As we all know, peregrine falcons eat only birds and they catch them in the air.
Or do they?
Last Wednesday I received an email from Dan Yagusic, an excellent birder who watches the peregrines on the Allegheny River bridges. (He’s the one who first found Mary Cleo (Dori) at the 62nd Street Bridge. She now lives at Gulf Tower.)
Here’s what Dan saw at dusk on Tuesday, September 21:
Last evening at dusk I was passing Washington Landing’s Marina (Allegheny River) at a no wake speed in our boat. In the near darkness I spotted a large bird flying fast downriver.
All of a sudden, directly across from me about five Mallards took flight squawking very loudly as they went. This bird (unidentified as of yet) started making repeated swooping turns down to the water, but appeared to be chasing nothing at all! I grabbed my binoculars at this point and lo and behold to my utter amazement it was a Peregrine Falcon!!
I continued watching as this Peregrine made at least 20 passes over the water, each time rising 30 feet or so in the air before dropping down and dipping it’s talons into the water as if to make a splash. Running through my mind were the likes of “What the hell is this bird doing?” and “Just what is making him/her do this?”
After who knows how many trips down to the water the Peregrine came up with a FISH in it’s talons. It proceeded to fly directly to the nearest tower where it immediately started eating its catch.
Perhaps you or others know of this behavior in Peregrines, but in my limited experience I have never seen a Peregrine even attempt a shot at fishing. That sure did make my evening, let me tell you! Variety can be the spice of life, even for Peregrines??? — Dan Yagusic
I did some research and found two (only two!) references that said peregrines occasionally eat fish though one said they took them from ospreys.
So what was going on here?
Dr. Tony Bledsoe of the University of Pittsburgh’s Biological Sciences Department explained that our mid-latitude peregrines focus on birds but that peregrines occur nearly worldwide and are quite cosmopolitan. Right now peregrines from Canada and the Arctic are migrating south through Pittsburgh. Those birds travel to South America and have skills and tastes that our local birds never had to cultivate.
If they know how to fish and the ducks aren’t cooperating, why not?
Even so, it’s very unusual!
(photo of a peregrine capturing a killdeer by Cris Hamilton. No, I do not have a picture of a peregrine fishing!)