Aww, poor birds.

Falcons Imprison Prey To Feed Fresh Meat To Hungry Newborns

Falcons living on Morocco’s barren island of Mogador apparently like to feed thier offspring the freshest of meet. In fact, biologists say it’s not uncommon for Falcon parents to “imprisoning” smaller birds, holding them for several days before killing and feeding them to their young.

Prey storage is common practice among some birds, including owls that routinely pack away dead mice for winter. And previous research indicates Eleonora’s falcons have been observed hoarding catches of up to 20 dead birds during the migration season when prey is plentiful.

But storing live snacks appears to be a relatively new behavior to science.

Researchers found small migratory birds trapped in crevices, presumably by Eleonora’s falcons who were saving the prey to feed to their young.   (Photo : Abdeljebbar Qninba) 

Falcons imprison live birds to keep them fresh for a later meal
Eleonora's falcons in Morocco seem to pluck and imprison small birds in rocky crevasses so they can eat them later
By Joshua Sokol

In a census of the island’s falcons in 2014, Abdeljebbar Qninba of Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, and his colleagues came across small birds trapped in deep cavities, their flight and tail feathers removed. The birds were unable to move their wings or use their dangling legs, the team reported.
Crippling and imprisoning prey might be a means of keeping fresh food nearby, so parents can stay on the nest and still have snacks nearby to feed hungry offspring.

Many animals cache food during times of plenty to prepare for leaner times. Owls pack away dead mice for winter, and Eleonora’s falcons have been seen building up larders of up to 20 dead birds during migration season, when prey is plentiful. But storing snacks that are still alive could be a unique behaviour.

“I haven’t heard of anything like it in [non-human] vertebrates,” says Theodore Stankowich at California State University in Long Beach. “Perhaps this innovation of simply immobilising prey prior to caching has caught on and spread through the population.”

Rob Simmons of the University of Cape Town in South Africa is sceptical. “I don’t believe a falcon has the cognitive ability to ‘store’ prey like this,” he says. “I think the birds’ prey may simply be escaping and finding refuge.” Raptors often start plucking their prey before they kill them, so the injured birds may simply be escapees.