Ecology/Peregrine Falcon

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The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal in the world. It can attain speeds above 200 miles per hour as it dives toward its prey. Being a member of the genus Falco, the peregrine falcon exhibits many of the generic characteristics of falcons. It has long slender wings, a short tail, curved beak and sharp talons. The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird of prey in the world. It can reach the 322 kilometers per hour. The peregrine falcon can reproduce since it is 1 year old. The peregrine falcon can lay three or four eggs and in extreme situations one or five. The eggs are incubated for 29 or 33 days.

Peregrine falcons are found perched high in trees and cliff sides in open areas like grasslands, tundra and meadows. They have also become accustomed to living in cities atop tall building. [2] Peregrines are one of the most wide spread species of birds in the world. Peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica.

Peregrine falcons primarily prey on small birds and occasionally small mammals, lizards and insects. When preying on birds, the peregrine falcon attacks and kills its prey in mid flight, then brings it to a perch to feed. Smaller prey items, such as bats and insects can be eaten in mid flight. The peregrine falcon is one of the most successful birds of prey in the word.

Adaptations[edit | edit source]

The falcon shares many characteristics with other falcons. Like all falcons they have long tapered wings and a short tail. These physiological adaptations equate to high speed maneuverability while in flight. These characteristics increase the fitness of areal predators.

The name falcon is derived from the Latin word falcon meaning hook shaped and refers to the animal’s beak and claws. Falcons typically hunt small birds and they use their beaks and claws to swiftly immobilize and kill their prey while in flight.

These combined traits make the peregrine falcon a very successful predator. It is the fastest animal in the world; clocked at over 200 miles per hour during a stoop, or dive while in pursuit of a prey item. At that speed, any small bird that the peregrine falcon places in its sights is not getting away. All falcons use their talons to latch onto prey while their sharp curved beak severs the prey’s spinal column at the base of the skull.

The peregrine falcon’s coloration helps it to blend into its environment. There are 19 subspecies of the peregrine falcon and each has different colorations to aid with concealment in its native environment. The majority of the subspecies of peregrine falcon have speckled underbellies and black to slate or bluish black wings and head.

The peregrine falcon has developed several behavioral adaptations that increase its survivability in the wild. Peregrine falcons perch very high in tall trees, cliff sides and buildings which tend to reduce the predation of juvenile young by small mammals and lizards. Beyond reducing predation, a tall perch increases the successfulness of the peregrine’s ability to successfully live hunt. Generally speaking, the higher the peregrine falcon is in reference to it prey, the faster speeds it can attain during its pursuit the higher the probability of a successful capture.

For the most part, peregrine falcons do not build nests. Occasionally they will use nests that have already been built, but they tend to dig simple depressions out of the soil on cliff sides. This cuts down on energy expenditures and maintains an adequate energy reserve for hunting.

The peregrine falcon has also developed a proclivity towards city life. The tall buildings provide excellent opportunities to perch and the abundance of overweight pigeons provide a huge amount of biomass to feed off of. It makes the peregrines’ life a lot easier and it cuts down on city pests.

Falcons share a close evolutionary history with both hawks and eagles. All three species of birds have developed excellent visual acuity and powerful talons and beaks for catching and immobilizing prey. The evolutionary aspects that separate eagles, hawks and falcons are primarily Loven behaviors and the morphology of fight appendages.

Hawks tend to attack small land mammals by grasping and killing them with its talons. Hawks kill by inflicting massive amounts of physical damage to their prey. As stated previously, falcons hunt and kill small birds by grasping them with their talons and severing their spinal column with their sharp hooked beak. [1] Eagles, such as the bald and golden eagle, soar high above their prey, using their superior vision to pick out small mammals and fish, then swoops down and grasps its prey and carries it off to a feeding perch.

