Peregrine falcons have the same basic internal anatomy systems and organs as most other organisms from the class Aves. They have a skeletal system, which is lighter than the normal mammal skeleton, allowing them to fly. They have a normal avian nervous system, which includes a pair of highly developed eyes, which are essential for hunting. Their sense of smell, however, is weaker than most mammals. Their respiratory system is the same as that of most of class Aves, which means their lungs do not inhale or exhale, but instead, the air sort of travels through them. Their Digestive track is the same as other animals from class Aves. They also have the same internal organs.
Peregrine falcons have a very unique external anatomy. They grow anywhere between 38-58 cm, while they have an average wingspan of 80-120 cm. The male and female both bear the same markings and plumage, but the female is up to 30% larger than the male. Males usually weigh between 440-750 g, while the females weigh around 910-1500 g. The wings of the adult are usually long, pointed, and tinted with either a bluish black or gray color. The wingtips are black. The stomach area is white or rust colored, with thin streaks of dark brown or black. The tail is the same color as the back, but it has the same streaks as on the stomach, and the tip of the tail is black with a white band. The crown of the head and the “moustache” area of the cheeks are black, making the white and pale colors of the neck and throat stand out. The beak, talon, and claws of the peregrine falcon are black, while it has a yellow cere. The tip of the beak is notched, so that the falcon may easily severe the spine of their prey at the neck. The young birds usually have a darker brown hue, and a pale blue cere.
Peregrine falcons reach sexual maturity at the age of 3. When they nest, they return to the same area every year. The breeding sites, commonly called eyries, are situated on the edges of cliffs or outcrops over an open area, so that the falcon can launch any of its aerodynamic hunts at any time. Abandoned raven or hawk nest with the same general qualifications have been used. The falcon may use the same nest site many times. The male falcon will arrive at the nest first, then show off his aerial acrobatics to attract a female to the nest. Territories are usually established by the month of March.
The female will lay between 3 to 4 eggs with red-brown markings in April or May, usually in a period of 2 to 3 days. Incubation is usually done by the female, and it takes place after the second or third egg, for a period of 28 to 29 days per egg. The young are watched closely by the mother for the first 14 days of their lives. The male hunts and brings food to the nest, but the mother feeds the young. The young start flying 35to 42 days after their birth, but they remain dependent on their parents for up to 2 months.
The peregrine falcon is almost at the top of its food chain. It preys upon anything within the range of its nest. As a predator, its role is to maintain populations of certain animals. Birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon kill off the sickly and weak of a population, therefore increasing the overall strength of it. The peregrine falcon eats many birds, including but not limited to, mourning doves, pigeons, shorebirds, waterfowl, [ptarmigan, grouse]], and songbirds, and they also prey on many small reptiles and occasionally some other mammals. There are not very many other animals that prey on the peregrine falcon, but some examples are owls and eagles. The young are usually preyed on by mammalian predators, such as cats, bears, foxes, and wolverines. Another threat for the falcons are other falcons. Competition for territory, resources and mates are various factors that can lead to adult mortality.
The peregrine falcons interactions between the peregrine falcon and humans are usually positive. The peregrine falcon serves to keep the population of pests on farms and airports. On farms, the falcons keep the rodent and bird populations in check. This in turn keeps crop and livestock losses to a minimum. Falconry is the art of using birds of prey to hunt wild game. Falconers would take fertilized eggs from a roost and train the chicks from birth to hunt and capture various prey. Not many people use falconry anymore. With many grasslands disappearing due to urbanization, the areas to practice this dying art are few. One of the few interactions between peregrine falcons and man that is detrimental for the later is the preying upon of the small fowls on farms. This being the only detrimental aspect of their relationship, mankind is better with the falcons than without them.
Prior to World War II the Peregrine was widespread but not often sighted in Europe and North America. However, overuse of DDT for agriculture killed off entire falcon populations. The poison broke down into DDE, and found its way into fragile ecosystems, where it remained for decades. As it moved up the food chain, Peregrine falcons eventually ingested it, causing many devastating effects: infertility, deformed eggs, and often death. Before this chemical was introduced, there were over 800 mating pairs of falcons spread out over North America. By the mid 60’s, the peregrine falcon population had been destroyed. West of the Great Plains however, few pairs survived, leaving only about 10% of the original population. In areas north of the US, most birds were killed anyway due to their excursions to their wintering grounds. The only population that went mostly untouched were those up by Alaska, due to their habit of feeding on uncontaminated sea birds. In 1965, ornithologists held a conference and hypothesized that the peregrine falcon would be extinct by 1970. The use of DDT, the cause for the species rapid decline was banned in Canada in 1969, and in the US by 1972. Both nations made a plan for the recovery of the species. The US produced the Endangered Species Act in 1973, but it came too late. Most of the eastern falcon population was gone. What it still did, though, was it served to protect falconers in the western US, and the American and Arctic Peregrine were both categorized as endangered. Now, US and Canadian peregrine populations are starting to see a comeback, but they are still far from it. In Ontario, Canada, there are 23 known breeding pairs as of the year 2000. Peregrines will be removed from the endangered species list when the number of breeding pairs reaches over 40.
- Peregrine Falcon Animal Bytes, Discovery Cove.org.
- DEP- Peregrine Falcon Department of Environmental Protection.
- Ecology/Peregrine Falcon Wikibooks.org, last edited June 18, 2009 by user Adrignola
- Basic Avian Anatomy Peter S. Sakas, Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center.
- Peregrine Falcon Multiple authors, Wikipedia, Last edit on February 16, 2010.
- Peregrine Falcons Kevin Davies, Peregrine Falcons.net, 2003.