My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus

The Peregrine Falcon, also known as the Peregrine, and historically as the Duck Hawk in North America, is a widespread bird of prey in the family Falconidae. A large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-grey back, barred white underparts, and a black head and “moustache”. As is typical of bird-eating raptors, Peregrine Falcons are sexually dimorphic, females being considerably larger than males. The Peregrine is renowned for its speed, reaching over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its characteristic hunting stoop (high-speed dive), making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. According to a National Geographic TV program, the highest measured speed of a Peregrine Falcon is 389 km/h (242 mph).

The Peregrine’s breeding range includes land regions from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. It can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, except extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rain forests. This makes it the world’s most widespread raptor and one of the most widely found bird species. In fact, the only land-based bird species found over a larger geographic area is not always naturally occurring but one widely introduced by humans, the Rock Pigeon, which in turn now supports many Peregrine populations as a prey species. Both the English and scientific names of this species mean “wandering falcon”, referring to the migratory habits of many northern populations.

While its diet consists almost exclusively of medium-sized birds, the Peregrine will occasionally hunt small mammals, small reptiles, or even insects. Reaching sexual maturity at one year, it mates for life and nests in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or, in recent times, on tall human-made structures. The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species in many areas because of the widespread use of certain pesticides, especially DDT. Since the ban on DDT from the early 1970s, populations have recovered, supported by large-scale protection of nesting places and releases to the wild.

The Peregrine Falcon has a body length of 34 to 58 centimeters (13–23 in) and a wingspan from 74 to 120 centimeters (29–47 in). The male and female have similar markings and plumage, but as in many birds of prey the Peregrine Falcon displays marked reverse sexual dimorphism in size, with the female measuring up to 30% larger than the male. Males weigh 424 to 750 grams (0.93–1.7 lb) and the noticeably larger females weigh 910 to 1,500 grams (2.0–3.3 lb). The standard linear measurements of Peregrines are: the wing chord measures 26.5–39 cm (10.4–15 in), the tail measures 13–19 cm (5.1–7.5 in) and the tarsus measures 4.5 to 5.6 cm (1.8 to 2.2 in).

The back and the long pointed wings of the adult are usually bluish black to slate grey with indistinct darker barring, the wingtips are black. The white to rusty underparts are barred with thin clean bands of dark brown or black. The tail, coloured like the back but with thin clean bars, is long, narrow, and rounded at the end with a black tip and a white band at the very end. The top of the head and a “moustache” along the cheeks are black, contrasting sharply with the pale sides of the neck and white throat. The cere is yellow, as are the feet, and the beak and claws are black. The upper beak is notched near the tip, an adaptation which enables falcons to kill prey by severing the spinal column at the neck. The immature bird is much browner with streaked, rather than barred, underparts, and has a pale bluish cere and orbital ring.

The Peregrine Falcon lives mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, coastlines, and increasingly in cities. In mild-winter regions, it is usually a permanent resident, and some individuals, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory. Only populations that breed in Arctic climates typically migrate great distances during the northern winter.

The Peregrine Falcon reaches faster speeds than any other animal on the planet when performing the stoop, which involves soaring to a great height and then diving steeply at speeds of over 320 km/h (200 mph), hitting one wing of its prey so as not to harm itself on impact. The air pressure from a 200 mph (320 km/h) dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles on a falcon’s nostrils guide the powerful airflow away from the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the change in air pressure. To protect their eyes, the falcons use their nictitating membranes (third eyelids) to spread tears and clear debris from their eyes while maintaining vision. A study testing the flight physics of an “ideal falcon” found a theoretical speed limit at 400 km/h (250 mph) for low altitude flight and 625 km/h (390 mph) for high altitude flight. In 2005, Ken Franklin recorded a falcon stooping at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph).

The life span of Peregrine Falcons in the wild is up to 15.5 years. Mortality in the first year is 59–70%, declining to 25–32% annually in adults. Apart from such anthropogenic threats as collision with human-made objects, the Peregrine may be killed by eagles or large owls.

On to my photos, and I’m going to cheat and used the ones from a recent post for this one, as I deleted the small versions of these photos after I did that post. By doing that, it doesn’t require me to make a second set of copies, or upload the same photos twice:

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

This is number 123 in my photo life list, only 227 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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13 responses

  1. jazminscarlett

    Nicely captured! Shame about the wire in the way though!

    September 11, 2013 at 4:04 am

    • Thanks! I was limited by water as to where I could move to in order to get an angle that would let me keep the wire out of the frame. Believe me, I tried.

      September 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

  2. This one looks dominating
    Nice photos 🙂

    September 11, 2013 at 4:12 am

    • Thank you!

      September 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

  3. I’m surprised that all its feathers don’t blow off from going 250 MPH! I wonder why a bird would need to fly that fast-I can’t think of any prey that can even approach that speed.

    September 11, 2013 at 6:39 am

    • I know what you mean. At one time, I thought that science had debunked the old thought that falcons could hit 200 MPH in a dive, but I guess not.

      Speed is an advantage, being able to spot its prey, close the gap, and make the attack before the prey spots the falcon is a plus. Also, the prey of falcons are some of the fastest straight line flyers in the bird world.

      I forget the exact numbers but pigeons and doves can fly around 50 MPH in level flight. I’ve had geese and ducks pass me on the highway while driving truck, some can do 80 MPG in level flight.

      Finally, I can say this about watching the falcons just a few times. I wouldn’t say that they approached anywhere near 200 MPH, but they dive to build up a head of steam, then scream down the shorelines of the waterways looking for prey. They go from being a speck in the distance to passing me in a heartbeat, I can see how they are able to capture prey that has excellent vision in its own right by using speed to make attacks before they are spotted by the prey.

      In fact, one time I never saw the falcon coming. I saw a killdeer duck down in the rocks it was standing in, a split second later, a feathered rocket swooped past the us. If the killdeer hadn’t of ducked, I would never have seen the brown blur going past us, and I thought that my eyesight was pretty good. I turned to try to get a photo of the falcon going away, but it was too late, the falcon was already out of sight.

      September 11, 2013 at 9:14 am

  4. Having lived in Colorado’s front range, the sight of Falcons is common. Even the Air Force Academy in Co. Springs uses the Falcon as it’s mascot. Since I don’t know my birds as you do, I’m assuming many that I’ve seen are Peregrines, there’s even a subdivision called Peregrine in the Springs. I love watching the Falcons hunt….a systematic series of circles….very cool as they soar 🙂

    September 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

    • Thanks! Out there, a few of them could be prairie falcons, but I think that peregrines are the most common. I’m no expert on falcons though, they were wiped out here in Michigan, and re-introduced not that long ago, so seeing one here is extra special.

      September 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  5. Very informative post! As always, you’ve taught me a few things!

    September 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    • Thanks, I always learn things from these as well.

      September 11, 2013 at 3:12 pm

  6. I have to tell you how jealous I am over these shots. We have them in my area, but I have yet to see one. Very nice job photographing it!

    September 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    • Thanks, but I’m not sure that you’d want to see a falcon around the lake and your duck friends, especially the wood ducks.

      September 21, 2013 at 1:24 am

    • Thanks, but I’m not sure that you’d want to see a falcon around the lake and your duck friends, especially the wood ducks.

      September 21, 2013 at 1:24 am