Learn About Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), is a cosmopolitan bird of prey in the family Falconidae. It is a large, with a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head. The upper beak is notched near the tip, an adaptation which enables falcons to kill prey by severing the spinal column at the neck.

The Peregrine Falcon has a body length of 34–50 cm (13–20 in) and a wingspan of around 80–120 cm (31–47 in). The male and female have similar markings and plumage, but as in many birds of prey the Peregrine Falcon displays marked reverse sexual dimorphism in size, with the female measuring up to 30 percent larger than the male. Males weigh 440–750 g, and the noticeably larger females weigh 910–1500 g.

The Peregrine Falcon is often stated to be the fastest animal on the planet in its hunting dive, the stoop, which involves soaring to a great height and then diving steeply at speeds commonly said to be over 322 km/h (200 mph), and hitting one wing of its prey so as not to harm itself on impact.

The air pressure from a 200 mph (320 km/h) dive could possibly damage a bird’s lungs, but small bony tubercles in a falcon’s nostrils, called baffles, guide the shock waves of the air entering the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving by reducing the change in air pressure. To protect their eyes, the falcons use their nictitating membranes (third eyelids) to spread tears and clear debris from their eyes while maintaining vision. Prey is struck and captured in mid-air; the Peregrine Falcon strikes its prey with a clenched foot, stunning or killing it, then turns to catch it in mid-air The Peregrine will drop it to the ground and eat it there if it is too heavy to carry.

The Peregrine Falcon feeds almost exclusively on medium sized birds such as doves, waterfowl, songbirds and pigeons. Other than bats taken at night, it rarely hunts small mammals, but will on rare occasion take rats, voles, hares, mice and squirrels.

It can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, excepting extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests; the only major ice-free landmass from which it is entirely absent is New Zealand. This makes it the world’s most widespread bird of prey.

The Peregrine Falcon lives mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, coastlines, and increasingly in cities. In mild-winter regions, it is usually a permanent resident.

The life span in the wild is up to 15.5 years. Mortality in the first year is between 59–70%.

The Peregrine Falcon nests in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or, today regularly in many parts of its range, on tall buildings or bridges. The pair mates for life and returns to the same nesting spot annually.

Mostly three to four eggs are laid generally from February to March. They are incubated for 29 to 33 days, mainly by the female.

The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species because of the use of pesticides, especially DDT during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Pesticide biomagnification interfered with reproduction, thinning eggshells and reducing the number of eggs that survived to hatching. The organochlorine build-up in the falcon’s fat tissues would result in less calcium in the eggshells, leading to flimsier, more fragile eggs.

Worldwide captivity breeding and wild release recovery efforts have been remarkably successful. The widespread restriction of DDT use eventually allowed released birds to breed successfully. The Peregrine Falcon was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list on August 25, 1999.

Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Falconidae
  • Genus: Falco
  • Species: F. peregrinus

