The great wanderer

Peregrine Falcon (Photo courtesy of ODFW)

The word “peregrine” means wanderer or pilgrim. Peregrine is a perfect name for this falcon that lives on several oceanic islands and every continent except Antarctica.

Humans and Peregrine falcons have history. Humans have trained falcons as a hunting partners for thousands of years.

This knowledge and experience became critical between 1950-1970 when populations were wiped out by DDT poisoning. Populations in captivity and handling techniques were used to help re-establish populations and save this species.

After significant recovery efforts, Peregrine Falcon populations have rebounded with an estimated global breeding population of around 140,000.  They are now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas, reside in Oregon, and the species was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.

Super Bird

Peregrine falcons have such amazing skills they dwarf comic book super heros. To start with they are, without a doubt, the fastest bird alive.

SPEED: General traveling flight is only around 25-34 mph, In pursuit, these numbers dramatically change to nearly 69 mph, with spectacular skydives reaching speeds of 240 mph.

These skydives, called stoops, begin 300–3,000 feet above their prey. The falcon tucks its pointy wings tightly to the body to maximize speed. It then either strikes or grabs the prey hard enough to stun or kill.

Peregrine falcon hunting (royalty free Unsplash)

HUNTING TECHNIQUES: Other hunting techniques include selecting birds out of a large flock, level pursuit, and ground hunting. If you see a sudden eruption of a peaceful flock, a Peregrine is most likely nearby. Some of the flock may be trying to mob the Peregrine and drive it off.

FLEXIBLE DIET: Prey predominantly includes primarily birds, but can include bats, rodents, fish and prey pirated from other raptors.  Falcons consume over 450 North American species. Worldwide diet choices can run upward of 2,000 choices worldwide.

This can include birds ranging from a large Sandhill Crane to a tiny hummingbird. More typical prey species include shorebirds, ptarmigan, ducks, gulls, pigeons, and songbirds.

FEW PREDATORS: Predators include eagles, Great Horned owls, Gyrfalcons, and other peregrines.

SHARED CHARACTERISTICS: All falcons have some shared characteristics that includes: a conspicuously toothed and notched bill, a nasal cone, and pointed wings which may span over 44 inches.

Nesting

It is not unusual to find a 24/7 camera poised on a Peregrine falcon nest perched on a tall building in the city.  Peregrines will perch and nest on any open tall structure such as a skyscraper, water tower, power structures, bridges, rim of the Grand Canyon, in trees on steep slopes, and more.

They typically create a nest about one-third down the cliff face anywhere from 25 to 1,300 feet high. The nest itself is pretty minimal ‘scrape’ about nine inches across and two inches deep. 

In a pinch, falcons will select abandoned nests created by other birds such as, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk.

Superstar Chicks

At birth, this baby is entirely helpless with closed eyes. Yet, the tiny falcon chick will work up to 36 hours to peck free of it shell. This amazingly, difficult process has been the focus of many morning  falcon-cam programs. 

Juveniles have many vertical bars on their breasts. Adults also have the barred under breast, with blue-gray feathers above and a dark head with thick sideburns. This barred look is standard across all ages and geographic variation.

Where to find them

Peregrines inhabit open landscapes from tundra to deserts when not nesting. Areas include coastlines, barrier islands, lake edges, mudflats, and cliff sides. They may also be found near concentrations of prey, such as Rock Pigeons.

Peregrines in the Arctic tundra will migrate to South American earning their high mileage discount by covering as much as 15,500 miles in one year.  Their sharp homing instinct will lead them back to favored nesting spots which may have been in continuous use for hundreds of years, by successive falcon generations. 

JUST FOR FUN! Take an amazing virtual ride on the back of a trained falcon named Genghis at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/p/peregrine-falcon/

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, raptors (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/raptors
–All About Birds, Cornell (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Peregrine_Falcon/lifehistory)

Chinook salmon

The Chinook salmon is an important keystone species of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It is a vital food source for a diversity of wildlife, including orca whales, bears, seals, and large birds of prey. Chinook salmon is also prized by people who harvest salmon both commercially and for sport. Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon species. On average, these fish are 3 feet long and approximately 30 pounds, but some individuals can grow to over 5 feet long and 110 pounds! Chinook salmon live about three to seven years. Juvenile salmon stay in freshwater habitat for the first year or so, before moving to the estuaries and then the open ocean. Estuaries provide a lot of food and nutrients to the developing salmon. The fish will spend approximately two to four years feeding in the ocean before returning to the spawning grounds to breed and die.

