Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Bruce Lyon is busy documenting the lives of local peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), and sent some nifty photos:

In 2014 I discovered a peregrine falcon nest on the California coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco just as the chicks were fledging. Jerry posted a couple of the photos I got at the time. The birds returned and used the same nest site the next year (2015) and I was able to follow them through an entire nesting season, including for about a month after the chicks fledged.

The birds were very tame, and only got tamer over time—they basically ignored me and went about their business. Being able to watch falcons closely without affecting their behavior was really a unique experience for me, and I soon came to see their daily rhythms and patterns.  Jerry previously provided a brief review of J.A. Baker’s book, The Peregrine, which some believe to be among the finest pieces of nature writing ever done. Baker’s powerful writing allows us to see the world through the eyes of a peregrine. Baker watched his birds in winter (his birds were winter migrants to England)—I was lucky enough to do something similar for the breeding season.

The female sitting on a favorite perch, staring out to sea. Perhaps she is scanning for passing shorebirds—both the male and female frequently use this perch to search for birds flying by over the ocean and then give chase:


The female launches from the perch. Note the size of the legs and claws: a dove’s worst nightmare:


The male landing at the same perch.


The happy couple perched on the cliff near the nest. The male (lower, left) is noticeably smaller than the female. This ‘reverse size dimophism’ is particularly common in raptors and is most extreme in bird-eating species. Many hypotheses have been suggested to explain this size pattern, including niche separation within the pair and division of labor during nesting (females are large to defend the nest, males are small for agile hunting):


The female with a Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) she caught out over the ocean. Phalaropes were not on the diet very often but on this day both the male and female brought in a phalarope. Coincidentally, a local bird website reported particularly large movements of phalaropes on this same day—I suspect the falcons just could not pass up the opportunity for abundant easy prey:


A very damp male falcon. A.J. Baker reported that his falcons were fastidious about keeping clean and always took daily baths. The only time I ever saw a damp falcon was the male, on the day that he brought in a phalarope. Since phalaropes are caught at sea I suspect that he took a dunk while going after a phalarope:


The male drying out after his dunking. Note the pellet on the rock below him:


The female brings a Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) to the nest. This non-native species is by far the favorite prey item taken by this pair—this year (2016) over half of the prey items I have been able to identify have been collared-doves.



  1. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Look at the talons on those dinosaurs!

  2. Newish Gnu
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Great photos!

    I count 4 chicks. Isn’t that a lot? Recently finished “H is for Hawk” by
    Helen Macdonald after someone here recommended it. Loved it.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted June 11, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      I was wondering about the chances of fledging 4 chicks as well. But birds often over-produce. Yes, that can mean that the younger chicks are later basically murdered by their slightly older siblings, but it might also mean that for a time they have some back-up chicks in case something goes wrong with the older ones.

    • Bruce Lyon
      Posted June 11, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Yes, four seemed like a lot to me too. However, only three survived. One chick was smaller than the rest (likely hatched a day or two after than the rest) and only lasted a couple of weeks. It probably perished due to brood reduction—not enough food for all four chicks and the little one could not fully compete for access to food. This sort of brood reduction is fairly common in birds and in some species can be extreme in terms of fraction of the brood that starves. In my studies of American coots, up to 80% of the chicks in a brood can starve.

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Great stuff.

  4. Richard Bond
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photographs of beautiful birds. I very occasionally have peregrines in my garden (they come down in winter from nearby high ground to hunt voles), but I have never moved fast enough to get a photograph.

  5. Frank Bath
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    A very enjoyable photo journal. I’ve not seen Peregrines outside of London where we sometimes have a pair hunting from the top of The Tate Modern – the RSPB put up tripods and binoculars to watch them. Pigeons a-plenty. They’re believed to be resident on St Paul’s Cathedral just over the river.

  6. alexandra moffat
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I hope everybody here has read H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald – the hawk is a Goshawk.
    Amazing book…
    magnificent Peregrine photographs today

  7. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Cracking photos!

  8. Posted June 11, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I love these photos. Thanks for sharing the thrill, Bruce.

    • Posted June 12, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I’m quite taken by not only the birds but their rocky perches and roosts too. Gorgeous cliff face. Is this sandstone?

      • Bruce Lyon
        Posted June 12, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        I agree—-the setting just adds to the experience and atmosphere. I believe the rock is sandstone.

  9. darrelle
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful pics Bruce, thank you for sharing. Peregrines are one of my favorite creatures, even though I don’t really know much about them! Their beauty and their awesome physical capabilities are reason enough for me.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What a wonderful experience!

  11. cruzrad
    Posted June 12, 2016 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Outstanding photos. Thanks!

  12. keith cook + / -
    Posted June 18, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    thanks for that, enjoyed your labour and story of these birds

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