Falcons and Caracaras: Falconidae
Peregrine Falcon (falco Peregrinus): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: A peregrine falcon's body is designed for speed, and it is the fastest, most skillful bird of prey on Earth. It also has remarkable eyesight and hearing. The birds are between 13.4 and 19.7 inches (34 and 50 centimeters) long from their beaks to the end of their tails. The female usually weighs about twice as much as her mate. Peregrines have dark feathers on their upper parts and lighter-colored feathers below, with streaks on their under parts.
Geographic range: Peregrine falcons most likely breed in more places in the world than any other bird. They are found on all continents except the Antarctic and on many ocean islands.
Habitat: Peregrines can live almost anywhere, from the hot tropical lands to the cold coasts of the North, and from sea level to 13,000-foot (4,000-meter) mountains. They live on islands and rocky cliffs, in deserts and forests, and on the treeless tundra. They also live among skyscrapers in large cities.
Diet: Peregrine falcons are famous for the way they catch birds in mid air. A peregrine flies high until it sees a bird flying below. Instantly, it folds its pointed wings and dives steeply down, hitting and killing the bird at more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour. Then the peregrine either catches the dead bird, or it dives past the bird and picks it up on the ground. Peregrines occasionally hunt on the ground and eat mammals, reptiles, insects, and fish.
Behavior and reproduction: They usually build their nests on cliff ledges or in caves. They also nest on window ledges and bridges. Peregrines lay between two and four eggs, and the chicks are able to fly when they are just five or six weeks old.
Peregrine falcons and people: People working in skyscrapers enjoy watching the wild peregrines that now nest in big cities. The birds are also trained by falconers to kill animals and leave them for their owners.
Conservation status: Peregrine falcons are not listed as Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), but they were put on the list of Endangered Species of the United States in 1970 when insect poisons got into their food. They are making a good comeback with the help of scientists and conservationists, and in 1999 they were removed from the list. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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Elphick, Chris, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley. National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birdlife and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Jenkins, Priscilla Belz. Falcons Nest on Skyscrapers. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1996.
Laubach, Christyna, Rene Laubach, and Charles W. G. Smith. Raptor! A Kid's Guide to Birds of Prey. North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2003.
Parry-Jones, Jemima. Eyewitness: Eagle & Birds of Prey. London and New York: DK Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
Perrins, Christopher, ed. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2003.
Sibley, David Allen. National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Weidensaul, Scott. The Raptor Almanac. New York: The Lyons Press, 2000.
"Falcon Comeback." Science World (April 2000): 9.
Miller, Claire. "New Birds on the Block (Peregrine Falcons)." Ranger Rick (June 1993): 4–11.
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Rideout, Joanne. "The Urban Falcon." E Magazine: The Environmental Magazine (March/April 2001): 19–20.
Wexo, John Bonnett. "Birds of Prey." Zoobooks (February 2001): 1–18.
White, Mel. "Raptor Central." National Geographic Traveler (May/June 2001): 6.
"About Falcons." The Hawk Conservancy Trust. http://www.hawkconservancy.org/priorfalcons.shtml (accessed on May 20, 2004).
"Caracaras and Falcons." Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, ASDM Press. http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/nhsd_caracaras_falcons.html (accessed on May 20, 2004).
The Peregrine Fund. World Center for Birds of Prey. http://www.peregrinefund.org (accessed on July 13, 2004).
Raptor Research Foundation. http://biology.boisestate.edu/raptor (accessed on July 13, 2004).
Tarski, Christine. "Everything About Caracaras." Birding. About http://birding.about.com/od/birdscaracaras/ (accessed on May 20, 2004).
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