Black-billed Magpie With An Apparent Kill

Black-billed Magpies feed primarily on carrion, ground-dwelling arthropods and seeds.  But yesterday morning I photographed a magpie with an apparent kill, a vole.  I’m not particularly proud of the images (several of them could be sharper) but was happy to document the behavior.

 

black-billed magpie 2147 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I noticed that this bird had something in its beak as I approached it along the road adjacent to Glover Pond in Farmington.  It wasn’t until I got my lens on the bird (through a bunch of foreground vegetation) that it became obvious that it was a vole.  After a couple of shots…

 

 

black-billed magpie 2160 ron dudley

  1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

the magpie flew off to another perch and set the vole on top for a few moments.  I like the vole’s little paw sticking up in an apparent surrender that’s obviously too late.

 

 

black-billed magpie 2166 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

It then reached down to grab the vole…

 

black-billed magpie 2182 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

and flew off with it once again.

Magpies are occasionally known to kill prey (especially small birds in the nest) though in my experience it’s a relatively rare occurrence.  It’s more common for them to steal food from predators (kleptoparasitism) which makes me wonder if this bird might have pilfered the vole from a kestrel.  It’s even possible that the vole had been cached by another predator and the magpie encountered it serendipitously (the vole appeared stiff and could even have been frozen).  It’s interesting to speculate but I’ll never know for sure.

If any of my readers have had experience with magpies as predators I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

Ron

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Short-eared Owl In Flight (with prey in silhouette)

Photographing Short-eared Owls in flight with naturally obtained (not baited) prey in a wild setting is near the pinnacle of my bird photography aspirations.  Thankfully I’ve had that opportunity several times and I’ll be forever grateful.

I’ve posted another, somewhat similar image of this owl previously. 

 

short-eared owl 7513c ron dudley

 

1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this male several years ago at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana.  The prey, a vole, is in near- silhouette, shaded as it is by the owls wings as they dip toward the sun.  He was delivering breakfast to his mate and two chicks at the base of a sagebrush adjacent to a road.  Despite the fact that there were many hundreds of acres of suitable and remote nesting habitat available, these birds chose their nest site very close to predictable intermittent traffic so they became quite acclimated to vehicles.  I always photographed these birds from inside my pickup and never approached the nest or noticed signs that they were disturbed by my presence.

I’ve always wondered if their choice of nest site near a road was deliberate.  The chicks of these ground-nesting owls would be extremely vulnerable to the coyotes that are so common in the valley but these coyotes are very shy of people and vehicles and they seldom come close to roads.  Who knows…

This is one of the few times I had fairly decent light for the owls.  Even though the male was hunting in daytime it was usually cloudy so typically I was shooting at significantly higher ISO’s.   Here the background is sagebrush flats at the base of a mountain, in shade at top but in full sun at bottom.

The background color in this image will now provide visual meaning for me when I think of Zane Grey’s classic western novel, “Riders of the Purple Sage”.

Ron

PS – Sorry about the very late post today.  It’s been a day of unpleasant technical issues.

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