Pilot is a male peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
who came to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital from Albion in
September of 2011. One of the essential ligaments in his left
wing was completely severed, most likely caused by barbed wire,
an attack by another raptor, or prey that fought back. Because
of this, he can no longer use the wing well enough to fly. He
was very young when he came in - just a few months old - and has
since adapted very well to living with people.
Peregrine falcons come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
However, all peregrines have the distinctive thick black marks
on their face, known as "malar stripes". The species is divided
into about 19 subspecies. The three subspecies found in North
America are the "Anatum", "Tundra", and "Peale’s" peregrines.
The Anatum is most common in the Rocky Mountain region. The
Tundra is native to the Arctic, but migrates to South America in
the winter months. The Peale’s is found in the Pacific
Northwest, mostly along the coast. All three of these subspecies
of the peregrine can be seen locally - but usually they are just
passing through. The wanderlust nature of the peregrine falcon
gave it it’s name - "Falco peregrinus" means "wandering
Peregrine Falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica
(and for some reason, New Zealand). They are the most widespread
of all of the raptors. They are most common in coastal and
mountainous regions where cliffs and water are abundant.
However, they are also fairly common in cities where they can
nest on top of buildings, and feed primarily on pigeons. In most
mating pairs, the male will choose 2-3 potential nest sites, and
the female will choose her favorite from them. Most peregrines
nest about 1/3 of the way down a cliff face in a shallow
depression on a ledge called a "scrape".
Peregrines are the fastest bird in the world - and maybe even
the fastest animal. They have been clocked in excess of 200mph
in a vertical stoop dive. In horizontal flight, they can fly as
fast as 60mph in pursuit of prey. Their most common food choice
includes ducks and pigeons, but they also commonly hunt bats or
steal prey from other raptors. Peregrines are known to close
their talons and "punch" their prey out of the air, often
stunning or even decapitating it.
Between 1950 and 1970, the population of peregrine falcons
declined immensely due to the use of DDT as a pesticide. The
chemical built up in their tissues over time (from prey
consumption) and cause a reduction in the amount of calcium in
their eggs. When the parents tried to incubate the eggs, they
would easily crack open on the hard rock surface. Thanks to the
efforts of wildlife recovery teams and independent breeders, the
peregrine falcon population rebounded, and they were removed
from the endangered species list in 1999.