There is a pair of peregrines that have apparently taken up residence somewhere near my office building. At random intervals, we can see them perched on the parapets of buildings surrounding ours - it's a perfect hunting ground for them, as this part of Cambridge is mostly single-digit-high office 'wedding cake' buildings surrounded by open spaces for roadways, lawns and park.
They're tantalizingly just out of reach of the naked eye's ability to discern detail. I know they're peregrines; several times, they have flown/soared past our windows, only ten or fifteen feet out and unable to see in by virtue of the energy-efficient mirrorcoating and hence unconcerned by our presence. They're the absolute top of their food chain around here, and act it; lazily wheeling around the sky with one eye cocked for pigeons or just sitting perched on buildings fluffing regally. Dark brown wingtops, with light tan/cream undersides, with dark grey/black spots on the breast and throat, which in flight looks like a slightly blurred spacecraft. They hold their wings out rigidly straight when soaring; almost perfectly perpendicular to their bodies. Rather than warping the whole wing, their flight feathers at the ends actually bend up in little winglets, which they twitch almost sub-visually to change direction in the airstream. From the front, they look like the Air Force's most persistent wet dream; stealthy, narrow, sharp, lethally hard to see, and from that angle consisting entirely of weapon (beak and talons) and sensors (eyes).
They don't make much noise, as befitting hunters. Still, I'm reminded, every time I see them, of my seventeenth birthday, which summer I spent working in the Raptor Research Center on Sapsucker Woods Road at Cornell University. There, I learned to talk to falcons perched nearby, or on my arm, or even how to cajole them down from the tops of their three-story-tall cages to have dinner or allow themselves to be moved so I could clean the cage. They are no less beautiful perched than in flight, although they are much, much sillier. The true silliness that is the stupidity of a bird (they have very small brains) is most apparent when they are attempting to interact with you at your own eye level when they're not in flight - and not least because when they're not flying, they're as awkward as a taxiing 747.
I hope they have a nest nearby. The fact that there's two together makes them a mated pair; I wouldn't think they'd be able to leave young in the nest alone this time of year, but my dad (raptor expert) assures me that by end of July, the young falcons are large enough to not be bothered by intruding small birds or squirrrels or what-have-you, and both parents will take off to hunt. So somewhere, around here, is (no doubt) an eyrie; whether it is busy with the gawkish rustlings of young birds or not I don't know, but I'd like to think so. Only a few years ago, these birds were on the top of the Endangered Species lists due to their vanishing habitats and hunting grounds; unlike most animals in that situation, however, falcons were saved because some smart people noticed that cities should be heaven for them (no predators, lots of pigeons to eat, tall buildings to roost on...) and they were right.
Posted by jbz at July 30, 2004 4:21 PM