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Naturalist’s Notebook: Peregrine Falcon Hunts Bats

Text and illustrations by John Schmitt
Naturalist's Notebook: Peregrine Falcon Hunts Bats
Illustration by John Schmitt.

22 September 2008, Kern River Valley, Wofford Heights, California

Dusk is gathering on this warm evening as my attention fixes upon something different among the ravens lazily weaving and gliding high in the fading light. Intuitively I know it is a peregrine on the hunt, and I make an adrenalin-charged dash for my binoculars. I quickly re-find the falcon, still in a direct shallow ascent on strong, steady wingbeats. I judge the falcon to be a female by its size compared with the nearby ravens, and by her bulk and the cut of her silhouette. With the exception of her white chest and dark head she appears entirely dark in the deepening gloom.

The big falcon soon begins turning in wide ascending circles with never a pause in the cadence of her wingbeats. Thus, she tirelessly mounts for another one or two minutes before peeling away in a straight line out over the canyon, her wings now swept back and clipping at a faster, driving cadence. In moments she streaks through a quarter of the sky peppered with bats—more bats than I’ve ever observed in the Kern Valley skies before! She veers down sharply and—with a slight jink in her stoop—lashes out with a long leg and snatches a bat. Immediately she pulls into a wide, slow soar and commences eating her tiny prize in midair. In four or five bites she finishes her meal, then, on strong steady wing beats, sets off again through the bat-stippled sky. But unfortunately I soon lose sight of her in the darkening distance.

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