Monday, February 27, 2012

The notch in a Peregrine Falcon's beak...

From reading about birds over the years, I knew falcons had a notch in their beaks called a "tomial tooth" that other raptors did not have, but I had never looked at it closely until this autumn...


The notch in a falcon's beak is called the tomial tooth, and it's an adaptation suited to their hunting style.


Here you can see how the top notch (the tomial tooth) and the bottom notch fit together. The powerful beak and shape of the notch work together to allow falcons to bite through the cervical vertebrae and sever the spinal cord of their prey with ease (with Peregrine Falcons, the prey is primarily birds).


The Tomial Tooth is an adaptation unique to falcons. The only other bird that has a tomial tooth is the shrike (click here to learn more about shrikes).

Tomial tooth of a Peregrine Falcon; labeled pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti
...an entry from my sketchbook on the Peregrine Falcon's tomial tooth.
If you want to accurately represent a falcon in a painting or drawing, it's important to pay attention to the shape of its beak. I wanted to spend a little time studying its unique shape, so I sketched it out a few times.

Beak Bit
Also specific to the falcons is the shape of their wings. Falcons get their name from the Latin word "falco" or "falx," which means "sickle" or "scimitar-shaped" and refers to the shape of their wings, which are long and narrow and pointed at the end, similar in shape to a sickle.

Raptor silhouettes - pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti
Basic Raptor Silhouettes
...another sketchbook entry. By looking at the silhouette of a falcon, you can see the sickle shape of the wings and their pointed tips. When I first started looking up at the sky to identify raptors by silhouette, it took me a while to figure out the basic forms. After a while, it became clear...the shape of the tail feathers helped me the most. Accipiters (Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned hawks) longer and thinner...and Buteos (Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldere Hawks) shorter and wider. Falcons are distinct...fast and sleek with a very thin tail.

Additionally, falcons do not have well-defined supraorbital ridges like hawks and eagles (click here for a few posts that describe the supraorbital ridge--the bony ridge above the eye that helps to cut the sun's glare). Even though falcons have a much less defined bony ridge, they all have a dark stripe under their eye (called a malar stripe), which cuts the sun's glare to help them hunt.

p.s. The close-up shots of the Peregrine Falcon came from the photo-shoot at RAPTOR, Inc. back in autumn. For more close-ups of the beautiful raptors Matty and I photographed that day, click here. As always, artists can feel free to use these photos as reference shots. It's so hard to get close-up references of falcons in the wild. Going to a RAPTOR, Inc. event lets you study the birds and learn their subtleties. I would never have been able to study the notch in the beak if I had not seen this bird up close.

24 comments:

Laure Ferlita said...

Love the "field sketches" that show the study of how to capture these raptor's accurately! Interesting post as well.

Steve Borichevsky said...

Interesting post. I learned something cool today!

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

Thanks for sharing this information, Kelly. I always like to learn new stuff. Such details are fascinating.

holdingmoments said...

Excellent and very informative post Kelly. Beautiful close ups of the Peregrine, and great detail from your sketch book.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Nicely explained and nicely illustrated. A big help in understanding the mechanics of the
falcon hunting strategy.

Thanks Guy

Montanagirl said...

Very interesting, Kelly! Such a beautiful bird! Your sketches are good, and informative. I have seen only one of these a couple years ago during migration.

Frank said...

Excellent post Kelly and great to see the subject matter so close.
BTW I stood and watched a perched female Peregrine last Friday but only managed a location pic.

Roy said...

A very efficient killing machine Kelly. Love the sketches.

Carole M. said...

super-wonderful! Fabulous photos and descriptive narration; thanks for sharing

rachelle vance photography said...

very interesting!

Log Cabin Studio said...

Great post Kelly!!!
Thanks
Caroline

Elaine said...

Interesting! When I had a Northern Shrike coming to my feeder looking for dinner a few years ago I saw the tomial tooth, but didn't know it was only the falcon and shrike that had it. Wonderful close-up shots!

Lois said...

Very nice to the diagram or silhouette of the accipiter, buteo, and falcon. I am trying to get better at recognizing each in flight. This is a good easy way to remember. I love your combination n of art photos and words. Thank you.

Gillian Olson said...

Thanks for the great close ups and the explanation, I had not idea about the notch, thanks,

Janice K said...

Those close-ups are wonderful. How intersting.

Banjo52 said...

Ever the English major, I usually see raptor eyes and beaks as mean, heartless, aggressive. But especially in the first photo, your guy looks kind of pensive or even sad. Maybe Peregrines are the Buddhists, meditators among the raptors . . .

Sorry for that. Thanks for the visit at my place. Always good lessons here.

eileeninmd said...

Kelly, amazing closeups. And I never knew about the tomial tooth. Thanks for sharing and I am happy I stopped by. I learned something new today.

Tammie Lee said...

that first image! I had to look and look at all the details of that beautiful creature!

thank you for sharing all the details and information. i can see how sketching could help a birder to familiarize themselves with each bird.

wonderful post.

CameraCruise said...

Beautiful shots and sketches!

Chris said...

Excellent post I love the sketch with the different flying forms and yours pictures are so crisp! Beautiful Kelly!

Julie G. said...

Fantastic, informative post, Kelly! I learned something new today. I was not aware of the "tomial tooth" until I read this wonderful entry. Outstanding illustrations! It's nice to see terrific close-ups of the Peregrine Falcon, as I have only viewed one from a distance. Stunning bird! Thank you for including the interesting tail information as well.

Elizabeth Smith said...

Your sketches are wonderful! They are full of information and your post has given me a new appreciation for adaptations that make predators more efficient. And how cool that you give permission for other artists to use your photos for reference! Your photos are taken with an artist's eye, and that itself adds so much!

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Beautiful falcon images and very educational post. How wonderful to have a talent like drawing to use as a learning tool while birding :)

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone. You are always so kind. Birder lovers are so nice....