Peregrine Falcon

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I went for a drive yesterday with my camera occupying the front passenger seat.  I didn’t see very much and had more or less concluded that the day was a washout.  I drove past a utility pole with what I assumed was a Common Raven perched on it.  My first reaction was to keep going.  It’s not that I don’t like to photograph ravens — I love those birds — but that ravens almost never stay around long enough to be photographed, and I didn’t want to waste my time.  But, as I drove past the bird I remarked to myself that something looked a little odd about this “raven,” and so, I stopped to take a closer look.

The bird wasn’t a raven but was an adult Peregrine Falcon.  Peregrines aren’t exactly rare in our community (there’s a mated pair that shows up every winter just a couple of miles from our home) but they are relatively uncommon and they seldom pose to have their pictures taken.  This bird presented a great opportunity.

The falcon gave me about 10 seconds before flying and I managed to capture a couple of images.  This is a typical adult bird.  The dark “helmet” surrounding the bird’s cheeks and eyes is an identifying feature that is particularly useful in distinguishing this bird from its close cousin, the Prairie Falcon.  There is a fair amount of color variation among Peregrines, with some individuals being darker than others.  Some of these color variations are regional.  The birds that I’ve seen locally tend to have white or whitish breasts.  The hint of peach coloring in this bird’s breast isn’t unusual.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the falcon’s right eyelid is slightly deformed, most likely due to an old injury.  Life is very hard for raptors and many of them get scarred at some point along the way.

Peregrine Falcons are a worldwide species.  They live on every continent except Antarctica.  Unlike some other species of raptors these birds urbanize fairly easily.  Many major cities have Peregrines, who prey on pigeons and who take advantage of tall buildings as nest sites.  They have been associated with humans for millennia.  They are prized by falconers.  The Egyptian god Horus has a head that strongly resembles that of a Peregrine.

Peregrines have a unique style of flying.  They have relatively long pointed wings that are swept back.  They fly with rapid but very rhythmic wingbeats that are much different from a hawk’s slow and steady wingbeats.  If you see a Peregrine in flight just once, you’ll remember those wingbeats.

Peregrines are the speed demons of the raptor world.  No species on earth matches this bird for sheer speed.  In level flight they can attain speeds of over 60 mph.  They’ve been clocked at over 200 mph in dives.  They use that amazing speed as an offensive weapon, chasing down their prey in flight and slamming into it at top velocity.  Prey can be disabled as much by the impact as by the falcon’s talons and beak.  I once watched a peregrine fly into a flock of doves.  It hit one of the birds at high speed and the impact literally caused feathers to explode off the victim.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1600.


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