The peregrine falcon is a raptor, or bird of prey. Adults have blue-gray wings, dark brown backs, a buff colored underside with brown spots, and white faces with a black tear stripe on their cheeks. They have a hooked beaks and strong talons. Their name comes from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “to wander.” They are commonly referred to as the Duck Hawk. Peregrine falcons are the fastest flying birds in the world – they are able to dive at 200 miles per hour.
Length: 15-21 inches (wingspan of 3.5 feet).
Weight: About 2 lbs.; females are slightly larger than males.
Lifespan: 7-15 years; some can live as long as 20 years.
Peregrine falcons eat other birds such as songbirds and ducks,
as well as bats. They catch their prey in mid-air.
There are an estimated 1,650 breeding pairs in the United States and Canada.
This bird is one of 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.
Peregrine Falcons have adapted to living in many cities and make use of tall buildings that provide suitable ledges for nesting and depend on the large populations of pigeons and starlings in cities for food. They dive and catch their prey in mid-air. Peregrines have few natural predators.
Peregrine falcons mate for life and breed in the same territory each year. The male courts the female for about one month, using aerial displays. They make a nest, or scrape, on ledges and in small caves located high on a cliff. Some peregrine falcons will use man-made structures such as bridges and skyscrapers to nest.
Mating season: Late March through May.
Gestation: 29-32 days for egg incubation.
Clutch size: 3-4 eggs.
Both the male and female incubate the eggs for about one month. The chicks start to fly in about 42 days, but are still dependent on their parents to learn how to hunt. Peregrine falcons are very territorial during breeding season and will vigorously defend their nests.
Historically, the use of DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) as a pesticide resulted in a rapid decline in the population. DDT and DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) cause eggshell thinning, resulting in the eggshell breaking while being incubated. Today, DDE is still found in some areas and DDT is used in some countries where the peregrine falcon winters. Great-horned owls and golden eagles will occasionally kill young peregrine falcons.
Since the ban on DDT in the 1970’s, peregrine falcon populations have recovered significantly, and are even showing signs of recovery in areas in which they haven’t been spotted in some years, such as northern NJ.
- Endangered Species Act (ESA): Once listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the Arctic peregrine falcon and the American peregrine falcon have made a good recovery and have been removed from the endangered species list, the American peregrine falcon in 1999 and the Arctic peregrine falcon in 1994.
- CITES: Peregrine Falcons are protected under Appendix I of CITES.
- Peregrine falcons are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.