Speed Dating

While the Peregrine falcon is not faster than, say, a speeding bullet, it is a super-bird, the fastest animal on earth. With a wing span that can reach almost four feet, the raptor’s dramatic dive on the hunt for lunch has been recorded at 242 mph. Their version of takeout is a swoop down from the heights to catch their prey in mid air. The usual snack is a smaller bird, but for variety, they also hunt and eat little mammals. At home anywhere in the world, our close neighboring Peregrines have settled on the cliffs at the Torrey Pines Reserve.


To be the fastest animal on the planet falcons have figured out a few advantages. For starters, to enable breathing during the challenging change in air pressure on that swift dive, the falcon is equipped with small bony tubercles on its nostrils that shifts the airflow away. To keep Its sharp bird’s eyes focused, the falcon has an additional third set of eyelids that produce tears to clean and clear its eyes, and a malar strip, a dark shaded stripe, under each to cut solar glare. 


Peregrine falcons can live up to 19 years and mate for life. But before that comes the courtship. First, the male takes flight and puts on a spectacular air show featuring his acrobatic skill at spirals and steep dives as well as his mastery of prey catching. The catch is then offered to the desired female. It gets tricky. If interested, the female joins the male mid-flight, flying upside down under him to accept this gift from his talons.

Door Dash Delivery. Photo John Weare

Next step: the female, weighing in at 30% more than the male, chooses her nest plot on a cliff edge and hollows out her nursery setting.That’s it. She does not feather her nest or add extra cushioning to this scrape where she will lay from one to five eggs. When hatched, both parents feed the growing chicks. Around 42-46 days after hatching the chicks are ready to test their wings and fledge though they stick around their parents for another two months or so before leaving the nest. The best time to view the fledgling Peregrines is June from the beach below the cliffs at the Torrey Pines Reserve or above along the Guy Fleming Trail. Meanwhile, when you spot a Peregrine flying about doing his or her business mid-dive, don’t blink.

Photo John Weare