"He is here!" My friend called from Uttara and screamed, "He is here, he is here!" I knew who he was talking about. We have been awaiting his arrival since we saw him there last winter. We had hoped that he would come to the same place again. And so he has, finally.
My friend's excitement was palpable, and for a good reason too. Since mid-November he has been looking up, in vain, to the high perch where we found him before. Pandemic has given us the leisure to indulge more in such trivial pursuits! My poor friend had been checking the empty perch and sharing his disappointment with me often till yesterday.
Today the perch is not empty. Our guest has arrived by traversing the entire continent after leaving the freezing north back to the warmth of Dhaka City. Pandemic imposes no travel restrictions on this wanderer who is universally acknowledged as the fastest traveler on earth.
The Guinness Book of World Records says that a Peregrine Falcon's flight was clocked at 389.46 km per hour! That kind of fine measurement of a falcon in flight was made possible by fastening a computer chip to the bird in Washington in 2005. A speed approaching four hundred kilometers an hour is unthinkable for any living being except Peregrine Falcon.
I remember that Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, was clocked at 44.72 km per hour. Peregrine Falcon moves nine times faster than Bolt! It is nearly four times faster than Cheetah, the fastest creature on the ground.
I drove down to Uttara to find the falcon perched on its favorite pole, right behind a large dish antenna. Down below, people were going about their business quite oblivious of the global speed champion sitting just a hundred meters above them. We took a ring-side seat atop the roof of my friend's residence to observe and photograph the grandeur called Peregrine Falcon.
We watched the bird the whole evening. With its phenomenal sight, the bird must also have seen us shaking with excitement some seventy meters below. But it did not give two hoots about us. I could bet that the bird was a mature female. Was I smitten by its elegance and nonchalance! No, it is not the beauty or grace by which you can tell the sexes apart; for falcons the size matters. A female peregrine is about one and a half to two times larger than a male. I would say, the bird towering over us was too big for a male falcon and likely to be a stout female.
The falcon had a good reason to take the high perch and stay hidden behind the dish antenna. From that vantage point it was watching the flocks of pigeons, parakeets and starlings fly down below on the way to their roost. It sat with the body arched and wing cocked, ever ready to dive like a bolt from the blue on an unwary flock and kill a bird to make a meal for the day. No wonder, it wished no bird to see the menacing hunter above them and raise alarm.
In Keraniganj once we saw a Peregrine Falcon strike a flying pigeon and carry the hapless prey hanging from its talons. The doomed pigeon was heavier than the falcon. The falcon was quite pleased to carry that heavy burden. We witnessed the falcon sit atop an electric pylon to pluck and devour the pigeon. We felt a little sorry for the pigeon but a lot happier for the falcon.
At Uttara we watched the falcon make several attempts to hunt without success. The prudent pigeons, parakeets and starlings were flying low, just above the rooftops. It would not be possible for a falcon to dive at high speed to that level and recover without hitting a building. After every dive the falcon returned to its perch; empty taloned.
The sun was setting over Sector 12; the day was done. Poor falcon was yet to catch a bird, probably, her first meal of the day. We realised that a hunter's life could be hard even when it had the global speed record in the bag.
The Peregrine Falcon population had dwindled precipitously all over the world a hundred back. In the 1940s people feared that the species would go extinct in a few decades. Efforts were made to find the causes of its decline; and widespread use of the pesticide DDT was found to be the main culprit. Popular movement eventually resulted in a global ban on DDT. Captive breeding of Peregrine Falcon was also undertaken in many countries. Thanks to those efforts we can see the Peregrine Falcon in Uttara today.
As we watched the falcon in the darkening sky I thought of Rachel Carson. Her book, Silent Spring, stimulated the falcon conservation movement. She was a zoology teacher at John Hopkins University and did related research for the Fish and Wildlife Services of USA. She wrote on how the aerial spraying of DDT was decimating the falcons, eagles and other birds. She lamented that soon there would be no bird to sing in the spring. Her requiem moved many conservationists to action. The DDT producers did not fail to fight. They called Rachel a 'cat-loving spinster' and mocked her plea for prohibiting DDT. People, however, chose to save the birds; not the DDT producers.
Peregrine Falcon came back from the very brink of extinction. Today, it thrives in all continents of the world except Antarctica. The population of peregrine has been increasing worldwide although the other falcons are doing rather poorly. Peregrine's recovery is an exceptional success story of conservation efforts.
The number of Peregrine Falcon has been growing in big cities of six continents over the past decades. Towering antennas dotting the city-scape have become convenient places for its hunting platform. It has also learnt to nest on the roof of sky-scraper as well as it does on its traditional nesting site, the hill-top. Increasing population of feral pigeons in the cities has been supplying the peregrine with its prey.
Shouldn't we be thrilled to see in our city this global speed champion and a great survivor and be thankful to its rescuers like Rachel Carson!