Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Science Night - Peregrine Falcons 

I had pigeons when I was a kid. Didn’t know much about hawks or falcons then, but they were the enemy. Later, when I was in middle school, there was a special student assembly at my school (Fergus Fall Junior High) and the star of the show was a professional falconer. It was really an amazing presentation. Before he released the falcon, he told everybody to sit perfectly still. He did not want the falcon to attack anybody. Shortly after he released the falcon, one of my classmates must have gotten a panic attack or something, because he jumped up and started walking quickly out of the gymnasium where the assembly was being held. Fortunately the falcon did not attack him. Since that assembly I have been fascinated with Peregrine Falcons. Mind you, when I see a falcon chasing a pigeon, I’m still on the pigeon’s side.

You will hear that Peregrine Falcons can travel at 200 mph. But that is misleading. There is no way a Peregrine Falcon can fly that fast. They attain that speed by diving. The terminal velocity of a skydiver is about 120 mph. In the video they mention a speed of 158, I believe, but that is because they are flying in a form that allows for greater speed. At any rate, even 160 mph is no match for a Peregrine Falcon in full diving mode, which is rare to see and which you will see in this video. But of course, that’s falling, not flying. Peregrine Falcons are essentially dive bombers. For this reason, a Peregrine Falcon can attack a bird much larger than itself. They don’t feed on such larger birds, but they can defend themselves that way. I guess I should note that speed and velocity are not exactly the same, but in this case they can be used interchangeably, because direction is not an issue.

But the horizontal flying speed of a Perigrine Falcon is much slower that this. Pretty close to the speed of a pigeon. So if you watch a Peregrine Falcon trying to catch a pigeon, it’s actually a pretty close contest. But if that same falcon flies to altitude and dives into a flock of pigeons, it’s very likely to get something.

In this video, you will see a Peregrine Falcon that is trained to pursue a lure (which probably has food attached). It has no problem catching up with the skydivers using it’s special diving method to increase terminal velocity. But another thing you notice in this video is that the Perigrine Falcon and the falconer develop a close relationship. This indicates that the Peregrine Falcon is probably a pretty smart bird. But it also says something about the falconer. Not just anybody can be a falconer. It requires a special ability to understand the bird and build the kind of trust that will motivate the bird to obey the trainer.

You will notice also that the bird in this video is a female. I am not sure if the female is a better hunter than the male. But it is much larger, and that may be the reason falconers prefer to work with a female Peregrine Falcon.

Will you ever see a Peregrine Falcon up close? They are found in every corner of the globe except Antarctica, but it would still not be easy. This is not the kind of bird that will show up at your windowside bird feeder. Peregrine Falcons do not feed on bird seed. They feed on birds. Not exclusively, they also eat mice. But they could never live on bird seed.

There are three entities to watch in this video. The falcon, the trainer jumping in tandem with a professional sky diver, and the photographer. But I would be remiss if I did not also mention the crew of the hot air baloon. This video would not be possible without them. It doesn't take long to see that this experiement could never have been done from an airplane. All of them worked together to produce a really good show, and also some good science. Enjoy.



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