A couple of weeks ago, on a coastal walk, I saw a Nankeen Kestrel being swooped by what I thought at first was an Australian Magpie but turned out to be a Magpie-Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) or Peewee. At the time, I put up a few photos, and these are more from that same walk.
I first noticed the kestrel in the distance over Coogee beach. It came closer and was almost overhead as it passed us.
A minute later, a peewee appeared out of nowhere and began harassing it. These photos show one swoop, starting with a steep turn by the peewee:
The peewee tucks its wings in for greater speed. The kestrel is well aware of it, and is beginning to roll left and extend its talons:
The peewee is pulling out of its dive as the kestrel continues its roll to port; its talons are almost positioned for defence.
Now the kestrel is fully rolled over, with its claws raised in its best defensive position, but the peewee is already past its closest approach.
The kestrel rolls back as the peewee climbs away. (Because the birds are more widely separated than in the previous two images, I’ve had to crop more loosely which makes the birds look smaller.)
The peewee is now turning sharply at the top of its arc to position itself for its next swoop.
This is a sequence of shots from another less close swoop, where the kestrel felt there was no need to act defensively:
Soon the pair disappeared behind some trees. The peewee must have given up shortly afterwards, as a few minutes later the kestrel was back, checking the ground below.
I lost sight of it again, but a little later it came back past with a lizard in its claws.
The kestrel headed off to have its meal as we arrived at the Coogee food fair for ours.
Nankeen Kestrels (Falco cenchroides) are our smallest falcons, even smaller than the Australian Hobby. They are found all over Australia, but prefer open country where they can readily forage for prey. Their typical prey includes the smaller vertebrates (lizards, mice) and larger invertebrates. They are readily identified by their small size (kestrels weigh less than magpies, but more than magpie-larks), the distinctive “teardrop”mark below the eye and the distinctive brown colouring of their upper wings and body. This colour was named “nankeen” after a variety of cotton from Nankin (also called Nanking or Nanjing) in China. You can see another example of it in this bird, the Nankeen Night Heron:
Footnote: Thanks to Liz Powell for pointing out the correct identity of the swooper! As it was magpie swooping season, and the pied attacker was too far away to clearly identify, I jumped to the conclusion that it was indeed a magpie. As always, double-check and never assume! Magpie-larks are also well-known for swooping, though not with quite the same ferocity as some magpies.