Zoology A closer look: Falco Peregrinus (Peregrine Falcon)

Discussion in 'Zoology' started by drlau, Apr 7, 2005.

  1. drlau

    drlau Premium Member

    Common name:
    Peregrine Falcon

    Scientific Classification:
    Kingdom Animalia
    Phylum Chordata
    Subphylum Vertebrata
    Class Aves
    Order Falconiformes
    Family Falconidae
    Genus Falco
    Species Falco Peregrinus

    The peregrine falcon (the name means "wandering falcon") is perhaps the fastest animal on earth. In a stoop, or dive, the peregrine has been clocked at speeds of over 180 miles per hour, in level flight they average about 60 miles per hour.

    Because of their fantastic agility and capability for high speeds, the peregrine has been the favorite choice of falconers, who train falcons to hunt other birds.

    Basic Information:
    Peregrine falcons are found worldwide, except for rainforests and cold, dry Arctic regions.

    Tundra, savanna, seacoasts, mountains, and tall buildings are home to the peregrine falcon (except rainforests and frigid Arctic regions).

    17 races, varying considerably in size and color. Like all falcons, peregrines have tapered wings and a slim, short tail.

    Sized 16 to 19 inches long; wingspan of 39 to 42 inches; weight about 2 pounds.

    Peregrine falcons prey almost exclusively on birds (doves, pigeons, shorebirds, waterfowl, passerines, etc), although they will also eat small reptiles (such as lizards) and mammals. Although the peregrine captures its prey with its claws, it generally kills its prey with its beak.

    Peregrine nest ledges are usually on cliffs or sometimes tall buildings and large bridges. The male and female falcon remain paired for life, and renew their bond with courtship activity during late winter and early spring. Their courtship is marked by special flight patterns, and by the male bringing the female food. The female peregrine lays her eggs at two-to-three day intervals, until her clutch has three to five eggs, with four the typical number. She shares the duties of incubation with her mate for approximately 31 days.

    The eyasses, or baby falcons, hatch after spending about two days "pipping" the shells with the sharp egg tooth on their beaks. At hatching, eyasses weigh approximately 1 ½ ounces, are covered in a fluffy white down, and grow rapidly. Their down is replaced by feathers in three to five weeks and they are essentially full grown at six weeks of age.

    Males develop a little faster than females. Females, however, are larger and more powerful when full grown. In the early weeks after hatch the female broods the young and feeds them with food brought her by the male. But as the demands for nourishment increase with their rapid growth, both male and female provide food for the young. By age 3 weeks they are moving about the nest site and beginning to tear meat from items brought them by their parents. Captive-raised birds released into the wild by the Hack Method are placed in the hack box at approximately 35 days of age. Between 40 and 45 days of age, young falcons begin to fly - a scary experience for the first few days. After about five days on the wind, the young falcons are much more adept.

    Juvenile birds begin to hunt for food and care for themselves at nine to 12 weeks. First prey successfully hunted may be small game such as dragonflies and butterflies, but will soon improve to include small birds. Dispersal from the hack site occurs in September or October. Young banded in southern Canada were found to migrate south to Latin America. One-year old birds remain in their juvenile, streaked plumage for their first year. They typically move to a new territory during the following spring to either pair with an existing bird or set up their own territory. By their second hatch-date, they begin to loose their old brown feathers and replace them with the plumage of adults, slate-gray backs and a lighter colored breast. Birds may return to their release site or the general area, or may wander hundreds of miles away.

    Mortality in the first year of life is very high. Those few peregrines that survive to old age may reach 12 to 17 years. Most peregrines become sexually mature at two or three years of age. Occasionally egg-laying and territorial behavior may occur earlier.

    The peregrine falcon has suffered due to its precarious position atop the food chain. Pesticides accumulate in small (not lethal) quantities in the tissues of small birds and mammals, but become concentrated enough in predatory birds such as falcons to kill them or render them incapable of producing offspring. Organochlorine pesticides (DDT & dieldrin) have been proven to reduce the birds' ability to produce eggshells with sufficient calcium content, making the egg shells thin and prone to breakage.

    The peregrine population declined greatly in the middle of the 20th century, and it was threatened worldwide by the increasing use of pesticides. All breeding pairs vanished in the Eastern U.S. A successful captive breeding/reintroduction program, combined with restrictions in pesticide use, has been the basis of an amazing recovery by the peregrine.

    Economic Importance To Humans:
    Birds of prey are sometimes accused of killing farm animals, such as chickens. The numbers of farm animals killed by birds of prey is of minor economic consequence when compared to their contributions to pest control.

    Peregrine falcons (and predatory birds in general) are a great asset to many farmers, killing millions of crop-destroying vertebrates and insects.

    Portions: Animal Diversity Web
    Pennsylvania DEP Peregrine Falcon Page