Hawks, falcons and eagles deviate from each other it terms of the morphology of their respective flight appendages. Falcons have long tapered wings and short tails which lend to its amazing areal speed and agility. Eagles have very broad wings that are designed for soaring and short tails that aid in maneuverability. Eagles are the intermediate form between falcons and hawks. Hawks have broad wings and long tails which provide a very stable platform for flight.

Habitat[edit | edit source]

Peregrine falcons can be found in open habitats such as grasslands, tundra and meadows. They can also be found in deserts and at elevation from sea level to 12,000 feet. They prefer open areas because these areas complement the peregrine falcons’ hunting behaviors. They are most common in tundra and coastal areas. In recent years they have been found in urban areas and cities due to the fact that tall buildings provide the perfect perch for hunting and nesting.

Peregrine falcons are found all over the world. They inhabit every continent except for Antarctica. They are one of the most prevalent terrestrial vertebrates in the world. Though some of the populations of peregrine falcons such as southern Pacific and Island dwelling birds do not migrate, the peregrine falcon is one of the furthest migrating birds in North America. The peregrine falcon migrates very long distances during the year. Its name is derived from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning wanderer. Some falcons that live in the tundra of Alaska and Canada can be found 25,000km south in Argentina during the winter months.

Role in the Ecosystem[edit | edit source]

The peregrine falcon is an apex predator that is almost at the top of its food web. It preys on a variety of organisms that dwell within its home range. As a predator, its role in the ecosystem is a check and balance for population control. Birds of prey pick off the weak and sickly of a population of prey items which in turn tends to increases the fitness of successive generations of that population. The peregrine falcon eats birds that include mourning doves, pigeons, shorebirds, waterfowl, ptarmigan, grouse, and songbirds. Along with birds, it preys upon small reptiles and mammals including rodents and bats.

There are very few organisms that prey on the peregrine falcon. For the most part, other, larger, birds of prey such as great horned owls, gyrfalcons and golden eagles are the only predators of adult peregrines while juveniles may be taken by mammalian predators such as cats, bears, wolverines, and foxes. Another threat to adult peregrines is rival peregrine falcons. Competition for territory, resources and mates can lead to adult mortality.

Interaction with Humans[edit | edit source]

The interactions between the peregrine falcon and man are primarily positive interactions for both parties. The peregrine falcon serves as a pest controller on farms and airports. Falcon handlers train and use falcons to keep problematic bird species at airports under control. When released, the peregrine falcon peruses and kills birds that could get caught in and damage aircraft engines. Over time, the problematic bird species will stay out of the falcon’s established territory. In recent years, the falcon is being replaced by specially designed sirens. On farms, peregrine falcons keep small rodent and bird populations in check. [1] This in turn maintains crop and livestock viability and reduces losses for the farm.

The art of falconry, using birds of prey such as hawks and falcons to hunt wild game, dates back to the Heian dynasty of 2200BCE. The relationship between falcon and man has been going strong for well over 4000 years. Falconers would take fertilized eggs from a roost and raise and train the chicks from birth to hunt and capture small birds and squirrels.

Today falconry is a dying art. With grasslands acquiescing to urbanization, areas to practice falconry are simply disappearing. A once popular mode of making a living has been reduced to a pastime reserved for renaissance festivals and airports.

The one interaction between the peregrine falcon and man that is detrimental to the latter is the predation of farm animals such as chickens and waterfowl. [1] These selectively bread, relatively immobile animals are easy targets for such a dynamic and specialized predator. Given the fact that this is the only real detrimental aspect of the relationship between man and the peregrine falcon, man is much better off with it than without it.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Dewey, T. and M. Potter. (2002). Falco peregrinus. Retrieved April 27, 2009, from Animal Diversity Web Web site: [1]
  • (2009). Peregrine Falcon. Retrieved April 27, 2009, from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds Web site: [2]
  • (2008). The Peregrine Falcon. Retrieved April 27, 2009, from The Peregrine Fund Web site: [3]
  • (2008). Falconry in Pennsylvania . Retrieved April 27, 2009, from The Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site: [4]