The eventful history of a super hunter

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The peregrine falcon has a perfectly streamlined body. It is considered the fast
The peregrine falcon has a perfectly streamlined body. It is considered the fastest animal in the world and can accelerate to more than 200 km/h in a dive! Photo Ralph Martin

The peregrine falcon has an eventful history in Switzerland: Almost extinct due to pesticides, it made a comeback after they were banned. Now, however, new dangers are catching up with the fastest animal in the world.

Sempach. - If you go for a walk near rock faces, you may be lucky enough to spot mating peregrine falcons. The partners perform noisy swoops and thus strengthen their pair bond. This impressive natural spectacle would almost have disappeared from Switzerland: In the 1960s and 1970s, the population of peregrine falcons declined sharply worldwide due to the massive use of DDT and related pesticides. A few years later, the environmental toxins were banned and the peregrine falcon was placed under protection, whereupon its population made a spectacular comeback.

This development could also be observed in Switzerland, where only one successful breeding pair was found outside the Alpine region in 1971. Today, the peregrine falcon population is estimated at around 300 pairs again. The population development of the peregrine falcon in Switzerland is so well known, in particular thanks to censuses carried out by volunteers. In western Switzerland, for example, the census series spans the past 60 years, making it one of the longest population studies in the world!

So everything is fine? Not at all! The population has been declining again for several years, so that the peregrine falcon had to be placed on the Red List and is now considered "vulnerable". The decline of the peregrine falcon is particularly well documented in the Jura Arc, where the population has fallen by around 20 % in just over the last 10 years, as a new study by the Swiss Ornithological Institute based on data from dedicated counters shows.

One of the causes of the decline is the increase in the number of eagle owls, which are a natural predator of the peregrine falcon. But humans are also causing problems for the fast hunter. Illegal poisoning, which has made the headlines in recent years, is an increasing phenomenon that needs to be combated decisively. The Swiss Ornithological Institute is therefore involved in the Peregrine Falcon Working Group, which is coordinated by BirdLife Switzerland. However, disturbance caused by recreational activities on breeding cliffs is also a serious problem, as it can lead to birds abandoning their broods. The Swiss Ornithological Institute is working with partners to defuse conflicts between recreationists and rock breeders such as the peregrine falcon so that we can continue to experience the impressive mating displays of peregrine falcons in the future.