An ecology initiative featuring nature’s wonders photographed, in southern New Zealand
Capable of flying at speeds over 100 km/h and catching prey larger than itself, the falcon / kārearea is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular birds.
The photos in the gallery below are extensively captioned, so if you’d like to read more of “their” falcon story, click on any one of them, and please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. All photos by Southern Light..
There are three “forms” of NZ’s endemic native falcon, the kārearea. This is the South Island’s eastern falcon, at altitude on Benmore Peak near Twizel [note the wilding pine in the back ground – yet another invasive species that is destroying habitat in NZ]. There is also the bush falcon that lives in the North Island and the west and north-west of the South Island, and many of the photos here feature same. Lastly the southern falcon lives in coastal Fiordland and the Auckland Islands, and is more reddish.
Live prey is by far their preferred choice, seldom carrion [this in contrast to the common hawk]. They will either fly in continuous grid patterns or watch from a vantage point then make a fast, often gentle angled attack to the prey if they are on the ground, or steeper if aloft, and strike grasping the prey with their feet which are equipped with sharp talons. They kill the catch with a quick powerful bite to the neck.
Falcons will also take large birds such as the white heron/kotuku, wood pigeons/kererū, ducks and pheasants. They catch big insects such as grasshoppers and beetles. Females, at 410-720 g and 45 cm and larger than the male bird, can kill young rabbits or hares weighing up to 3 kilograms. Here this youngster is engaged in learning to hunt mice by listening attentively for sounds of rustling in the dry grass in Mt Aspiring National Park
The bush and southern forms are threatened, the eastern form are at risk, and thought to be recovering. Overall population is guessed to be between 5000 – 8000 birds. Most are found in New Zealand south of Waikato, and some offshore islands including Auckland Islands. Recently, plantation pine forests have been found to be important breeding habitats. Threats include: Predation, habitat loss, disturbance, development impacts, electrocution and by people who shoot it illegally.
This youngster had been unsuccessfully mouse hunting then flew up into this dead tree in Mt Aspiring National Park and squawked and kek kek’d in the vain hope it’s parents would supply lunch!
The falcon’s wings are angled back like an arrow, the more-so as it dives steeply, giving a shrill cry when it seizes its victim. After it catches a bird, it takes it to a branch or post where it then does some dislocation of the neck before some plucking and eating
When early spring courtship begins food plays an important role. The male chases the female and pretends to attack her, and bonding is sealed when the male carries prey to the female, then she chases him and he offers her the food. They then nest often near the ground, where sadly they are not equipped to fight off cats, stoats and other predators that are keen to feed on the 2-4 eggs laid for an incubation period of just over a month. However they are renown for fiercely defending the surrounding area, and may dive-bomb passers-by aiming for the head [wear a soft hat, not a hard one which may hurt them], especially dogs.
In this picture I had the uncanny feeling that the lower bird was a youngster in training, yet how was the adult communicating? When being photographed they totally ignored me as they silently navigated trees, isolated scrubs, and a hut. Or it could have been the other way around with the lower bird being the adult leading the way, with the youngster at a higher and safer altitude
For this young bird on a fence post in Mt Aspiring National Park, any clearance of native vegetation and/or intensification of land-use practices would significantly reduce the amount of habitat suitable for breeding. This in turn then works in favour of predator populations.
This older male is engaged in courtship ritual and is perched on an old tree stump that at ground level has been used as a nest previously. The female a few hundred meters away was very aware of my presence, and at the time of taking this photo both were engaged in a rowdy discussion, probably about myself whom they know quite well, perhaps questioning whether or not I should be “warned off” in relation to nesting soon.