Peregrine Falcon Takes On Huge Pelican In Epic Aerial Battle And Wins


steer clear of peregrine falcons during nesting season, unless you want to end up like a pelican that stars in the winning photo of Bird Photographer of the Year 2023. Titled "Grab the bull by the horns", the dramatic shot was captured by US photographer Jack Zhi who scoops Gold Award Winner and Bird Photographer of the Year for his image taken in Southern California.

Peregrine falcons, Falco peregrinus, are impressive birds of prey revered for their hunting skills and incredible speed. They’re the fastest animals in the world with a diving speed of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour, which they achieve by flying up really high before dive-bombing their targets.

During the breeding season – which in Southern California lands between February and June – they get even more combative than usual as the arrival of eggs motivates parents to keep everything and everyone well clear of their nests. Unfortunately, for the resident pelicans, that includes them.

Brown pelicans, Pelecanus occidentalis, are a distinctive group of birds with long thick bills decked out with an expandable pouch. They mostly feed on fish they scoop up from the ocean, but are also partial to amphibians, crustaceans, and the eggs and nestlings of birds.

It’s perhaps understandable, then, that when a female peregrine falcon spots the distinctive silhouette of a brown pelican getting too close to her nest, she doesn’t take the intrusion lying down.

“During the breeding season, a female Peregrine Falcon fiercely protects her young, attacking anything that comes near the nest,” said Zhi in a release emailed to IFLScience. “For four years, I attempted to capture these rare moments of her attacking large Brown Pelicans with incredible speed and agility.”

“The high-speed chase made it challenging to capture a close-up shot with a long lens. The falcon’s precision was amazing as it struck at the pelican’s head.”

Despite being far larger than the peregrine falcons, the pelicans are still vulnerable to these attacks and there are plenty of dramatic videos online that show these huge birds getting spun around and knocked off course by fuming plumed parents. Suffice to say, the nesting grounds of peregrine falcons are a bit of a no-fly zone when there are baby birds about.

Bird Photographer of the Year 2023 had plenty more dramatic, comical, and artistic shots in this year’s winning portfolio. Here are a few of our favorites:

Blue-footed fishing dive

blue footed fishing dive
Silver award winner, bird behavior. Image credit: Henley Spiers, BPOTY 2023

"In early autumn, a sardine shoal at Los Islotes attracted seabird predators. Amid the shoal, I waited patiently for the elusive shot of a Blue-footed Booby rising with a sardine in its beak. Finally, a crash came down close to me, and I instinctively captured the moment."

Glistening green

glistening green
Gold award winner, best portrait.Image credit: Nicolas Reusens, BPOTY 2023

"Venturing into the tropical forest, I was excited to spot the rare Glistening-green Tanager. After hours of waiting, I saw the vivid-green bird on a perfect heart-shaped leaf. Its shimmering feathers reflected a dazzling array of colours. I captured every detail, grateful for this magical moment amid the lush jungle backdrop."

More fish please!

more fish please
Silver award winner, comedy bird photo. Image credit: Levi Fitze, BPOTY 2023

"When observing King Penguins, I was struck by how their behaviour sometimes resembles that of humans. This juvenile constantly begged until the annoyed adult walked away. However, the fact that the juvenile was more massive than the adult suggests good parenting overall."

Seeing eye to eye

seeing eye to eye
Silver award winner, conservation. Image credit: Michael Eastwell, BPOTY 2023

"Southern Boobooks, the smallest Australian owl species, are often brought to veterinary hospitals after car accidents. Their large, outward-projecting eyes adapted for low-light hunting make them vulnerable to injury. In this image, Dr Luke Gregory is examining an owl named ‘Rocket’, focusing on the posterior eye, where injuries can be less visible."

Visit the Bird Photographer of the Year website to see all the winning shots.


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