March 08, 2015  •  6 Comments

Peregrine stoopingPeregrine stoopingPeregrine falcon photographed by Jim Zipp. © www.JimZipp.com Since childhood, I have admired the prowess of the peregrine falcon, Falco *peregrinus (*Latin 'wanderer'). The first time I witnessed a peregrine kill—from my vantage point on the banks of the Macintyre River behind Inverell's town library—I was simply awestruck: speed, audacity, strength, acuity and elan. It was a signature strike, the falcon stooping (diving) from altitude at withering speed to close the gap before thrusting talons forward to snatch its prey and then delivering the coup-de-grâce midflight—a dislocating bite to the feral pigeon's neck vertebrae with the falcon's characteristically toothed beak. "Wow!, one less pigeon shitting on the courthouse."

In my eyes, the peregrine is the Porsche 911 Turbo of the bird world—a classic and the most impressive and iconic bird on the planet. Little wonder that I have adopted it as my totem and featured it in logos for my photography (the art of seeing).

Peregrine falcon stooping used with permission of the photographer, Jim Zipp USA (www.JimZipp.com)

Looking is a gift, seeing is a power — Jeff Berner

Peregrine FalconPeregrine FalconPeregrine falcon study by UK artist Stuart Herod. www.thoroughbredfineart.com

Peregrine falcon portrait used with permission of the artist, Stuart Herod UK (www.thoroughbredfineart.com)

The peregrine is a cosmopolitan species found on every continent except Antarctica. The female, called the falcon, is larger and stronger than the male, called the tiercel. It's the archetypal raptor of traditional falconry (practised since 2000 BC), a species so revered that only noblemen were permitted to own one and fly it from the hand to hunt gamebirds. It's the fastest moving animal on the planet, capable of more than 350kph in a gravity-assisted stoop. Watch this National Geographic video and be impressed! If you're a bird and a peregrine locks you in its sights from above, feathers will fly.

Peregrine in pursuitPeregrine in pursuitPhotograph by Will Sooter. © www.sharpeyesonline.com

Peregrine in pursuit used with permission of the photographer, Will Sooter USA (www.sharpeyesonline.com)

As a boy, I read books on falconry and fantasized about owning a peregrine and hunting with it.

True story: I also fantasized about reincarnation as a peregrine and buzzing the main street of Inverell, much to the (imagined) astonishment of shoppers!
I also read books by the famous big game hunter-turned-conservationist, Jim Corbett. In this enlightened age, some might be shocked that an avowed nature lover like me, with an honours degree in zoology, could be so fascinated by hunting and predation. Quite simply, I cannot deny my human roots, my human condition as a descendant of hunters and gatherers. It's innate, even for a civilised person, to be a hunter. My animal protein food is mostly harvested by other humans, whether by net, hook, blade or bullet.

Yes, I experience a thrill when I see a predator like the peregrine falcon doing what it was designed to do. These days I still love to hunt, with a camera or a fishing rod. Hunting is an honest, legitimate human activity when practised with humane respect for the quarry and the environment.

The smartest peregrine I ever witnessed

It was the NRL grand final day in 1984. Instead of watching the game on TV, I preferred to be out hunting with a fishing rod and a few home-made lures in a tinny at Lake Copeton. A transistor radio kept me up to date with the footy score while I was fixed on Murray cod and golden perch, drifting in the vicinity of a collection of granite boulders; an island exposed by the falling level of the irrigation impoundment.

From its vantage point atop the masthead of a black cypress pine skeleton, the female falcon scanned 360 degrees, not alarmed by the presence of a man on the water near its islet refuge. Its sharp eyes followed the repeated arcs of a small object flung from a stick the man wielded, and the rippling rings generated when the object landed on the water and dived below.

At a range of perhaps 1,000 metres, the falcon detected the forms of a pair of grey teal approaching from the east, flying over open water on a bearing westward that would bring them to within 100 metres south of the islet at an altitude of 30 metres. The falcon dropped silently from its perch on a faking course northward, its shadow passing over the man as he released a five kilo Murray cod. He looked up to follow the bird's progress with his eyes shielded from the high sun by a downturned palm.

The peregrine's normal modus operandi was to ambush prey from a superior altitude at the culmination of a rapid dive. On this occasion, flying to a high attack-launch position through a clear blue sky would surely betray her presence to the ducks that—with eyes positioned on the sides of their heads—could scan 360 degrees to detect danger. Cunningly, the falcon scythed north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-west and then west in a long, low arc, keeping herself below the horizon of hills surrounding the lake, until she was behind and below the ducks at a range of 200 metres...and closing. Instead of a gravity-assisted strike from above, this time the peregrine relied on her speed in level flight to catch the ducks, which stayed their course unaware of the predator on their tails.

