Pointed wings, blinding fast, and heart stopping excitement. That’s what it’s like to see a Peregrine Falcon at the hawk watch. When it is gone, you want to see another one and see it soon.
Peregrine Falcons fascinate me and the more that I learn, the more the fascination grows. I hope that you feel the same. Here is some of the information that I have accumulated about the Peregrine Falcon:
- The Peregrine Falcon is the largest falcon over most of the continent
- Peregrine Falcons were virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century. After significant recovery efforts, the Peregrine Falcon has made an incredible rebound and is now a regular sight in many large cities and coastal habitats.
- Peregrine Falcons can be seen all over North America, but they are more common along coasts.
- The Peregrine Falcon was known historically as the Duck Hawk in North America
- The Peregrine Falcon is renowned for its speed, reaching over 200 mph during its characteristic hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom.
- The Peregrine’s breeding range includes land regions from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. It can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, except extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests; the only major ice-free landmass from which it is entirely absent is New Zealand. This makes it the world’s most widespread raptor and one of the most widely found bird species.
- The Peregrine Falcon’s upper beak is notched near the tip, an adaptation which enables falcons to kill prey by severing the spinal column at the neck
- The air pressure from a 200 mph dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles on a Peregrine Falcon’s nostrils guide the powerful airflow away from the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the change in air pressure.
- To protect the Peregrine Falcon’s eyes, they use their nictitating membranes (third eyelids) to spread tears and clear debris from their eyes while maintaining vision
- The life span of Peregrine Falcons in the wild is up to 15.5 years
- The Peregrine Falcon’s prey is struck in one wing so the falcon does not injure itself. It then captures the prey in mid-air; the Peregrine Falcon strikes its prey with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it with the impact. If its prey is too heavy to carry, a Peregrine will drop it to the ground and eat it there.
- The Peregrine Falcon’s prey is plucked before consumption.
- The Peregrine Falcon’s courtship flight includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in mid-air. To make this possible, the female actually flies upside-down to receive the food from the male’s talons.
- The Peregrine Falcon has been used in falconry for more than 3,000 years, beginning with nomads in central Asia. Due to its ability to dive at high speeds, it is highly sought-after and generally used by experienced falconers. Peregrine Falcons are also occasionally used to scare away birds at airports to reduce the risk of bird-plane strikes, improving air-traffic safety, and were used to intercept homing pigeons during World War II.
- Peregrine Falcon nests and (less frequently) Peregrine Falcon adults are predated by larger-bodied raptorial birds like eagles, large owls, or Gyrfalcons. Peregrines defending their nests have managed to kill raptors as large as Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles (both of which they normally avoid as potential predators) that have come too close to the nest.
The chart below shows the numbers of Peregrine Falcons that have been counted at the Picatinny Peak, Raccoon Ridge, Scott’s Mountain, Sunrise Mountain, and Wildcat Ridge hawk watches in Northwest New Jersey.