[Tweeters] meals of dragonflies and eating on the wing

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Fri Aug 8 15:19:30 PDT 2014

Decided to expand participation in a discussion that I and a few others have gotten going off-list, in hopes that some of you will be inspired to share any experiences or observations you have had with raptors that have had luck or not with procuring and eating, dragonflies, especially in late summer/early fall. Also, any experiences of watching birds of prey actually eating (any sort of prey) as they fly:

Here is a sampling of the responses that have already flown in:

From Howard Bailey:

I have seen them [Merlins] with two at a time, one in each foot. Makes for challenging landings… (they land on the backs of their shins, and then transfer DF to beak—you would think that they would figure out how to do that in the air,and maybe they do!).


> I have watched them [Peregrines] chomping on the wing, also transferring from foot to mouth prior to hand-offs (drops). Adult males especially don’t like to mix it up with the bigger or more pugnacious birds and will drop the prey to the arriving bird during food transfers. Interestingly they do this from the mouth and not the feet. Thus avoiding the crash that might ensue from the overly enthusiastic arrival of a newly fledged juvenile!

[the Merlin] flights [I watched] were all launched from trees surrounding a marsh, targeting DFs flying over the marsh. 3 merlins pretty much divided up the marsh between them. Whole thing lasted maybe 3 weeks until the DFs moved on. Many of the flights were spectacular, and not always successful.

From me (some questions and one observation) :

Someone just wrote and asked me how the Merlins could make it on just dragonflies? She also asked if , while the juvies are hunting dragonflies, could the adults still be supplementing with real meals ? Since we've seen a couple of Merlins eating at least a dozen or more D-flies in a few minutes' time [@ Magnuson Pk], it seems entirely possible to me, that they could easily thrive for awhile on the D-flies alone, especially in a season of great D-fly abundance. Have you ever witnessed or read of anyone observing juvenile Merlins both eating dragonflies AND being fed by an adult? Also, do adult Merlins snack on D-flies much?


From Kim McCormick (just a couple of several responses):

> Some Merlins, like the one at Magnuson last summer, seem to be pretty efficient hunters of dragonflies. I have no idea how much nutrition there is in a dragonfly as compared to a bird kill, but it would seem as though they are expending a fair amount of energy to hunt the dragonflies (over and over) and not getting a whole lot of bang for their buck, in terms of calories. I would think that these Merlins eventually move on to hunting birds, but I have nothing to base that hunch upon.


From Dennis Paulson:

During fall, when there are sometimes large numbers of darners up above the trees, Merlins just sail around and catch and eat one after another, dropping the wings as they go. Swallow-talied and Mississippi Kites do the same.

Dennis Paulson


and from Gregg Thompson, in a BirdNote preview for the week of Aug. 10, a series of photos of a Peregrine munching a small bird in flight (and rejecting part of it?) :


So, if you have something to share, please either post it on Tweeters and/or send it to me. And, keep an eye out for some of this activity in the next couple of months or so.

Vielen Dank (many thanks?)

Barb Deihl

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