Most everyone’s favorite falcons (outside of Atlanta) are those high-diving peregrine falcons that frequently nest in tall buildings and entertain office workers who are wasting time looking out of windows instead of shopping on the Internet. Would these birds be so popular if they dragged live pigeons onto the windowsills and ate them? OK, maybe not pigeons … how about cute little warblers? A Mediterranean cousin of the peregrine does just that and even keeps live birds imprisoned to eat later. Oh, the ornithology!
These macabre birds are Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) that live primarily on islands off the coasts of Greece, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Algeria and Morocco. According to a recent report in the French journal Alauda, bird census takers working on the sparsely-inhabited Moroccan island of Mogador in 2014 witnessed Eleonora’s falcons pulling live birds (chiffchaffs and common whitethroats) from tight holes and crevices whose openings were too small for the birds to escape through. The prey had wing and tail feathers missing to keep them from flying away from the ferocious raptors. What kind of cruel Eleonora’s falcons (named for Eleanor of Arborea, the famous heroine of Sardinia and avid ornithologist and falcon lover) would commit such acts?
Breeders. While the Eleonora’s falcons normally capture large insects like dragonflies in flight, breeding pairs like to fatten up their young on bird meat. Observers say these speedy falcons wait for birds exhausted from migrating to land on Mogador for a rest and that’s when they swoop in, cripple the birds and carry them off to prison, where they await their grisly deaths.
This behavior doesn’t seem to have been witnessed in other areas where Eleonora’s falcons live and breed. One thought is that Mogador’s climate causes dead birds to dry out too quickly to be chewed up and spit out into the mouths of falcon babies. Fortunately, it’s back to bugs as soon as the babies are big enough to leave the nests … until they lay their own eggs.