Mendocino is proud of their birds of prey mascots, so, in celebration of this season’s new brood of Peregrine chicks, we take a closer look at these magnificent birds.
Death from Above
The Peregrine falcon may be the perfect predator. It dives from the sky in a daring plunge, snagging other airborne birds in mid-flight with its deadly talons. Its body is the epitome of aerodynamic design, allowing it to reach—and survive—speeds that would kill other animals. As it reaches its terminal velocity of over 200 mph, baffles in its nostrils prevent the force of the air from exploding its lungs—a feature that has been incorporated into jet engine design—and nictitating membranes on its eyes protect them from debris. It snags its hapless victims in its talons, ending their terror with a killing blow from its deadly-sharp beak.
Armed with Courage
The name Peregrine means ‘wanderer,’ and these falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica. This amazing bird has long been revered for its astounding hunting technique, and has been used in falconry for over 3000 years. Native American tribes would bury men of high rank in costumes meant to represent the prowess of the falcon, and Western European nobility of the late Middle Ages considered it a prince among birds, “more armed by its courage than its claws.” In more recent times, the Peregrine falcon has been enlisted to intercept homing pigeons during World War II and to scare away birds at airports in order to improve air-traffic safety.
Threatened with Extinction
During the mid-20th century, the Peregrine falcon population began to decline. The widespread use of DDT and other chemical pesticides caused toxins to build up in the falcons’ bodies, which reduced the amount of calcium in their eggshells and made them more prone to breakage. In some parts of the world, including the eastern US and Belgium, the falcons became locally extinct, but worldwide recovery efforts and the reduced use of DDT have helped the population recover, and the Peregrine falcon was removed from the US Endangered Species list in 1999.
Now a Media Star
Peregrine falcons have traditionally nested in open landscapes and near shores where sea birds are common, and many return to the same nesting site year after year (some particularly favored sites have been in use for hundreds of years). But more recently, they have also begun to choose cities with their suspension bridges, tall buildings and abundance of tasty pigeons. These nests are usually encouraged by the human city dwellers, and many cities have set up nestcams so people can have the chance to watch these deadly hunters as they enjoy a bit of family time. So take a moment, crack open a Peregrine Pilsner, and check out some of the live nestcam views of Peregrine falcon nests around the country.
Santa Cruz Peregrines
In the mid-70s, only two pair of Peregrine falcons were known to exist in California, with none to be found east of the Mississippi. The nestcam atop the San Jose City Hall is the result of a collaborative effort by U.C. Santa Cruz and Cornell University the restore the falcon population in California. After DDT was banned in 1972, the U.C. Davis Predatory Bird Research Group spent the next 30 years breeding the falcons, hatching their thin-shelled eggs, and placing the birds in cliffside nests.
Salt Lake City Peregrines
Peregrine falcons have been nesting in downtown Salt Lake City since 1984, with their favorite place being the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Currently the pair occupying the nestcam is caring for four eggs, which should hatch in mid to late May. As the young birds begin learning to fly, they often find themselves falling into traffic or crashing into buildings. Volunteers and members of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources scramble during this time to help rescue the fledgling fliers.
I really enjoyed the chance to peek in on these birds, even though the nestcam environment is a bit less than natural. Do you have any webcam recommendations for viewing other animals? How do you feel about the Peregrines’ migrations to the big cities? Let us know in the comments below.