Nature Life: Peregrine Falcons And Nature
By Obiabin Onukwugha
Peregrine falcons are birds of prey in the genus Falcona.
It is renowned for its speed during its characteristic hunting stoop (high-speed dive), making it the fastest bird in the world, as well as the fastest member of the animal kingdom.
According to a National Geographic TV program, the highest measured speed of a Peregrine falcon is 389 km/h (242 mph).
Called “shaho” in Hausa, “ẹlẹgàn” in Yoruba and “agụ nkwọ” in Igbo, peregrine falcons can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, on very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests. The only major ice-free landmass from which it is entirely absent is New Zealand.
Peregrine falcons are not very social birds; outside of the breeding season, they are often seen singly or in pairs. These birds are active during the day but hunt most often at dawn and dusk when prey are most active.
Peregrine falcons are carnivores and feed almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, doves, waterfowl, songbirds, and waders. On occasion, they will also take bats, rats, voles, hares, shrews, mice, squirrels, insects, and reptiles.
Scientists say peregrine falcons are monogamous breeders. A pair mates for life and returns to the same nesting spot annually. During the breeding season, these birds are territorial and nesting pairs are usually more than 1 km (0.62 mi) apart. Pairs perform courtship flight that includes a mix of aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives. The male passes prey it has caught to the female in mid-air.
During reproduction, the female chooses a nest site, where she scrapes a shallow hollow in the loose soil, sand, gravel, or dead vegetation in which to lay eggs. No nest materials are added. Egg-laying usually occurs from February to March in the Northern Hemisphere, and from July to August in the Southern Hemisphere.
The female lays 3 to 5 white-to-buff eggs with red or brown markings. They are incubated for 29 to 33 days, mainly by the female. The male also helps with the incubation of the eggs during the day.
After hatching, the chicks are covered with creamy-white down and have disproportionately large feet. The young peregrine falcon fledge for 42 to 46 days after hatching and remain dependent on their parents for up to 2 months.
Peregrine falcons usually reach reproductive maturity at one to three years of age, but in larger populations, they breed after two to three years of age.
Peregrine falcons play an important role in their ecosystem; due to their diet habits. These birds control populations of their prey such as pigeons, doves, ptarmigans, and ducks.
Peregrines may live up to 12 to 15 years. However, the mortality rate for young falcons is about 60%. This means that approximately 6 out of every 10 falcons hatched will die in its first year of life.
A peregrine falcon was once linked to a story of people who fail to take steps in order to make a difference.
It was said that long time ago, there lived a very kind-hearted king. He was very fond of birds and had a huge bird sanctuary in his kingdom. He had never harmed any bird or animal and he hated those who did.
In appreciation for his generosity and kindness towards birds, a businessman gifted two beautiful falcons to the king. Now, these two falcons were used to different weather conditions.
The king thanked the businessman and ordered the head bird trainer in the kingdom to provide all the facilities to the falcons and make them feel comfortable in the country.
The head trainer took care of the birds and soon the birds got adapted to the country’s climate.
It was said that one day the king wanted to see the falcons fly as he had heard that one of those falcons could fly to great heights at very high speed. The bird trainer let the falcon out of the enclosure and quickly, one of them flew very high, quickly, and came down to the enclosure within minutes.
But one of them refused to fly and remained in the sanctuary.
The king was quite surprised and rewarded the bird trainer with a handful of gold coins. He enquired about the other falcon and why it could not fly.
The bird trainer stated with regret that the other falcon had not moved even a step from day one and had just sat on the branch. The trainer also added that he had tried everything he could but could not make the bird move.
The king consoled him and told him that he would bring someone more experienced than him to try and train the other falcon.
After a while, the king announced that he needed someone to make the falcon move and fly. Hearing this announcement, an old man reached the King’s palace and assured him that he would make the bird fly like the other one.
The king asked the head trainer to take the old man to the sanctuary to train the falcon. He said that he would visit them the next day to see if there was any change.
The next day, the king was very surprised to see the other falcon fly like the first one to great heights in rapid speed. The king was very happy gifted the old man some coins.
When the king enquired to know how the old man was able to make the bird fly, he answered and said, “I just cut down the branch of the tree where the falcon used to sit.”