Diurnal – The Tail
In addition to the wing shape, the size and length of the tail will give a clue as to the preferred habitat of the species. The tail is made up of 12 feathers (though 14 have been known in some individuals) and provides stability and agility in flight – the larger and broader the tail, the more maneuverability the bird has, and vice versa. The two centre feathers are more or less straight with each feather becoming more curved as you work to the outside. This means that when the bird spreads its tail feathers they present an unbroken and therefore more efficient surface area with no gaps.
The hawk family (accipiters) are closed country predators and need a large tail which they use like a rudder when chasing prey through woodland.
Soaring birds such as eagles, buzzards and vultures have a much shorter tail as they do not need the degree of agility of the hawks. In fact, so short is the tail of the Bateleur eagle that it gets very little stability from it, resulting in the canting flight which has given it its name (bateleur is French for tightrope walker).
The Falcon family also have long tails which they do not need for high speed stooping but do find useful for tail chases following missed or partially-successful stoops. The kestrel, on the other hand, makes great use of its long tail (which makes up about half of its overall body length) which it spreads out to provide extra lift while hovering.
Slow-flying birds such as harriers and kites also have a large tail area to generate more stability and lift at low speed.
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