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An Opportunity to Observe Cooperative Attacks on Common Buzzard by Urban Peregrines

On Sunday 7 June members of South West Peregrine joined Urban Peregrine researcher’s Nick Dixon and Andrew Gibbs, the co-authors of the British Birds Article ‘Cooperative Attacks By Urban Peregrine on Common Buzzard’ (May 2015 Issue), opposite the home of the study pair at St Michael’s & All Angels Church, Exeter. A small team of watchers all alone on a multi-story car park roof, armed only with binoculars, scope, flasked coffee and notebook.

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We had arrived early and already the Tiercel was in the air as we got into position, an alarm call being directed at the Falcon as he began to ring up (series of flaps and glide in a tight circle, gaining height on an early thermal) made him easy to pick out in the clear blue skies. The Falcon, now sat upright, alerted, on the gable end above the eyrie (a box installed and located behind a trefoil), looked on at her mate; calculating her route to join him. A Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) came into our view, effortless gliding and roughly following the course of the River Exe far below; at this point still unaware of the dangers of drifting into this ferociously guarded territory.

It is worth noting that the two young are only days away from estimated fledging with the young male expected to go on Thursday 11 June (42 days from hatching). So no threat is directly posed to the young eyasses from this passing raptor at this point in time.

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The Tiercel quickly reached a height just above the Buzzard, still hecking his alarm, the Falcon had by now left her perch and with rapid wing beats headed on a looping course behind the Church spire, climbing quickly to join her mate. Before she arrived in position the first stoop from the male on the Buzzard was witnessed, not a full speed attack and not directly at it, but in doing so the Buzzard now knew it was in danger. A second and more threatening stoop this time by the female made this threat intensify. The Male was now almost instantly, back in position above the Buzzard, who was heading in a South Westerly direction, within seconds the Tiercel was in again, quicker and now more threatening himself this time around.

swpg_jun_2015_03Calling from the pair could still be heard from our vantage point and we watched in awe as the Falcon was once again diving at the helpless buzzard; It flipped onto its back presenting its talons has a means of defence. It began to lose height deliberately and wing beats where seen has it tried to make its retreat. We witnessed 14 stoops in all before the Buzzard made good his escape and the pair turned back toward the spire.

What we witnessed as a group over the next 4 hours will go down as one of the most remarkable accounts in our relatively short 8 years as a group watching Peregrine Falcons together. Nine attacks in all where witnessed, both Adults spent the majority of this time in the air defending this territory only briefly returning to pitch in on the Spire or Cross, always remaining on high alert. Attacks seemed to be called off once the intruder was approximately 1km away from the Church Spire (in any direction) A number of hits on Buteo buteo where observed, these seemed in the main to be by the larger and possibly more aggressive Falcon.

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The Maximum number of attacks by the pair on this beautiful morning was 45 in total; one buzzard was sent spiralling to the ground, seemingly having flown its last flight. However on trying to recover this bird it was seen making an escape first to a nearby tree and then into a clump of trees in a nearby garden. During this time both birds remained on high alert and 2 level flight attacks were launched from the spire until the were certain any imposed threat had passed.

We said our goodbyes at around 13:00, the afternoon watch was about to commence, what we had witnessed formed the basis of conversation all the way back to Plymouth.

Anyone wishing to read the full detailed account of the Dixon/Gibbs Study helped by local watchers should read the published Article in British Birds

SWP thank Nick Dixon and Andrew Gibbs for the opportunity to join them and in their sharing so much knowledge.

Check out Nick Dixon’s profile as an Urban Peregrine research specialist on his website

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4 Responses to An Opportunity to Observe Cooperative Attacks on Common Buzzard by Urban Peregrines

    • I live just outside Los Angeles in Pasadena California although I did much of my growing up in the Derbyshire High Peak. Downtown Los Angeles has had resident breeding peregrine falcons for over 20 years. From the building I have worked in intermittently I have observed the peregrines diving at the red tailed hawks (buteos/buzzards) in the canyons formed by the higher buildings. It is hugely dramatic to watch two peregrines simultaneously on the attack. I have also witnessed a flock of ravens dashing for cover under a freeway bridge with a fixed winged peregrine in full stoop right behind them only pulling out of its dive at tree level. The peregrines appear very territorial. The pigeons in downtown LA fly like grouse… low, fast, and rarely above 10th floor level.

  1. It was a memorable day and great to be joined by members of SW Peregrine Group. During the afternoon a further four attacks on buzzards were observed. In addition the pair escorted a Red Kite away from the territory. A short while later a second Red Kite approached from the south. We watched enthralled as the falcon made three short stoops on this bird causing it to drop a prey item which it had been carrying. The falcon managed to catch the prey mid air before passing it to the tiercel. He carried the stolen item back to one of the ledges at the base of the church spire! Food for free!
    The level of aggression shown towards buzzards entering Exeter air space is quite extraordinary and observing the cooperative synchronised attacking behaviour exhibited by the pair never ceases to amaze. We are very keen to hear of similar behaviour that might be shown by other peregrine pairs elsewhere, home or abroad.
    A thought to close with: during the day a total of 71 solo stoops were made, almost all by the falcon; 124 stoops were made by the pair acting together. A staggering 195 stoops on 13 buzzards!
    Andrew Gibbs

  2. In spain a study i read about peregrins prey said they was taking hen harriers montagu’s harriers the study think the colour tags was attracting. the peregrines