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J Exp Biol. 2015 Jan 15;218(Pt 2):212-22. doi: 10.1242/jeb.108597.

When hawks attack: animal-borne video studies of goshawk pursuit and prey-evasion strategies.

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Physics Department, Haverford College, Haverford, PA 19041, USA
Physics Department, Haverford College, Haverford, PA 19041, USA.


Video filmed by a camera mounted on the head of a Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) was used to study how the raptor used visual guidance to pursue prey and land on perches. A combination of novel image analysis methods and numerical simulations of mathematical pursuit models was used to determine the goshawk's pursuit strategy. The goshawk flew to intercept targets by fixing the prey at a constant visual angle, using classical pursuit for stationary prey, lures or perches, and usually using constant absolute target direction (CATD) for moving prey. Visual fixation was better maintained along the horizontal than vertical direction. In some cases, we observed oscillations in the visual fix on the prey, suggesting that the goshawk used finite-feedback steering. Video filmed from the ground gave similar results. In most cases, it showed goshawks intercepting prey using a trajectory consistent with CATD, then turning rapidly to attack by classical pursuit; in a few cases, it showed them using curving non-CATD trajectories. Analysis of the prey's evasive tactics indicated that only sharp sideways turns caused the goshawk to lose visual fixation on the prey, supporting a sensory basis for the surprising frequency and effectiveness of this tactic found by previous studies. The dynamics of the prey's looming image also suggested that the goshawk used a tau-based interception strategy. We interpret these results in the context of a concise review of pursuit-evasion in biology, and conjecture that some prey deimatic 'startle' displays may exploit tau-based interception.


Accipiter gentilis; Antipredator behavior; Avian vision; Looming; Northern Goshawk; Predator–prey; Pursuit–evasion; Sensory ecology; Startle effect; Visual guidance

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