Readers’ wildlife photos

July 11, 2019 • 7:45 am

Today we have another installment of the wonderful peregrine falcon photos of evolutionary ecologist Bruce Lyon. (He’s also just returned from a trip to Alaska and promises many more photo-stories of northern birds). Bruce’s notes are indented:

One last post for the year of the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) family I have been watching on the California coast between Santa Cruz and San San Francisco (here for previous post). Peregrines are famous for their ability to fly and maneuver at high speed, an ability that is essential for capturing the fast flying and evasive birds they hunt. On windy days, the birds seem to get feisty and start chasing everything that comes anywhere in the general vicinity of the nest area (cormorants, pelicans, gulls). Sometimes they they dive-bomb me on windy days. I have studied parent birds of many species that defend their nests by chasing potential predators away and this seems different—the wind puts the piss and vinegar into these birds and it almost seems like play. They seem to have fun flying the way they do. It is also unclear why they would decide to defend their nests only on windy days. Windy days also offer the best opportunity for photographing the birds doing interesting things in the air.
Below: The female about to go into a stoop, the rapid dive where the birds fully close their wings for maximum aerodynamic shape that lets them achieve speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.
Below: The male goes into a brief stoop as he returns to a favorite perch after an unsuccessful chase of some shorebird species out at sea (most likely a phalarope as they favor phalaropes during the prey’s migration in late May and early June).

The male returning with a juvenile starling. The pair normally fancies Eurasian Collared-doves as prey but this year they started going for starlings and a few waterbirds like phalaropes, gulls and guillemots.

This year the birds also used a new favorite plucking spot, some sort of cushion plants. The plucking spot was in a corner of the nesting bay which made it possible to view them from two angles on the cliff top. In previous years they turned shy whenever they had food so it was often difficult to approach them at their plucking spots. This year, however, they were much more relaxed about me watching them eat. Here the female has a Eurasian Collared-dove.

The view of the same plucking station from the other perspective, at an earlier date when the flowers were not in bloom. The female is just polishing off a dove.

For a few days it seemed that the male was specializing on Red-necked Phalaropes, a small shorebird that migrates north to its arctic breeding grounds along our coast, not too far off shore. I watched several attempts at hunting phalaropes, including a couple of successful captures. One capture in particular, was dramatic. The male flew out to sea (perhaps a mile out) climbing steadily. He then suddenly went into a completely vertical stoop, gaining great speed. He then leveled out sharply just above the water, skimmed low across the water for about 100 yards and then chased the phalarope for another 100 yards before snatching it out out of the air. He brought it back to a plucking spot, ate the head, and then took it to the nest to feed the chicks. He took a couple of attempts to go to the nest which gave me lots of opportunity to take pictures. Maybe he was just showing off!
A fly-by with the phalarope in his talons

And finally to the nest, just out of sight.

This year produced a bumper crop of chicks—three chicks and as far as I can tell they all made it. Last year, in contrast, they had a brood of four chicks but it quickly dropped to one chick after they fledged.
Below: Two of the chicks  on the perch that is favored by the adults and kids alike. The third is hiding around the corner.

One of the chicks gives me a curious stare.

One of the chicks calls excitedly to a parent who is soaring above the nest. Message: go get me some damn dinner!

The three fledglings gather around a starling the parents have dropped off, which the center bird has in its talons. Once the chicks get large enough (and even before leaving the nest) the parents quickly drop the prey item off and leave. Otherwise they get mobbed and harassed by the chicks. This year, the chicks seemed to share the prey more than I had seen in other years, and there was less possessive mantling of prey (wrapping the prey with their wings to prevent other chicks getting access). Female peregrines are much larger than males and this size difference is apparent in fledglings. Based on the sizes of the chicks, I concluded that they produced one female and two male chicks. The female is the center bird here.

A meal that even all three hungry chicks could not finish—a pigeon guillemot (a seabird related to puffins and their relatives).

The chicks very rapidly became proficient at flying and in addition to level flight, practiced stoops, rapid turns and various aerobatic moves.

34 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Wonderful pictures, but I think they are on to you, Bruce. How close were you to get some of those shots?

    1. For some angles of the perch they use I am 15 feet away. I only do this because it is the only clear angle to the perch from that particular side. However, the birds have gotten so tame that they are fine with this—- I did not even try this in previous years because the birds were not quite as tame and I suspect they might have been a bit upset.

  2. Magnificent photos! I especially love the one where the male is in mid-flight looking straight into the camera.

  3. For some angles of the perch they use I am 15 feet away. I only do this because it is the only clear angle to the perch from that particular side. However, the birds have gotten so tame that they are fine with this—- I did not even try this in previous years because the birds were not quite as tame and I suspect they might have been a bit upset.

  4. Wonderful photos Bruce. Coincidentally just watched a special on either Nature or Nova on peregrines, including some raised on an apartment balcony in Chicago. Apparently the fastest animals on earth.

  5. The wildlife photos never garner many comments, but like this set, they are beautiful and much appreciated.

    They also have become my main source for computer screen backdrops — one of these falcons just replaced a stunning Idaho landscape.

  6. Fascinating and stunning photos…the Peregrine RWPs never disappoints. Thanks for another installment of these fiercely beautiful raptors.

  7. Wonderful excellent pictures.

    I have had the pleasure of watching birds in action in the air.

    When I drove straddle carriers at work, in which I was seated 13 meters up, there were many pigeons and seagulls flying hither and thither.

    Being up that high and travelling at some speed I got see close up a lot of the endless variations and minutia of detail in their flying.
    Their interactions with each other, the differences in gliding and wing flapping and weird contortions they manage.

    This is stuff I could never see from the ground but 13 meters up going 20 Kmh I saw a lot.

    As for birds enjoying themselves in flight nothing I have seen beats Sulphur-crested cockatoos.
    Although I haven’t seen them from a straddle, I have seen them in a number of other different environments.
    These guys, with their primordial shrieks will do barrel rolls and loops and all sorts of amazing zooms and trick flying, definitely showing off to each other.

    I haven’t seen any raptors though like yours though.

    Amazing stuff.


  8. Not many people have heard of them.
    Almost exclusively used on the docks around the world to move containers from ship side to yard and yard to truck.

    Something different.

Leave a Reply