JAC: In lieu of our usual dollop of living creatures in “Readers’ wildlife photographs,” I’ll post this contribution by Matthew.
by Matthew Cobb
Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) is a kind of hobby with a wingspan of about 1 meter which breeds on Mediterranean islands and overwinters in Madagascar. It’s a rather fine-looking bird, as this photo by Jürgen Dietrich from Wikipedia shows:
Outside of the breeding season, Eleonora’s falcon mainly eats insects, but when there are babies about they will take larger prey, including other birds. A short paper has just been published in Alauda, the journal of the Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de France, which reveals that in one population of this species, predation can take on quite a gruesome aspect.
As reported on Morrocanbirds and another of other sites (I haven’t been able to read the original article), the discovery is part of a long-term study of a population of this falcon off the Moroccan Atlantic coast by Moroccan scientists. According to the article, the birds will sometimes catch their prey and then, rather than feeding it to their chicks straight away, they store them, alive, sometimes having removed the flight feathers of the poor victim.
The Morrocanbirds piece includes two grim photos by Abdeljebbar Qninba of doomed birds, the first of a chiffchaff sans tail and wing feathers, the second of a common whitethroat peering from its prison:
Many birds in temperate regions will stash the bodies of their prey for later consumption. In the case of the shrike or butcher bird, this can become quite macabre, with bodies impaled on spikes. Eleanor’s falcon appears to have taken the process a step further – in the heat the Moroccan coast, any stashed body would rapidly dry out. By disabling and imprisoning the prey for a while (it is not clear what is the maximum duration – at least a matter of days), their food will stay fresh for longer…
Here’s a picture of an adult brooding a pair of eggs, from here. It looks pretty cross.
Of course, this is no different from the behaviour of many hymenoptera, which paralyse their prey (generally caterpillars, but in some cases spiders), lay eggs inside them or next to them and then wall them up in a hole or a pot, where the victim is slowly eaten alive by the maggots…
To paraphrase Miranda from The Tempest, and with only a touch of irony:
Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous nature is!
O brave new world that has such creatures in ‘t!
Reference: Qninba, A., Benhoussa, A. Radi, M., El Idrissi, A., Bousadik, H., Badaoui B. & El Agbani, M.A. 2015. Mode de prédation très particulier du Faucon d’Éléonore Falco eleonorae sur l’Archipel d’Essaouira (Maroc Atlantique). Alauda 83(2): 149-150.