Book: On the Wing

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On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon

Author: Alan Tennant
Publisher: Knopf

In this extraordinary narrative, Alan Tennant, a passionate observer of nature, recounts his all-out effort to radio-track the transcontinental migration of the peregrine falcon—an investigation no one before him had ever taken to such lengths.

On the Wing transports us from the windswept flats of the Texas barrier islands—where the tundra falcons pause during their springtime journey north—to the Arctic, and then south, through Mexico, Belize, and into the Caribbean, in a hilariously picaresque and bumpy flight. At the helm is Tennant’s partner in falcon-chasing, George Vose, a septuagenarian World War II vet who trusts his instincts as much as his instruments. As the two men nearly lose their lives and run afoul of the law in the race to keep their birds in view and their rattletrap Cessna gassed up and running, Tennant renders with gorgeous precision and skill the landscape and wildlife they pass on the way and the falcons that direct their course.

On the Wing is a breath-taking encounter with these majestic birds—the icons of pharaohs, Oriental emperors, and European nobility—whose fierce mien, power, and swiftness have fired the human imagination for centuries. An unforgettable and mesmerizing tale that speaks to all our dreams of flight.


On a mission to map the migration of the peregrine falcon, Alan Tennant and his friend George Vose logged thousands of miles in a rattletrap Cessna. On the Wing is as much quest narrative as nature book, and the tale of the two men's voyage is unforgettable. At their first meeting, when Tennant suggested that they track a radio-tagged falcon by air, WWII vet Vose assessed naturalist Tennant with a keen eye. "Aviation takes intestinal fortitude, Mister. You were pretty green up there today. Calm air, too." Nevertheless, Tennant convinced the gruff pilot that the project was worthy, and they set off, soaring north over the dunes of Gulf Coast barrier islands. The falcon was just a beeping signal to them most of the time, but they became obsessed with its movements. In the small cockpit, they shared extremes of disappointment and elation as they dealt with bad weather, lost signals, run-ins with the Army, and equipment problems. They ended up posing as highway patrol officers, crossing international borders, and risking their lives in order to keep on the track of their wayward subject. Threaded into the funny and moving adventure story, Tennant scatters casual snippets of science--peregrine falcon biology, pesticide toxicology, and the little-understood fact of animal migration itself. The facts never get in the way of the fun, though--this is real Wild Kingdom action. --Therese Littleton

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