Laila wrote in one of her recent entries that we witnessed the rare Ovampo Sparrowhawk make a “food pass” in mid air. Food passes are essential when it comes to one mate giving food to another or to one of its young. But within a pair they serve a purpose in themselves. For example: When a pair need to maintain their bond at the onset of the breeding season, the male will dash off and get food, prepare it, and race back to present it to the female. In some species food is presented by either sex to the other throughout the year in an amicable way. Large eagles like Crowned Eagles stay together all year round and share their meals. We witnessed a male Pygmy Falcon in Tsavo West make a fast slanting dash from his dead tree across the road and smack into a grass tussock. He emerged quickly with something quite big in his talons and took off at top speed to a group of trees a few hundred meters away. We followed and sure enough we saw him present it to his mate and shortly afterward they mated. Off he went to go and see if he could find more! The presentation between Pygmy Falcons is usually bill to bill, accompanied by a lot of appeasement calls to reassure each party that nothing violent was about to happen. It is fairly obviously a demonstration to the female that the male is a grand food provider and will look after her and their young.
Aerial air-to-air passes of food often take place among those species of raptors that are heftily armed and killers of avian prey. So it occurs more often within large falcons and accipiters (Sparrowhawks and Goshawks). It is as though they do not want to make any contact. The female can be twice the male’s weight and in the confusion of being handed food she might cause harm. Indeed the act of mating in these species is a well orchestrated business with every sign being made before-hand to calm what could be a dangerous mission. The Ovampo Sparrowhawk food pass was just missed being captured on the camera although Laila got both the adult female and male neatly posed in a dead tree and in mid air. The female had sat on the nest all morning and had flown off her nest when the male came in calling gently. She flew to a dead tree first. We had half an hour previously seen the male zip over our heads after a small bird. The bird put into cover high in the tree canopy and the male poked about until out it flew to be chased out of sight. The male seemed committed and we both felt a bit sorry for the small bird, who may well have been the plucked and headless morsel presented to the female. In short he flew in, flipped over and threw out the food, which was snatched, dropped and caught. The food pass was so dramatic that I doodled a pen and ink drawing so as to capture the moment.
I was in Hell’s Gate National Park this morning. Oddly for this time of year I saw a lot of pre-nesting behaviour. The Verreaux’s Eagle pair were nest building, when I would have expected them to have a large chick. I saw Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures on large chicks however, a little more developed than at other colonies. The Augur Buzzards had had a few chicks on the wing but it looked like a few pairs had smaller young. On my way out I saw a pair of Lanner Falcons. The male was dashing about at high speed and the female kept flying underneath him and presenting her feet, as did he. I assumed he was passing food, but looking at the photographs I saw he had nothing. Yet this dry run was repeated time after time.
Clearly the behaviour alone, not the food itself was important to them. It was a game. They went through the same routine in “mock” practice. That was an interesting insight as I had not appreciated it before nor would have learned about it had it not been for the high speed shutter of the camera.
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