Feb 28 2011

Courtship Flights

Published by at 7:00 am under Bird Behavior,Peregrines

As I pointed out earlier this morning (see below), we’re starting to see activity on the falconcams, but at this time of year it’s even more exciting to watch peregrine falcons at distance.

In the weeks leading up to egg laying the pair engages in courtship flight.  It’s a spectacular way for them to get in tune with each other and show off their flying prowess.

Here’s what you’ll see.

The male peregrine begins by circling high above the cliff.  Sometimes he travels in an undulating pattern or a figure eight.  His mate will rise up near him and circle high as well.  Soon they’ll begin to play in the air and may roll upside down or make a big Z in the sky.  Sometimes this “playing” looks dangerous because he’ll dive on her as if she were prey — but of course he misses.  Sometimes he pretends to bring her food and they do a mock prey exchange.

Back and forth, soaring high and diving low, their flight is breath-taking and they clearly enjoy it.  Not only does it cement their pair bond but it advertises to any passing peregrine that their nest cliff belongs to them.

Eventually the pair zooms to the cliff and lands near the nest.

If you’re watching their nest on a FalconCam on your computer, you might see them on camera at this point.  But you’ll have missed the big show.

(photo by Chad and Chris Saladin)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Courtship Flights”

  1. Kayon 28 Feb 2011 at 9:48 am

    Finally–activity this A.M. at the Gulf Tower. It appears they have dug a place for the eggs. Hoping for another interesting season. If it’s time for watching falcons, spring can’t be far behind!

  2. Sharon Leadbitteron 28 Feb 2011 at 11:47 am

    got my camera ready to catch some amazing flight patterns at the Gulf Tower

  3. Dotty Hoepneron 01 Mar 2011 at 11:12 am

    Here’s a great link to a video about the incredible speed and agility of Peregrines in flight. Also some amazing footage of how Goshawks maneuver through the woods.


  4. kellyon 01 Mar 2011 at 3:19 pm

    hi kate.
    i work in belmar,nj. within the past couple of years, a fairly high bridge was completed here. this past summer season, a peregrine took a fancy to the area as there are plenty of pigeons around and one of nj’s largest least tern breeding colonies is in belmar. during november i noticed 2 peregrines sharing a preferred perching spot, the police dispatching antenna at the building where i work. they were obviously a male and a female due to the size differential. i had even spotted them together on the high bridge pilings, house hunting maybe? anyway, what i’m getting to is….i’ve only spotted one recently. i think that it’s the female. the funny thing is that to my eye, she appears to be extra advertising herself or keeping an extra good eye on her environs. i say this because recently i have seen her on the very tippy top of the antenna and at the very edges of the outreaching rungs. i am supposing that her potential mate from the autumn got cold talons though i can’t be sure. maybe he is around. i started wondering how a peregrine establishing a new territory (one never bred on before) would attract a mate. does it just have to hope that someone attractive flys by? does it actively go out and look for suitors? i mean there’s no match.com or singles bars for peregrines! i made myself laugh imagining the profile that a peregrine might create. i hope she finds a mate though i’m sure the least tern families down the street won’t mind if she keeps her single status for another season.

  5. Kate St. Johnon 02 Mar 2011 at 11:29 am

    >i started wondering how a peregrine establishing a new territory (one never bred on before) would attract a mate. does it just have to hope that someone attractive flys by? does it actively go out and look for suitors?

    It’s sort of in between. Peregrines are very loyal to their “nest cliff” and will accept any peregrine of the opposite sex that can successfully defend that cliff against others. In the case of new “cliffs,” they pick one and hope it works.

    How to find a mate of you’re a peregrine? If unattached, wait at your nest cliff and periodically circle above it in an “advertising” way so that distant peregrines (if they happen to be out there) will notice. If a peregrine of the opposite sex approaches, knock yourself out showing how well you can fly & that you are unattached. Somehow this works and they’re able to find each other, perhaps because the sexually mature peregrines without a nest cliff wander a lot. They also tend to hang out near where there are other peregrine “cliffs” — just in case a local resident is vulnerable to a takeover.

  6. Tim Sciullion 02 Mar 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I have also observed them from the Steelworkers’ building fly around the spires of the PPG tower. They like to land on the very tip of the spire and stand for a minute or so. They try to land on the side of the spire that angles up to the point and of course there is nothing for them to hold onto. Then they actually look like they fall off the spire and tumble in mid air for some time end over end, after a few mid air tumbles they just open their wings and start flying. They did this over and over one day last week and as you say they clearly enjoy this play.

  7. Kate St. Johnon 02 Mar 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Cool about the PPG glass spires! Who knew?

  8. kellyon 02 Mar 2011 at 3:21 pm

    thanks for the input. i’ve been anticipating the possibility of a nesting pair since the summer. hence, the wondering.

    sorry for the misspelling: flies, not flys

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