Musculoskeletal Underpinnings To Differences In Killing Behavior Between North American Accipiters (Falconiformes: Accipitridae) And Falcons (Falconidae)

Accipiters (Accipiter spp.) and falcons (Falco spp.) both use their feet to seize prey, but falcons kill primarily with their beaks, whereas accipiters kill with their feet. This study examines the mechanistic basis to differences in their modes of dispatching prey, by focusing on the myology and biomechanics of the jaws, digits, and distal hindlimb. Bite, grip, and distal hindlimb flexion forces were estimated from measurements of physiological cross?sectional area (PCSA) and indices of mechanical advantage (MA) for the major jaw adductors, and digit and tarsometatarsal flexors. Estimated bite force, total jaw adductor PCSA, and jaw MA (averaged over adductors) tended to be relatively and absolutely greater in falcons, reflecting their emphasis on biting for dispatching their prey. Differences between genera in estimated grip force, total digit flexor PCSA, and digit MA (averaged over inter?phalangeal joints and digits) were not as clear?cut; each of these parameters scaled positively allometric in accipiters, which may reflect the scaling of both prey size, and the proportion of mammalian prey consumed by this lineage with increasing body size. Estimated tarsometatarsal force was greater in falcons than in accipiters, due to their greater MA, which may reflect selection for incurring greater forces during prey strikes. Conversely, the comparatively lower tarsometatarsal MA in accipiters reflects their capacity for greater foot speed potentially necessary for grasping elusive prey. Thus, this study elucidates how differences in jaw and hindlimb musculoskeletal morphology of accipiters and falcons are reflected in differences in their killing modes, and through differences in their force?generating capacities.