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The Development of Prey Recognition and Predatory Behaviour in the American Kestrel Falco Sparverius

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Nine hand-reared American kestrels were exposed to a series of objects, stationary and moving, ranging from a tissue-paper ball, a crude tissue-paper mouse, through stuffed and dead mice, and finally live mice. Only one bird responded consistently to paper models, and only to moving mouse-models. All birds attacked live mice, including five that had not responded to models or dead mice. Two of the five inexperienced birds attacked their first live mouse in less than 10 sec. Attacks on paper models were desultory and disoriented and are believed to represent play rather than predatory behaviour. Attacks on live mice were intense, rapid, sustained and well-oriented, with the mouse being grasped by the thorax, neck or head and biting directed to the head or neck. Eight of nine birds attacked their first mouse (live, dead, or stuffed) expertly and all nine birds achieved consistent, expert perfonnance in less than six trials. The inference is drawn that experience plays a minor role in the development of recognition, capturing and killing of mice by kestrels.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.A.


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