As someone with a love of dinosaurs, it's always nice to know the fastest animal on the planet is one of them, to be specific the Peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus. On Easter Sunday I had the good fortune to meet one face-to-face, courtesy of the Kingsley Bird and Falconry Centre, which had a stall outside the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton. We'd gone for the book fair but the highlight of the day was meeting the Peregrine, a young female who was brought by the centre as a breeding bird and who will hopefully be raising chicks this time next year.
Meeting this bird up close and personal certainly made an impression. For a start, it's fascinating to look into the forward-facing eyes of the falcon, which seem to stare you down with their intense gaze. The feet are similarly interesting, with very long talons for gripping prey caught on the wing and feet with small, unusual pads sticking out of some areas of the toes, these pads are covered with tiny, spiky scales; presumably these help the bird to grip it's feathery prey more effectively. Finally, the way the bird balances on your hand feels is quite wonderful. Apart from not being too heavy it never seems to shift it's weight, although it is obviously in constant motion as I moved my arm to look at it.
The Peregrine is found worldwide, although it is currently on the IUCN Red List, as it has been extirpated from much of it's central and eastern European range, although there are signs of a recovery. Here in the UK the species is recovering from the inevitable persecution it has suffered at the hands of gamekeepers and farmers and around 1,402 pairs are currently estimated to be breeding in the UK according to the RSPB.
Although primarily a bird of cliff and crag, here in north-west England we have some decidedly urban peregrines, helped by a successful project to encourage the birds to nest in Manchester city centre (a pair did nest a couple of miles from the city centre in 1993). Last year four chicks were raised, and all these fledged successfully. I also know of at least one nearby urban centre where the species has been sighted, and indeed I met a lady who witnessed a Peregrine take a pigeon in flight one morning the main shopping street (much to her surprise), the bird landing directly in front of her with the kill before taking off again. I think it put her off her elevenses.
Next time I'm in the city, it'll be eyes skywards to see if I can spot these magnificent birds patrolling the concrete canyons they have made their home. However, I think I'll remember this marvellous encounter for a long time to come.