The peregrine falcon, or duck hawk, is officially the world’s fastest animal. These birds are part of the falcon family, as is the caracara. Although they are often attributed with flying up to 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), this high of a speed is only reached while diving. Despite this fact, they still fly fast. Because of their speed, they are often used for falconry. These falcons have one of the most wide-spread range of all birds, being found on all continents except Antarctica. Peregrine falcons are crow-sized, reaching about 19 inches (49 cm) in length and having a wingspan of about 3 feet (1 m). Despite being fairly large, peregrine falcons only weigh up to four pounds (1.8 kg) and rarely even weigh that much. In this species of bird, the females grow to be about one-third larger than the males.
The nests of these birds are normally built on rocks of cliffs or ledges, but peregrine falcons that live in the city will sometimes build their nests on skyscrapers or bridges. Occasionally they will use tree nests built by other birds. Some peregrine falcon nests are noticed to have been used over hundreds of years by multiple generations of the falcons.
During the courtship process, which they start participating in at age two, both male and female will “dance” in the air with intricate displays during which they take advantage of their high maneuverability. This process is often accompanied by loud screeching. When nesting, normally three or four (but as extreme as one to six) eggs will be laid. These eggs will hatch in around 30 days, after which they start their fledging period of 35 to 42 days (5-6 weeks). Although the chicks can fly then, they depend on their parents for food for a few more months. After becoming independent, the young head out for a (hopefully) twenty year life. During the time outside of the nesting season, peregrines will travel, giving them their name, which means “wanderer.”
Peregrine falcons eat mainly other, smaller birds which they catch using a variety of different methods. Sometimes prey is exhausted in a long chase through the air and then caught when it is tired and easier to catch. Other times these falcons will fly up really high and then dive down and attack its prey from above, using high speeds. Some falcons have even been seen diving past its prey and then turning upside-down and reaching up with its talons to catch its meal. For all of these methods the peregrine falcon will either hold on to its prey until it reaches the ground or let dead prey drop down, where it then comes back to eat it on the ground. On rare occasions, prey up to the size of a small goose will be caught on the ground. Breeding pairs will often hunt together, but the female normally catches larger prey because of her larger size. Any prey that is not eaten immediately will be stored, especially during the breeding/nesting season, because of the extra screeching mouths to satisfy.
The peregrine falcon is the state raptor of Idaho and is even featured on the back of the Idaho state quarter (left). After WWII (1939-1945), the number of peregrine falcons fell steeply. In the United States, this dramatic decline was tracked to the use of the pesticide DDT which peregrine falcons received through their prey. This chemical made their egg shells very thin, causing them to break easily, killing the baby. In other places around the world, pesticides and other things found to be the reason of decline were banned. Because of this, the population of peregrine falcons has risen steadily, and now in some places is at a record high.
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- http://www.worldbookonline.com/pl/infofinder/article?id=ar422940&st=peregrine+falcon (account required)
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Peregrine falcon: Public domain
- Idaho state quarter: public domain
- Mystery animal:public domain
Update: 4/23/14 – Not Idaho state bird but Idaho state raptor.