KILL OF THE SOUTHERN FISCAL
Through the years, with intervals, I have successfully raised 3 orphaned Southern Fiscals / Common Fiscals – in those days still called Fiscal Shrikes. The last one a male, lived in my house permanently for about a year (it was free to fly but preferred perching on my shoulder or head and hunting from there as I went for walks in the bush. After about one year it flew away and started breeding, but came to visit me inside the house or on my veranda quite often for about another year. Needless to say I have a fond place in my heart for this feisty bird and consider it as a foremost and very successful hunter. I have seen Fiscal successfully hunting a wide variety of prey like spiders, small mice, small snakes, grasshoppers (which they thrived upon), butterflies, moths, a variety of beetles including dung beetles, lizards, skinks, geckos, a variety of worms, scorpions and also other insects. But I have never observed a Southern Fiscal killing a bird.
I am sure it is not often observed and thus I was quite surprised, but really excited, to witness this amazing kill of a Southern Fiscal. It was late afternoon at Rietvlei Nature Reserve near Pretoria and I was driving around slowly in anticipation of seeing anything unusual. It was a quiet afternoon with hardly anyone around. I came around a bend in the road and right in front of me I spotted movement. A Southern Fiscal was diving down onto a Red Bishop female. I stopped and started shooting as luckily I had my camera out and ready.
This Fiscal (a male) gripped the Bishop with its talons and immediately started pecking it viciously in the throat. They were both upright and it almost looked as if they were dancing, as they moved around. It wasn’t long – maybe a minute at most and the Red Bishop was dead and limp.
Dropping the dead bird to the ground, the Fiscal then got hold of it again with a firm grip of its talons. He then proceeded to peck into the back of the Bishop’s head and neck and plucked the feathers out – this continued for about a minute. Every now and then he dragged the Bishop around moving it to another spot.
The Fiscal was not perturbed by my close presence, singularly concentrating on its prey. Feathers plucked to its satisfaction, the Fiscal proceeded to peck into the back of the bird’s head and neck. With each peck it ripped out either brains or flesh and gulped it down. This feast carried on for about 3 minutes with intervals as the Fiscal stopped sporadically and looked around before proceeding.
Then it suddenly gripped the dead Bishop and tried to fly away. But this was an impossible task as the bird was almost bigger than the Fiscal and even though the Fiscal lifted off with the bird it was only for about a meter or so in the air before the sheer weight of the Bishop brought it back to earth again.
The Fiscal continued devouring the brains and neck of the Bishop and then with quite a full crop flew up into a tree where it perched on a branch and started preening itself.
This was quite an unusual observation and though it might seem brutal to some, it is the way of nature.
Johan van der Walt
Wildlife South Africa®
All photos ©Johan van der Walt.