MAGNIFICENT PIRATES OF THE AIR

A SHARP division exists between the majority of the birds already noticed and those known as birds of prey. These have for general characteristics sharp, tearing beaks, short, powerful legs and muscular bodies. Their claws are strong and curved and they have great powers of flight. They may be divided into three groups—the owls; the hawks, falcons and eagles; and thirdly, the ospreys or fish-hawks. The majority of owls are nocturnal, and have large eyes surrounded with circles of feathers, and loose, soft plumage to give them a noiseless flight. The Common Barn Owl in this country has been one of the most persecuted of birds, though its services in destroying rats and mice (its chief source of food) might well have earned it a better fate. This is the owl that is most often found in towns where its hooting note is sometimes quite familiar.

In the second division which includes hawks, falcons and eagles, the type reaches its greatest heights of beauty and

efficiency. These birds often have a bold and fearless expression comparable with that of the great Cats, which is not entirely out of keeping with their general character. They are marvels of speed and killing power, differing greatly in method, but always ruthlessly efficient.

Vultures would seem to most people less attractive. Nevertheless all are not repulsive in appearance, and the King Vulture and condor, both South American, are fine birds. The condor has the widest wing span of any flying bird and takes rank as one of the greatest flyers. Vultures undoubtedly find their prey by sight rather than by scent. They are, of course, scavengers by profession and do not use their claws as weapons, relying rather on their strong beaks.

The last group, separate from the rest, contains the ospreys or fish-hawks—beautiful birds found all over the world. They feed only on fish, and their skill and speed when swooping down into the water make them a magnificent sight.

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