Aerial Combat

A rare opportunity to see three raptor species competing for food

It’s getting late in the season for larsen traps, but as long as mine keep working, I’ll happily keep on emptying them. I was coming off the hill this morning with a corbie in the bag just as the first magical drops of rain started to turn the beige soil of the cover crop into a sticky and promising mass of chocolate brown. I don’t know why, but something caught my eye way up above the hill on the neighbour’s land – it was a red kite and it was behaving very strangely.

The kites over the Chayne are usually languid, lazy brutes, but this bird was swooping, arching and turning back and forth on itself at quite a height. It was only when I got my binoculars out that I could see that it was chasing a smaller bird. Unlike so much of the publicity concerning red kites, I do believe the fact that they are harmless to adult birds, so it was hard to imagine why a kite should be pressing another bird so closely when it was clear that hunting was not the order of the day.

It was only when I realised that the other bird was a sparrowhawk that the scene made a little more sense. The smaller bird had no problem outmanoeuvering the flambuoyant kite, but it was burdened by a small parcel in its feet and wasn’t quite so nimble as it could’ve been. I watched the two chase back and forth across the sky, assuming that the kite would soon get bored of a contest which it clearly wasn’t going to win, when all of a sudden, a buzzard smashed into view. It had come in on a long stoop, and it was moving so quickly that the hawk was outgunned. After a very short chase, the sparrowhawk dropped the bundle, and I saw a twig-legged wader chick spiral down into a bank of bracken.

The kite and the buzzard raced each other down to the ground to gather the prize, and two corbie crows drifted in on the offchance, but the buzzard made sure of his meal. He crouched in the bracken and gobbled it up while the kite wheeled ineffectually overhead and the crows settled nearby. By the time that I had run up the hill to see precisely what had caused such close competition, the buzzard had finished dining and took to the air with a lazy swagger; a changed bird from the thunderbolt which had struck the sparrowhawk just moments before.

I am pretty sure that it was a curlew chick, but not being able to find even a scrap of evidence amongst the bracken stems, I can’t be certain. In a meagre gesture, I then moved a larsen trap up the hill to where the corbie crows still waddled and yelled in the gathering rain. With so much danger lurking in the skies, the most I can do for the curlews is deal with the crows.


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