Eleonora’s falcons on the Island of Mogador have been seen seemingly storing live birds in cracks and crevasses to be eaten later.
Could it be real, a bird of prey that catches migrating warblers and other birds and caching them alive for a fresh meal at a later time? If scientists are right, small birds found trapped among rock cavities on the island with their tail and flight feathers removed aren’t there by chance.
Theodore Stankowich of California State University in Long Beach said “I haven’t heard of anything like it in [non-human] vertebrates. Perhaps this innovation of simply immobilizing prey prior to caching has caught on and spread through the population.”
Crippling and imprisoning prey might possibly be a means of keeping fresh food nearby, but not everyone agrees that’s what’s happening.
For humans to even think of the potential of a wild falcon to capture and strip its prey of the ability to escape and then store it for future use is almost impossible. Some animals like the mountain lion will cache a kill; owls are known to store mice dead mice, and yes the Eleonora’s falcon have been documented with larders of up to 20 dead birds.
Killing many migrating birds during the peak of their numbers is well documented, but storing them alive is a new and unique behavior.
Michael Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania said “Given the right circumstances – prey availability and habitat for storing the prey – it is reasonable to see how this behavior could evolve”
Not everyone in the scientific community is convinced though. Seeing a few trapped birds among the rocks and crevasses on the island, they say, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been held prisoner by the Eleonor’s falcons.
Rob Simmons of the University of Cape Town in South Africa isn’t so easily convinced saying “I don’t believe a falcon has the cognitive ability to ‘store’ prey like this. I think the birds’ prey may simply be escaping and finding refuge.”
Since raptors often start plucking their prey before they kill them, the injured birds may simply have escaped. Until more study is done, researchers have enough to go on, and if they keep finding songbirds stored in the rocks, study they will.