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Peregrine in a bad mood...        Images © Mark A. Chappell

On a crisp December morning I watched an adult peregrine falcon launch from her perch in a dead tree, power into the clear sky, swiftly chase down a hapless dowitcher, and snatch it out of the air.   She soared with her prey for a few seconds, bent her head and killed it with her notched bill, and then glided down to a dry mudflat to feed.   She had taken just a few bites when she was set upon by a northern harrier, then two ravens, and finally a red-tailed hawk:   all interested in stealing the dowitcher.   The falcon -- one of the world's supreme aerialists -- was fairly helpless on the ground.   She screamed an angry kek kek kek kek and tried to fly off with her prey, but the carcass was an impediment to efficient aerodynamics and she kept dropping it to defend herself.   Once free of that burden the tables turned:   she was immediately in charge, quickly routing whoever had the prey and repossessing it -- only to lose it again when she tried to carry it away.   The limp dowitcher changed 'hands' several times before the red-tail finally grabbed it and escaped into some nearby trees.
       All this was dramatic enough but what followed was one of those unexpected encounters that nature photographers daydream about.   Evidently the peregrine thought the carcass was still on the ground, and she circled back to look for it.   I walked up with my camera, thinking she'd fly away when I got close, but she kept circling and calling for several minutes.   Only when I looked at the images did I notice she was glaring at me most of the time, looking for all the world like she blamed me for losing her food.   Finally she banked away and disappeared, leaving me with a number of memorable images.   In some, the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains are in the background; in all, the tip of the falcon's beak is blood-red from her rudely interrupted meal.

These photos were taken at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area near Riverside, California.  Other pictures of flying peregrines are here; photos of perched adults are here and perched juveniles are on this page.   Pictures of a well-known pair in Torrey Pines State Park near San Diego are here; other images are here.

  • Canon 1D4, 800 mm IS lens (2011)