|PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Peregrine Falcons are common birds of prey – they can be found in many places around the world, except for Antarctica and the Pacific Islands. Some populations are still endangered or recovering, but overall, this species, which was once driven close to extinction due to chemical use, is now thriving. Peregrines were one of the first examples, in the 1990’s of bioaccumulation in the food chain. Bioaccumulation is the effect of chemicals building up in a prey species, then accumulating in the body of a predator and being passed up the food chain. The amount of accumulated chemicals, such as DDT, in the peregrine falcon was leading to severe reproductive failure, and population numbers plummeted. Since DDT and other chemicals were banned in many parts of the world, and conservation efforts were established, numbers have risen significantly.
This is one of the world’s fastest flyers, reaching speeds of up to 380 km/h (236 MPH) when it dives down to catch prey. It is also one of the highest flyers, routinely flying at altitudes of 600 m. It captures its prey – many other types of birds, by descending upon it with closed fists and punching it, then catching it and carrying it to a perch or nest to eat. Peregrines also surprise their prey by coming at them from an unexpected direction, in a blind spot caused by the sun, or from behind a cliff or building. They also sometimes catch small mammals, such as lemmings and occasionally, particularly in the breeding season, hunt in pairs.
Peregrine falcons traditionally nested on cliffs or mountainside outcroppings, but have been versatile enough to find new nesting opportunities on tall buildings. The nest is simply built and may be no more than a scraped out area for the eggs. Three to five brownish-pink eggs are laid, and about a month later, they hatch. The hatchlings’ downy coats are replaced with feathers in 3 to 5 weeks, and they begin to learn how to fly. They begin to hunt at 2 – 3 months old. Only about 1 in 10 young Peregrines makes it to breeding age, and if they do, they can live up to 15 years in the wild. Females are considerably bigger than males, but otherwise they look the same.
Excellent flyers, Peregrines can migrate up to 25,000 km (app. 15,000 miles) per year.