A Raptor’s Primary Senses

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

My eyes are weak.

I’ve had vision problems since childhood. Astigmatism. Severe near-sightedness. Glasses, contacts. I’ve always been protective of my sight; I read so much, I depend on my sight for so many things, that going blind is my greatest fear.

People talk about being “eagle-eyed”, about seeing as sharply as a hawk. Vision is a raptor thing, their primary sense, right? You hood a falcon to keep it warm, restrict its sensory input. You cover bird cages at night. Some birds (some songbirds, and budgies) see in the ultraviolet spectrum. Sight is a primary mode of perception for many birds, most of whom have a poor sense of smell (vultures being an exception), though quite a few rely on hearing as well.

What, then, for a near-sighted hawk?

Here’s the thing: while I rely intensely on sight, it is not my primary sense. I am not a visual thinker. I am tactile, I think in texture, I translate my perceptions into tactile imagery, and I feel this makes a certain sense for a bird-person.

Think on it. Feathers in the breeze, communicating a host of information on air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Flight is not a visual feat, but rather a tactile one. Filoplumes feathers are sensory feathers, transmitting information on movement and vibration much like a cat’s whiskers, indicating when a contour feather is out of place, and possibly even helping the bird gauge airspeed.

Touch is one way birds bond. Allopreening is mutual grooming, and the bird being preened exhibits visible pleasure. Parrots are visible examples of allopreening as they are highly social birds, but ravens do it too, as do mourning dovesowls,caracaras, and there is even interspecies allopreening. The mated pair of red-shouldered hawks at the wildlife center I used to volunteer at also engaged in allopreening.

So perhaps it isn’t so unusual for a hawk-person to think in texture and rely on tactile feedback as a key sense, particularly a near-sighted one like myself.

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