Falcons may soar in the clouds, but weasels never get sucked into jet engines.
- Jason Hutchison
The Peregrine Falcon belongs to the order Falconiformes and is a member of the family Falconidae. The scientific name of the Peregrine Falcon is Falco peregrinus. The genus name Falco comes from the Latin falx, which means sickle-shaped. It is often assumed that this refers to the shape of a falcon’s wings in flight, but others believe that it was meant to describe the shape of their talons or beaks.
The species name peregrinus is derived from the Latin word meaning wandering, from which the word "pilgrim" also originates. It refers to the Peregrine’s habit of not only making long migrations, but also of dispersing widely from their birth site to find nesting territories. The Peregrine has also been given many unofficial common names. These include: great-footed hawk, ledge hawk, stone hawk, rock hawk, bullet hawk, and wandering falcon.
The Anatum subspecies is designated Falco peregrinus anatum. It is also known as the Continental or American Peregrine. In Latin, anatum means eater of ducks, and in fact the Peregrine was long known as the Duck Hawk in North America (though research has since shown that ducks do not dominate their diet). The name of the Tundra race, Falco peregrinus tundrius, reflects its habitat. It is also called the Arctic Peregrine. The Peale's Peregrine, Falco peregrinus pealei, was named in honour of Titian R Peale, a Philadelphia artist and taxidermist in the early 19th century.
Both males and females are commonly called falcons, although falconers refer to males as tiercels and only females as falcons. Chicks are called eyases, and the nest site is called an eyrie (also spelled aerie).
Peregrines generally hunt by diving on their prey from great heights. They fold their wings to their sides and go into a stoop (dive straight down), attaining speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 miles/h). It was long thought that Peregrines hit their prey in midair with their feet clenched like a fist in order to knock out their victim. However, it has been discovered that they keep all of their toes fully extended, and strike either with their talons or with the back of their forelegs. The impact is usually forceful enough to kill the prey instantly, and the Peregrine either stoops down to catch it as it tumbles, or picks it up off the ground where it lands. In cases where the initial blow was not enough to kill the prey, Peregrines usually bite the neck of the victim to finish it off.
While this is the typical mode of hunting, Peregrines use other approaches as well, depending on the situation. Sometimes they will swoop up from beneath their prey and snatch it out of the air, while in open areas such as tundra or grasslands, they will fly low over the ground like a harrier, trying to flush prey out of the grass and into flight.
Peregrines have extremely good eyesight, even in poor light, and often do much of their hunting at dawn and dusk, while remaining at rest during the heat of the day.
Source: Wolf Hatch; information from peregrine-foundation.ca
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