The Peregrine: the fastest animal in the world!

The Peregrine Falcon is a very specialized hunter: it only feeds on birds caught in mid-flight.

He’s therefore developing two techniques. The first is relatively classic, it consists in pursuing the potential prey in horizontal flight. In the case of the peregrine, the speed of pursuit can reach 100 km/h! This ability allows them to capture birds like the common swift.

The second technique is even more impressive and exclusive to the peregrine falcon. This is a hunting stoop, started several hundred meters high, in order to swoop down on a prey that has seen nothing. This dive can reach the phenomenal speed of 400 km/h! Therefore the peregrine falcon is considered the fastest animal in the world!

But that's not all. Diving at 400 km/h is quite unique, but the objective is to capture a prey that is flying. And who says in flight says in motion. The peregrine must therefore make his vertical fall coincide with the horizontal flight of the potential prey – the expected prey. How to achieve it? Researchers have discovered that the peregrine's retina has two foveae*, one allows lateral monocular vision, the other binocular vision. The peregrine therefore initially locates his prey in lateral vision. He thus follows it in the first phase of the dive, this allows him to adapt his trajectory to that of the coveted prey. Then, when the prey is near, the falcon uses the second fovea. His vision is then binocular: ideal for capturing.

Of course, observing a hunting peregrine falcon is particularly difficult, as the action is fast-paced and often takes place high in the sky. We nevertheless suggest that you observe the results of these exceptional hunts. Camera 2 of the cathedral films two gargoyles located 60 m high, with Brussels in the background. These gargoyles are the favorite landing points of the peregrine pair of the cathedral when they return from hunting with prey. The images are magnificent, instructive, rare!

When it arrives on the gargoyle, the falcon plucks its prey, i.e. it plucks most of the feathers, and particularly all the remiges (large wing feathers) and all the rectrices (tail feathers ). The prey is then either eaten, or brought to the falcon chick(s), or further stored, at the base of the gargoyle or in a hiding place under a louvre. Yes, the peregrine falcons are stocking up their prey!

The videos in the appendix show, via camera 2, the peregrines of the cathedral posed on a gargoyle at the very top of the north tower.

*The fovea is a hypersensitive area in the center of the eye, this is where the vision of details is the most precise.

blog 22042023 video 1. The male peregrine of the cathedral returns from hunting a song thrush.

blog 22042023 video 2. The male peregrine of the cathedral returns from hunting a starling.

blog 22042023 video 3. The male peregrine eats a pigeon that he forgot to pluck, but…. !

blog 22042023 video 4. The female peregrine of the cathedral comes in the early morning to collect prey from the day before. A green woodpecker!