peregrine falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Island Girl, a female peregrine falcon and a celebrity in the falcon world, flew over Goose Pond on September 28th, on her migration south from Baffin Island in the high Arctic to her wintering area along the coast of Chile. She began the day near Munising, MI along Lake Superior, and flew 398 miles with northeast winds before ending the day east of Davenport, IA. We wondered if she took a lunch break hunting ducks and coots at Goose Pond.

Peregrine Falcon

Many recent visitors to Goose Pond Sanctuary have been treated to views of the fastest bird in the world - a peregrine falcon.

A peregrine's average cruising flight speed is 24 to 33 mph and increases to 67 mph when in pursuit of prey! When stooping (dropping on prey with their wings closed) these falcons can reach speeds of 238 mph.

When hunting, peregrines start by watching from a high perch (in our case, the dead trees on Goose Pond Road between the two ponds). They also hunt by soaring from great height. Stoops begin 300–3,000 feet above their prey and end either by grabbing the prey or by striking it with the feet hard enough to stun or kill it.

Peregrine falcons eat mostly birds, of an enormous variety—450 North American species have been documented as prey. They have been observed killing birds as large as a Sandhill Crane and as small as a hummingbird.  However, they especially like to feed on shorebirds and ducks - which is why we they've been frequenting Goose Pond during this heavy migration season.

On October 19, Daryl Tessen reported seeing 13 different species of shorebirds at Goose Pond to WISBIRDN.  We found five species of ducks on October 23, including 635 mallards and 230 green-winged teal. We also observed a peregrine chasing (but not catching) shorebirds.

Greg Septon, Wisconsin’s peregrine biologist, wrote in the Atlas of Breeding Birds in Wisconsin that peregrines have historically nested on about 20 cliff eyries along the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers and in Door County. These eyries were abandoned during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s due to the use of DDT.  

Peregrines were reintroduced into Wisconsin beginning in the 1980’s. During the first Breeding Bird Atlas in the 1990s, peregrines were recorded nesting at 11 sites. Their nests were mostly found at power plants or tall buildings along Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, or the Mississippi River - the only inland record was from Madison.

This year - the first year of the second atlas project - shows at least 14 pairs have been found nesting including a pair at the MG&E power plant in Madison and at Devils Lake State Park!

Dan Berger, co-founder of the Cedar Grove Hawk Research Station in 1950, banded young peregrines from Wisconsin eyries in the 1950’s and was very pleased to find banded young a few years ago from the cliff at Maiden Rock on the Mississippi River.

Dan reported in the first week of October that over 30 peregrines had been seen at Cedar Grove but none were trapped and banded.

The name "peregrine" means wanderer, and the peregrine falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Tundra-nesting falcons winter in South America, and may move 15,500 miles in a year.

Arlene Koziol photographed an unbanded peregrine on October 19 and we observed a banded peregrine on October 23rd.  We could see the silver Fish and Wildlife Service band and could not see the other leg that may have contained color bands. The unbanded bird may be heading from the tundra to South America while the banded bird may be Wisconsin peregrine. If you see a banded peregrine please let us know the band color code and we will try and get the location it was banded.  

Thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for providing information on the peregrine falcon.

Written by Mark Martin & Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers

Photo by Ron Knight, Flickr Creative Commons