The peregrine falcon is scientifically known as Falco peregrinus. In the olden days, it was referred to as the duck hawk. It’s a predatory bird that originated from a family of raptor birds.
The bird is physically a spectacle as its body is donned in an array of colours. This large bird has a blue-grey back, a white underside and a blackhead.
The peregrine is famed for its incredible speed, and it can attain speeds of over 320 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour) during its high-speed hunting dive from the sky.
This makes it not just the fastest bird in the entire world but also establishes it as the fastest member of the animal kingdom.
A television program on National Geographic Channel (Nat Geo) revealed that the fastest-ever measured speed of a peregrine falcon is 389 kilometres per hour (242 miles per hour).
The Peregrine falcons are sexually dimorphic beings. Meaning, the females are bulkier in size than the males.
The flicker fusion frequency of this bird clocks at 129 Hz (cycles per second), which is incredibly swift for a large bird and swifter than mammals.
Just like other animals, the peregrine falcon has its scientific classification, which is illustrated in the table below:
The peregrine falcon has a breeding range that includes regions of land from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. The bird can be located virtually on any part of the earth.
The only areas that are off-limits to this bird are extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests. The only major territory possessing an ice-free landmass from which the bird is absent is New Zealand.
Due to its level of pervasiveness, it is considered the world’s most widespread raptor and also one of the most widely found birds in the world.
The Rock pigeon is the only land-based bird that can be found over a larger geographic area than the Peregrine falcon.
Still, their presence is not always naturally occurring because most times, it is widely influenced by humans. The rock pigeon also happens to be one of the birds preyed on by the Peregrine falcon.
The falcon can take advantage of incredibly tall buildings as an ideal location for their nests plus a surplus supply of prey such as pigeons and ducks.
The bird lives up to the meaning of its name, which means “wandering falcon,” referring to the nomadic habits of many northern populations. Animal experts reveal the peregrine falcon has about 17 to 19 subspecies.
The bird is a carnivore, and its diet mainly consists of birds of medium-size, but on occasions, the bird hunts small-sized mammals, reptiles and even insects.
The Peregrine falcon becomes sexually mature when it attains a year of age, and they don’t have an age they stop mating. They are sexually active till the end of their lifespan.
The widespread use of a pesticide called DDT marked the peregrine falcon as an endangered species in many locations.
However, from the early half of the 1970s, a ban was placed on DDT, and the bird’s population slowly recovered. This population recovery was boosted by large-scale protection of their nesting locations and their release into the wild.
This bird’s standing among other falcons is incredibly high due to its efficiet hunting skill, versatility and adaptability, its intelligence which gives it a high level of trainability and it’s availability through captive breeding.
It’s best at hunting when the targets are other birds, both small and large.
The peregrine falcon’s body has a length ranging between 34 and 58 cm (13 to 23 inches). It’s wingspan ranges between 74 and 120 cm (29 to 47 inches). Both genders of the bird share similar markings and plumage.
Just like many other birds of prey, the peregrine falcon displays sexual dimorphism in size, with the female being up to 30% larger than the male.
The peregrine falcon mostly resides in mountainous ranges, river valleys, and coastlines. They are also becoming increasingly present in cities.
In mildly temperate regions, it is usually a permanent resident, and some individuals, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory. Only populations that breed in Arctic climates typically migrate long distances during the northern winter.
The peregrine falcon can peak much quicker speeds than every other animal in the world when performing the aerial hunting dive. This move is executed by soaring to a great height and then diving downwards at speeds of over 320 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour) before colliding with its prey.
Usually, at such speeds, the air pressure from such a dive could likely damage the lungs of a bird. However, the miniature-sized, bony tubercles on the falcon’s nostrils are capable of guiding the powerful airflow away from the nostrils and reducing the dynamics in air pressure. This makes it easier for the bird to breathe while diving.
For sight protection, the falcon uses its nictitating membranes, also referred to as “third eyelids” to disperse tears and remove debris from its eyes while simultaneously maintaining vision.
A study conducted to test the flight physics of an “ideal falcon” discovered an astonishing theoretical speed limit of 400 kilometres per hour (250 miles per hour) for low-altitude flight and 625 kilometres per hour (388 miles per hour) for high-altitude flight.
In 2005, a falcon was recorded stooping at a top speed of 389 kilometres per hour (242 miles per hour).
Peregrine falcons’ life cycle in the wild is up to 19 years and nine months. Mortality in the first year is 59–70%, reducing to 25–32% annually in adults.
Apart from collisions with anthropogenous hazards such as human-made objects, the peregrine may be preyed on by larger hawks and owls.
The peregrine falcon primarily hunts in the wild at sunrise and sunset, when preys are more present. Night-time migrants preyed on by peregrines include species such as yellow-billed cuckoo, black-necked grebe, Virginia rail, and common quail.
This bird needs open space to hunt, so locations such as open water, marshes, valleys, fields, and tundra are ideal for them. They look out for prey either from a high vantage point or from the air.
Vast numbers of preys migrating, especially species such as shoebills that are fond of gathering in open locations can be quite tempting to peregrines on the hunt.
Once they spot their target(s), the bird begins its dive. During this manoeuvre, it folds back it’s tail and wings, with its feet tucked.
The falcon usually strikes with a clenched foot and captures its prey in mid-air. Due to the speed, this move usually stuns or kills its prey on impact. But if the prey is too heavy to carry, the bird will drop it to the ground and feed on it there.
If the falcon misses its first strike, they will engage their prey in a hot chase, twisting their bodies in flight. The birds doesn’t just rely on flight to hunt prey.
Several cases have been reported of peregrines contour-hunting where it uses ambush points and contours to spring surprise attacks on prey. In some rare cases, they even pursue their prey on foot.
They also attack the nests of birds such as Kittiwakes. Peregrines usually pluck their prey before consuming them. As of 2018, the fastest recorded falcon was at 242 miles per hour (approximately 390 kilometres per hour).
The bird attains sexual maturity when it reaches the ages of 1-3 years, but the age gap is closer (2-3 years) in larger populations. A pair of peregrines usually mate all through their life cycle, and they always return to their nest every year.
The peregrines are very territorial during the breeding season. They nest in pairs at distances more than a kilometres apart and even furthermore in areas with large populations of nesting pairs.
The purpose of this distancing is to ensure enough supply of food for each pair and their offsprings. In a particular territory, a nesting pair might have several nests, and the number of nests in use varies between 1-7 for 16 years.
Peregrines and Humans
This bird is highly loved by humans and has been utilized in falconry for a time length spanning more than three millenniums. It began with the nomads in Central Asia.
The peregrine falcon also has the additional strong point of an innate flight style which involves circling above the falconer, waiting for a game to be released and then executing the high-speed hunting dive that’s effective in taking out the prey.
The speed of the dive allows the bird to catch up with fast-flying birds. This also boosts the ability of the falcon to execute skilful manoeuvres to catch preys of high agility.
This speed also enables the falcon to hand out a blow that knocks out with its talon clenched like fists against preys that are much bigger than itself.
Moreover, the adaptability of the bird allows it to hunt preys of different sizes and speeds successfully. It uses agility to capture smaller birds.
For bigger preys, it uses its strength and an attacking style plus the fact that the many subspecies of the peregrines have a broad size range.
This bird handled by a falconer has indispensable uses such as being a biological weapon or threat being utilized to scare away birds lurking around airports.
This has reduced the rate of bird-plane strikes and has improved the safety of traffic in the air. They were also very much useful during wartime periods, especially World War II when they were used to intercept homing pigeons.