What Is a Falcon and What Is Special about It?
Falcons are the birds of prey which make up the family Falconidae. (The other large family of birds of prey is the one containing the eagles, hawks, buzzards and vultures. A third family contains the osprey.) Falcons are generally solitary birds and only really come together to mate. Although falcons are known to stay in the same place, many species of falcon are migratory birds and have been known to travel more than 15,000 miles per year.
Falcons are known for their incredible hunting skills and being a ruthless, dominant predator within their environment. Falcons hunt their prey from the skies above and swoop down through the air to catch it once they have spotted a meal with their incredible eyesight. Falcons hunt all kinds of small animals like mice, frogs, fish and falcons will even catch small birds in the air.
There are more than 60 different species of falcon that can be found all around the world such as the peregrine falcon and the black falcon. Falcons vary in size from 25cm tall to more than 60cm tall, but the height of the falcon depends on the species. The peregrine falcon is the most common bird of prey in the world and is found on every continent besides Antarctica.
Peregrine falcons almost went extinct in North America during the mid 20th century because of DDT, an agricultural insecticide that is toxic to many animals. Birds of prey, especially the peregrine falcon, suffered severe population decline when the chemical was widely used and would often produce eggs with extremely thin shells, ultimately decreasing the reproductive rate of the species. Now, populations are much stronger, thanks to captive breeding programs in North America. According to National Geographic, more peregrines may even be existing today than before the decline.
The most unusual falcon is the South American caracara. It spends most of its life running on the ground. More common falcons include the kestrel, hobby, Merlin, gyr falcon and peregrine falcon. The bat falcon (F. albigularis) of Mexico and Central and South America is a little bird with a dark back, white throat, barred black-and-white breast, and reddish belly. It preys upon birds. The forest falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus) of tropical America hunts birds and reptiles in the jungles.
The laughing falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) of the wooded lowlands of Central and South America is a noisy brown bird that eats snakes. The prairie falcon (F. mexicanus), a desert falcon, inhabits canyon and scrub country in western North America. The falconets (Microhierax species) and pygmy falcons (Polihierax) are tiny birds of the Old World tropics. They eat insects and birds. The cuckoo falcons, several species of Aviceda, are kites of the subfamily Perninae (family Accipitridae). They range over Asia and the South Pacific, hunting at twilight, mainly for insects. Some hunt lizards.
Falcons are found all across the world although falcons tend to prefer the more temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Falcons are best known for their ruthlessness and their incredible flying abilities. Falcons have tapered wings that allow the falcon to change direction extremely quickly especially when compared to other birds. Falcons have been recorded diving at speeds of up to 200mph, meaning they are the fastest creatures on the planet!
Falcons nest on high ground such as mountains and cliffs and in the tops of tall trees. This means that the vulnerable eggs and chicks of the falcon are in the safest place possible. Falcons start to breed when they are about a year old. Female falcons lay an average of four eggs per clutch and look after their chicks until they are big enough and strong enough to fend for themselves.