Jun 10 2014

Falcons Stick Together

Published by at 6:45 am under Birds of Prey,Peregrines

American kestrel fledgling at Engineering Hall, Univ of Pittsburgh (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

This story has a sad ending but the middle is so amazing that it's worth the telling.

At 10:00am Michelle Kienholz texted me with an odd sighting at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health: "Peregrine on GSPH? One of the Cathedral of Learning peregrines is yelling and dive-bombing it."

Michelle sent a cellphone photo of the attacked bird perched on the windowsill but neither of us could determine the species.  Michelle didn't have binoculars and her photo was tiny.

Forty-five minutes later she texted again after she saw it more clearly:  "Red-tailed hawk -- taking quite a beating from E2 still.  Can't tell if windows are affecting how wings held or if injured but I see red-tails on the building all the time.  45 minutes on the same cramped ledge with a crazed falcon seems odd.  ... Doesn't look especially stressed though."

Almost an hour later at 11:30am:  "Red-tail moved to Sennott Building, so he can fly."

But this was not the end of it.

At 1:30pm Michelle sent an email about another bird of prey perched at the entrance to the Engineering Building.  Observers had seen him hit a window in the early morning.  Melissa Penkrot at the School of Engineering was concerned because this juvenile male kestrel had been perched there since 7:00am.

Juvenile American kestrel at Engineering Building (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

In between meetings, Michelle ran down to check on the kestrel while Melissa called the Game Commission. The kestrel continued to stand in plain sight so Melissa put up a sign so folks would not try to touch it.  Interestingly, she could see the Sennott Building from the kestrel's location.

Michelle returned an hour later and saw the kestrel hop up on the rust-colored sculpture and make a slow wobbly flight across the street.  Before she returned to work she told the security guard at the parking garage that the Game Commission was coming for the bird.  He assured her he'd be there into the evening and would keep an eye on it.  That was at 2:45pm.

Alas, when Michelle returned at 7:00pm the security guard told her the red-tail had barely waited for her to leave.  While the kestrel's back was turned the red-tail swooped in and killed him.  Not a happy ending.

But there is a happy middle.

In the morning E2 spent at least 45 minutes attacking and finally moving that red-tailed hawk away from the area.  E2 was as focused and relentless as he is when his own fledglings are threatened.  Yet he has no babies this year.  Why did he attack the red-tail?

I think E2 recognized the fledgling as a baby falcon -- not a peregrine, but certainly a falcon -- and his protective instincts kicked in.  He doesn't have his own "kids" this year but when he saw a dazed juvenile falcon he knew the red-tail was up to no good and did everything in his power to move the danger away.  He did a good job.  The red-tail was deterred.

Vulnerable American kestrels often fall prey to red-tailed hawks.  The kestrel's own parents could not have protected him, but a peregrine did.

Falcons stick together.


p.s.  Kestrels are known to help peregrines: see this blog from 2012.

(photos by Michelle Kienholz)

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Falcons Stick Together”

  1. Kate St. Johnon 10 Jun 2014 at 6:51 am

    In the blog above I mention that American kestrels are preyed upon by red-tailed hawks. Peter Bell and I witnessed this in June 2012 at Schenley Park when an adult red-tail raided a kestrel nest and killed a young kestrel to feed to its own fledged youngster. Here’s one of Peter’s photos of the young red-tail eating unrecognizable prey… but we knew what it was. https://flic.kr/p/cq1pdC

  2. Gene Hendersonon 10 Jun 2014 at 8:50 am

    “American kestrels often fall prey to red-tailed hawks.”

    I did not know that or would have thought that! Do you know why re-tails prey on them. I would think they would be hard to catch unless injured like this one. I know kestrels sometimes hover which could make them an easier target but still? And yes their nest would be targets but that would be the case for other bird nest too. Interesting!


  3. Kate St. Johnon 10 Jun 2014 at 9:05 am

    Gene, I added an adjective to make the sentence clearer.

  4. John Thomsonon 15 Jun 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Kate,
    Moving story for sure. What drama. Thank everyone who made that story come to life.
    I heard some “noise” in the sky yesterday while I was up on a ladder and looked up to see a symphony of movement. Two hawks soaring, two crows diving at them and 20 or 30 pigeons in sync one way then another as if they seemed safer the closer they were to the hawks. This dance went on for a few minutes in my eye sight and then they all moved beyond the house tops, over another hill near me in McKeesport, PA. Just astounding.

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