The man was spellbound at the spectacle of the falcon's tactic and speed. He watched the wing-blurred shape of the falcon beating 20 metres above the lake in the ducks' blind spot. Within seconds they were within reach. The falcon swooped up and raked the trailing duck with talons in a passing strike that failed to grip. Feathers flew from the injured duck and it plummeted to the water with wings folded.

The falcon circled and swooped to intimidate the duck but it would not or could not take to the wing again. Thwarted, the falcon returned to its perch—aware that it was not designed to pluck such heavy prey from the water—and waited.

"Wow...bad luck," said the man, "but what a crafty hunter you are! Awesome."

"Whirrrr...splash". The man cast his lure into the shade of a granite boulder, clicked the reel into gear, and began the retrieve, feeling the throb of the lure through the line and rod tip.

A Murray cod left the cover of an overhanging boulder and closed on the source of vibrations beating towards the man in the boat.

Murray CodMurray Cod and Predatek BoomerangLure design, Murray cod artwork and underwater photograph © Rob Smith 1989.

Composite pen and ink drawing (1989) and photographs. © Rob Smith

2015 falcon logo2015 falcon logo A new falco logo

So you can appreciate why I admire the peregrine? During my confinement with a broken ankle, I've spent some time designing a new falcon logo for my photography. Why? I want something that's graphically more versatile than the old logos; something that can reproduce well without fine detail, colour and shading; something that will lend itself to be made into an embossing stamp that I can apply to my fine art prints for sale; and something that will work for embroidery. I acknowledge feedback from my son Dylan, also a peregrine aficionado, during the painstaking process of achieving just the right shape and style to satisfy our taste. I also acknowledge David Sebben USA whose photograph of a vocalising peregrine served as the starting profile for my design.

Peregrine falcon logoWowfactorpix peregrine falcon logo.

Peregrine haikuPeregrine haikuhurtling past...the peregrine's eye...altitude

I manufactured the image and wrote the haiku (right) to celebrate the peregrine falcon.

I thank Stuart Herod, Jim Zipp and Will Sooter for permission to use examples of their wonderful peregrine imagery in this blog post. How fantastic is the internet that we can so easily connect with like-minded people.


True story: I also fantasized about reincarnation as a peregrine
and buzzing the main street of Inverell, much to the (imagined)
astonishment of shoppers! (quote)

this bit sounds very much like something out of H/G Wells? or Jarassic Park rather that of David Attenbough?

The man-peregrine circles on high above and away from the sun so as not
leave its shadow along the street below. timing its dive to perfection and with
unimaginable speed it dives on the unsuspecting shoppers below.
does it make a kill??
stay tuned...answer in next episode
Seriously; loved the whole essay....full of understanding and awe of this wonderful bird of prey.....very powerful.. well done Peter;g
Trish Lavis Brown(non-registered)
Rob, you taught me to love Peregrines too, and I do. I'm sure you'll imagine my acute chagrin, though, the day I saw not one, but two (male and female pair) flying over my roof the day after my precious parrot, Barney, escaped from his cage! I was quite sure Mr and Mrs Falco peregrinus would be dining on Psittacula eupatria that day. I got lucky, though. Barney was at large for twenty-one days and eventually found his way home to me! I never did see the Peregrines again, but there's a pair of Little Falcons (Australian Hobby - F.Longipennis) that nests on our local hospital. I see them hunting most days. :)

Oh. You wouldn't know: I finally finished my degree in Zoology/Botany too. It took years and years but I wound up with my B.Sc. Dip.Ed. What a journey that was! LOL!
Dylan Smith(non-registered)
I will always be happy to lend a critical eye.

I love what you said about hunting and share the same thoughts, as you know. I often think about falcons or tigers when I'm out hunting and consider myself an apex predator in much the same way. Some people criticise human hunters because the chase isn't 'fair'. I don't know why they think it needs to be 'fair', but using a rifle isn't anything the neanderthals wouldn't have done if they were able! Still, it falcons are so well designed, it hardly seems fair to all other birds either, does it?

The falcon is such an efficient killer that nature has deemed it appropriate to give it the black mask of a medieval executioner.
Robyn Mussett
The new design is fantastic. It will work well for your proposed stamp. I, too, appreciate the speed and precision of these magnificent birds. I started watching them as a child and never lose the goose bumps when I am lucky enough to see the attack.
Timo Koski(non-registered)
audacity, strength, acuity and elan,
that about sums you up.
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