What Does a Bird's Talons Say About Them?

by OBDK on March 30, 2021

What does a bird’s talons say about them?


Talons can vary in shape and size, all depending on the species of bird. In fact, a bird’s talons can give us more insight into what it eats than their beaks can. Their feet are specifically designed to catch their prey, and as different birds target different kinds of prey, their feet and talons will look different.1


For example, those who have the largest talons are birds like hawks, eagles, and owls. This is because they’re carnivores and need to catch prey like rodents, fish, and rabbits.2 They’re different from birds who go after much smaller prey, like insects. The Harpy Eagle is in the running for the longest talons, which measure about four inches long!3


Talons also help birds with preening, perching, carrying things, digging, and for defense.2 The shape and movement of the feet can also help them accomplish their tasks. Birds that eat a lot of fish, like Ospreys, have a rougher texture on their foot to keep hold of the fish they catch.1


Ospreys and owls also have an ability that other birds don’t. They’re able to move one of their toes backward to help them hang onto things. Most birds have three toes pointing forward and one behind. Ospreys and owls are able to move one of their toes so they have two toes pointing forward and two in the back. They’ll usually have their feet like this when they’re perching or holding onto their prey.1&4 


Talons help birds catch their prey, now it’s up to you to figure out what they caught! Check out owl pellets on our website here or try out our online pellet dissection activity, Sherlock Bones and the Mysterious Missing Mouse here

Sources & Further Reading: 

  1. https://peregrinefund.org/sharp-talons

  2. https://www.thespruce.com/bird-talons-385394

  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/150912-animals-science-largest-claws-talons?loggedin=true

  4. https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=9

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