 

The Chinook Salmon is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Sacramento River winter-run population in California is classified as endangered wherever it is found. Other naturally spawned populations in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are classified as threatened. Why the Chinook and other Pacific Northwest salmon have declined is no mystery. The causes are known as “the four H’s”: harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydroelectric power. Harvest refers to the overfishing of these species by commercial fishing interests. Habitat refers to the degradation of habitat, usually by pollutants or sediment in the water that make it uninhabitable by the salmon or their eggs. Captive-bred hatchery fish, released in the waterways used by native fish, compete and interbreed with the natives, weakening their stocks. Hydroelectric dams have had perhaps the largest impact, blocking migration routes and changing the quality, quantity, rate of flow, and temperature of the water in rivers, lakes, and tributary streams that once supported tens of millions of salmon. Protection of Chinook salmon is crucial to maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems and to provide a delicious food source for years to come.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
Abraham Lincoln

A skunk’s publicity, as referenced above, would be its chemical defense system. All skunks have a highly developed, musk-filled scent glands (even the babies have developed the glands by day eight).

The pungent musk can be sprayed from two special glands near the skunk’s anus up to 10 feet away about five times before running out of fluid. It takes about ten days for the musk to be fully regenerated.

Predators

Ernest Thompson Seton (one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America) described the oily, yellow-colored musk as a perfume with the essence of garlic, burning sulfur and sewer gas “magnified a thousand times.”

As such, the skunk has few natural predators which include cougars, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, foxes, and predatory bird such as eagles and owls. Hunting a skunk, and the associated risks, make this a ‘starvation’ choice rather than a normal act.

Their black and white coloring makes skunks highly visible during the day and fairly invisible at night when they are most active. The coloring may not be for camouflage but as a warning advertisement for other animals. This strategy is called ‘aposematism’ and is used by many insects, birds, and other mammals.  

Except for Human Predators

Humans trapped and captively bred skunk for their fur and sometimes as pets. At one time skunk fur was highly sought after. Compared to other animals the fur is more durable and has a rich luster.

Skunk furs were the second most harvested animals after the muskrat. In the late 1890s, skunk farming became popular as a way to meet foreign trade demands. Captive selective breeding and selecting is fairly simple compared to other fur animals. There was high demands for blacker pelts. Skunk faming did not generate a great deal of revenue.

A pet or meal?

Some folks adopted skunks as pets and used them to rid barns of mice and rats. Skunks are highly adaptable to human-conditions and are easy to tame compared to other animals.

Skunk meat was eaten by trappers and indigenous people, and sought after by Chinese immigrants not only for the met but some medical properties. The meat has been described as “white, tender, sweet and more delicate than chicken.”  Maybe that is where the phrase “tastes like chicken” came from. You think?

Prey

Striped skunks frequently consume insects and their most favorite insect is the yellow jacket. Skunks are immune to the yellow jacket venom and will dig up their underground nest and eat the bees as they escape.

In the winter, skunks supplement their diet with mice, voles, and other small mammals. They will also feed on eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds, crabs, and beached fish, and vegetable matter (such as fruit, corn, and nightshade vegetables).

Home, Stinky, Home

Skunks make their homes in the ground, under buildings, and in hollow logs and often den communally. They will inhabit unused dens from other animals. They typically occupy dens during late fall, winter, and early spring for rearing kits.

REFERENCE:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Weasels, Skunks, Badgers, and Otters (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/weasels-skunks-badgers-and-otters)
–Brainy Quotes (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lloyd_doggett_307751?src=t_skunk)
–Wikipedia, Ernest Thompson Seton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Thompson_Seton), Aposematism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aposematism), and Striped Skunk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_skunk)
–Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden (https://www.cmnh.org/perkins-wildlife-home/woods-garden/striped-skunk)