In my top ten list of favorite birds is the peregrine falcon. Pere (far), agra (field) – the name literally means far afield. Pilgrims make peregrinations. And what a perfect name for this widely distributed bird – found on every single continent but Antarctica! Their biological claim to fame is that they are the fastest living thing on the planet – peregrines have been clocked at over 210 miles per hour! One of the reasons they are so very successful is that they are the premier bird eaters. Wherever there are birds, peregrines can be found. In urban areas they endear themselves to city dwellers by thriving on pigeons and nesting on human made structures – skyscrapers or bridges. We had a pair nesting on the Bay Bridge for years.
One of my first close encounters with this falcon was years ago in the Sea of Cortez. We were in a small skiff exploring the shore of a remote island. There was a shorebird called a yellowlegs that was behaving rather strangely. It was skulking under a rock overhang, reluctant to fly out. I told the skiff operator to get in closer; some folks wanted a photo. Well we got too close and the yellowlegs flew out and was immediately nailed by a peregrine. There was an explosion of feathers, right over our heads. I felt awful; guilty that I caused this, but exhilarated that I had witnessed it. So that’s why the shorebird was acting so weird, now I know.
These falcons were greatly affected by the presence of DDT and were one of the first animals to be listed as an endangered species. The Peregrine Fund and several government agencies worked together to raise falcons in captivity. A total of 4000 were reintroduced into North America. It has been an astounding success, another victory for the Endangered Species Act. We probably have as many peregrines now as the habitat can support.
My most recent encounter with this falcon was in the Pt. Reyes. I was walking at the head of my group when we suddenly heard a loud whoosh.. I immediately looked up and right above us streaking straight up like a rocket into the sky was a peregrine. It had chased a bird right over our heads. We were thrilled.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.