New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion: Peregrine Falcon

This post is an excerpt from the New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion.


Natural History
The peregrine falcon is ubiquitous on planet earth, inhabiting all parts of the globe except high mountains, polar ice caps, and tropical rainforests. There are 19 subspecies of the falcon, with slight variations in habitat and plumage cover. The peregrine falcon is known for its high-speed diving attack, called the stoop. When the falcon spots a smaller bird from afar, it plummets through the air at up to 273 mph to strike one wing of the prey with the ball of its foot, killing the animal and cushioning its own landing. Male falcons, called tiercels, use their flying ability to perform spectacular courtship displays in the air. The peregrine falcon’s diet is the most diverse of any bird of its type, partly because of its wide habitat range. Studies in the UK showed that the pigeon comprises up to 50% of the birds diet by volume, in urban areas.

Urban History
The introduction of DDT as a pesticide severely threatened peregrine falcon populations in the United States. By 1970 the bird was placed on the endangered species list. Organochlorine pesticides interfered with the animal’s reproductive cycle and disintegrated egg shells. Following the ban of DDT, the first two peregrine falcon couples were introduced to NYC in 1983. Population grew steadily, with 16 couples living in the metropolitan area by 2002. Today, the MTA has a state program that maintains and documents peregrine falcons living on NYC’s network of bridges. The animal is accustomed to nesting on high cliffs so the city’s bridges and skyscrapers pose familiar ground. The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority permits researchers to climb bridges and place tracking bands on the birds. The peregrine falcons are territorial and have been known to attack humans with talons when their nest is threatened. Falcon families have been spotted at Tompkins Square Park, and there is a camera set up at 55 Water Street with a live stream of a nest.

NYC Peregrine Falcon

Identification Tips
– Black markings under the eye
– Adult has slate-grey back with white breast, and yellow legs
– Pointed wings with short tail

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