February 22 – Faster Than A Speeding Pullet

Today’s Factismal: A peregrine falcon has been recorded diving toward its prey at 242 mph.

What brown and white and found all over? The peregrine falcon! This predator is both the world’s fastest bird and the most widespread raptor. It is found on every continent except Antarctica, living in Brazialian tropical forests, Australian foggy coastlines, Chilean mountains, and the city streets of New York. Oddly enough, it is the cities, with their steep-sided buildings and plentiful pigeons, where the peregrine falcon has been most successful.

The concentration of pesticides increases as you go up the food chain

The concentration of pesticides increases as you go up the food chain

And successful is the word for this bird. In the mid-1970s, the peregrine falcon was in danger of extinction. That’s because people wanted to get rid of locusts, bedbugs and other insects and used pesticides such as DDT to kill them. The bugs were eaten by pigeons, gulls, and bats, concentrating the DDT. And when the pigeons, gulls, and bats were eaten by peregrine falcons, that concentrated the pesticide even further. The pesticides didn’t hurt the birds directly but it did make their eggshells thinner. As a result, when the falcons sat on their eggs they crushed the developing chicks. After DDT use was banned in the 1972, peregrine falcon numbers began to rebound until they were removed form the endangered list in 1999.

The distinctive look of the peregrine falcon (Image courtesy All About Birds)

The distinctive look of the peregrine falcon (Image courtesy All About Birds)

Today peregrine falcons are common sights in many cities, where food and shelter are plentiful. The falcon can easily be identified by its large size, typically about two feet long, dark wings and barred underbelly. The tail is particularly distinctive with a dark tip and terminal white band. But the easiest way to identify a peregrine falcon is to look for the fastest thing in the sky.

If you’d like to help scientists as they try to preserve birds like the peregrine falcon, then why not join eBird:
http://ebird.org/content/ebird/