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Piracy Among Raptors

It's mine! No, it's mine! Nope, it's HIS!
© Craig Koppie View Large

One bird of prey may steal another's meal, a behavior that biologists call piracy, or kleptoparasitism. The prey may change hands several times, perhaps from Northern Harrier to Peregrine Falcon to Bald Eagle. The Peregrine - like the young one seen here - may steal a meal, or have its meal stolen, or both! Visit your local Audubon chapter, to see where you might watch raptors this winter.

Full Transcript

Piracy Among Raptors
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote! [Whistled calls of a Northern Harrier]

It’s early morning, and the winter sunrise bathes the horizon in pink. A Northern Harrier – a lanky, low-flying hawk – systematically covers a broad expanse of open ground. The harrier flies slowly on canted wings, hunting just a few feet above the grass-covered earth. [Call of a Northern Harrier] With a sudden, mid-air twist, it slams its talons toward the ground, catching an unwary rodent.

Just as the Northern Harrier lowers its head to partake of its quarry, a swift Peregrine Falcon streaks in on long, angled wings, knocking the harrier off its still-warm prey.

By snatching the harrier’s first morning meal, the falcon saves itself the time and effort of foraging. Biologists call this behavior piracy, or kleptoparasitism.

It’s a scene repeated in many areas across North America where birds of prey congregate in winter. In truth, piracy is almost routine – as our Peregrine Falcon is about to find out. Because just as the falcon took from the harrier and is now about to dine, a massive Bald Eagle – which had watched the entire drama unfold – flies in from a nearby perch to relieve the falcon of its already-once-purloined prey. [Call of Bald Eagle]

The eagle had better eat quickly. Other eagles are watching. [Calls of two Bald Eagles]


Call of raptors provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Northern Harrier recorded by W.W.H. Gunn; Bald Eagle individual and pair, recorded by J. Storm.
Padilla Bay ambient recorded by C. Peterson
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to   January 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID# piracy-01b-2010-01-07-MS

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