Sep 27 2010

A Fishy Peregrine

Published by at 7:00 am under Peregrines


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

Amazing! 

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!)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “A Fishy Peregrine”

  1. Marianneon 27 Sep 2010 at 7:33 am

    Thanks for sharing the great story, Dan. It is very interesting and informative!

  2. Steve Tironeon 27 Sep 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Wow, that is just amazing. I would have guessed an immature and very hungry Peregrine desperately trying something different, not a visitor from the Arctic using established skills (as suggested, we don’t know for sure). Did Dan notice if it was an immature or adult? I wonder how many reports of fishing Peregrines are out there in the literature?

    Fantastic observation, and thanks for sharing.

  3. Glenn Nevillon 28 Sep 2010 at 12:22 am

    Could you tell what kind of fish it was?

  4. Anne Curtison 28 Sep 2010 at 1:01 am

    I bow to much greater knowledge and experience than I have, mine being solely limited to casual observation! A question, though? 20 tries, with lifting up 30+ feet in between! That’s a lot of energy being used up! It had to have been an experienced bird!

    In one of my favorite books, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, by Jean George, peregrines are locally called “duck hawks”. Guess the mallards were lucky that day!

    Anne

  5. Kim Steiningeron 28 Sep 2010 at 7:10 am

    Kate, we saw a falcon catch a fish at the Conowingo Dam one day last winter too. Certainly surprised all of us, including Craig Koppie, who as you know has worked with falcons for many years!

  6. Glenn Nevillon 28 Sep 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I once came across a pair of adults hunting over the surf, both birds made multiple passes touching the water each time. They were retrieving a shore bird that they had just killed. You can see that sequence at this page…

    http://raptor-gallery.com/05-16-09-morning/index.htm

    Regards,
    Glenn Nevill

  7. Burks Oakleyon 27 Feb 2012 at 5:40 am

    I saw an adult peregrine falcon catch a fish off the beach in Naples, Florida, yesterday. I took a number of photos – unfortunately, the falcon was pretty far away from shore. I uploaded several photos to Flickr – if you login to Flickr, you should be able to view them:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/burkso2/6934642321/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/burkso2/6788529384/

    It appears that the peregrine falcon is nesting on one of the high-rise condos on the beach.

    I was quite surprised to find that such fishing behavior is rare. This falcon got the fish on the first pass.

    – Burks

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

Bird Stories from OnQ