Peregrine Falcon: Falco peregrinus
As your eyes scan the skies for interesting birds, the peregrine
falcon will be distinguished by its typical falcon silhouette -
long, pointed wings and long thin tail - and by the dark feathers
on its head and nape, which resemble a hood or helmet. A
distinctive black wedge extends below the eye.
Peregrine falcons don't breed in Florida, but like many northern
breeders, some spend the winter here. They are regularly spotted
during spring and fall migrations as they move between northern
breeding grounds and wintering areas in Central and South America.
A good place to watch for them in fall or winter is over open
terrain, particularly coastal shorelines and wetlands.
Agility, speed, power - these are fitting adjectives describing
the flight of the peregrine falcon, the world's fastest bird. This
skillful hunter, famous for its ability to snatch birds right out
of the sky, has awed many a bird watcher fortunate enough to
witness its stooping flight- the term used to describe this bird's
steep downward plunge, with wings partially closed, at speeds that
can exceed 150 mph. Such deadly stealth is effective on doves,
shorebirds and ducks, the peregrine's favorite prey.
Just as spectacular has been the peregrine's comeback from severe
population declines resulting from the widespread use, beginning in
the 1940s, of pesticides such as DDT. The pesticides caused
peregrines to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation.
The result was a precipitous drop in the peregrine population on
the continent, from nearly 20,000 birds earlier in the century, to
a record low of about 650 birds by 1965. At that point, the species
was no longer found east of the Mississippi, and populations in the
west had declined by as much as 90 percent. Captive breeding
programs were begun in the 1960s and, following the ban of DDT in
the 1970s, captive-reared peregrines were released into their
former range. As of the end of 2002, there are at least 1,650
peregrine breeding pairs in the United States and Canada.