Clashes between predators and their prey are some of the fiercest interactions in the animal kingdom. When a simple mistake can carry the highest possible price, there would seem to be little room for trial and error. But animals do sometimes engage in high-stakes practice. This photograph captures one such moment.

Each fall, Eurasian sparrowhawks (Accipter nisus) migrate from breeding territories in the north toward milder wintering grounds farther south. Some of these hawks assemble in relatively high numbers near the southern tip of Norway, alongside many of their migratory prey species. With so many predators and prey commingling, hunting opportunities abound—but not every chance is created equal.

Sparrowhawks thrive in dense cover, where they take advantage of the maneuverability that their short wings and long tails provide. The element of surprise is the sparrowhawk’s secret weapon as it zips through the forest snatching unwitting songbirds from their perches. Out in the open, where the hawks are more easily spotted and called out by wary prey, they lose their advantage. But some hawks—especially younger birds that have not yet honed their skills—still try.

At this spot near Dalen, Norway, colorful songbirds like the Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) pictured at left gather around a feeding station to take advantage of a free meal. The young adult male sparrowhawk seen here is one of several individuals that frequent the station in search of hunting opportunities—at least for practice, if not for an actual meal. According to Pål Hermansen, the photographer who captured the shot, the jays sometimes take the initiative and engage the hawks head-on. Perhaps—at least in open conditions like these—the prey have learned that the best defense is a good offense.

Dalen, Norway

Pål Hermansen

Pål Hermansen regards the exploration of nature as the highest form of photography, revealing new things about life and fresh ways of seeing the world. In his work, he aims to blur the traditional boundaries between nature imagery, documentary, and fine art photography. Hermansen’s photographs have been published and exhibited worldwide, and he has garnered prizes in such major competitions as World Press Photo and Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is featured as one of ten photographers in the 2013 international portfolio book Masters of Nature Photography.

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