About Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine FalconsPeregrine falcons are raptors (birds of prey) and are about the size of a crow. They have long pointed wings with a wingspan of 36 – 44 inches.  Adult birds have slate-grey backs and barred breasts. Immature birds are more brown in color and have pronounced streaking in the breast. A notable feature in both males and females is their moustache.  Females are larger in size than males, typical for most birds of prey. 

Peregrine falcons are known for their powerful and fast flying ability and can average 40 – 55 mph.  Their diet consists of a wide variety of small birds, such as pigeons, starlings, songbirds, and occasionally shorebirds or small ducks.  They are aerial hunters and will drop down on their prey from high above in amazing dives (called “stoops”) that can start 300 – 3000 feet above their prey and reach speeds of over 200 mph.  Because of this, they have been reported to be the world’s fastest bird.

The word “peregrine” means “wanderer” or “pilgrim.” This species has 18 recognized races and, true to its name, is found on all continents except Antarctica.  Peregrines are migratory, except in urban areas that have abundant prey, such as pigeons and starlings, throughout the winter. In North America, they live in open landscapes and traditionally nest on ledges on high cliffs where they are free from predators.  Nest sites in natural settings are called eyries.  In urban settings, the birds will nest on skyscrapers or bridges which simulate high cliffs.  They do not build a nest, but create a shallow depression in gravel or sand, called a scrape.    

They lay 3 – 4 creamy to brownish eggs dotted with red and brown spots which hatch after about 30 days of incubation.  The female does most of the incubation, although the male will take a turn while the female goes in search of food.  After hatching, the nestlings (called eyases) stay in the nest for 35 – 42 days before they are ready to fledge.  After fledging, the young birds continue to rely on their parents for another 4 – 6 weeks for food and to master the flying and hunting skills they need in order to survive.  On average, only two young birds successfully fledge per nest each year.