The Aerial Choreography of the Peregrine Falcon

Jul 30, 2019

 

Credit L. Lerner

It was late morning, walking the East End beach on a falling tide.  Sand damp beneath our feet, shells and seaweed strewn about.  It is mild and almost foggy; rain is on the way.  From the water there emanates a funky, fishy smell- schools of mackerel in the harbor, they say.  

 


Gulls patrolling the tide line, and a few lingering sandpipers (Sanderlings) and plovers (Semipalmated, Black-bellied) run about amongst them or fly in small flocks. 

 

 

Then, out over the water, I see it: a dark, bullet shaped bird charging through the air- unmistakable: a Peregrine Falcon.  And as it soars and dives it is clear that it is chasing something, a small bird, probably a Sanderling. 

 

The two birds, pursuer and pursued, zig and zag in an almost choreographed dance.  The little bird is just inches away from the falcon, and manages to dart out of its grasp.  The falcon, missing, soars far up into the empty sky, but just as quickly dives back down and somehow back to the same small bird, and tries again.  Two, three, four times this life and death drama is repeated out over the water.  It is exciting to watch, and, how to explain the feeling of cheering both for the hunter and its prey, or perhaps a better way to put it, for the process itself. 

 

As the struggle continues it moves away from us, and, finally, on the last swoop, the Ice House blocks our view.  Therefore we do not see the midair punch, the grab, the fatal final act.  But up in the air the falcon climbs, now just a bit encumbered by the little dead bird clutched in its talons.  It flew, probably to the roof of the Ice House, there to consume its midmorning meal. 

 

The Peregrine is not a species that spends the year here; it is likely a migrant, perhaps even from as far away as Greenland.  It may or may not remain for the winter, as one or two have done in previous years, preferring the wind-swept parapets of the Monument for their roost.  

 

The Sanderling may have been on its migratory route or it may have been one of the few that choose to overwinter here; it nested up in the Hudson Bay area or along the coast of the Arctic Sea.  These two individuals met and effected an exchange of energy in a process that has gone on for eons.  It happens every day, somewhere.  I was lucky enough to witness it.