61 species on the menu!

Peregrine falcons are super predators – predators on top of the food chain. They are excellent aerial hunters, that almost exclusively catch birds in full flight.

It is the moment of truth for the young falcons in Brussels and Uccle, as they can fly out for the first time any moment now. Soon, they will escape our observations forever.

The camera system, the recording and streaming allowed us to observe the growth of the falcons in detail. We could watch their behaviour as well as that of their parents. But the programme also gave us insights in the menu of the Peregrine falcons, so we could learn about their diet. The results are impressive! Since the first observations on the cathedral in 2004, no less than 61 different species were identified. And that is only for the couple on the cathedral. In the Saint Hubert church in Boitsfort, there was already a 62nd species on the menu.

This year, 3 new species were discovered: a Spotted Redshank, a Ringed Plover and at least two House Sparrows. The first two are only passing through Brussels: the Spotted redshank nests near Scandinavia. There are some rare instances of Ringed plovers nesting in Belgium, but most of them do that on the British isles, on the banks of the Arctic Ocean. The House sparrow lives in Brussels, and actually it is bizarre we didn’t see it on the Peregrine menu sooner.

The family that is represented the most is that of the waders, with 18 out of 61 species or almost one third of the prey! The heaviest prey is the Wood pigeon, around 500 g. But while the Wood pigeon is abundant in Brussels, the observation of a falcon catching one is rare. So we can only conclude that  it is a bit too heavy for them. Especially during the nesting season, because after catching the prey, the falcon has to carry it all the way to the nest. The biggest ‘normal’ prey is around 350 g: woodcocks and Domestic pigeons. Two larger species were observed – the Common buzzard and the Carrion crow – but those were territorial rather than ‘alimentary’ attacks.

The falcons certainly don’t avoid small preys (30 g). We counted 13 species, from the linnet over the Reed warbler, to the Yellow wagtail and the Lesser whitethroat.

The diet of the Peregrine falcon is particularly diverse. That is probably a beneficial factor for successful reproduction, because they don’t depend on one source of food.

The fact that the Common swift, among the fastest and most agile birds in the European skies, are also regularly featured on their menu, says something about the exceptional hunting capabilities of Peregrine falcons hunters, as evidenced in the attached video . Also shown is the moment when the male falcon brings back and feathers a Ringed plover.