Species Spotlight: Peregrine Falcon

Scientific Name:  Falco peregrinus

Size & Appearance:
    The females are noticeably larger than the males.  There are 16 subspecies world wide, 3 of which are in North America: the light colored and long distant migrant tundrius of the Alaskan and Canadian tundra, the pealei, darkest and most sedentary of the subspecies, found along western North American coastlines, and the anatum, of the mid-continent. Interbreeding between the anatum and pealei subspecies during reintroduction efforts in the late 1970s has lead to a profusion of darker, usually more western  birds being commonly found on the eastern part of the continent. 

    All peregrines have long pointed wings, a noticeable wide dark mustache mark surrounding the eye and dropping down to below the chin, and a squared, medium length tail.  Wings extend to almost the tip of the tail when the bird is perched.  Length:16 - 20 inches, wing span: 36 - 44 inches.  Males usually weigh between 16-24 ounces, the females between 25 - 34 ounces.  The juveniles have different plumage from the adults for the first three years of life, and are usually much more brown with a front that has more obvious streaks.


    Breeds from northern Alaska, Banks, Victoria, southern Melville, Somerset and northern Baffin Islands, and Labrador south to Baja California, southern Arizona, New Mexico, western and central Texas, and Colorado; recently re-introduced and re-established as a breeding bird in parts of the northeastern United States. Winters from southern Alaska, the Queen Charlotte Islands, coastal British Columbia, the central and southern United States, and New Brunswick south to South America. Usually inhabits open country from tundra and seacoasts, to high mountains and more open forested regions, preferably where there are rocky cliffs with ledges overlooking rivers, lakes, or other water and an abundance of birds. Sometimes breeds in cities. Monogamous.

Food Preferences:
    Pursues prey, primarily birds, after sighting from perch or while soaring. Small to medium sized birds are usually captured in flight; birds too large to be carried are knocked to the ground. Feeds on a wide variety of birds; occasionally takes mammals, some insects, and fishes.  Can hunt cooperatively.

Nesting & Eggs:
    Prefers to nest in a shallow depression scraped in gravel and debris on a high cliff ledge, pothole, or small cave that provides sanctuary from disturbance. Bluffs, slopes, pinnacles, cutbanks, and seastacks are also used as nest sites in the far north. Other nest sites include old stick nests of ravens and hawks, ledges of tall buildings and bridges, ships masts and historically, holes and stubs of large trees. May occasionally use provided nest boxes. Tends to return to the same nesting site.

    One brood per season of between 3-4 eggs which are incubated mostly by the female.  Incubation lasts on average 23 - 24 days, and the chicks are hatched out mobile, downy, follow the parents around the nest and learn food types from the parents.  They fledge within 10 - 12 days of hatching and are tended primarily by the female with the male bringing in food to the nest.

    placed on the Endangered Species list in the early 1970s due to rapid population declines primarily due to DDT and other  organochlorine pesticides. Population increases lead to the delisting of the Peregrine in 1999, but the species is still considered rare and endangered throughout much of its’ range.

    These birds are considered to be the fastest animals on earth, diving after prey in speeds in excess of 260 miles per hour.  The Peregrine Restoration Project began in the New River Gorge in 2006 to try to re-establish the falcons into the Southern Appalachians.