Aggregation can reduce an individual’s predation risk, by decreasing predator hunting efficiency or displacing predation onto others. Here, we explore how the behaviors of predator and prey influence catch success and predation risk in Swainson’s hawks Buteo swainsoni attacking swarming Brazilian free-tailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis on emergence. Lone bats including stragglers have a high relative risk of predation, representing ~5% of the catch but ~0.2% of the population. Attacks on the column were no less successful than attacks on lone bats, so hunting efficiency is not decreased by group vigilance or confusion. Instead, lone bats were attacked disproportionately often, representing ~10% of all attacks. Swarming therefore displaces the burden of predation onto bats outside the column—whether as isolated wanderers not benefitting from dilution through attack abatement, or as peripheral stragglers suffering marginal predation and possible selfish herd effects. In contrast, the hawks’ catch success depended only on the attack maneuvers that they employed, with the odds of success being more than trebled in attacks involving a high-speed stoop or rolling grab. Most attacks involved one of these two maneuvers, which therefore represent alternative rather than complementary tactics. Hence, whereas a bat’s survival depends on maintaining column formation, a hawk’s success does not depend on attacking lone bats—even though their tendency to do so is sufficient to explain the adaptive benefits of their prey’s aggregation behavior. A hawk’s success instead depends on the flight maneuvers it deploys, including the high-speed stoop that is characteristic of many raptors.
Swarming bats emerging from a massive desert roost reduce their predation risk by maintaining tight column formation, because the hawks that predate them attack peripheral stragglers and isolated wanderers disproportionately. Whereas a bat’s predation risk depends on maintaining its position within the column, the catch success of a hawk depends on how it maneuvers itself to attack, and is maximized by executing a high-speed dive or rolling grab maneuver.