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Peregrine Falcon
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Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
Status Secure
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Falco peregrinus
Tunstall, 1771
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a medium-sized falcon about the size of a large crow: 15 to 21 inches (38-53 cm) long. It has a wingspan of about 40 inches (1 m). Males weigh 570-710 grams; the noticeably larger females weigh 910-1190 grams.


Adult Peregrine Falcons have slate blue-grey wings and backs barred with black. Their undersides are white with light brown stripes. They have white faces with a black stripe on each cheek, and the head is blue-black. The subspecies vary in plumage; for instance immature males of the American tundra have pale crowns, while birds of the northwestern coast of North America are darker than others. All Peregrines have large dark eyes. The younger birds are darker below, browner, and streaked rather than barred.

These birds are greatly prized in falconry, where the hen is known as a falcon and the cock as a tercel.

Peregrines eat mostly other birds such as pigeonss, shorebirds, starlings, songbirds, parrots, and ducks. They attack their prey by flying high and diving ("stooping") at the victims.

Although a Peregrine's speed in level flight is no greater than many other birds', its diving speed can exceed 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), making it the fastest animal on earth.

The bird's Latin name, peregrinus, means "foreigner" or "traveler". This is because wintering birds often wander far from their frequently bleak breeding areas.

The call of this bird is a harsh repeated "cack".

Range, habitat, and nesting

Peregrine Falcons live mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys, and coastlines and, increasingly, in cities. They are widespread but uncommon in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australasia and Africa.

In North America, Peregrine Falcons still breed in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic tundra. They used to be commonly found in parts of the Appalachian Mountains and nearby valleys from New England south to Georgia, the upper Mississippi River valley, and along the Pacific coast as far south as Mexico.

Courtship displays include spectacular aerobatic flight and dives by the male and aerial pursuits. A pair may mate for life. These birds aggressively defend the nesting area.

The nest is a scrape or depression dug in gravel on a cliff ledge. Sometimes if no cliff is available, Peregrines will nest in a tree cavity, an old stick nest, or even a tussock of grass on the tundra. These birds also nest on tall buildings in cities, which resemble their natural nesting sites. The female usually lays 3 to 5 eggs; the color ranges from reddish white to mottled brown.

If a Peregrine Falcon lives through its first year, it can live up to 10 years. Most young birds do not survive their first year.

Peregrines on the northwest coast of North America and other mild-winter regions are usually permanent residents. Other populations migrate; for instance, birds from Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland migrate to Central and South America. Migrating birds may travel far out over open ocean.

Similarly, many birds from northern Eurasia move further south in winter, but in areas with less cold winters birds, especially adult males, will remain on the breeding territory.


The Peregrine Falcon became endangered because of the over-use of pesticides, in particular DDT, during the 1950s and 1960s. Pesticide build-up interfered with reproduction, thinning eggshells and severely restricting the ability of birds to reproduce themselves. In several parts of the world, including eastern North America, the Peregrine Falcon was wiped out by pesticides. In 1970, Peregrine Falcons were put on the US endangered species list.

Peregrine eggs and chicks are often targeted by thieves and collectors, so the location of their nest should not be revealed, unless they are protected.

Recovery efforts

Wildlife services around the world organized Peregrine Falcon recovery teams to breed peregrines in captivity, among other places, at Cornell University.

The birds were fed through a chute so they could not see the human trainers. Then, when they were old enough, the box was opened. This allowed the bird to test its wings. As the bird got stronger the food was reduced because the bird could hunt its own food. This procedure is called hacking. To release a captive-bred falcon, the bird was placed in a special box at the top of a tower or cliff ledge.

Worldwide recovery efforts have been remarkably successful. In the United States, the banning of DDT, over time, made it possible for released birds to breed successfully. There are now dozens of breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons in the northeastern USA. Many have settled in large cities, including New York, where they nest on skyscraper window ledges and the towers of suspension bridges. During daytime the falcons have been observed swooping down to catch common city birds such as pigeons and starlings. The story in many other parts of the world has been similar.

See also

Barbary Falcon, Falco (peregrinus) pelegrinoides, which is often considered to be a subspecies of Peregrine.

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