There are a large number of Cape turtle doves at Nossob in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and they visit the waterhole in their droves, literally scrambling over each other for a position at the edge of the water.
Sitting and watching from the bird hide we noticed that every few moments they would take to frantic flight, often for no apparent reason at all. But on occasion the reason was clear; a Lanner falcon coming in fast and horizontal flight across the open veld. Sometimes it seemed as though the falcons were just taunting the doves as they made no real attempt to do any harm, or perhaps they were just flushing the birds for a second falcon to do the actual strike, although we never witnessed this behaviour.
But several times we saw a single falcon hurtle over the waterhole with a more deadly purpose, striking a slower moving dove in full flight and bringing it crashing to the ground in a burst of flying feathers.
In a flash the falcon would have the hapless dove pinned to the ground and a few seconds later it would be dead, its neck apparently broken. Even a relatively plump dove would then be seized in the talons of the hunter and carried away in apparently effortless flight.
The Lanner falcon is fairly widespread through Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe, preferring mountains, agricultural lands and open country to forests. It has also been widely used in the sport of falconry in various parts of Europe.
It is a medium sized bird with a length of about 40 cm, the female considerably larger than the male, and weighing a little over 500 g. It is similar in plumage to the Peregrine falcon, but is a little larger, Generally solitary or found in pairs, larger groups are sometimes seen around waterholes. The major part of their diet is made up of birds, but they will also take small mammals and even insects on occasion. They are inclined to hunt by horizontal pursuit, rather than stooping from a great height, the method favoured by the Peregrine falcon.
The call of the Lanner is a harsh “kak-kak-kak”, or a more piercing “kiree” that may be repeated several times.
The Lanner falcons are monogamous and do not make a nest, laying their eggs in a scrape on a suitable ledge, or sometimes taking over the old nest of one of the species that nest high up on trees or pylons, such as crows or herons. The female lays 3 or 4 creamy white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 32 days.
The scientific name for the Lanner falcon is Falco biarmicus; Falco from the Latin for a falcon, while the origin of biarmicus seems to be the subject of conjecture.