Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The violent streets of Portland

UPDATE 3/26: Staff naturalists at Maine Audubon tell me that the raptor shown below is actually a cooper's hawk, not a falcon.

As I was riding home from work this evening, the following incredibly awesome things happened: I turned down Park Street from Congress in the middle of Portland, and I noticed a huge bird flying right next to me. And THEN I noticed that a pigeon was struggling in this huge bird's talons.

I shouted, "whoa!" and almost missed the stop sign by the West End Deli. Then I managed to stop, point, and shout "Whoa! Whoa!" a couple more times.

The cars stopped at the intersection were oblivious to the birds, but I suppose I should be grateful that they weren't altogether oblivious to the very distracted cyclist in their midst. I had guessed that the bird on top was a falcon of some sort, based on its predatory behavior, the mottled stripes on its tailfeathers, and its sharp-beaked profile it showed when it landed next to the Greek Orthodox Church a block away. After watching it some more, I think it was a peregrine falcon, a species formerly protected under the Endangered Species Act [edit: I was wrong. See note above].

I safely crossed the intersection and approached carefully to get a closer look from behind a screen of parked cars. While I watched, the pigeon in the falcon hawk's talons struggled through its death throes. I had my camera with me, but to my extreme consternation the batteries were dead. Instead, I settled for pointing the spectacle out to a passing woman who lived in one of the nearby townhouses.

She definitely wasn't as enthusiastic as I was, but when I came back a few minutes later after a rushed attempt (unsuccessful) at charging my camera battery, she and another man were watching the feeding frenzy from their stoop. He'd taken some cell phone pictures, and might send me some by e-mail.

At that time, another husband-and-wife pair of passerby took the pictures below, and subsequently e-mailed them to me. Thank you, Mike and Alice!

I also returned about fifteen minutes later after a more patient recharging of my camera battery. As I expected, the falcon hawk was long gone. I don't know if a neighborhood dog had cleaned up any remains but there was remarkably little left:

I presume that those little seeds had been the pigeon's last meal. According to National Geographic, "Peregrine falcons are formidable hunters that prey on other birds (and bats) in mid-flight. Peregrines hunt from above and, after sighting their prey, drop into a steep, swift dive that can top 200 miles an hour." [EDIT 3/26- this little factoid isn't really relevant to this post anymore, since we're talking about a hawk now, but I'm going to leave it in here on account of the fact that a 200 MPH-speeding bird is damned impressive]

I like to think about how one of the last things that this eyeball pictured above ever saw was a pair of talons closing in on it at a speed of 200 miles per hour. [EDIT - since this was a cooper's hawk, not a falcon, those talons probably weren't going that fast, so so much for that fantasy. Still, they were definitely going fast enough for all practical purposes]


Corey Templeton said...

Hey that's pretty neat, poor pigeons but I guess the falcon has its predators too.


Crow said...

It probably was a falcon - I saw one on Sunday sitting in a tree by the Civic Center. Two pigeons, oblivious, were eating something in the street half a block away.

Turboglacier said...

Holy crap! That's amazing! It's hard for me to believe that the falcon-eating-pigeon isn't photoshopped onto that scene, easily recognized to me as it's on my walk to work.

Between you and I, in five months, we've seen a barred owl, a bald eagle, and a falcon-pigeon dogfight, all right on the peninsula. Amazing.

April said...

I enjoyed your post. Nice that some generous people sent you their pictures. Right in the city - amazing! Don't run into anything when you see another bird!

Andrew Riely said...

made me think of my side of the mountain

Avery Yale Kamila said...

We saw a similar sight (maybe the same bird?) dining on a pigeon on Chapel Street about a month ago. All that remains are the feathers.