New York is a city of superlatives; it comes to no surprise the fasted animal on the planet is thriving amongst us.
The Peregrine falcon, a gorgeous beast, slate gray body, white chest, the size of a large crow, clocks in with a hunting speed of a mind-boggling 240 mph.
Peregrines primarily hunt other birds. They ambush their unsuspecting victims from above and usually break their neck midair. Peregrine means “wanderer” in Latin because they are known to fly the longest migration routes. Here in New York City prey is plentiful and available all year round. The local pigeons are pretty smart when it comes to avoiding predators, but they are no match for the deadly missiles divebombing them at breakneck speed. Many an escaped parakeet suffered the same sad fate.
The entire raptor population of the eastern United States was almost wiped out with the introduction of DDT, a cancer-causing insecticide that had devastating effects on apex hunters like birds-of-pray because of its cumulative effects. The toxin thinned the shells of wild bird eggs and crashed populations by wiping out all offspring. The only place one could find a falcon in New York in the 60’s was in the Egyptian wing of the Metropolitan Museum.
After a public outcry, DDT was finally banned in 1972.
It took a massive undertaking to safe the Peregrine falcon. In the early 1980’s attempts to repopulate the species by releasing captive-bred birds started to take hold. Falconers had known for thousands of years how to breed Peregrines in captivity; this turned out to be the saving grace to reestablishing breeding pairs.
Today, New York has the largest Peregrine population of any urban area.
Their natural habitat is cliffsides; they like to live by the sea. They are smart and regal birds, they mate for life and return to the same area every year. They love to perch on tall buildings, cathedrals, skyscrapers and especially our bridges.
Peregrines nest on the Verazzano bridge, the Rockaway tower of the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges bridge, the Throgs Neck bridge, downtown Civic Center buildings, the Presbyterian Hospital and the Riverside church.
Female Peregrines are about 30% larger and more aggressive. Males are known to perform an elaborate courting ritual by flying daring aerial maneuvers to impress the ladies.
They don’t build stick nests but like to lay their rust-colored eggs on high ledges. Baby falcons, called eyases, are covered in fluffy white down until they grow in their feathers at around five weeks. Usually, both parents guard the nest and dote on the young.
They are equally doted upon by an assortment of research scientists, environmentalist and the MTA, which host plenty of strategically placed wooden nest boxes.
Should you find a screeching raptor nesting on your air conditioner or in your flower box remember they are a federally protected and a closely monitored endangered species and please leave them alone. Take all the selfies you need but remember they have razor-sharp talons the size of your pinky finger and are very protective of their young.