Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is Peregrine Falcon the worst bird in the ABA Area?

A Peregrine harasses this poor, helpless Short-eared Owl as it searches for a spot to roost on Southeast Farallon Island.
The ABA area has a lot of contenders for worst bird – American Crow, House Sparrow, Yellow Warbler. Some people hate Brown-headed Cowbirds for their uncanny ability to threaten the populations of the critically endangered Kirtland's Warbler (one of the ABA's best birds) among countless other passerine species by laying their eggs in the other's nest.  Personally, I rather like BHCO.  I find it fascinating that they've evolved the unscrupulous ability to mess with other birds so badly. And let's be honest, Kirtland's Warbler wouldn't be quite so alluring if it wasn't on the precipice of extinction.  A world with an endless supply of Kirtland's Warblers would be a cruel one indeed.
This Kirtland's Warbler patiently waits for a mate and is probably praying to god that its nest isn't targeted by cruel-hearted brood parasite, the Brown-headed Cowbird.  Lucky for it, the US Forest Service actively traps cowbirds on this patch of forest in Grayling, MI.  Even more lucky for it, it doesn't have to worry much, if at all, about death by Peregrine.

However, most people plainly agree on one thing.  Ask almost any birder, bird watcher, or bird enthusiast what they think of the ever more abundant Peregrine Falcon, and you will hear a number of phrases ranging from "epic" to "freaking awesome" to "badass" to "they're cool just because" to "the fastest animal on the planet" to "one of the most impressive and successful conservation initiatives ever in the history of the universe."

Despite its resumé, I have never understood the typical birder's obsession with Falco peregrinus.  A classic article in The Onion argues that "Peregrine Falcon [is] acting pretty cocky since being taken off the endangered species list".  While some people refer to Peregrines as an “apex predator," in reality PEFA is the bully of the bird world.
Surely this bird is up to no good.
I can't even begin to conceive how many rare birds (dare I say first Lower 48 records?) have been stripped from the air on their way to Southeast Farallon Island by a patrolling Peregrine before their shear existence was ever even dreamed up by island biologists.  I can at least say with a high degree of confidence that just about every vagrant and mega that has ever set foot on that island met its demise in the scaly palm of a PEFA.  How can you really defend this cruel beast when the fate of your lists might depend on it?

Listen, I’m all for a good predator-prey interaction, but how many innocent vagrants have to take their final breath while being crushed and skewered by a pair of these raptorial talons?  Sure they’re graceful avian athletes, vigilant and mighty predators of the sky.  Sure they have evolved some tremendous abilities to catch a wide variety of avian prey from shorebirds to ducks to songbirds to urban pigeons.  Sure their bodies are anatomically and physiologically built to be both aerodynamic and incredibly powerful.  Sure, watching them fly and hunt is breathtaking to say the least.  Some would even say that they are truly noble and incredible birds.  I just don’t like losing lifers to their stomachs. 
A peregrine Falcon perches on granite boulder on Southeast Farallon Island, patiently formulating a plan for how it will consume its next vagrant victum.
I watched SEFI’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler of 2013 extracted from the sky by a juvenile anatum.  Some of us found the remains of the island’s first Long-eared Owl of the year ruthlessly and surreptitiously killed by one of the island’s resident falcons.  Many have argued that this behavior adds to their intrigue.  I need not restate my opinion.
Shorebird watching becomes a truly laborious task when a Peregrine Falcon is around.  Have they no consideration for others?
Indeed the success of the Peregrine is widely appreciated by conservation biologists.  The cause of their near demise was pinpointed, and actions were taken—including the banning of DDT, a harmful pesticide, which caused the thinning of eggshells in many species of birds—that resulted in relatively rapid repopulation throughout much of its range.  In some ways, the success of this initiative gives conservationists hope and great encouragement for the future of the conservation movement.  Yet in some ways it causes my lists and I great pain.

Peregrines appear to have it all; the charisma, the power, the hearts and minds of the people and conservationists (nobody likes a showoff).  My point is that if everybody likes it, it’s probably not that cool (if you’re under the age of 35 you probably live by this motto whether you know/like it or not).  So by this alone, I would argue that PEFAs are the most overrated and least interesting bird that the ABA, if not the world, has to offer...  

...Ok, maybe they’re pretty cool ;)
Yeah I guess they are pretty magnificent.


  1. Luke, I KNOW you think they're cool!
    Kate St. John, Pittsburgh

    1. Of course I think they're cool. Just making fun of a bird in the context of birding. I'm assuming everyone knows that I can't possibly be serious.

  2. Sounds like a good deal of anthropomorphic nonsense to tell you the truth.