A Peregrine in Downtown Sydney
June 12, 2014
My nephew is messing about with his Excel spreadsheet on the 28th floor of the Westpac building when a massive thud against the window beside his desk diverts his attention. Leaning across his computer he looks out of the window. On a sill not 1 metre away from where he sits lies a Rock Pigeon splayed out on its back and on top of it stands the fastest bird in the world, a Peregrine Falcon.
A smear of blood on the window and another on the concrete sill suggests the pigeon slammed into the window, bounced off it and slumped down on its back. In this case the impact of hitting the window probably killed the pigeon but chances are the Peregrine was in hot pursuit of the pigeon and so caused its death.
Peregrines usually catch their prey in mid-flight. On locating their target, they swoop down upon it at mind-boggling speed. ‘Stooping’ is the technical term for it and speeds can exceed 160kph. Sometimes they even turn upside down to grab the bird from underneath.
The outstretched toes clench on contact. The talons puncture the bird’s vital organs. It’s all over in seconds.
Peregrine Falcons have a worldwide distribution but everywhere they are rare. Traditionally they inhabit cliffs, including the beautiful sandstone cliffs along Sydney’s coast but reports of them hunting, and even nesting, among skyscrapers are not uncommon.
Rock Pigeons, too, have a worldwide distribution, though they are hardly rare. Ironically, they are now extinct among the cliffs of western and southern Europe, North Africa and southwest Asia from where they originated. They are flocking birds, sticking together on the premise that there is safety in numbers: a smart strategy when you are on the menu of a Peregrine Falcon.
So both birds have made the transition from rocky cliffs to high-rise buildings but the age-old predator-prey relationship continues.
The next day the falcon returns for another feed. The office workers on the 28th floor nicknamed him Colonel Sanders. He is indeed a male. He looks the same as a female but he isn’t much bigger than the pigeon; females are about 30% bigger.
Chickens don’t hold much of a challenge for a Peregrine, since they can hardly fly but parrots and ducks are another matter. The planting of flowering trees and construction of lakes and ponds in city parks have drawn these birds into the heart of our urban jungles. Inevitably, their predators have followed.
BTW my nephew, Ben Lurie, is a dab hand with the mobile phone and took all the stills and the video for this article with it. Brill!