Fighting Falcons

When most people think of falcons, they imagine a fierce, fast-flying bird that hunts with sharp talons. Other may think of the NFL team which appears to be fast and powerful for a few games before plummeting to the earth with a quiet whimper. Perhaps a few of you associate the word ‘falcon’ with the popular fighting game “Super Smash Bros”. Captain Falcon is best known for his special move where flames would appear around his fist in the shape of a falcon as a voice yelled “Falcon Punch!”

Down you go: The falcon takes down a glider in South Bay, Los Angeles, after it flies to close to her nest

Peregrine Falcon that didn’t take kindly to an intruder. She was probably angry at the Cleveland Browns colors.


Falcon Punch!

The “standard” falcon that is often used in falconry for hunting and that many people are familiar with is the Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines are spread throughout the world and are the fastest animals on earth, capable of reaching speeds of over 200mph in dives! These falcon dive at extreme speeds when pursuing aerial prey, such as pigeons or waterfowl. Peregrines can pack quite a punch when striking prey with their talons with great force at high speeds! A falcon may even strike a bird in the air, then swoop around and dive to strike it multiple times before the prey hits the ground! The fighting ability of a peregrine in flight is nearly unparalleled.

Peregrine falcon diving

Peregrine falcon ssp. macropus with parrot kill

Yes, Peregrines occasionally eat parrots.

The American Kestrels I’m studying for my master’s research are of the smaller, more colorful variety of falcons. American Kestrels have been used in falconry, especially by beginners. My studies focuses on the behavior of wild kestrels. Even though kestrels are small for falcons (9-10 inches long, about Robin-size), they have a lot of fight for their size. I’ve observed quite a few occasions where a kestrel dive-bombed a Red-tailed Hawk, which can weigh twelve times more than a kestrel and have more than double the wingspan!

vlcsnap-2015-11-27-14h38m33s741 (3)

This is a beautiful male named Eastside that I’m following for my research. Still from a video taken by a friend (M. Cannon).

The preferred hunting method for kestrels involves waiting for prey from a perch, but sometimes kestrels will snatch insects in mid-air or hover-hunt, where the kestrel will seemingly hover in place by facing a strong wind and rapidly flapping its wings. I recently watched a kestrel strike a butterfly while chasing after a hawk. It’s like the kestrel was thinking “Ooh, a butterfly . . . I think I’ll kill it on my way to attack my enemy.” Kestrels usually hunt insects or small rodents, but will occasionally prey upon lizards, snakes and small birds. Just a few days ago, I saw a male kestrel munch on a small snake and then discard the skin to the ground!

Photo: Alberto Lopez/Audubon Photography Awards

Kestrels will also engage in battles with their own kind. I’ve seen kestrels respond to unwelcome intruders with alarm calls and swooping displays. Recently, I watched a pair of kestrels vigorously chase off another kestrel. One of my experiments involves using a kestrel model with playback of “klee” calls. Sometimes the kestrel I’m targeting will call back and engage in the swooping displays, which is pretty fun to watch! Hopefully you’ve enjoyed learning more about peregrines and kestrels! I would not recommend imitating the hunting style of peregrine falcons, but maybe you could perch and wait for food like a kestrel. A great idea would be to perch on top of a counter or table and wait until your spouse/significant other brings out some food. Then you can pounce quickly upon your prey (the food or the person, whichever you prefer). May you fly like a falcon!

American kestrel flying



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