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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Aug 25, 2011

Alberta Birds: Peregrine Falcon

I have seen the Peregrine Falcon here in the city a couple of times, once when I was on business downtown and once perched on a new highrise in my old neighborhood.  Both times this magnificent falcon was too distant to appreciate the sight fully.  This time however, I had the chance to observe one for more than ten minutes on my visit to the river valley.

Peregrine Falcon at edge of sandbank
I was alerted to his presence by the panicked flight of a flock of seagulls, which is something I naturally had to investigate because it was so unusual.  When I spotted the Peregrine just standing in the water on the sandbank in the river, I couldn't believe my luck.  In order to get these photos, though I needed to find a better position from which to take them.  So I took a risk and moved quickly along the trail seeking a spot that was both closer to the bird, and more suited to taking photos, the whole time willing the bird to stay where he was until I found one.  As it turned out I had no reason to worry that he might fly off, since the reason for the panic of the seagulls, was that he had just brought down some prey.

Peregrine Falcons need lots of open space in which to hunt, so they will be seen most often near marshes and valleys, as well as rivers and sea shores.  They need this space because they rely on both height and speed to capture their prey.   The Peregrine is reputed to be the fasted animal on the planet, because it's hunting stoop has been clocked at 325 kilometers an hour, which is truly amazing.

Peregrine plucking it's prey
When hunting, this falcon typically flies very high.  Once prey has been spotted, the falcon stoops, taking full advantage of it's speed and strikes it's prey by making a fist of it's long talons, then  turns to catch it midair.  This particular Peregrine was in the process of drowning it's prey, which is something they do occasionally if their prey hasn't been killed instantly when it was struck midair.

Peregrine falcons consume mainly medium sized birds, bats and occasionally small rodents and insects.  They are known residents on every continent, and in most countries all over the world.  In fact the name Peregrine means wandering falcon.  Peregrines have recently begun residing in cities and nesting on highrises.  We have had a pair nesting on one of the building in downtown Edmonton for some years now.   Peregrines who dwell in cities are known for the unusual act of hunting at night, usually during migration.  Many birds migrate at night, so if you hear a falcon's scream at night, you are definitely not hearing things.

Peregrine swiveling his head for better sight of me
I saw this particular Peregrine three times during my trek through the river valley.  Once he took flight from the sandbank, I did not expect to see him again and decided to head home, thinking there was nothing that could top this sighting and so I turned back.  But he surprised me, by reappearing very quickly in flight just ahead of me on the trail I was following.   Which is when I turned my camera back on, just in case.   He surprised me yet again, when I spotted him perched in a clear spot above the trail at the top of a  tree.

Peregrine a close-up
I am so glad I turned that camera back on, otherwise I would have missed the opportunity to take these last few photos.


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