Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007
* Japanese name: Hayabusa
* Scientific name: Falco peregrinus
* Description: Powerful and majestic birds, peregrine falcons are as large as a crow, some 50-cm long with a 1-meter wingspan. They have tapered, blue-gray wings, a short tail, yellow legs, black bars on their backs and pale underbellies. There is a black "mustache" on the face. The underside of the wings -- the view you are most likely to see -- are white with black stripes and spots. The bill is sharp and hooked. They are silent apart from a sharp "kek-kek-kek" when on the nest.
* Where to find them: Along rocky sea cliffs, in mountains and around marshlands where other birds are likely to be massed, from Hokkaido to Honshu. However, they have relatively recently adapted to urban life, and pairs have been found living on the top of high-rise buildings in city centers. In natural conditions, the nests are simple depressions in the ground called "scrapes." In the 1960s, populations crashed as the falcons -- top-level predators that they are -- suffered from organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, which made the shells of their eggs too thin to be viable.
* Food: Medium-size birds, watch out; ducks, shorebirds, ptarmigans, grouse, doves and songbirds -- peregrine falcons prey almost exclusively on other birds. In cities, they will take pigeons and starlings.
* Special features: Speed. When I was young, peregrine falcons were my favorite birds for one reason: They are the fastest animal on the planet. When they attack a prey bird, in a hunting dive called a "stoop," they reach speeds in excess of 300 kph. Some birds have been recorded diving at an incredible 390 kph. To breathe while traveling at such speeds, the bird has a specialized respiratory system. The lungs are supplemented by air sacs where gas exchange does not occur, but from where air is pumped into the lungs to keep them inflated at all times, even when the bird is breathing out. Peregrine falcons also have special cones in their nostrils to regulate air flow when diving at high speeds. The heart is as strong as the bird is fast, beating 268 times per minute.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET