The peregrine falcon is the most common species among birds of prey. It is about the size of an ordinary crow. A representative of the falcon family is rightfully considered the fastest creature living on the planet. Excellent hunters with excellent eyesight and lightning-fast reaction leave no chance for their prey to escape.
Origin of the species and description
English scientist Marmaduke Tunstall in 1771 first described the species and gave it the name Falco peregrinus. Its first part is translated as “sickle-curved” due to the shape of the bird’s wings during the flight. Peregrinus means “wandering”, which is related to the lifestyle of the peregrine falcon.
Video: Peregrine bird
Close relatives include gyrfalcon, laggar, saker falcon, mediterranean and mexican falcons. Often these birds are combined into one group. Ornithologists believe that the evolutionary divergence of these species from the rest occurred during the Miocene or Pliocene periods, approximately 5-8 million years ago.
Most likely, Western Eurasia or Africa became the center of the divergence, since the group contains species from both the Old and New Worlds. Due to hybridization between species, scientific studies of this group are difficult. For example, in home breeding conditions, crossing peregrine falcons with Mediterranean falcons is popular.
There are about 17 subspecies of predators in the world, formed in connection with the territorial location:
- tundra falcon;
- maltese falcon;
- black falcon;
- Falco peregrinus japonensis Gmelin;
- Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides;
- Falco peregrinus peregrinator Sundevall;
- Falco peregrinus minor Bonaparte;
- Falco peregrinus madens Ripley Watson;
- Falco peregrinus tundrius White;
- Falco peregrinus ernesti Sharpe;
- Falco peregrinus cassini Sharpe and others
Interesting fact: Since ancient times, peregrine falcons have been used for falconry. During excavations in Assyria, a bas-relief was found dating back to about 700 BC, where one of the hunters launched a bird, and the second caught it. Birds were used for hunting by Mongolian nomads, Persians, Chinese emperors.
Appearance and features
The peregrine falcon is a relatively large predator. The length of its body is 35-50 centimeters, the wingspan is 75-120 centimeters. Females are much heavier than males. If a male individual weighs about 440-750 grams, then a female weighs 900-1500 grams. The coloration of females and males is the same.
The physique, like that of other active predators, is powerful. Massive solid muscles on a broad chest. On strong paws, sharp curved claws that easily rip open the skin of prey at high speed. The upper body and wings are gray with dark stripes. The wings are black at the ends. The beak is curved.
An interesting fact: At the tip of the beak, birds have sharp teeth that make it easy to bite the prey’s cervical vertebrae.
The plumage on the abdomen is usually light in color. Depending on the area, it can have a pinkish tint, red, gray-white. Drop-shaped streaks on the chest. The tail is long, rounded, with a small white stripe at the end. The upper part of the head is black, the lower part is light, reddish.
Brown eyes are surrounded by a strip of bare skin of a yellowish tint. The legs and beak are black. Young peregrine falcons have a less contrasting color – brown with a light underside and longitudinal mottles. The voice is piercing, sharp. During the breeding season they scream loudly, the rest of the time they are usually silent.
Now you know everything about the appearance of the rare peregrine falcon bird from the Red Book. Let’s see where the fast predator lives and what it eats.
Where does the peregrine bird live?
The species is distributed on all continents except Antarctica, including many islands. Easily adapts to any environment. It can live both in cold tundras and in hot Africa, Southeast Asia. At different times of the year, birds can be found in almost every corner of the world, with the exception of deserts and polar regions. There are no peregrine falcons in most tropical rainforests.
Individuals do not like open spaces, so they avoid the steppes of Eurasia and South America. In mountainous areas can be found at an altitude of up to 4 thousand meters above sea level. Such resettlement allows falcons to be considered the most common predators in the world.
The birds choose habitats that are inaccessible to people. Usually these are rocky shores of reservoirs. The best conditions for nesting are mountain river valleys. In the forests they inhabit places near river cliffs, moss swamps, tall trees. They can nest in the nests of other birds. A prerequisite for living is a reservoir with an area of 10 square kilometers.
Interesting fact: A family of peregrine falcons lives on the balcony of a skyscraper in Atlanta above the 50th floor. Thanks to the installed video camera, their life and development can be observed in real time.
Birds lead a sedentary lifestyle. With the onset of cold weather, they can cover short distances. Sexually mature males try not to leave the nesting territory even in the cold season. Long-distance migrations can take place in the arctic and subarctic zones.
What does the peregrine bird eat?
The diet of birds is based on small and medium-sized birds, depending on where they live:
- hummingbirds ;
Interesting fact: Scientists have calculated and found that approximately 1/5 of all birds in existence are falcon food.
Rodents, small mammals, and amphibians will not fail to catch them if they gape in the open:
- ground squirrels;
Peregrine falcons give preference only to the torso of the victim. Legs, heads and wings are not eaten. Ornithologists have noticed that the remains of birds are always scattered around the nests of birds. According to them, scientists find out what the owners of the dwelling eat.
During the period of caring for chicks, predators can hunt smaller prey, and sometimes they will not be afraid to encroach on prey larger than themselves. The weight of a heron or goose is several times that of a peregrine falcon, but this does not prevent hunters from killing prey. Falcons do not attack larger animals.
Young birds that cannot fly or injured birds can pick up food from the ground, but they are much more attracted to hunting in the air. In horizontal flight, the speed of peregrine falcons is not so great – 100-110 km/h. Pigeons or swallows can easily dodge them. But with a rapid dive, there is no chance of salvation for any of the victims.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Predators prefer a solitary lifestyle, keeping in pairs only during the nesting period. They guard their territories very fiercely, driving away not only relatives, but also other large predators from them. Together, a pair can drive a medium-sized four-legged animal away from the nest. A mother protecting the chicks can also scare away a large one.
The nests are located at a distance of 5-10 kilometers from each other. Falcons prefer not to hunt near their homes, so other birds tend to stay as close as possible to peregrine falcon nests. This makes it possible to be protected not only from the falcon, but also from other predators that they drive away.
Birds go hunting in the morning or evening. If there is no one in the air whom they could catch, the falcons sit on a tall tree and can watch the space for hours. If hunger is too strong, they fly over the surface of the earth to frighten off potential prey, and then grab it.
If a prey is visible in the sky, predators try to quickly gain height in order to catch it in a lightning dive. The speed of their dive flight is about 322 km/h. At this speed, a blow with the back fingers is enough to blow off the victim’s head.
Due to their fearlessness, good trainability and quick wits, they become unsurpassed hunters. People often use predators in falconry. A trained bird costs a lot of money, but at the same time it becomes an invaluable helper for a person.
Social structure and reproduction
Puberty of individuals both sexes occurs one year after birth. But they start breeding only after reaching two or three years. A pair of falcons is chosen for many years. Families are tied to one nesting territory, several generations can live in one area.
The breeding season begins in May-June, later in the northern range. The male lure the female with aerial pirouettes. If the chosen one sank near this place, then the couple is formed. Partners look at each other, clean their feathers or claws.
During the courtship period, the male can feed his partner, passing food to her in flight. The female rolls over on her back and catches the gift. During the nesting process, the pair is very aggressive towards intruders. There can be up to 7 nests in one territory. Peregrine falcons use different places in different seasons.
Egg laying occurs from April to May, once a year. Females lay from two to five reddish or brown eggs, more often three – every 48 hours for an egg, 50×40 mm in size. Within 33-35 days, both partners incubate offspring. Newborn chicks are covered with grayish fluff, have large paws and are absolutely helpless.
The female most of the time takes care of the offspring while the father gets food. The first flight of chicks takes place at the age of 36-45 days, after which the chicks stay in the parental nest for several more weeks and depend on the food they get from their father.
Natural enemies of peregrine falcons
For adults, no bird of prey poses a significant threat, since falcons are at the top of the food chain. However, their eggs or young chicks may suffer from other large birds – eagle owls, kites, eagles. Ground nests can be destroyed by martens, foxes and other mammals.
The birds are not timid and in most cases can stand up for themselves, attacking birds much larger than themselves and large animals. They will not be afraid to drive away a person either – peregrine falcons will constantly circle over a person who has disturbed their peace.
People have always admired the skills of the bird. They tried to tame flyers and use them for personal purposes. Peregrine falcon chicks were caught and trained to catch other birds. Hunting birds were possessed by kings, princes, sultans. Falconry was popular in the Middle Ages. The spectacle is truly breathtaking, so peregrine falcons were highly valued, they paid tribute, taxes.
The most dangerous enemy for a bird is a man. As a result of the expansion of agricultural land, chemicals and pesticides are constantly used to kill pests. However, poisons do not only kill parasites, they are also fatal to birds that feed on pests. Humans are destroying large areas of natural predator habitats.
Population and species status
Despite its good adaptability to any climatic and landscape conditions, the peregrine falcon was considered a rare bird at all times . In general, the population is considered stable at the present time, but in some regions the number may fluctuate or decrease to complete disappearance from their usual habitats.
In the second half of the 20th century, the population suffered significant losses due to the massive use of pesticides and DDT. Pesticides tend to accumulate in the body of birds and affect the embryonic development of chicks. The eggshell became too fragile and could not bear the weight of the birds. The reproducibility of offspring has declined sharply.
Between 1940 and 1960, birds completely disappeared from the eastern part of America, and in the west the population decreased by 75-90%. In Western Europe, peregrine falcons have also practically ceased to be found. In 1970, a ban on the use of pesticides was issued and the number began to gradually increase. At the moment, there are about 2-3 thousand pairs in Russia.
Interesting fact: During the Second World War, employees killed peregrine falcons so that they would not intercept and eat carrier pigeons.
Although the shooting and enslavement of birds are a thing of the past, food competition with the saker falcon, the destruction of natural nesting sites, and poaching are increasingly affecting the number. Predators can easily get along with people living in the neighborhood, but are too sensitive to disturbance caused by people.
Predators are in the Red Book of Russia, where they are assigned category 2. The species is included in the CITES Convention (Appendix I), Appendix II of the Bonn Convention, Appendix II of the Berne Convention. Research is underway, conservation activities are being organized.
In the near future, it is planned to apply additional efforts to restore the tree-nesting population of birds in Europe, as well as to implement measures aimed at improving natural habitats. To this day, the incompetence of law enforcement agencies that do not work properly with poaching is being fought.
In Canada and Germany, there are programs for breeding birds in aviaries with subsequent transfer to natural conditions. In order to avoid domestication of the chicks, feeding is carried out by a human hand, which is wearing a peregrine falcon head mask. Gradually, individuals migrate to cities. In Virginia, students create artificial nests for pairs to settle in.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of Great Britain is actively fighting to restore the number of peregrine falcons. In New York, the birds have successfully settled down; here there is a good food base for them in the form of pigeons. At airports, falcons are used to scare away clusters of birds.
The peregrine falcon is a truly unique bird. Being unsurpassed hunters, predators are smart, patient, excellent learners and lightning-fast reflexes. His flight is fascinating – grace and swiftness delight observers. The formidable predator surprises with its strength and terrifies its competitors.