January 16th   Leave a comment

Male and female peregrine today watching the buzzard eating their pigeon - the female is larger. Taken with my phone through my binoculars but still fairly close to me!

Male and female peregrine today watching the buzzard eating their pigeon – the female is larger. Taken with my phone through my binoculars but still fairly close to me!

The buzzard and peregrine thieving story continued today with another exciting chapter, again out over the fields behind Pinkerton. As I walked down to road to the caravan park I noticed that a flock of curlews was flying away from the airfield very rapidly followed by immediately by all the gulls heading in the same direction. When everything heads off as fast as they can this usually means a seriously hunting raptor is on the way and sure enough two peregrines appeared flying towards Pinkerton with a fast, clearly directed flight. A flock of feral pigeons flew up from the stubble just as I saw the peregrines and one of the hawks accelerated rapidly towards them. It stooped down at the circling flock and one of the pigeons became separated. The second peregrine then dived in to head off the singleton and forced it back towards the first peregrine. Two more stoops and then the first peregrine almost lazily swooped back up under the pigeon and grabbed it a few meters above the field. The peregrine landed immediately with the pigeon and the second peregrine flew down to land nearby. It then became clear that they were both adults and a male and a female (females are larger but often this is only really clear if they are side by side as in the photo alongside), and so almost certainly a pair. Co-operative hunting by pairs is unusual but not unheard of and I have only seen it a couple of times in my life, but none as clearly coordinated and as professional as this pair.

So far so good, but then the story took on a very unusual twist. The male flew up again after the female mantled the pigeon (spread its wings to cover the prey to more or less communicate that the prey is not going to be shared) and landed on a nearby telephone pole. But then it suddenly started calling quietly as if alerting the female and I noticed a buzzard approaching from the airfield, but several hundred meters away. The male peregrine then flew quickly straight towards the buzzard and started mobbing it, stooping at it very aggressively so the buzzard was forced to turn upside down and present its talons to the diving falcon several times. This went on for a minute as the buzzard closed in on the female peregrine. The female peregrine attempted to fly off with the pigeon, but possibly did not have a good grip on its prey and landed after a few meters. The buzzard had now reached the female and stooped down on it. The peregrine flew off without the pigeon and the buzzard then claimed it. The female peregrine then started to mob the buzzard but it mantled the pigeon and simply ducked every time the falcon passed close over it. The male peregrine was still flying nearby but didn’t help this time. After a minute or so the female gave up and both the male and female peregrine flew to the adjacent telephone pole and perched watching the buzzard.

The buzzard then started feeding on the pigeon with the peregrines watching. After a few minutes a second buzzard appeared and perched on a nearby fence post. It then dived at the first buzzard and a small scuffle ensued on the ground. I think the second buzzard then got the pigeon, or at least a part of it. Meanwhile a couple of carrion crows had now turned up, and as you might be guessing, they started mobbing the buzzards to try to get the pigeon too. At this point the peregrines left, first the male and then the female in very rapid hunting style flights over Crail – probably in disgust, the pigeon was well and truly lost to them by then.

So my theory that a local buzzard or buzzards are specialising in robbing peregrines (it’s called kleptoparasitism in the scientific literature – lots of predators do it) seems to be being borne out. To see two peregrine kills and both being stolen by buzzards in such a short time is exceptionally lucky, unless it is happening quite frequently. I will keep my eyes open, especially in the fields to the east of Crail. It was certainly a very exciting 5 minutes, right up there with anything I have seen watching wildlife for 40 years, and right on our doorstep.

Peregrine 0 - Buzzard 2

Peregrine 0 – Buzzard 2

Posted January 16, 2013 by wildcrail in Sightings

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