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Peregrine Falcon Life History


ShorelinesThe word "peregrine" means "wanderer" or "pilgrim," and Peregrine Falcons occur all over the world. In North America they breed in open landscapes with cliffs (or skyscrapers) for nest sites. They can be found nesting at elevations up to about 12,000 feet, as well as along rivers and coastlines or in cities, where the local Rock Pigeon populations offer a reliable food supply. In migration and winter you can find Peregrine Falcons in nearly any open habitat, but with a greater likelihood along barrier islands, mudflats, coastlines, lake edges, and mountain chains.Back to top


BirdsPeregrine Falcons eat mostly birds, of an enormous variety—450 North American species have been documented as prey, and the number worldwide may be as many as 2,000 species. They have been observed killing birds as large as a Sandhill Crane, as small as a hummingbird, and as elusive as a White-throated Swift. Typical prey include shorebirds, ptarmigan, ducks, grebes, gulls, storm-petrels, pigeons, and songbirds including jays, thrushes, longspurs, buntings, larks, waxwings, and starlings. Peregrine Falcons also eat substantial numbers of bats. They occasionally pirate prey, including fish and rodents, from other raptors.Back to top


Nest Placement


Typically, Peregrine Falcons nest on cliffs from about 25–1,300 feet high (and higher, including on the rim of the Grand Canyon). On these cliffs they choose a ledge that is typically around a third of the way down the cliff face. Other sites include electricity transmission towers, quarries, silos, skyscrapers, churches, and bridges. In places without cliffs, Peregrines may use abandoned Common Raven, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, or cormorant nests. In the Pacific Northwest they may nest among or under Sitka spruce tree roots on steep slopes. Peregrine Falcons sometimes use artificial nest boxes placed on tall buildings.

Nest Description

Males typically select a few possible nest ledges at the beginning of each season and the female chooses from these. The birds do no nest building beyond a ritualized scraping of the nest ledge to create a depression in the sand, gravel or other substrate of the nest site. Scrapes are about 9 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.0-2.0 in (5-5.2 cm)
Egg Width:1.6-1.9 in (4-4.7 cm)
Incubation Period:29-32 days
Nestling Period:35-42 days
Egg Description:Pale creamy to brownish, dotted or blotched with brown, red, or purple.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, covered in whitish down, with eyes closed, weighing about 1.5 ounces.
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Aerial Dive (ground/talons)Peregrine Falcons are very strong fliers and often reported to be the fastest bird in the world. Their average cruising flight speed is 24 to 33 mph, increasing to 67 mph when in pursuit of prey. When stooping, or dropping on prey with their wings closed, it's been calculated that Peregrine Falcons can achieve speeds of 238 mph. One researcher studied trained Peregrine Falcons while skydiving and described their body position while diving at 150 mph and 200 mph. When hunting, Peregrines start by watching from a high perch or by flapping slowly or soaring at great height. Stoops begin 300–3,000 feet above their prey and end either by grabbing the prey or by striking it with the feet hard enough to stun or kill it. They then catch the bird and bite through the neck to kill it. Peregrine Falcons do have other hunting methods, including level pursuit, picking birds out of large flocks, and occasionally even hunting on the ground. Though the Peregrine Falcon is an elite predator, it does have its own predators, including Gyrfalcons, eagles, Great Horned owls, and other Peregrines.Back to top


Low Concern

The Peregrine Falcon has been recovering slowly after populations crashed from 1950-1970 because of DDT poisoning. During this time, the eastern population was extirpated, and it was declared an Endangered Species. Since 1966, populations appear to have stabilized according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population to be 340,000 and now rates this species a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. The Peregrine Falcon's remarkable recovery is due to pesticide bans and extensive efforts that were made to reestablish birds in the East, beginning with the work of Tom Cade in 1970 at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which eventually developed into The Peregrine Fund. The species recovered enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

White, Clayton M., Nancy J. Clum, Tom J. Cade and W. Grainger Hunt. (2002). Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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