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Aerial hunting behaviour and predation success by peregrine falcons Falco peregrinus on starling flocks Sturnus vulgaris


  • Francesca Zoratto,

  • Claudio Carere,

  • Flavia Chiarotti,

  • Daniela Santucci,

  • Enrico Alleva

F. Zoratto, C. Carere (, F. Chiarotti, D. Santucci and E. Alleva, Section of Neurotoxicology and neuroendocrinology, Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, I–00161 Rome, Italy. CC also at: SMC-INFM, Dept of Physics, Univ. of Rome La Sapienza, P.le A. Moro 2, I–00185 Rome, Italy.


Predators use diverse hunting strategies to maximize hunting success, while preys adopt anti-predator strategies to maximize escape chances, among which flocking, communal roosting, and the related collective responses are a common pattern in gregarious species. Prey-predator interactions involving a single predator and flocks, a common situation in birds, have received little attention. We studied predation behaviour and success of peregrine falcons Falco peregrinus on starlings Sturnus vulgaris, a highly gregarious species, in proximity of two winter roosts. A total of 328 hunting sequences, with an overall success of 23.1% were recorded. They usually consisted of several attacks, predation success being higher when hunting sequences lasted less than 1.5 min, included less than 3 attacks and no other falcons were hunting simultaneously. Predation success was higher when hunts were directed on singletons than on flocks. However, most hunting sequences were directed towards flocks. Nine hunting strategies on flocks were identified. The most frequent was the ‘surprise attack’, which was also the most successful. We suggest that this strategy minimizes the amount of anti-predator display elicited by flocks and economizes energy spent in hunting. The constant predation pressure did not seem to affect the use of roosts by starlings, consistent with the ‘dilution’ hypothesis, while falcons captured at least one prey item every evening. Communal roosting may benefit predator and prey, as both sides could have reached a mutual local equilibrium.