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Naturalist’s Notebook: Falcon vs. Kite

By John Schmitt
From the Spring 2014 issue of Living Bird magazine.
by John Schmitt

4 November 1994
Chino Hills State Park Puente Hills, California

Late this morning I observed a remarkable interaction between an adult White-tailed Kite and a juvenile female Prairie Falcon. I had been watching the kite diving vigorously at an adult Red-tailed Hawk when it abruptly broke off its attacks to evade the swift attack of a young Prairie Falcon.

After the falcon’s initial slashing attack, which the kite deftly evaded, the two birds spent the next two or three minutes skirmishing with each other in the sky above the yellowed grasses of the hillside. I was surprised to see the two raptors grapple talons a few times, falling a short distance before releasing and resuming their pursuit of each other. Naturally, the Prairie Falcon is capable of thrilling bursts of speed, which allowed her to overtake or dash away from the flustered kite with ease. Although a kite is also capable of some impressive turns of speed, its gifts ran more to stunningly swift and tight changes of direction that neatly countered the falcon’s efforts. Consequently, many of the looping and swerving chases took place in a relatively small airspace.

The intensity of the White-tailed Kite’s efforts, along with the raspy screams it gave with each close encounter with the falcon, demonstrated the kite’s more serious attitude toward this engagement, whereas it all appeared to be in the spirit of playfulness for the big brown falcon. The Prairie Falcon’s attacks on the kite seemed to be intended to provoke a retaliatory response, which the falcon appeared to relish evading. It reminded me of the aerial games I have observed between recently fledged sibling Prairie and Peregrine falcons around their nest cliffs in late spring and early summer, before they disperse on their independent journeys in their first autumn and winter.

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