As some of you may know I have been monitoring and assisting the London Peregrine Falcon population for the last 10 years, I am a self confessed Peregrine and Raptor nut as many of my mates will tell you. Peregrines are incredible hunters and at the top of the chain when it comes to Birds of Prey in London, I have seen many stirring sights whilst watching them and quite recently witnessed a confrontation between a pair of Peregrines and 4 Carrion Crows.
Carrion Crows are the bully boys in the bird world, big, intelligent, full of attitude and quite a formidable adversary, they will mob many raptors especially Kestrels and Sparrowhawks but rarely mob Peregrines. The Crows know that the Falcons are very aggressive and mobbing can become dangerous to the health of the Crow. The Crows will ‘ bait’ Peregrines when they have prey and are feeding on a structure, always 2 or more but rarely seek them out up in open sky as they do with Kestrels and Sparrowhawks.
In open sky Peregrines are in there element, they are also extremely territorial and hold to territory all year round, much of this is due to the threat of losing there territorial site to other Peregrines and also losing prey remains to Crows.
Recently, I arrived at a regular site at dawn as I normally do and watched the pair come out from roost from the ‘core’ structure, looking at both, I was aware that both Falcon and Tiercel were showing full crops. As I knew that this pair hunted at night, it was very likely that they had hunted and fed during the nocturnal hours. Both birds flew to a nearby structure, the Tiercel to the top with the Falcon slightly below him, I call this ‘profile’ perching, it is more or less advertising territorial presence on his part to other Peregrines.
Shortly after this 4 Crows appeared, they could obviously see the Peregrines on the nearby structure but additionally, it was likely that they could see prey remains on the ‘core’ structure, they circled highish but none landed. This carried on for about 5 minutes, in the meantime the Falcon had started to call whilst watching the Crows, I have seen this before, it signals agitation and usually aggression .As it looked like all 4 Crows were going to leave, 2 suddenly broke off and landed on the far side of the structure, near the top, they could not see the Peregrines and visa versa.
It was too much for the Peregrines and as one they attacked, flight was direct and powerful, the usual scenario was that the Crows would see them coming and they would dive straight down low to the ground where they know the Peregrines are unlikely to target them. In this case the Crows were not aware of the approaching Peregrines, as they cleared the top of the building, both flicked over and went for the Crows.
One of the Crows soon appeared with the Tiercel on its tail, his usual tactic is too hit the Crow too reinforce the territorial message. As I was watching this, I heard a Crow calling in alarm, into view came the 2nd Crow but unfortunately for it, the Falcon had caught it and was attached to its back!
As both were losing height rapidly, I could see Falcon bending her head down through binoculars trying to give the neck bite. The Crow was now screaming with fear and trying hard to defend itself from the enraged female, she had a good hold and was obviously intent on killing it. Having also felt the strength and depth of the talons, I sympathized with the crow as I knew that those talons were around ½ an inch long and very likely doing damage.
The ground was now rapidly approaching with both birds still locked together, at the very last minute the Falcon disengaged and gained height, the unfortunate crow was moving too fast and hit the ground quite hard. As I got the telescope on it, it righted itself and stood upright, it was quite obviously in shock, it was not calling but was rooted to the spot and staring. It stayed this way for a good 3 or 4 minutes before I took my eyes off it, when I looked back it had gone, it did not look as if it was in any condition too fly, I suspect it may have moved to cover.
Crows so often dominate other species, this time they were on the receiving end.