Readers’ Wildlife Photos: fledgling harriers

WEIT regular Bruce Lyon sent Jerry fantastic photographs of some young harriers that we have visited before here and here in June when the parents were nesting.


As always, click through on a photograph twice to see it in its original size.


Bruce writes:

Jerry kindly posted two previous batches of photos of nesting harriers I have been following north of Santa Cruz, California. This batch focuses on the fledgling harriers—with the the theme of ‘prey’ and “play’. The fledglings were fed by both the adult male and female harriers and they got the food in aerial prey transfers from the parents. Here is a photo of the female arriving with what I think is a small rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata)—someone can correct me if this is wrong.  The chick successful got the snake from its mom but the klutz then dropped it into the vegetation.
A couple of times when a parent brought in food it was chased by both fledglings. In one case, the prey transfer did not end the commotion and a dogfight ensued between the fledglings over who got to keep the mouse:
The winner:
One evening I was confused because I looked up and saw three birds chasing each other and I knew that none of these birds were the adults. It turned out that the third bird was a fledgling peregrine falcon from a nearby nest. It seemed to me as if the peregrine was having fun chasing the harriers—perhaps a form of play that helps it learn to chase birds, the main type of prey consumed by peregrines. Below a couple of photos of the peregrine and harriers interacting:
Same encounter:
Here the peregrine threads the needle and flies between the two harrier chicks. This whole encounter was really fun to watch:
Later that same week I watched a peregrine fledgling from the same family chasing gulls and cormorants the same way it had been interacting with the harriers. I suspect it was probably the same chick that had the raptor playdate with the harrier fledglings. The falcon chick seemed really feisty and over the course of a couple days it chased a lot of birds. None of these chases seemed like serious hunts—they seemed to me more like play My best guess (‘hypothesis’) is that this play behavior helps the young raptor learn how to effectively chase things. Eventually these chases will be associated with dinner. Below, a couple of photos of the young falcon terrorizing western gulls. What sport!
Finally, just a couple of photos of the gorgeous young harriers:
Thank you Bruce!


  1. Stephen Barnard
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Very nice photos.

  2. eric
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Great pics.

    I wonder what the harriers think of the peregrine coming around – do they see a playmate, or a threat? I’m guessing that since mom and dad harrier aren’t scaring him off, it must be the former.

    I also wonder if familiarization (i.e., lots of such ‘play dates’) might result in this particular peregrine having different behavior later in life. Peregrines rarely but occasionally hunt other small raptors. Maybe after a bunch of play dates, this one wont? Who knows.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted July 29, 2015 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I suspect the Harriers do not regard it as fun or play.
      Peregrines can take out quite large birds of prey. I the uK there are recent records of Peregrines attacking and in some cases killing adult buzzards (Buteo buteo) but in that case it has involved adult peregrines defending their territory when they have young rather than recently fledged peregrines as in this case.

  3. Posted July 29, 2015 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Those interaction photos with the Peregrine are AMAZING! Beautiful work.

  4. ploubere
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Excellent shooting, catching them in flight!

  5. merilee
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink


  6. Posted July 29, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that’s a rosy boa– they have rather blunt tails, while the snake in the photo has a slim, tapering tail. I unfortunately can’t make an alternative suggestion for its identification.


  7. Aaron Siek
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Jerry is right; the snake’s morphological characteristics rule out rosy boa, as does the fact that the rosy boa’s range does not extend to Santa Cruz, ending much further south. We do have a boa species in northern CA (the rubber boa, Charina bottae), but it, too, has a markedly blunt tail. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the very long, slender tail and body and the color bring me to think the snake is more likely a Western Yello-Bellied Racer (Coluber constrictor ormon), which are also very common in the Santa Cruz area; I used to find dozens, sometimes, while herping as a youngster in that area.

    Any rate, lovely photos!

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Those are really incredible. This is exemplary wildlife photography since it tells a story.

  9. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 29, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic pics – I enjoyed these ver much.

  10. Posted July 29, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Practice makes Perfect…as they say. Here the parent Hummingbirds are now chasing the juveniles away from the feeders whereas last week they were all chummy together perched on the wire around the deck.T.

  11. Bruce Lyon
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks all for the kind comments and particularly information on the snake. Yellow-bellied Racer seems like a perfect fit.

  12. keithcook 0r more
    Posted August 1, 2015 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    nice shooting, fantastic aerial display

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