College of Veterinary Medicine |

Healthy Animals, Healthy People, Healthy Planet


2014: Pilot was transferred to Biology Integration and Outreach for Science Education (BIOSE) P.O. Box 15455 Covington, KY 41015

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 falcon".
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.

Washington State University