I saw my first Peregrine Falcon about 20 years ago at a mountain fair in upstate New York on an early autumn late afternoon. It was misty and foggy from an earlier rain, as we stood at the base of a steep hill waiting for the falconer to arrive.
Walking through the mist, as though it were staged precisely that way, came the falconer, with his falcon perched, hooded, on the massive glove that the falconer wore to portect his hand and wrist from the bird's talons. Peregrines are a bit less than two feet long, with a wingspan between three and four feet. The falconer explained that he would release the bird, and that the bird would most likely fly straight uphill, as Peregrines like swooping down on their prey and snatching it from mid-air.
True to his word, he unhooded and released the Peregrine, who flew straight up the steep hill beside us, far from view. The falconer then reached into his leather backpack and took out "the bait" which was a dead pigeon tied to a long leather cord.
He started to swing the bait in a circle above his head, making sure we all stood back. He asked us to be very quiet.
Out of the blue came the most unholy sound I may have ever heard - it was the attack-cry of the falcon as he swooped down the hill like a bullet, his wings folded back as he did a straight dive for the pigeon. It was a sound that must have escaped from everyone's nightmares.
Peregrins have been known to dive at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, and have special nasal adaptations that allow them to actually dive at that speed and breathe at the same time.
So through the mist was the slice of this piercing bird screm, a blur of motion, the sound of a "thud" as the bird hit the prey, a flash of feathers and it was over. The falcon was 10 meters away, eating.
The falconer yanked back the prey and made the bird hunt for it again, and then finally just let him have it.
And here I sit 20 years later remembering that moment frozen in time -- that moment of mist and bird and the scream of the hunt. It was bone-chilling. Bone-chilling not because it was a bird diving for a pigeon, but because somewhere in that misty, fog-drenched afternoon, something in that bird echoed something in us.
And no one really wants to hear that echo.