thick knee” is inaccurate. [2][8].

The heel-pad, or tough skin patch with tubercles, covers the ankles of chicks in the orders Coraciiformes and Piciformes. They shuffle through the holes or cavities in their nests using the heel-pad. [11][12].

As carnivores themselves, prey-seeking birds must subdue their prey. A talon’s tip can be used to slash to confuse or slow the prey in order to prepare for the ultimate kill. Its sharpness is comparable to that of a dagger for penetrating the victim. Think of the big battle scenes in Game of Thrones. Had the soldiers had talons, all that cutting and stabbing could have been far more effective. Wait what? Well, perhaps not in such a grand battle, but let’s think about the last (unavoidably) “point” of what makes talons so powerful.

Is this how all raptors use their talons then? Not quite. As mentioned earlier, hawks and eagles will repeatedly stab or “foot” their prey, according to those of us who work with raptors. The first time a hawk “footed” you was a transformative experience. If you’re lucky, they might hit you like a ninja “hiya!” This usually results in one to four puncture marks that can be uncomfortable to somewhat painful. It is simultaneously heart-pounding and agonizing to be held in a death grip by a raptor, especially if you are alone (more on that in future writings) This is one of the strongest arguments against prey-birds being kept as pets and should serve as a warning against helping or handling any wild raptor without appropriate hand protection. Sometimes, even the most cautious handlers (raises hand) suffer excruciating injuries.

Who are our adorable, amiable owl friends, then? Not if you’re a rodent or other type of prey. Of all our predatory birds, they are thought to possess one of the strongest talon strengths.

Although parrots have sharp claws, anyone who has owned a pet parrot will tell you that the nails can pierce the skin and cause itchy blisters that last for a few days. Every bird has “locking” tendons in their feet to prevent them from actually falling off their perch while they are sleeping. The locking mechanism is essential to raptors’ ability to secure their kill. Let’s say that one of our raptor friends is successful in finding and capturing its preferred meal because all the right circumstances were present. This isn’t always the case, though. The prey has been successfully grasped by the sharp talons, which are now penetrating it. Those locking tendons tighten their grip as the prey tries to break free. When you try to back away, that ratchet-style grip gets tighter. Hawks frequently overreact to this tightening response, repeatedly driving their talons into the most important organs, causing severe damage and even shock. In the end, this causes the carnivore to die quickly and have a meal that will sustain it.

I am reminded of a question that children often ask. You get the idea. “Who would prevail in a fight between a hawk and an owl?” “How about a hawk and falcon?” Which brings me back to envisioning a scene from the Game of Thrones where the various factions vying for the crown are replaced by raptors. We have hawks, falcons, and owls in place of dragons, wolves, and lions. Who’s up for one more season?.