Writing projects have kept me occupied these past few weeks, not to mention looking after Chango, my eldest son’s dog. So my time with the snowy owls has been greatly reduced. Still, I have slipped out with my camera a few times with Chango for company.

On the weekend I drove to nearby Paris, Ontario to cruise the farm country looking for whatever wildlife might pop up. On days like these it is not unusual to spot a bald eagle travelling to or from the nearby Grand River or American kestrels hunting along some of the roadside ditches. One time I saw a herd of maybe thirty or more deer. During these excursions I look high and low, to trees, fenceposts and deep into fields in case I might see wildlife.


Imagine my surprise when I spotted a large bird tearing feathers off its prey not ten minutes into my journey. It was a peregrine falcon, a species I have never before photographed. Of course, I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and put on my hazard lights.

A peregrine falcon with its prey. 

After snapping a few images I got out and walked across the road kneeling down with my camera in hand. I hadn’t expected this encounter and wasn’t wearing my waterproof trousers. My hiking pants and base layer were soon soaked through from the melting snow. The peregrine looked at me but continued plucking the feathers at a feverish pace. I couldn’t tell what this fierce raptor had caught but the wind was blowing feathers and fur all about the field.

I was 35 or 40 metres away and kept as still as possible. The peregrine soon ignored me and starting tearing flesh. It was happily making a meal of the prey when I heard the familiar sound of a nearby red tailed hawk. With this, the peregrine stopped eating and looked around. Suddenly it took off emitting a sound that reminded me of an ambulance siren as it chased the hawk.

The peregrine gives chase, leaving its prey temporarily 

Peregrines are the fastest bird or animal on the planet, They can apparently reach speeds of more than 300 km/hr although they are more likely to be seen at a more conservative 110 km/hr when chasing prey. Watching these two raptors engaged in aerial combat was exciting to watch although most of the action was taking place too far away for decent images.

The red tailed hawk evading the peregrine falcon.

Finally, the hawk gave up and flew away, The peregrine returned to its meal still chirping away in a fit of excitement.

 

I went back to my car and reached for my fold-up fishing stool which is useful – and necessary to prevent a recurrence of the sciatica I had in the early months of the winter. I opened it up at the side of the road and sat down snapping away. The peregrine continued to tear flesh from the prey.

The wind was coming straight at me so I knew that when the falcon left the area it would probably fly away and I would see only its tail. If I circled around into the field I would have a more advantageous position. But I don’t know the farmer and didn’t want to trespass. After filling its belly the peregrine turned and stepped off the carcass. It flew away over the nearby trees.

Curious to know what the prey had been I drove to the farmhouse to speak with the farmer. He told me he had driven past me while I was taking pictures and had wondered what I was photographing. When I told him it was a peregrine falcon with its prey he was fascinated. He had also heard the commotion.

I asked if he minded me going into the field to see what it was that led to the battle. No problem, he said. Then he added, ‘one of our ducks went missing last night.’

I drove back to where I had been photographing the peregrine and stopped the car. As I walked towards the spot where it had been feeding I could see feathers, skin and down strewn about the place. And then I saw the remains of a duck. (warning: a graphic image of the duck is below!)

A couple of days ago while seated at my desk I watched a pileated woodpecker carving holes in a dead tree out back. A fox walked past one morning. And now the peregrine falcon just fifteen minutes away. There is so much to see and enjoy close to home – a welcome distraction from all the troubles in the world.

The aftermath of the peregrine’s activities.

32 Comments

  1. Debbie Martsch

    That was really fascinating. So much around us… we took a “ hawk walk “ in Ireland It was so very interesting to see these birds up close. It honestly was like looking then in the eye and seeing their souls. I wasn’t much of a bird person until that day. Now I love to see all the images you post. Thank you!

  2. Ron C

    Paul I’m sure that was an unexpected pleasure happening upon a feeding peregrine. They’re known as Duck hawks for good reason.

    It appears that your peregrine has been banded and may have been the result of a government breeding program or continuing private conservation efforts to restore the once threatened population. The government programs were phased out around 2006. Peregrines, like most raptors, have a very high mortality rate during their first year or two. Their lifespan is thought to be around 15 years so if this one resulted from a government breeding program it has certainly managed to hone its survival skills. While no longer endangered it remains a species of special concern as the Ontario population is relatively small leaving a very large proportion of its historical range uncolonized.

    I’ve been fortunate to see quite a few over the years in and around Lake Superior as well as the high Arctic. On one occasion while crossing the Davis Strait from Greenland into the Canadian Arctic we had a pair of Peregrines land on the railing of the ship mid-crossing 500 km from land. They spent about 8 hours resting on the railing and then returned to the air. Without a doubt they reached landfall long before we did.

    By the way sightings of peregrines can be reported to Ontario’s Natural Heritage Information Centre.

    Keep up the good work Paul.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Great information, Ron! thanks for sharing. Yes, I noticed the band and wondered what the history is of this bird. I do have images of when it chased the hawk over my head and in addition to the silver USGS band on its right leg there is a blue one on its left. I dont know the significance of that. I will ask my friends at The Owl Foundation. Cheers!

    2. Paul E Gains

      Further to your earlier comment, Ron, I contacted my friends at The Owl Foundation who suggested I report my sighting to the USGS. The blue colour band and the number I can see clearly on a black band above that one will give them a clue as to where this peregrine was banded. According to one peregrine banding website this bird may have been banded during migration. I have also sent an email to the Raptor Resource Center asking for whatever information they might be able to give me. Fascinating stuff! Take care

  3. Brad Morley

    Another captivating story with superb photos. Thanks, Paul. I’ve been lucky here in Guelph to twice see the “resident” Peregrine on the church tower in the centre of town. I got some decent pics, too, but not in the class of yours. Once again, lovely work.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Pleased to hear you are out and about with your camera, Brad. That was my first peregrine encounter and it was fantastic to see it give chase to that red tailed hawk allowing me to see how fast they fly. Stay well!

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Brett! I often call myself the luckiest photographer in the world having had up-close, unexpected encounters with lots of wildlife – jaguar cubs in the Brazilian Pantanal on my first morning in the Pantanal; an Algonquin wolf passing near my tent in Killarney, Ontario; the (endangered) Walia Ibex in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains; I could go on and on. You have to be there, in the outdoors, to have a shot at these encounters! Hope you are doing well.

    1. Paul E Gains

      LOL! I am pleased you enjoyed my story, Jeff. I hope that it has inspired folks to appreciate nature and to take a look around them. Encounters like this are waiting for everyone.

    2. Paul E Gains

      Hey Jeff, thanks for your note. I always appreciate hearing from you and that you continue to enjoy my posts. I have cut back recently only because I have been so busy. To be honest, I was lucky on sunday that I had Conor’s dog with me. Had I not been dog sitting I may have chosen to visit the snowy owls again. What an outcome, though? Awesome afternoon.

  4. Barclay Frost

    Great story about a bird I have seen in our area. You are so patient and work hard to get the shots you want. Have you ever thought about using a drone that has a camera attachment?

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hi Barclay, you have been blessed to see peregrines. I know they are occasionally spotted in Waterloo region but until sunday I never saw one before.If I had a drone I know I wouldn’t use it on birds. I think they can be too intrusive. Keep getting outdoors, Barclay!

    1. Paul E Gains

      It was an extraordinary stroke of luck! I have since learned much about this individual peregrine thanks to the bands on its legs. But I will pitch this story to a magazine or newspaper. take care!

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