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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Peregrine Falcon Day!

Faster than a speeding bullet!  More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a  single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!  No…it’s a Peregrine Falcon!

Ok, maybe not faster than a speeding bullet…they travel at 1,800 mph, or more powerful than a locomotive, but they are able to leap tall buildings…in fact that is where they often live.  And they can fly to 3,000 feet and the tallest building in the United State is One World Trade Center in New York City at 1,776 feet it is the 6th tallest building in the world.  The tallest building in the world in Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates, at 2,717 ft.  Still the peregrine falcon can fly higher!  From this height it can go into a hunting dive called a “stoop” and plunge at speeds up to, according to Guinness World Records in 2005, to 242 mph!  At this point the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal in the world! In traveling flight they average 25-34 mph, and reach up to 69 mph in direct pursuit of prey.  They hold the record not in flying, but in “stooping”.  As of 2016 the fast flier in the animal kingdom isn’t a bird.  It’s a bat!  The Brazilian free-tailed bat at 99.5 mph. The common swift holds the record for the longest continuous flight. They can stay in the air for up to 10 months without stopping.  Still, indisputably, the peregrine is the fastest animal in the sky.

I not only chose peregrine because of their record speed, but because they came back from near extinction and isn’t that a great story as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  From the 1860’s through the early 1900’s peregrine falcons were regular nesters in Connecticut.  The last documented nesting of peregrine falcons was in the late 1940’s on the Travelers Tower in Hartford.  Due to the use of pesticides, specifically DDT, by 1975 the entire population of peregrines was said to be extirpated (it had disappeared from the region) from eastern United States.  DDT would cause the eggs to become so brittle that when the female would try to incubate the eggs they would readily crack.  In 1970, the peregrine falcon was declared a federal endangered species.  In 1972, DDT was banned and organizations began to breed peregrine falcons in captivity and release them to the wild.  These two efforts resulted in the population increasing to the point that in 1999 the peregrine was removed from the federally endangered species list.  A true success story! In 1997, a peregrine pair once again successfully nested on the Travelers Tower in Hartford (where Lauren works).  Now you can find peregrines nesting in cities throughout CT and across North America.  The peregrine falcon is still listed as a threatened species in CT. Since peregrines are migratory birds they continue to be threatened by DDT in the tropics where they spend their winters. 

Peregrine falcons nest on cliffs, ledges, rocky outcrops and obviously buildings in urban areas. In the cities they feed on starlings and pigeons.  Their diet consists of medium sized birds.  Pairs may use the same nest for many years.  Three to four eggs will be laid and the female generally incubates them while the male provide food.  The young begin flying in 5-6 weeks, but depend on the parents for two months.  If all goes well they can live for 17-20 years. The oldest recorded peregrine was at least 19 years, 9 months, it had been banded in Minnesota.  They are a  falcon with a length of 14-19 inches, a weight of 19-56 oz. and a wingspan of 39-43 inches.  Another falcon, although much smaller, is the American kestrel. 

Peregrines have a grayish-blue back. The black feathers on their heads makes it appear that it is wearing a helmet, and dark feathers around its short, curved beak looks like it has sideburns.  The tips of the long wings are very sharply pointed and when they are perched the wings reach almost to the end of their tails.  Their call is a loud, harsh “kak, kak, kak, kak”.

The peregrine falcon another amazing “super animal”.

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