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Peregrine Falcon Fact Sheet

Peregrine FalconDescription: The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) belongs to the family Falconidae. The head is black on upper portions and part of sides sometimes with narrow white stripe across lower forehead. Black on sides of face may be extensive including malar and auricular area. Upper parts are variably dark bluish gray, toward slaty. Underparts including chin, throat, and upper breast usually plain or nearly white. The remainder has blackish markings varying from narrow shaft streaks on center of breast to transverse bars, chevrons or spots lower down. Tail is light bluish gray tipped with white and crossed with up to twelve blackish bars.


Field Identification: At a distance, the peregrine's powerful fluid wingbeats through a rather narrow arc are evident. In combination of smoothness of flight, speed, acceleration, and maneuverability, this is the ultimate of perfection among our native raptors. Unhurried flight is direct and purposeful, interspersed with short glides. Not a soaring bird ordinarily, but rises on updrafts and in thermals, wings extended and tail so fully spread that its lateral edges nearly touch the trailing edge of the wings.

Habitat: This is an open-country raptor in all seasons and it fares better in moderate climates than at extremes. Island resident peregrines around the perimeter of the NW Pacific region are especially adapted to cool, humid conditions and specialize in capturing seabirds. Peregrines prefer nest sites at least fairly close to water--niches in cliffs, steep banks, and rock islets.

Distribution: Although there are some absences, the breeding range of the peregrine may be describes as nearly worldwide (except at Polar Regions), on continents and many islands. It is recorded far at sea, on islands where it does not breed, and to the north beyond its breeding range.

Reproduction:The male arrives first at the "aerie" or nest site advertising his presence band ownership by being noisy while circling high above the cliff. Upon arrival of the female both birds engage in an elaborate repertoire of spectacular aerial performances. Ideally, the aerie commands a wide view, is near water, has plentiful prey in its vicinity, and is seldom disturbed. A sheltering overhang is common at cliff sites. There should be some debris, such as soil or rocky material, in which to make the "scrape" for the eggs. Three or four eggs are usually laid with a mean of three eggs in arctic/sub-arctic regions increasing to a mean of four eggs in temperate regions.

Habits: Although superb fliers, wild peregrines initiate a major portion of hunting from a stationary position. From a high spot such as a prominence or tall tree, the bird watches on all sides and above, evidently being able to track flying objects even beyond the range of human vision. Many seemingly prospective targets may pass close by. Then suddenly, having made its selection, the falcon launches an attack. If the quarry is below it, it has the added advantage of a swift down-angled approach. It may make a shallow stoop or rise higher above the quarry and stoop at tremendous speed. If the target is high overhead, typically the falcon faces into the wind on takeoff, then "rings up" (spirals upward) in spectacular flight to get above the quarry. From a soaring or quartering flight, the peregrine may stoop at a lower target or switch over to "ringing up" after higher prey.


Taken from: Handbook of North American Birds, Volume 5. Edited by Ralph S. Palmer. Yale University Press, 1988.