Alert reader George called my attention to a story and photos of a battle between a peregrine falcon and a snowy owl—near Montrose harbor in Chicago. Snowy owls don’t make it down here often, but this year (perhaps because of a shortage of voles up north) the owls have been spotted further south than usual. At North American Birding, Greg Neice posts about an epic battle between these two predators, with photographs by Rick Remington.
I’ve tried my best to get permission to use the photos, but have had no response from anyone, so I’ll post just three of them here and give credit to birder Rick Remington, who took these lovely pictures and describes the bird-on-bird encounter:
I told John that something was about to happen, and sure enough a few seconds later a gray missile swooped in and attacked out of nowhere. At no time during the harrasment by the crows did I see the owl adopt the defensive stance she was using at this point. She instinctively understood the difference between these birds and knew this was a serious situation. I was watching the owl the entire time and took my eye off my camera for just a second, and saw that the attacking bird was a Peregrine Falcon.
I shouted “Peregrine” to John and he immediately turned his camera to follow the Falcon while I stayed with the Snowy Owl. It was cloudy with less than perfect light conditions so I quickly adjusted my camera to account for the increased shutter speed requirements of an in flight battle. I could tell just before the Falcon would attack by the way the Owl crouched down and got ready to lunge.
It would do a somersault just as the Peregrine approached and flash its nasty talons in an attempt to scare off the Falcon. The battle lasted for 5 full minutes before the Falcon headed off in another direction and the Snowy Owl flew down to the rocks by the lake. It was a surprisingly violent and noisy encounter, with both birds shrieking loudly and the owl extending its giant wings to intimidate the smaller falcon. I fully expected this to end badly for the owl based on what I was watching. In spite of the obvious mismatch, the Snowy Owl managed to hold its own and escape unscathed.
Read more about the story, and see a lot more pictures, at the link above. Pity there’s not a video!