By Pat Pepper
Could this be the year our beloved Falcons finally win a Super Bowl? If a team’s chosen mascot can influence its performance on the field, then we stand a very good chance of winning. The Atlanta Falcon’s logo is, of course, a very stylized, artistic falcon. However, as I stared at that red and black Falcon logo, I came to the conclusion that it had to be a Peregrine Falcon.
Falcons hold my attention more than any other bird I have seen. I have watched the small Falcons, Kestrels and Merlins, and the larger ones, Aplomado, Prairie, Gyrfalcon, and Peregrine.
All these Falcons are worthy of admiration, but the Peregrine is in a class by itself. All of North America has the chance of spotting a Peregrine at some time of the year. In Georgia, we can see them on the coast in winter and during fall and spring, they can be spotted inland.
What makes the Peregrine such a perfect football mascot?
- They are extremely steady fliers able to fly long distances under their own power rather than relying on thermals as vultures do.
- Regardless of their environment, they use their lightning speed to pursue and overtake their prey. They have been clocked diving at over 200mph, the highest speed of any creature known to man.
- The Peregrine’s face sports black patches, which minimize glare allowing them to better see their prey.
- They have almost entirely black heads, thus inspiring very cool black football helmets.
The very shadow of a Peregrine Falcon can strike fear in the hearts of smaller birds. I was standing on an overlook of the Pacific Ocean at Cape Flattery, WA, looking down at a flock of Black Oystercatchers sunning themselves on some rocks.
Suddenly, all the Oystercatchers abruptly took flight. I wondered what had spooked them when I saw on the rocks the unmistakable silhouette of a Peregrine Falcon. At a stoop (dive) of over 200mph, those Oystercatchers knew they had better not stick around.
Peregrines can be seen in remote areas like Cape Flattery or in very crowded areas like an Orlando theme park. One Christmas holiday I made the mistake of going to a large theme park. I was exhausted from standing in long lines, so I sat down on a somewhat out of the way bench wishing I were in a quiet field birding. As I looked around, I thought I spotted a bird of prey sitting atop a fake pyramid. I badly wanted my binoculars but had to settle for my naked eyes. The more I stared at this bird, the more I was sure it was a Peregrine. He confirmed his identity when he quickly took flight aiming at a flock of pigeons in the air. Whack! Talons outstretched, he had his prey.
That was the greatest thrill ride of the day for me, and it was free to all.
You cannot get sentimental about pigeons.
As a final note, the word Pigeon and the word Patriot are too close for comfort for those New Englanders. Get ready for a new New England staple: Pigeon Pot Pie! Go Falcons!!
Most photos are courtesy of Cornell Labs.
Some Falcon facts taken from the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Crossley’s ID Guide.