References: *BirdLife International (2004), Falco peregrinus: 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/49518/summ, retrieved on 2008-05-21 *Heinzel, H.; Fitter, R.S.R.; Parslow, J. (1995), Birds of Britain and Europe (5 ed.), London: HarperCollins, *Friedmann, H. (1950), “i rock birds of North and Middle America”, U.S. National Museum Bulletin 50 (11): 1–793 *U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1999), All about the Peregrine falcon, http://www.fws.gov/endangered/recovery/peregrine/QandA.html, retrieved on 13 August 2007 *White, C.M. et al. (1994), “Family Falconidae”, in del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J., Handbook of Birds of the World: New World Vultures to Guineafowl, 2, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 216–275, plates 24–28, *Snow, D.W. et al. (1998), The complete birds of the western Palaearctic on CD-ROM, Oxford University Press *Ferguson-Lees, J.; Christie, D.A. (2001), Raptors of the World, London: Christopher Helm, *Cade, T.J. et al. (1996), “Peregrine Falcons in Urban North America”, in Bird, D.M., D.E. Varland & J.J. Negro, Raptors in Human Landscapes, London: Academic Press, pp. 3–13, *Cade, T.J. et al. (1988), Peregrine Falcon Populations – Their management and recovery, The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, *Scholz, F. (1993), Birds of Prey, Stackpole Books, *Dewey, T. and Potter, M. (2002), Animal Diversity Web, http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Falco_peregrinus.html, retrieved on 21 May 2008 *Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D. (2001), Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Field Guides. *Terres, J.K. (1991), The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Wings Books, New York, *Beckstead, D. (2001) *Tunstall, Marmaduke (1771). Ornithologia Britannica: seu Avium omnium Britannicarum tam terrrestrium, quam aquaticarum catalogus, sermone Latino, Anglico et Gallico redditus: cui subjuctur appendix avec alennigenas, in Angliam raro advenientes, complectens.. London, J. Dixwell. *University of Minnesota (2004), Peregrine Falcon, http://www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/raptor/info/peregrinefalcon.html, retrieved on 22 May 2008 *e.g. French faucon pèlerin, German Wanderfalke, Italian falco pellegrino, Polish sokół wędrowny, Slovak sokol sťahovavý, Swedish pilgrimsfalk *Contra Helbig et al. (1994), Wink et al. (1998). The supposed basal position of the hierofalcons was due to them having a cytochrome b numt: see Wink & Sauer-Gürth (2000) *Helbig et al. (1994), Wink et al. (1998) *Helbig et al. (1994), Wink et al. (1998), Griffiths (1999), Wink & Sauer-Gürth (2000), Groombridge et al. (2002), Griffiths et al. (2004), Nittinger et al. (2005) *Vaurie (1961) *American Ornithologists’ Union (1910):p.164 *Döttlinger & Nicholls (2005) *Michigan Department of Natural Resources (2007) *Ellis, D.H. and Garat, C.P. (1983), “The Pallid Falcon Falco kreyenborgi is a color phase of the Austral Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus cassini)” (PDF), Auk 100 (2): 269–271, *American Ornithologists’ Union (1910):p.165 *Proctor, N. & Lynch, P. (1993):p.13 *Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor levied a rent of these birds on the Knights Hospitaller when he donated the Island of Malta to them. Source of the name for Dashiell Hammett’s novel. *Mayr (1941) *Peters, J. L.; Mayr, E. & Cottrell, W. (1979):p.423 * Wink et al. (2000) *Döttlinger, 2002 *(Vaurie, 1961) *Blondel (1999) *Helbig et al. (1994) *Wink et al. (1998) *Wink & Sauer-Gürth (2000) *Wink et al. (2004) *U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1995), Peregrine Falcon, http://www.fws.gov/species/species_accounts/bio_pere.html, retrieved on 22 May 2008 *Tucker (1998) *Harpole, Tom (2005-03-01). “Falling with the Falcon”. Smithsonian Air & Space magazine. Retrieved on 2008-09-04. *Colpocephalum falconii which was described from specimens found on the Peregrine Falcon, Colpocephalum subzerafae, Colpocephalum zerafae and Nosopon lucidum (all Menoponidae), Degeeriella rufa (Philopteridae), Laemobothrion tinnunculi (Laemobothriidae). All are known from other Falco species too.(Dewey & Potter 2002, Dagleish 2003) *Raidal et al. (1999), Raidal & Jaensch (2000), Dewey & Potter (2002), Dalgleish (2003) *Drewitt, E.J.A. and Dixon, N. (February 2008), “Diet and prey selection of urban-dwelling Peregrine Falcons in southwest England”, British Birds 101: 58–67 *Olmos, F. and Silva e Silva, R. (2003), Guará: Ambiente , Fauna e Flora dos Manguezais de Santos-Cubatão, Brasil, São Paulo: Empresa das Artes, pp. 111, *Ehrlich, P., Dobkin, D. and Wheye, D. (1992), Birds in Jeopardy: The Imperiled and Extinct Birds of the United States, Standford University Press. *Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources *Blood, D. and Banasch, U. (2001), Hinterland Who’s Who Bird Fact Sheets: Peregrine Falcon, http://www.hww.ca/hww2.asp?id=60, retrieved on 22 May 2008 *Peterson, R. T (1976):p.171 *Towry (1987) *Snow (1994) *T. J. Cade, J. H. Enderson, C. G. Thelander & C. M. White (Eds): Peregrine Falcon Populations – Their management and recovery. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, 1988. *Brown (1976) *Trade in wild-caught Peregrine Falcons and their eggs and young is illegal in most jurisdictions. Falconers are advised to demand valid documentation even if they are able to legally purchase this species. *American Birding Association (2005), Code of Birding Ethics, American Birding Association, Inc., http://www.americanbirding.org/abaethics.htm, retrieved on 26 May 2008 *Kuzir, S. and Muzini, J. (1999), “Birds and air traffic safety on Zagreb airport (Croatia)”, The Environmentalist 18 (4): 231–237. *Cassidy, J. and Reader’s Digest Editors (2005), Book of North American Birds, Reader’s Digest, pp. 34. *Aitken, G. (2004), A New Approach to Conservation, Ashgate Publishing, pp. 126. *Henny, Charles J; Morlan W. Nelson (1981). “Decline and Present Status of Breeding Peregrine Falcons in Oregon”. The Murrelet (Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology) 62 (2): 43–53. *Center for Conservation Biology, Falcon Populations, http://ccb.wm.edu/vafalcons/falpop/vapop.htm, retrieved on 26 May 2008 *The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2003), Peregrine Falcon: Threats, http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/p/peregrine/threats.asp, retrieved on 26 May 2008.