- Laguna Madre, Mexico
The peregrine falcon is one of the world’s most widespread terrestrial vertebrates with more than 15 distinct races varying in plumage color across the globe. It generally prefers open habitats like grasslands and tundras, but has also begun to colonize cities, which provide suitable nesting sites on building ledges and easy prey like pigeons.
Although some island and southern populations are resident, many populations migrate vast distances between breeding sites and winter ranges. The northernmost peregrine falcons in the Western hemisphere migrate from Alaska and Canada to central Argentina and Chile.
One of the fiercest avian hunters, the falcon’s diet consists almost entirely of other birds, which it usually captures on the wing, diving as fast as 200 miles per hour to stun the prey with its talons. Its fantastic dives (stoops) and tight turns also emerge in spectacular courtship displays. They mate in monogamous pairs that may last many breeding seasons. Both males and females show strong attachment to previous nesting sites, and it has been suggested that this preference, rather than investment in the mate, accounts for the long-term pairings.
In the mid-twentieth century, DDT contamination of prey and habitat in North America decimated the raptors. By the mid 1960s, there were no breeding pairs east of the Mississippi river, and they were added to the Federal Endangered Species List in 1969. However, the falcon proved admirably resilient and is now one of the signal victories in species conservation efforts. It was removed from the endangered list in the 1990s.
The Texas coast is one of the most important staging areas in the world for migrating peregrine falcons. Like many other migratory birds, falcons frequently stopover along the Texas coast to rest and feed before embarking on the long flight south across the Gulf of Mexico. During migration, peregrine falcons can be found at the Conservancy’s Francine Cohn Preserve, Shamrock Island Preserve, Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve and Texas City Prairie Preserve.
Tidbit: In spring of 2005, a pair of adult breeding falcons were netted at the Conservancy’s South Padre Island Preserve (now part of Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge) and fitted with satellite telemetry transmitters. Over an 18-month period, the pair were tracked by a partner organization, Earthspan. The two birds traveled together north from Texas to the Canadian border in North Dakota before diverging. One continued northwest to Point Barrow at the edge of the Beaufort Sea above the Arctic Circle while the other flew northeast across the Hudson Bay to the northernmost reaches of Quebec. At those two points, more than 2,600 miles apart, the birds spent months feeding before simultaneously beginning their long journeys south, stopping again on the Gulf Coast and reuniting in Central America before continuing all the way to Brazil.