Of all the birds likely to be encountered while walking in the Lake District, the peregrine is surely supreme.
A singularly beautiful raptor, with a back of slate grey, breast of speckled buff and lower underparts barred, it has white cheeks and a black ‘moustache’. The cere and large black-taloned legs and feet and the skin surrounding the piercing eyes are all a brilliant gold. Its majestic appearance therefore, when perched upon some rocky crag, surveying the valley below for prey, is striking in the extreme; but it is when in flight that the sheer magic of the peregrine is revealed.
Said to be ‘the fastest living thing’, speeds in excess of 180mph have been claimed when in its dive or ‘stoop’. However it is not only its speed that is breathtaking, but its manoeuvrability too. A peregrine will dive down onto its prey with such force that it can decapitate a pigeon in flight, loop the loop and catch the falling carcase as it heads towards the ground. In recent years peregrines have found it profitable to hunt in towns and cities at night, when migrating birds flying overhead are illuminated from below by the glow of streetlamps. Launching themselves from tall buildings and then swooping upwards has been adopted as a regular pattern of attack.
The food pass is equally enthralling. When there are young at the ‘nest’ the male or tiercel returning with prey will be met by the falcon, on a collision course, and as they close they rear up, almost breast to breast, and the prey is deftly passed from the talons of the tiercel to those of the falcon, who will turn and carry it back to the waiting young.
Peregrines do not build nests, but rather they adopt a cliff or quarry ledge, a disused nest such as that of the raven, or even some suitable position on a tall building. They are fully protected by law and must not be disturbed, but those who are lucky enough to see their mastery of flight will witness an unforgettable spectacle.