Birds of prey are also known as Raptors and raptor is derived from the Latin word rapere, meaning to seize or take by force. In general, raptors are characterized by keen vision with powerful talons and beaks. Good eyesight is required for finding food, strong talons for catching, gripping, killing and then holding food and powerful beaks for ripping and eating their food.
Birds of prey are called “Indicator Species” and as apex predators keep things in balance and provide an important health check for the ecosystem.
Raptors can be divided into two classes based on their flying strategy during migration. There are those that constantly flap their wings, so can fly over land and water and those that rely on thermals and air currents to glide and save energy. The soaring raptors mainly fly over land, avoiding high mountains as well as water bodies since water does not provide thermal lift during the daytime. Try and figure out which birds of prey fit into each of the two classes…
Autumn migration is always a little more special in Kuwait, as this is the time when the bulk of raptors (Eagles, Buzzards, Harriers, Sparrowhawks, Kites, Falcons and Vultures) pass through Kuwait on route to their summer wintering grounds with some travelling as far south as South Africa..
Over the years, an amazing 38 species of raptors have been recorded in Kuwait and this is excluding Owls!
It is difficult to predict when they will pass through, as this depends on many variables. However, if there are favourable weather and wind conditions to ease the effort of the long distances that they need to cover, then they fly.
However, since many are soaring birds they don’t fly at night since temperatures are cooler and as a result there are no thermals to create lift, then they need to find a safe place to roost; either in cover, but for some species on the desert itself.
Quite often migrating raptors will be part of a mixed flock and there is nothing more exciting than watching a soaring kettle of Eagles and Buzzards (Steppe and Honey) pass by effortlessly overhead. Steppe Buzzards generally make up the majority in the raptor migration and within this species plumage variations are quite variable and can sometimes challenge your identification skills.
This past autumn we had an unprecedented number of Cinereous (Black) Vultures pass through Kuwait, compared to all previous years. This species is one of the largest vultures and birds of prey in the world and is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Falcons are more scarce, as these are targeted, trapped and sold for phenomenal prices into the black market to falconers across the GCC and is a case of demand exceeding the limited supply. The trapping and selling of wild birds is illegal and those caught in Kuwait should be prosecuted under the newly implemented environmental law.
Raptors are just magnificent birds and have a regal presence, so if you are privileged to see any in Kuwait or anywhere else on your travels, take the time to observe and enjoy them.
By Mike Pope