The Irish Times reports that the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest bird in the world, is making a slow and steady comeback in Ireland, according to a recent survey of peregrines, which saw over 400 breeding pairs recorded across the country.
Peregrines traditionally breed in rugged uplands and coastal cliffs, but they are moving into buildings and quarries.
“They are now present in many of our cities and towns,” says Ryan Wilson-Parr, chairman of the Irish Raptor Study Group (IRSG). One of the most prominent nesting locations is an eyrie on Poolbeg Chimneys overlooking Dublin bay, though they also nest in cathedrals and churches.
Peregrine Falcons: Powerful and Fast-flying Predators
Typically peregrines prey on other birds, catching songbirds, waders, pigeons, and ducks. “They can strike their prey from above in a stoop dive, at speeds of over 300km/h, knocking them out in mid-air,” says Wilson-Parr. “At Poolbeg, they can drop down 200m off the chimney into a spectacular headlong pursuit of wading birds along the mudflats.”
The survey, which involved the IRSG and the National Parks and Wildlife Service and 260 volunteers, found a 5 percent increase in breeding pairs since the last national survey, 15 years ago.
They are widespread nationally, but most numerous in mountainous regions in Wicklow and Mayo and coastal areas in Cork, Kerry, and Donegal.
Peregrine populations are still recovering from devastating declines in the 1960s linked to DDT, a pesticide, which caused thin eggshells and breeding failure.
“Although the peregrine recovery is a conservation success story, protection from persecution is still a concern for the authorities in certain locations,” says Wilson-Parr.
Conflict Over Peregrine’s Preferred Prey
Peregrines hunt doves and pigeons, which has brought them into conflict with racing-pigeon owners.
In one notorious incident, a live pigeon was staked close to a peregrine nest in Waterford and laced with poison.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service brought prosecutions against four of those involved. Peregrines are legally protected, and the service monitors activity at nest sites.