Peregrine Falcons

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The Peregrine Falcon was given its Latin name Falco Peregrinus, wandering falcon, in 1771 due to its traditional migrating habits. An old inhabitant of this planet, the Peregrine Falcon has been traced back over 5 million years and man has used its amazingly fast and accurate hunting skills for over 3000 years to help him find food.

This skilful bird eating raptor can be found worldwide except in the hottest (deserts and tropical forests) and coldest (arctic) parts of the world except for New Zealand. In some countries it lives all year round but in the colder countries such as in Scandinavia and Northern Asia it is a summer visitor only.

Male and female Peregrine falcons have a black head and moustache, white throat and neck, dark blue/grey back and white chest with black bar markings, the tail is black with bars running across it and a white bar at the tip. They have yellow feet and black claws.

There are nearly 20 sub species and they all look fairly similar, the size is the only major difference, males can weigh from about 350g – 800g, females 500g – 1500g, depending on the sub species. The Peregrine Falcon is between 34cm -50cm long with a wingspan of 80cm – 120cm. In the wild they live for approximately 15 years.

Many would be surprised to find out that the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal in the world. Speeds of 320 km per hour (200 mph) are normal during its hunting dive and a speed of 389 km per hour (242 mph) was recorded in 2005. Although speeds like these would normally damage the bird, special bones in the nasal cavity channel the wind and a third eyelid protects the eyes. Peregrine Falcons can also fly upside down as the female does during the courtship flight when she accepts food from the male in flight.

They were an endangered species for many years due to the use of pesticides, especially DDT, decimating the population but DDT was then forbidden, captive breeding, protection and reinsertion programmes were set up and the Peregrine Falcon is now off the danger list. It is still a protected bird, you can keep one but need to register and tag it in most countries.

Peregrine Falcons mainly eat small birds that they stun or kill during a dive before turning, catching it in midair then either bringing it down to earth or letting it drop if it’s too heavy. They pluck their prey before eating. They will also eat small mammals, reptiles and insects. In an urban setting they often hunt pigeons. In captivity quail is recommended for feeding them although they appreciate most types of raw minced meat. Most hunting is done at dawn and dusk although they will hunt nocturnally on occasion.

They like living at altitude; cliffs and mountains. In towns they like cathedrals and bridges. Peregrine Falcons can also be found by rivers and coasts and they need plenty of open air space for hunting. Their hunting territory can extend in a radius of about 20 kilometres from their nesting site.