Like Stealth Fighters, Peregrine Falcons Hunt Sandpipers In The Bay Of Fundy

Every fall, the magnificent Bay of Fundy is host to a spectacular sandpiper migration.

These diminutive shorebirds congregate here in the hundreds of thousands to feast on a banquet of billions of mud shrimp. It’s a critical source of food as they stock up before departing on an epic 4800 km non-stop flight to their wintering grounds in South America.

Twice a day, the sandpipers gorge during low tide, each downing more than 20,000 tiny crustaceans in a single feeding session. When the tide comes in, the birds squeeze together to rest on a narrow strip of exposed shoreline to recharge. But it also sets the table for hungry predators: the peregrine falcons.

With thousands of potential meals lined up on shore, hunting can be like shooting fish in a barrel. The Wild Canadian Year crew had filmed peregrine falcons before and were confident that they could capture the hunt on film.

“In spite of all the research and planning that goes into shooting natural behaviour, all the up-to-date intel from researchers, anticipating every possible scenario and compiling a brilliant plan of attack, you can pretty much throw it all in the garbage the very first day,” says producer Jeff Morales. “Nature is full of surprises, and things never proceed as you expect them too.”

The team scanned the Fundy skies looking for the sleek raptors screaming down from above. They watched attacks unfold as thousands of birds scattered about, but kept missing the approaching predator. “They appeared like ghosts on the beach, undetected by us until they were onto the masses of shorebirds.”

After days of watching and waiting, the team finally caught a glimpse of an approaching falcon — coming in low and fast from the forest, skimming the beach. “We’d been searching for dive-bombers instead of low altitude stealth fighters. This was a hunting strategy we’d never observed before!” remembers Morales.

By posting a sentinel up the beach, the camera crew could be alerted by radio to an approaching falcon and be ready to record the strike. After finally figuring out the bird’s unique behaviour, they could capture amazing high-speed imagery that made for an incredible sequence.

Click play on the video above to watch.

The Wild Canadian Year continues Sundays at 8 pm on CBC-TV.

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