Peregrine Tuesday

Among raptors, the peregrine is not large. It’s about the size of a large crow, and weighs between 1 and 3 pounds (females are larger).  It’s found on every continent but Antarctica.  With its keen vision and terrible talons, it’s superbly adapted for hunting in the air.  As J. A. Baker describes in The Peregrine:

The eyes of a falcon peregrine weigh approximately one ounce each; they are larger and heavier than human eyes.  If our eyes were in the same proportion to our bodies as the peregrine’s are to his, a twelve stone man would have eyes three inches across, weighing four pounds. The whole retina of a hawk’s eye records a resolution of distant objects that is twice as acute as that of the human retina.

Raptor feet.  “c” is the peregrine; can you guess the others? (UPDATE: I’ve posted the answer in the thread for comment #6.)

As far as we know, and judging simply by its clocked movement through the medium, the peregrine is the world’s fastest animal.  It regularly attains speeds above 150 mph (241 kph) during the stoop, the controlled vertical dive it uses to strike prey from above.   Here are two videos in which people try to measure its dive speed.  In the first, “Frightful” is clocked at 183 mph (295 kph); a later dive recorded 242 mph (389 kph).

And here’s a video of Lady diving at 180 mph (290 kph).

The tide was rising in the estuary; sleeping waders crowded the saltings; plover were restless.  I expected the hawk to drop from the sky, but he came low from inland. He was a skimming black crescent, cutting across the saltings, sending up a cloud of dunlin dense as a swarm of bees. He drove up between them, black shark in shoals of silver fish, threshing and plunging.  With a sudden stab down he was clear of the swirl and was chasing a solitary dunlin up into the sky.  The dunlin seemed to come slowly back to the hawk.  It passed into his dark outline, and did not re-appear.  There was no brutality, no violence. The hawk’s foot reached out, and gripped, and squeezed, and quenched the dunlin’s heart as effortlessly as a man’s finger extinguishing an insect.  Languidly, easily, the hawk glided down to an elm on the island to plume and eat his prey.

J. A. Baker, The Peregrine

11 thoughts on “Peregrine Tuesday

  1. Lovely prose. Sadly the elms won’t be there now even if there are still falcons on the Essex marshes.

  2. I always want to see raptors stoop, but naturally it’s an elusive sight, especially when one lives in a city. But I finally did get to see one last year: an osprey on Lake Washington. It got a fish.

  3. OK, OK. The Peregrine is on my next Amazon order. Who can resist those excerpts?

    I am slightly handicapped without audio at work, but those videos are interesting nonetheless. Is that 150mph+ figure for a “normal” altitude stoop, say, off the 27th floor of UH?

  4. Fantastic footage. I regularly see Peregrines (I live on the North Cornwall coast) and occasionally see them stooping on prey, but I don’t get views like that. My most memorable Peregrine kill was when I saw one take a passing Leach’s petrel at sea. The petrel was totally oblivious of the whole event and no doubt didn’t feel a thing.
    J.A Bakers book is a great read as long as you realise that, in places, he has used artistic licence.

  5. The talon ID is difficult. I’d guess the two on the right are owls: D maybe a great grey owl, and E maybe a barn owl.

    Owls can swivel a talon around to go for either the 3:1 grip (like most raptors) or else a 2:2 opposing grip.

    I’m guessing B is a rough-legged hawk or a ferrugious hawk.

    Is A another buteo? Like a redtail?
    (Just guessing, really)

  6. A is like C lightly built, so prey is probably birds or small surface mammals. Falcon/goshawk?

    B obviously hunts bigger prey, maybe larger ground prey (Do you need that kind of grip for killing/carrying birds?)

    D: some kind of owl.

    E: I see fish-hooks! Sea eagle?

    1. Here’s the key (from a PLoS paper on raptor feet):

      A) Accipitridae: goshawk, Accipiter gentilis, MOR OST-1276; (B), Accipitridae: red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis MOR OST-1275; (C) Falconidae: peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus, MOR OST-1265; (D) Strigiformes: great grey owl, Strix nebulosa, MOR OST-1284; (E) Pandionidae: osprey, Pandion haliaetus, MOR OST-1268.

      Good call on the fishing talons!

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