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Peregrines: Superheroes of the Sky

April 20, 2022

by Cynthia Nowak

Who needs fictional superheroes when Peregrine Falcons exist? Attired in tasteful suits of striped feathers, they’re FAST — the fastest creatures on the planet. Imagine diving for your dinner at 200 miles an hour — peregrines do that easily when they hunt. They can spot their prey from nearly two miles away. When they dive (called “stoop” — now you know), their nostrils deflect the resulting shock waves of air to protect their lungs. What inspired the design of the first jet engines? Peregrines!

They can travel more than 15,000 miles during their migratory periods — peregrine means Wanderer, which might be an excellent superhero name.

They even have a third eyelid!

OK, enough ornithology. Peregrines are also incredibly charismatic, which might be the reason they’re the most popular raptors (birds of prey) in the world of falconry. People have been training falcons for more than a thousand years. When the use of DDT threatened peregrine populations worldwide, it was the breeding efforts of falconers that helped save the species.

But you don’t have to be a falconer to see peregrines. In fact, if you live in northwest Ohio, there’s probably a peregrine nest near you. Peregrines don’t build nests per se; in the wild they create what’s called a scrape on tall, flat surfaces to lay their eggs and raise their young. Peregrines have been residents at The University of Toledo since 2007, living atop University Hall Tower. You can see the nest box built by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources if you stand in Centennial Mall and look up at the clock tower’s right side. Bring binoculars if you visit. (And be sure to get a UT parking permit, or park on an adjacent residential street and walk.)

It goes without saying — though this UT alumna will say it — that the falcons chose UT rather than BGSU, despite the latter’s mascot.

Since 2007, there have been several breeding peregrine pairs at UT, raising dozens of chicks in that time. The longest reign goes to Belle and Allen, with two dozen offspring successfully fledged (taught to fly). Today, the resident adult peregrines are brooding five eggs, including a rather mysterious white egg that doesn’t resemble the rest of its typically brown siblings.

The University also hosts the Toledo Peregrine Project’s Fal-Cam, a live eye on the nest. Once the eggs hatch — this year that should happen around April 21 — watch how the hatchlings are nurtured, because peregrines are arguably the best parents of all raptors. To see these fierce masters of the sky gently comb the fluff on a chick’s head is a rare and awe-inspiring treat. Be warned: feeding time can get a bit gory. The show continues outside the nest into late summer, as the young birds learn to fly and hunt for themselves,

You’ll find more info at Toledo Peregrine Project, including several breath-taking videos. Super birds for sure!