The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Magazine

Article 10:
The making of a hunter

by Mark Nash and Kenn Chapman
(1996)


Part 1 - Adult Feeding

While the fledglings were still confined to their nesting ledge, the adults began showing them some preliminary steps to acquiring and eating food. Until then, all food was brought to the chicks/fledglings already prepared and fed to them by the parent. Now it was time to see how the food was in fact prepared.

While the fledglings watched from the nesting ledge, one of the parents would fly into the feeding perch on the roof of 33 Victoria St. The pigeon was headless; the adult proceeded to remove most of the feathers from the carcass, and then immediately ate it.

Dinner Dance
On two occasions, we observed the female (Victoria) arrive at the feeding roof at 33 Victoria St with another headless pigeon (clearly identified once with a blue band attached to its leg). The carcass was laid to rest on its back, with its legs sticking upright, and quite dead.

Victoria then proceeded to jump and hop up and down with her wings spread up and out around the fresh carcass. She attacked it, pounced on it and screamed at it throughout the entire dance. She continued this routine for at least twenty to thirty minutes, periodically pausing throughout this time frame.

 

Part 2 - Watching up close

When the fledglings were approximately 35-40 days old, Victoria and Kingsley brought in dead and partially prepared pigeons to the roof of 33 Victoria St. with the heads still attached, but some of the feathers already plucked off, and sometimes they were partially eaten. Occasionally the carcasses were not plucked until they were brought to the roof; then the feathers would be removed with Laurel and Hardy waiting from a few feet away, watching rather noisily.

At this time, both fledglings for the most part are still together and appear to find comfort in each other's presence. They still sleep and rest together when possible, and spend much of their time within close proximity (within eye-sight) to each other. The following year, with four fledglings, this pattern was observed again, with three or four of them occasionally returning to the nest ledge for the evening, and often they were seen huddled together under an air-conditioning unit on the roof of 33 Victoria St, keeping cool in the shade.

 

Part 3 - Survival instigates alienation

By the time the fledglings reached approximately forty to 45 days, sibling togetherness began to wane. Kingsley and Victoria brought in fresh pigeon kills (sometimes banded) to the waiting fledglings on the roof of 33 Victoria St. The pigeons were complete with heads and full plumage, but were quite dead.

As soon as the adult arrived, the waiting fledglings became loudly vocal at the prospect of food, and mobbed the parent. As the adult quickly departed, Laurel arrived at the carcass first, and quickly pounced on it. She fluffed up her feathers and proceeded to protect the pigeon by covering it with her lowered wings. After several minutes, the fledgling then proceeded to pluck the feathers from the carcass and quickly consume the food. Hardy was required to wait, loudly voicing his opinion at Laurel for not sharing the food throughout this entire period. After Laurel had had her fill and moved away, Hardy quickly moved in to claim the leftovers.

The major observation at this time was that both adults brought in whole, unprepared dead pigeons to the waiting fledglings who now appear quite competitive in getting to the meal ahead of the other, and are not willing to share and eat together as before.

 

Part 4 - The Fledglings' First Kill Attempt

Both fledglings (Laurel and Hardy) were sitting in the shade under the air conditioning equipment on 33 Victoria St, attempting to escape from the mid-morning heat of the sun. Around 10:45, Kingsley arrived with a meal.

Both fledglings became very vocal and rushed over to within a few feet of Kingsley in an attempt to be the first to get to the grey-coloured pigeon in his clutches. Moving ever closer, imagine their surprise (and ours!) when Kingsley suddenly flew away, leaving behind a very "live" but broken-winged pigeon. The expected meal was not dead yet!

The pigeon attempted to run across the roof, with one wing dragging on the roof gravel; it also appeared to have only half a tail. Both fledglings, still startled and confused, jumped into the air and half-ran, half-flew over to the corner of the rooftop. There they stopped and turned to take another look at their meal trying to run away. The pigeon made it to the center of the roof where it stopped underneath a part of the air-conditioning equipment where it tried to hide. Both fledglings continued to scrutinize it for a while, and when they had lost interest, they flew away. Kingsley returned a short time later and had lunch himself.

The next day, the fledglings were again waiting on the same rooftop when Kingsley arrived with another pigeon. Again, the fledglings raced over to his landing spot, just as he dropped the pigeon on the roof and flew away. This time the pigeon was very disabled, with one wing missing altogether and blood all over it. The pigeon ran towards the center of the roof, this time with a fledgling in hot pursuit.

The fledgling pounced on the pigeon and held it firmly pinned to the rooftop. She then puffed up her feathers and dropped both of her wings over the pigeon in an attempt to conceal the pigeon from her sibling. Encountering such a defensive posture, the other fledgling nevertheless made two attempts to move in on the food, but was warned off by the successful sibling. Once she felt secure that the pigeon was not going to be stolen, the successful fledgling proceeded to pluck its feathers and eat it, much to the verbal displeasure of her sister who waited nearby.

 

Part 5 - The First Mid-Air Kill

A few days after this, the fledglings were again waiting on the rooftop of 33 Victoria St. Again Kingsley arrived with a pigeon, presumably still alive, but instead of landing on the same rooftop as before, he landed on the NE corner of the nesting building, across the street from the waiting, hungry fledglings. Kingsley called over to them to "come and get it!"

After some hesitation, one of the fledglings flew off the rooftop over towards Kingsley. At the same time, Kingsley released the pigeon, causing it to start falling toward the street. The fledgling didn't have time to be startled or confused. She saw her lunch disappearing, and instinctively dove after it, catching it in her talons. Her first mid-air catch!

She returned with the pigeon to the 33 Victoria St rooftop, and proceeded to enjoy the meal in her usual manner.

 

Part 6 - The First Chase

One day, we watched as one of the adults (we presume it was Kingsley, but we don't know for sure) was seen flying around, followed by one of the fledglings. They were pursuing a small bird -- on a level plane rather than stooping it from above! The pursuit continued for a couple of circles around two of the high-rise office buildings.

Because of our vantage point from the 20th floor of the Victoria Tower, directly north of the nesting building, we are able to observe many of the aerobatic activities of the peregrines, both adults and fledglings. We can see to the south, east and west of the nesting building, where the adults did much of the "flight training" of their young.

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