It's no secret that falcons are some of the most skilled hunters among birds, capable of stalking their prey from a distance and snagging them even when in midflight.
While their hunting tactics have served these fearsome fliers well throughout their existence, some species of falcons inhabiting an island in Morocco have developed a better way to make sure that they won't go hungry.
In a study featured in the journal Alauda, Abdeljebbar Qninba, an ornithologist from the Mohammed V University in Rabat, has discovered how Eleonora's falcons found on the island of Mogador make use of an unusual yet effective approach to hunting for prey.
Instead of killing their prey immediately using their powerful beaks or sharp claws like other raptors, Eleonora's falcons choose to bring their victims back to their nests and stuff them in rocky crevasses. The hapless preys are removed of their flights as well as their tail feathers.
According to the report, the falcons' victims, which include hoopoes, warblers and other smaller birds, are often left unable to move their wings or even use their dangling legs.
This method of crippling and imprisoning their prey is believed to be a means for Eleonora's falcons to keep fresh food close by. This allows parents to feed their hungry offspring even when they chose to remain in their nest.
Other animals are also known to store food during bountiful periods in order to have something to eat when they encounter leaner times later on.
Some species of owls cache dead field rodents during winter, while Eleonora's falcons stack larders of up to 20 dead smaller birds during migration season. However, storing food that are still alive may very well be a unique behavior of these falcons.
Theodore Stankowich, a bird researcher from California State University, said that he has not heard of any non-human vertebrates engaging in such a behavior as that of Eleonora's falcons.
He believes that the tactic of immobilizing prey before storing them in crevasses was picked up by the falcons and later spread throughout other populations.
Meanwhile, Wilkes University researcher Michael Steele said that it is reasonable to observe how such feeding behavior could have evolved given the right conditions, including the availability of the falcons' prey and the habitat suitable for caching prey.
Both Stankowich and Steele, however, point out that the findings outlined in the Mohammed V University study regarding the trapped birds in the crevasses is currently not enough to assume for certain that they are indeed being held prisoner by the Eleonora's falcons.
Rob Simmons, a researcher from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, remains skeptical of the observations featured in the study.
He disagrees that falcons have the cognitive ability to cache their prey by trapping them in deep cavities, such as what was mentioned in the recent study. What the researchers likely observed was the prey trying to escape and finding a safer place.
Birds of prey often pluck their victims before they kill them. This suggests that the injured birds stated in Qninba's report could likely be escapees.