Where else to start but with speed. This bird is the fastest animal on the planet, reaching speeds in excess of 200mph. To put that into perspective, Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, can run the 100m in 9.58 seconds, and at 200mph the peregrine falcon can do that in less than 2 seconds. It is also more than three times as fast as a cheetah. You’d never see it coming.
There are estimated to be around 1.2million of them flying around, hunting down the pigeon population worldwide. They have an extremely large range, extending from the tropics to the arctic, and it can be seen almost everywhere on the planet. Head to xeno canto to see their distribution and hear some peregrine calls.
Looking at them you might expect that their most closely related family would be amongst the hawks and eagles. However recent research has suggested that falconidae is closest to parrots (psittaciformes). Here is a nice soundbite discussing it, and the original nature article.
Peregrine falcons are monogamous. There is a noticeable size difference between the sexes, with females being up to 20% larger than their male counterparts. Peregrines weight about 1kg, measure between 34 and 50cm in length and have a wingspan ranging from 80-120cm. When nesting, this falcon does not build a nest, but instead usually lays its eggs in a scrape on cliffs (the eyrie). They lay an average of about 3 eggs, which take around 30 days to hatch. The chicks are semi-altricial and cared for by both parents for about 2 months.
Their speed and fantastic eye sight makes them majestic hunters, and the hunting ability of these birds did not go unnoticed, with people utilising them to meet their needs. They have been used in falconry for thousands of years, and used in more modern ventures such as reducing bird collisions at airports. Although sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted, with peregrines falling prey occasionally to gyrfalcons and great horned owls. Nestlings and immatures can also fall victim to mammals such as wolves, foxes and cats.
I don’t think I can truly do justice to the peregrine’s hunting prowess, so I leave it up to youtube to portray this. Check out this national geographic video of them hunting pigeons, and this BBC one featuring a peregrine cam.
As you can see from the videos, they have a penchant for pigeon as well as many other bird species, but they are also partial to the occasional mammal and fish. It usually catches its avian prey in flight. Once it has caught its prey, it takes it to its favourite plucking post to get rid of those pesky feathers before consuming it.
The IUCN lists this species as of least concern, and although it has had its problems in the past, its population is thought to currently be stable. Bill Oddie has a marvellous voice, and here he is talking briefly about the effect of pesticides on this species a lot more eloquently than I could, for the BBC.
Last but not least, if you wish to see some young peregrines develop into supreme hunting machines, Sheffield University has some cameras set up watching a nest box on St Georges Church, where there are currently 2 chicks on a live feed. Enjoy.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Falco peregrinus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 08/05/2015
BirdLife International 2014. Falco peregrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 08 May 2015.
RSPB. 2008. How fast can the peregrine falcon fly. [ONLINE] Available at :http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/expert/previous/peregrine.aspx. [Accessed 08 May 15].
White, C.M., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (2013). Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/53247 on 8 May 2015).
White, Clayton M., Nancy J. Clum, Tom J. Cade and W. Grainger Hunt. 2002. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/660