Prairie Falcon Trying To Carry Too Much Weight

Subtitle: Mia’s Pit Stop Prairie Falcon.

Yesterday morning while cruising the remote back roads of the Centennial Valley we needed to stop for one of Mia’s rare pit stops. While waiting in the driver’s seat for her to complete her mission I noticed a fairly large faraway bird that was usually completely hidden in the tall grasses but every few seconds it would jump into the air and attempt to fly but almost immediately flutter back down into the grasses and disappear again.

From that great distance I thought it was either a Sage Grouse or a Prairie Falcon but no matter its ID the behavior was weird and my impulse was to stomp on the gas in order to get close enough to see what was going on and possibly document some interesting behavior. But of course I had to wait until the deed was done behind my pickup so I hollered “Hurry, Mia – bird!” back to her. Mia KNOWS what that means so in a heartbeat she was once again in the back seat (with her pants still in disarray…) and we were on our way down the dirt road.


At first this is all we could see through our lenses – a faraway Prairie Falcon peeking back at us through the grasses. I wondered if it had been fighting with another bird and/or was possibly injured but when it eventually attempted to take off once again the explanation for the strange behavior became clear.



The falcon had scored a “gopher” as prey – actually a Richardson’s Ground Squirrel and the rodent was so heavy the bird couldn’t fly with it. The same thing happened each time it attempted to lift off  – the falcon could only gain enough elevation to barely skim over the tops of the grasses but within a few dozen yards the weight of the prey would drag it down again and it would plop back onto the ground. Eventually both bird and prey were so far away that I drove off and left it in peace.



This is a Richardson’s Ground Squirrel. Large ones can weigh as much as 1.65 lbs. so many would be too large for a 1.6 lb. Prairie Falcon to carry. Apparently this gopher was smaller but the falcon had still bitten off more than it could chew.

These first two photos are only of documentary quality of course but as always I love documenting behaviors like this.



22 comments to Prairie Falcon Trying To Carry Too Much Weight

  • Chris Sanborn

    Wonderful narrative to go with the images … and enjoyed the readers’ commentary, too. The things I learn here! 😁

  • Behaviour my father categorised as ‘eyes bigger than stomach’.
    I hope it found a safe place to dismember the prey, and share with youngsters if appropriate.
    And big thanks to Mia.

  • Patty Chadwick

    My sympathy is with that bird. I tend to have a problem trying to carry too much weight,too…

    • Marty K

      I hear ya, sister! I’d be grounded permanently if it weren’t for the Wright brothers. 😉

  • April Olson

    I have seen Golden Eagles devour a whole large road kill jack rabbit and the eagle was unable to lift off due the added weight in it’s bulging crop.

  • kelly stevens

    This was good fun, thank you Ron.. Oh, yeah, Mia too.

  • Patty Chadwick

    A good thing Mia had to pee…otherwise you might have missed some interesting behaviour…the bird had persistence…I wonder how it worked out. We parents often struggle to help our kids—one way or another…

  • Marty K

    Mia’s a good sport! 😉 Really interesting post this morning. Count me among those wondering why the falcon didn’t have a pre-flight snack. A nest of hungry chicks, perhaps?

  • Alice Beckcom

    Great photos and story. I, like some of your other readers, don’t quite understand why the falcon didn’t ‘chew’ and then with a lighter load go to its destination. Hope you are enjoying your time up North.

    • Laura Culley

      Alice, for whatever reason, the prairie feels in danger of being robbed, and/or killed in the process of being robbed, most likely from the redtails or golden eagles (but any other raptor/critter) in the neighborhood. Even in the grasses, s/he is vulnerable to attack. S/he is trying to get the prize to somewhere out of sight where that’s a lesser danger where s/he can eat in peace and relative safety.

    • Alice, In the short term it would make no difference if the falcon ate part of the gopher before taking off. Whether the meat was “on the hoof” or in the falcon’s crop it would still be the same amount of extra weight to take off with.

      • Alice Beckcom

        Thanks for the lesson on all of this. There is so much to learn and I’m lucky I found your blog where I can learn more. Thanks, Ron

  • Laura Culley

    Oh WOW! Gorgeous! How lucky that you spotted that behavior opportunity and that Mia knows when to hurry…HEHE!
    Prairies are the redtails of the longwing group in that they’ll catch anything they can hold down long enough to eat–furred, feathered, or scaled, doesn’t matter. 🙂 I like that about them (among several dozen other things).

  • Susan Stone

    I’m hoping that the Falcon was able to enjoy a meal, and maybe take the left-overs to the nest.

  • I’m curious as to why it didn’t eat there. Maybe they only eat up high? Or going to a nest?

    • Arwen, See Laura Cully’s reply to Alice Beckom, above. In addition I wondered if this bird was trying to deliver food to waiting fledglings somewhere…. ?

      • Laura Culley

        Waiting fledglings will either be up on a small-ish ledge on a vertical-ish rock formation OR newly-fledged and heaven knows where. 🙂

  • Dick Harlow

    Excellent documentation!
    Many thanks for sharing.

  • Neil Rossmiller

    Marking ones territory has its perils and rewards. Moonrise over the prairie (falcon) made my morning reading delightful. Thanks for that!

  • Joanne OBrien

    Great cautionary tale about the perils of pit stops and biting off more than you can chew! Thanks.

  • Judy Gusick

    Neat! How frustrating for the bird – and Mia. 🙂 Got caught in Mia’s predicament duck hunting in a boat many years ago – besides flashing the birds it was COLD! 🙁 Glad you could document the action of the falcon. Hopefully it could at least get a bit of a meal out of it where it was at before something else claimed it.