The Peregrine Falcon has been capturing mankind's imagination for millennia. The Ancient Egyptians depicted their sun god, Ra, as having the body of a man and the head of the peregrine. And, for at least 3,000 years, people have been practicing falconry—the sport of training domesticated falcons to capture prey and return to their master.
Peregrine Falcons are superb hunters. They are eager, agile, adaptable and oh-so-fast. Peregrines have been clocked at speeds of 242 mph while in "dive mode"—making them the fastest animal on Earth. First they fly to an altitude over 3,500 feet, after which they rocket downwards toward their prey. They tuck-in their heads, pull-in their wings, and contort their bodies for maximum aerodynamics. Even at these speeds, the raptors can still control their trajectory, allowing them to adapt to the movement of their quarry with devastating accuracy. Specialized nostrils allow the bird to breath during an attack. And their eyes have a special, clear membrane-lid to protect the organ while diving (plus an extra tear duct to keep the eyes moist). Peregrines, will clench their talons into a "fist" just moments before using it to knock the life out of their game. During World War II, the military would use the highly-trainable peregrine falcon to "intercept" carrier pigeons transporting the enemy's sensitive documents.
There are numerous subspecies of peregrine falcon and they can be found distributed throughout most of the world (except for the polar ice caps, tropical forests, or extremely high-altitude mountains). They have even adapted to living in highly-urbanized environments, nesting in the crevices high atop skyscrapers, bridges or other man-made structures. Human city-dwellers have generally welcomed raptors nesting in their cities; a touch of "novel wilderness" is always good for conversation (and almost no one resents a reduction of pigeons). In 2019, 25 pairs of peregrine falcons were counted in New York City.
The largest varieties of the bird have a wingspan approaching four feet and the females are almost always bigger than their mates (sometimes by as much as 50%). Pairs mate for life and return to the same nesting place each year. From the 1950's through the 1970's, peregrine falcons were pushed to the brink of extinction because of the use of DDT (now banned).
The handsome stoneware sculpture, shown above, captures the intelligent and perceptive peregrine in a moment of quiet contemplation. Or is he fixing his gaze? It was sculpted by Knud Kyhn and made by Royal Copenhagen (dated 1967). Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
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