Birds of Prey

BIRDS OF PREY. Palestine is rich in day birds of prey, and the following are mentioned in one or other VS: buzzard, eagle, falcon, gier eagle, hawk, kite (glede), night-hawk, osprey, ossifrage and vulture. The following general points are relevant in attempting identification:

1. Although some are resident and may be seen occasionally at all seasons, most are birds of passage and are common and conspicuous in spring, when the large kinds travel N using the thermals. (See Bird Migration.) Sometimes scores or even hundreds may be seen in an hour. The most common today is the lesser kestrel, which is sociable on migration and roosts in flocks of several hundreds as they slowly make their way N, feeding as they go.

2. Even for field naturalists these birds are hard to name. They are usually seen only on passage, often at a height where details of plumage cannot be discerned. Some, such as the buzzards, have light and dark phases. The larger species take as much as four years to assume adult plumage, in gradual stages. It is thus pointless to look for precise identification by non-naturalists, among which most Biblical writers must be included.

3. By definition these birds are carnivorous and therefore fall into the class of forbidden food. The smaller hawks and falcons rarely take other than living prey. The vultures take only carrion and dying animals, and the big eagles can more easily catch sick and injured rather than fit animals. Although the prohibition may have been due in part to the ritual defilement conveyed from the prey which would have been killed other than in the prescribed manner, the basic reason was a more important and practical one. Such birds are always liable to carry infection, esp. carrion feeders, and the ban was sound on grounds of hygiene.

The variation of tr. both among the VSS and within individual VSS is, in fact, such that all variants cannot always be listed. The most likely tr. is attempted and some biological background given. The most useful work on these birds, and others, is by G. R. Driver (PEQ [1955], 5-20) where the Heb. names are examined in great detail. His findings, which differ almost entirely from tr. in KJV and ASV, are based on philology and natural history and this is a definitive study, though one to be accepted with caution.

Owls are night birds of prey, with some four resident and four migratory species. Although they may be seen at rather closer quarters than the raptores, their nocturnal habits make identification difficult and most owls are seldom named accurately except by experts. Owls confine themselves strictly to living prey.

Although they belong to a quite separate family, the scavenging and predatory habits of ravens and crows bring them into the same general category as the birds of prey. Apart from young rooks, the most vegetarian of the family, whose killing and eating is an annual custom in parts of Europe, the larger members of the crow tribe are seldom used for food in any part of the world.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

pra: They were undoubtedly the first birds noticed by the compilers of Biblical records. They were camp followers, swarmed over villages and perched on the walls of cities. They were offensive in manner and odor, and of a boldness unknown to us in birds. They flocked in untold numbers, there was small defense against them, and the largest and strongest not only carried away meat prepared for food and sacrifice, but also preyed upon the much-prized house pigeons, newly born of the smaller animals, and even at times attacked young children. See Ge 15:11, "And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away." Because they were attracted from above the clouds by anything suitable for food, people recognized that these were birds of unusual vision. When Job wanted to tell how perfectly the path to the gold mine was concealed, he wrote, "That path no bird of prey knoweth" (Job 28:7). The inference is, that, if it were so perfectly concealed that it escaped the piercing eyes of these birds, it was not probable that man would find it. These birds were so strong, fierce and impudent that everyone feared them, and when the prophets gave warning that people would be left for birds of prey to ravage, they fully understood what was meant, and they were afraid (Isa 18:6). In His complaint against His heritage, Yahweh questions, "Is my heritage unto me as a speckled bird of prey? are the birds of prey against her round about?" (Jer 12:9). And when he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah painted a dreadful picture, but one no doubt often seen in that land of pillage and warfare: "Their dead bodies will I give to be food for the birds of the heavens, and for the beasts of the earth" (Jer 19:7).

Gene Stratton-Porter