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Stoops to conquer

Young peregrine falcons must practice diving for a kill.

The coast of Cornwall is the territory of one of the most highly-specialised of hunting birds - the peregrine falcon - and pigeons are one of its favourite prey. The peregrine falcon watches the fast-flying pigeons from high in the sky. Wings drawn back, it dives at the pigeon, reaching speeds of 200 miles an hour. A hit with the talons at this speed kills the pigeon instantly. The peregrine returns to its nest to feed its two chicks. It must kill several times a day to feed them adequately. After five weeks the chicks are fully fledged and ready for their first flight. They start with experimental outings, getting used to the air in their wings. Ten days later they are confident enough to chase a seagull but a high-speed pounce takes a lot of learning as it means throwing the legs forward with talons outstretched. A sibling's tail makes good target practice. They perfect the roll that starts a dive and the pumping of the wings that generates incredible speed. Like so much play, it is all useful for later life. In an advanced lesson, an adult carries a wounded pigeon and drops it in mid-air for the youngster to catch. It is the youngster's first kill. In a month the young peregrine will be the swiftest of all the world's hunters.

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4 minutes