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Peregrine Falcon

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
 The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity."

William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

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Pergerine Falcon - JezebelPeregrine Falcon - Jezebel
Jezebel, female, by Deb McKenzie. Click on photos to enlarge.
Angel, a Peregrine Falcon from Los AngelesJezebel & Wendy

Angel, a male, left, and Jezebel, a female, with Wendy
Photos by Steve Corvelli & Steve Hall

Peregrine Falcon
Falco peregrinus
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Falco

    One of the most unforgettable natural phenomena is the sight of the peregrine falcon diving down through its aerial "stoop", like a fighter jet, striking its oblivious winged prey at 200 miles per hour and knocking it cold with a blow of its balled-up talons.  They then follow the prey to the ground and kill it by severing the vertebrae in the neck, with a special notch in their peaks, called the tomial tooth, a feature which helps distinguish falcons from hawks and eagles.  They also kill their prey by grasping it in their talons as other raptors do.

Due to air pressure, diving at such high speeds complicates the simple act of drawing air for breathing. Fighter jet engines feature air inlet cones, which enable the engine's intake of air at supersonic speeds, by breaking up and slowing the air intake, to subsonic speeds. This appears to mimic the nares, in effect, nostrils, in a peregrine's cere, which contain bony tubercles, conical valves which slow down the air rushing over the diving peregrine's nares, allowing the peregrine to breathe at speeds where the air pressure would otherwise prevent their doing so.

  A peregrine falcon is most readily identified by its "malar stripe", the dark band or mask extending from its crown down across the eye. the Peregrine resembles an arrow both in the air and perched.  Their favorite food are pigeons, jays, black birds and water birds.  Most insect eating birds are now in decline from newer pesticides, so the peregrine faces another threat. Do you think that the fact that the red knot, a chunky sandpiper, has been clocked at 110 MPH in straight flight has any thing to do with the hunting habits of the peregrine falcon?

 Peregrines are about 15 to 20 inches in length, and anywhere from one and a quarter to two and and three quarters pounds, with the female, as with all raptors, the larger of the two sexes. "Peregrinus" is a latin word, meaning "to wander", and the peregrine falcon, along with the osprey, is the most widely distributed raptor in the world. Not only is the peregrine found on every continent, except Antarctica, and all major islands except Iceland and New Zealand, but in almost all conceivable habitats, and at any elevation up to 9,000 feet! "Falco" means "hook shaped", which can refer to the falcon's beak or talons.

  The peregrine lives on rocky cliffs, generally unapproachable from the ground, and facing southeast, south or southwest, to catch the early morning sun.  Through binoculars, look for evidence of whitewash from the falcon's excrement and blowflies feeding on decomposing prey fragments.

 Because a reasonable portion of the peregrine's diet is insect eating birds such as starlings, it became extinct in the east, principally from DDT pesticide poisoning. 
In a process known as bio-magnification,  top of the food chain predators, such as the Peregrine, accumulate the concentrated pesticide toxins from the animals they prey on, who in turn, have accumulated from their environment, prey, etc. The eggshells become too thin to incubate, collapsing under the weight of the nesting parent. After the banning of DDT in the United States, The Peregrine Fund released 4,000 captive-bred peregrines in 28 states over 25 years.

  Peregrines are the favored bird of falconers, and have been used in hunting for thousands of years. Falconers played a key role in the Peregrine’s recovery after their decline during the DDT years.

  Peregrines don't build nests, but scrape a small depression on a cliffside, preferably near water. Ironically, the peregrines’s nesting preference made it very comfortable nesting on New York City skyscrapers, a fact which contributed greatly to its restoration, and put a welcome check on the ever-burgeoning pigeon population. The female peregrine lays 3 to 4 eggs, which she incubates for about 34 days. The hatchlings fledge after 5 or 6 weeks. The male falcon, often referred to as the "tiercel", will do most of the hunting for food early on. As the chicks grow, and their food requirements increase, the female joins the male in hunting, and returning food to the nest.

Subspecies include the largest Peregrine, Peale's peregrine, an abundant maritime falcon found from the Oregon Coast up to Southeastern Alaska and the Aleutians. Tundra peregrines range from the Bering Strait down to just above treeline, while the Anatum peregrine covers the rest of North America, south of the tree line.

  Peregrines migrate to South America in Winter, moving up to 15,000 miles in a year, with Assateague National Seashore, off Maryland and Virginia, being a concentration point for migrating falcons and falcon watchers. This great migration is why Angel, who injured a wing while pursuing a pigeon in Los Angeles, has a thermostatic heat lamp to bask under, during the cold Adirondack Winters. When it's zero outside on a cold Winter night, it's 80 degrees under the heat lamp, so pass Angel a pina colada! Angel was injured while diving on a pigeon in Los Angeles. Jezebel is an older female donated by a falconer in Oregon.

 Gary Berke and Steve Hall

Jezebel & Wendy
Jezebel with Wendy, by Steve

Angel by Steve CorvelliPeregrine Falcon - Jezebel
Angel - Jezebel

Jet engine's air inlet conePergrine's nare & tomial tooth

Mimicry & the real deal: Jet engine's air intake cone, and a peregrine's tuberled nare.

AngelPeregrine Falcon Range

photo by Steve Corvelli

Rock and Hawk By Robinson Jeffers

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the sea-wind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

Peregrine Fund

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Contact Information
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center

Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phones: 914-715-7620 or 914-772-5983
Office Phone: 518-946-2428
Fax: 518-536-9015
Email us: info@AdirondackWildlife.org