Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the eastern U.S. population of peregrine falcons all but disappeared because of habitat loss and intrusion of the pesticide DDT through the food chain from crops. Studies found the pesticide in peregrine tissues and that this was reducing the amount of calcium available to form the eggshells prior to laying. These softer eggs generally broke during brooding. The peregrine was added to the Endangered Species List in 1970 and is now making a remarkable recovery. Peregrine falcons were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999 after making a strong comeback from DDT poisoning and are currently “Not Listed.” International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern.
Adults have blue-gray wings, dark gray backs, a buff colored underside and buff or light faces with a dark colored hood. This dark hood reduces glare in sunlight much like the black grease used by sports players. They have hooked beaks and strong talons. Females generally weigh around 900-1000 grams with males around 700 grams (1 pound = approximately 454 grams). Peregrines measure 15-20 inches tall and have a wingspan about 42 inches (3.5 feet) long.
Habitat and Range
This bird is the most widely distributed species in the world. It is found on every continent except Antarctica. It can survive in a wide variety of habitats including urban cities, the tropics, deserts and the tundra. Some migrate long distances from their wintering areas to their summer nesting areas. This may include 8,000 miles from North America to South America.
What they eat depends on what is abundant and available. They most commonly prey on medium sized birds: flickers, jays, meadowlarks, doves, pigeons, shorebirds and ducks. They will occasionally eat small mammals, reptiles, and occasionally insects.
Their mating season begins in late March. The mating pair has a lengthy courtship lasting about a month. Females lay 3-4 eggs in April and both parents take turns incubating the clutch for about a month. The young can fly after about 40 days and will remain dependent on their parents for approximately two months.
Peregrine falcons have adapted to living in many cities. They make use of tall buildings because they provide suitable ledges for nesting. Cities also have large populations of pigeons and starlings. They dive at high speeds (100-200 mph) and catch their prey in mid-air. Although the peregrine captures its prey with its talons, it generally kills its prey with its notched beak. For larger prey, such as ducks, peregrines will strike its prey with opened talons in this dive. The strike kills or renders the prey unconscious. The peregrine then follows its prey to ground and eats it where it lands. Peregrines have few natural predators.
- Their name comes from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “to wander”.
- Peregrine falcons are the fastest animal in the world (over 200 mph in a stoop).
- Peregrine falcons mate for life and often return to the same nesting site each year.
- Lifespan: 7-15 years; some can live over 20 years of age in captivity.
- The fastest recorded dive is of a falconer’s bird named Frightful, diving with skydivers. Frightful reached 242 miles per hour.