Just when you’ve persuaded everyone you know, from barflies in Montana to hotshot Manhattan editors to your infant nephews, that birds are the greatest thing ever… something like this happens.
A recent paper published in the French journal Alauda (sadly, it appears not to be available in English online yet, but here’s the gist) brings us news that Eleonora’s Falcons breeding on the archipelago of Essaouira have been caching prey during breeding season. Which, no biggie. Acorn woodpeckers cache. Bluejays cache. Shrikes cache, and yeah, from time to time that gets them brought up in literature and TV as sort of not the nicest birds, but we’re all over it.
The problem – and I admit this sounds so outrageous that reading it gave me pause – is that the falcons are caching their prey with the intention of keeping it alive, at least for a day or so. They do this by stuffing the small birds they capture into crevices in rock, sometimes after plucking the unlucky victims’ flight feathers as further insurance. This seems to be the first time such behavior has been recorded in these falcons, or any raptors.
Nature, you know. Red in tooth and claw.
Taking a closer look at the Eleonora’s Falcon makes me suspect that this could only be the beginning. They’re social, and the fact that this behavior has cropped up just recently on only one island makes me wonder if it might be learned. What are they up to, out there on the uninhabited islands where they prefer to breed? Are they plotting anything else?