Hands-On Peregrine Falcon Research at The Raptors

One of the trickiest "design" issues I faced while creating the story world for my Cael Stone series was figuring out how the inhabitants communicate over long distances. Cell phones are obviously out of the question in a fantasy story and I knew I needed something besides simple messengers on horseback. The sheer size of the world I wanted to play in was just too big! So I tossed around a number of ideas -- even before the story itself had really settled in my mind. I considered some sort of magical stones or crystals (or other objects). I also thought about giving my race of humans dominant magical gifts -- one of which would be the ability to communicate telepathically (or some other way) over long distances. But none of these ideas really stuck with me and just seemed awkward to work a story around. 

I also thought about the use of birds -- just like how we here in the real world had once commonly used pigeons to deliver messages. J.K. Rowling used owls in the Harry Potter books to deliver the mail (and new broomsticks), and George R.R. Martin has been using ravens in his Song of Ice and Fire series. That was when I remembered a book I had read as a kid and that had always stood out for me as one of my favorites. A book called My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It tells the story of a young boy named Sam who runs away from home to go live in the mountains and how he captures a young peregrine falcon and trains him to help hunt for food. And although I did give it a lot of thought, this was the one that finally stuck: I wanted to use peregrines for the messenger role in my world.

I didn't originally intend for the falcons to have the role that they do in the first two books of my series, but that's just the way the story came to me once I made the decision to use them and sat down to start writing. Perhaps my rereading My Side of the Mountain at some point during this time and remembering how much I'd loved the story inspired the greater significance -- especially for Adena's brother, Jared.

As I read more about them (so I could hopefully write about them in a realistic way) I was surprised to learn that their primary food source is actually pigeons and other small birds (I had always assumed it was mostly rodents). And that peregrines are considered the fastest creatures on the planet (with dive speeds over 200 mph!). I also read that pigeons were used to carry important messages during the first and second World Wars and that falcons were used to bring them down. There was even an animated movie based on this (Valiant, 2005) and I've now added it to my list of movies to watch!

Anyway … I figured reading about peregrines would only get me so far and that it would be much better to get some hands-on experience. I wish I had done it sooner, but finally got around to it yesterday. And what a great time! My husband and I traveled to Duncan, a small town on Vancouver Island, and spent a couple of hours at a bird of prey discovery center called The Raptors. They have a variety of raptors -- including eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and vultures -- and all are available for close-up viewing. They also conduct daily flying demonstrations as well as hands-on "raptor experiences" (like the one we had) and longer courses over several days. I got to hang out with a beautiful two year-old peregrine named Adonis and can definitely say the photos do not do him justice … a truly amazing creature and a truly amazing day! Gave me just the boost I needed to get back to work on the second book in my series!

© Colleen Ruttan 2020