Conserve Wildlife Blog

Month of the Falcon – Part I

January 1st, 2014

What makes peregrine falcons so unique?

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Even military aircraft, like the "F-22 Raptor," were engineered to be more like a peregrine falcon!

Even military aircraft, like the “F-22 Raptor,” were engineered to be more like a peregrine falcon!

Peregrine falcons are top tier, aerial predators that are capable of reaching speeds faster than any other animal in the world. In a stoop (a rapid dive) to catch prey, they can reach speeds over 200 mph (top recorded speed of 242 mph)! Even military aircraft, like the F-22 Raptor and SR-71 Blackbird, have been designed to mimic the special traits that falcons have to fly faster and be more maneuverable at top speeds.

Both falcons and F-22s are light weight, have extreme maneuverability, fly at high speeds, and have stealth-like flight to avoid detection from prey (or enemies).

Peregrines are also unique because they are only one of two species of birds (do you know the other one?) that are found worldwide and nest on every continent (besides Antarctica).

They mate for life and (Jersey birds) do not make long distance migrations.

Lastly, peregrine falcons are top tier predators and are an indicator species. The health of their population can tell us a lot about the health of our environment, which is one of the most important reasons for protecting them.

They have made a remarkable recovery in New Jersey. Forty years ago these aerial predators were missing from our skies… they were extirpated from all native nesting territories that were east of the Mississippi River by 1964.

After the NJ Endangered Species Conservation Act was passed in 1973, a plan to re-establish them was made. Young birds were “hacked” at artificial nest sites throughout the state from 1975 to 1980.

In a stoop. © Kristen Nicholas

In a stoop. © Kristen Nicholas

The innovative program was a success! Wild nesting of peregrines first occurred in 1980 at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Since that time the population has steadily increased and in 2003, peregrines nested on the natural cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state, but peregrines don’t mind. Cities and urban areas actually provide suitable habitat for peregrines. Since they’re top tier predators and nest near areas with large numbers of prey, like pigeons, they provide a service by controlling their population.

Urban areas have two components necessary for peregrines: abundance of prey and ledges to nest on. One city is Jersey City. Since 2000 peregrines have nested on the roof of 101 Hudson St. The Jersey City nesting pair has been very productive over the years.

Their annual life cycle has been streamed online for the public to view and learn about their natural history. With your support we can keep the Falcon Cam streaming in homes, offices and classrooms to educate viewers about endangered species conservation in New Jersey. Donate to the project and be entered into a drawing to attend the banding of young falcons in 2014!

Stay tuned for Part II next week to learn about the recovery of peregrine falcons in New Jersey.

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