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Issue 29 - Speed kings

Scotland Magazine Issue 29
October 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Speed kings

There is no faster animal than the Peregrine Falcon. Graham Holliday looks at where you can find them in Scotland

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on the planet. With its one metre wide wings swept back, this slate grey blue bird of prey can stoop from very high, dropping like a stone reaching speeds of around 185mph.

The Peregrine is resident year round in Scotland. Despite a history of persecution mainly from landowners, egg collectors and through poisoning from pesticides the species is widespread throughout the whole of the country.

It tends to prefer rocky and remote sea coasts, however it can often be seen in nature reserves such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at the Falls of Clyde, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserves of Loch Gruinart on Islay, Loch Ruthven in the Highlands, and on Forestry Commission land such as in the glacial “V” carved glen of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Stirling.

The fastest ever recorded Peregrine hit an astonishing 245mph. They dive at such fantastic speeds predominantly to attack songbirds and pigeons which form the major part of their diet.

They can kill birds as large as pheasants, geese and even swans. However, they make sure to attack the bird on the wing. Accuracy is key as hitting the body at such high speeds could prove fatal for both the hunted and the hunter.

There are around 700 breeding pairs of Peregrines in Scotland. The females are larger than the males and they lay a maximum of four eggs from mid-June onwards.

Each year the Falls Of Clyde reserve run Operation Peregrine during which visitors are encouraged to view the nest and learn about the birds. The nest is very well protected and 27 chicks have hatched since the ‘watch’ scheme started in 1997. Bird watchers can observe the birds from a hide with telescopes and binoculars.

During the summer of 2006 all four chicks hatched and took to the skies.

Reserve manager Stephen Blow described the event: “Within six weeks the chicks were as big as their parents and took to the air. It is amazing that their skills develop so fast.

“Here at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Falls of Clyde Reserve, visitors can enjoy a wildlife adventure unfolding before their very eyes.

Flying practice takes place constantly until the chicks have total confidence and become true masters of the skies.” Operation Peregrine is now a firm fixture on the calendar at Falls of Clyde. Visitors can also see sparrowhawks and tawny owls along with any number of warblers, tits and wrens in among the waterfalls and woods.

Further north in among the Wild Woods of the Bin Forest in Aberdeenshire there is the Huntly Peregrine Wild Watch Centre. There are wardens on hand to help, information displays, a live television link to the nest and a short 20-30 minute trail through open woodland through which bird watchers walk to reach the hide. The birds nest in an old quarry.

Where to see Peregrines

Falls of Clyde, New Lanark
Open daily, admission £3
Tel: +44 (0)1555 665 262

Loch Ruthven, Highlands
Tel: +44 (0)1463 715 000

Loch Gruinart, Islay
Tel: +44 (0)1496 850 505

The Bin Forest, Aberdeenshire
Tel: +44 (0)1466 794 161

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Stirling
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 383

Wildlife holidays

Several tour operators run bird watching trips that focus on the Peregrine falcon:

Isle of Mull Wildlife Expeditions, Ulva Ferry, Mull
Tel: +44 (0)1688 500 121

Isle of Mull Island Encounter, Wildlife & Bird-watching Safaris, Aros, Isle of Mull
Tel: +44 (0)1680 300 441

Glenlivet Wildlife, Cairngorms National Park
Tel: +44 (0)1807 590 241

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