The peregrine falcon is the largest British falcon and perhaps the most impressive hunter of them all.

Peregrine Falcons and Humans

For many years, gamekeepers persecuted peregrines because of their liking for grouse, and their eggs have been prized by collectors. During the Second World War people were encouraged to shoot peregrines in case they caught homing pigeons which were carrying messages. However, it was the introduction of the deadly organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, in the 1950s, that caused the peregrine population to crash. The pesticides were sprayed on crops to kill insects etc. and instead of breaking down in the environment, they accumulated in the food chain. Peregrines are predators at the top of the food chain and their body tissues accumulated such large quantities of the poisonous chemicals from their prey that their breeding success was affected. Their eggs were either infertile or had fragile shells which broke easily.

Example of a food chain:

Plant - insect - meadow pipit - peregrine falcon

Many top predators, both bird and mammal, suffered from these poisonous chemicals, but fortunately they were finally banned in the mid 1970s, and since then the peregrine has been making a recovery. It is a specially protected bird under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and there are approximately 1,500 pairs in Britain. Where peregrines are nesting in places vulnerable to egg-collectors, they may be guarded by volunteers. Anyone caught trying to catch a peregrine or steal its eggs is liable to get quite a hefty fine.

 

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