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The fiercely magnificent Peregrine Falcon

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Sport, Wildlife on Saturday, 15 December 2012

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This edited article about the Peregrine falcon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 799 published on 7th May 1977.

Peregrine falcon, picture, image, illustration

The Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine is the largest and most powerful of our native falcons. It was a royal bird in mediaeval times and remains the favourite of modern falconers. The dive, or “stoop”, of a hunting falcon is one of the most exciting sights in the world of nature, and at close quarters its dramatic power dive has a sound like a rocket.

The practice of a Peregrine looking for food is to soar to a great height, and then, when its quarry is sighted flying far below, the “stoop” begins. Almost closing its wings, it hurtles downward aided by gravity, until it reaches a speed of 200-250 mph at the moment of the strike.

Sometimes the blow is with clenched talons which break the victim’s back. Sometimes it uses one of its formidable hind claws as a scimitar. In either case the end is sudden. The unfortunate bird, not even knowing what has hit him, falls like a stone.

During the nesting season the male bird, or tiercel, will capture a small bird in the air and carry it to where the nest, or eyrie, is situated. As soon as the female bird sees him coming she will leave the nest and fly up to meet him. Then, after a few moments of aerobatics and loopings together, the tiercel drops his catch which is unerringly caught in mid-air by his mate and taken to the eyrie, where it is plucked and fed to the eyasses, as the chicks are called.

Birds from the size of a lark to that of a duck, or even a wild goose, are the prey of the peregrine, but its favourite victim is the partridge. It can only catch birds as they fly.

The Peregrine makes its nest among rocks or in high trees, but it will also nest on moors, and sometimes nests even in populous cities. Often it will use the abandoned nest of some other bird of prey, or that of a heron or raven. If it takes a particular fancy to an occupied nest, it will force its owners to leave.

In common with many other birds of prey, the Peregrines are becoming rare, and their numbers are now less than half of what they were 30 years ago. All hawks feed on birds and small animals, which themselves eat seeds that may have been exposed to insectide DDT. This becomes more concentrated as it progresses along the food chain of seed, small bird and large predator, with the result that the eggs of the latter acquire an accumulation of DDT, rendering them infertile. Fortunately a partial ban on the use of dangerous pesticides in recent years seems to have halted the steady decline in Peregrine numbers, and there is now hope that this prince of flyers may survive.

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