Chicago Tribune photo

Chicago Tribune photo

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The peregrine falcon is a small, fast-flying elite predator capable of taking down birds 3 times its size.

Over the centuries, cultures have regarded the peregrine falcon as a royal bird. For Native Americans of the Mississippian culture (circa 800-1500), the bird symbolized celestial power and inspired many of the costumes that men of high status were buried in. During the Middle Ages, Western European nobles trained peregrines for hunting and regarded them as prince-like, second in hierarchy to the gyrfalcon, which they associated with kings.

Peregrines can cruse at up to 35 m.p.h., reaching nearly 70 m.p.h. when chasing prey. A peregrine diving with closed wings to catch food can clock an estimated speeds of more than 230 m.p.h.

Once nearing extinction because of DDT, peregrines made a remarkable comeback after the banning of the pesticide. Chicago in particular launched a program in the 1980s to protect the birds and help them thrive. Today peregrines can be found nesting in outer structures of skyscrapers and soaring above and throughout the Windy City.