Habitat: “Peregrine” means wanderer, and it is an apt name: the Peregrine falcon is found on all continents except Antarctica. Nor is it found in New Zealand or Iceland. They seek out cliffs for nesting and open areas for foraging. Preferred areas include open tundra, moorland, steppe, and seacoasts (especially where suitable nesting cliffs exist), mountains, and open forested regions. They also live in large cities, nesting on buildings.
When not breeding, they are found in prey-concentrated areas such as farmland, marshes, lakeshores, river mouths, tidal flats, dunes and beaches, broad river valleys, cities, and airports.
Summer Range: Some nest in the tundra from Alaska through Greenland and southward to Missouri, northern Georgia, and Mexico.
Winter Range: Those that winter in South America typically summer in the tundra - one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Other falcons winter in coastal Alaska and southern Canada, southward to South America.
Food: The Peregrine falcon eats mostly other birds, from songbirds up to small geese, as well as bats and other small mammals. Their characteristic hunting dive, or “hunting stoop” from heights of 1 km or more, allows them to reach speeds of 320 km/h.
Falcons search for prey while perched or while flying. When diving, the falcon strikes its prey with its feet or pursues it from behind. It kills its prey by biting into its neck.
Breeding Behaviour: Peregrines can start breeding at two years of age. The falcons are territorial during the breeding season, and nests are rarely less than one kilometre apart to ensure adequate food for all nesting pairs and offspring. The immediate nest site is defended against other Peregrines, eagles, and ravens. The same nesting pair may use alternate nest sites.
Nest Type and Egg Description: The nest is a shallow depression called a scrap, often built on the ledge of a cliff, on a building, or in an old raven’s nest. The eggs are reddish brown with blotches of darker brown. Both adults incubate the eggs from the time that the last or second-to-last egg is laid, until the eggs hatch in about 32 days.
Peregrine falcons have a clutch size of two to five eggs, and at hatching, the chicks’ eyes are open, they are covered with off-white down, and they are helpless.
Conservation Status: DDT poisoning from the 1950s to the 1970s dramatically decreased eastern populations. Pesticides were sprayed on crops to kill insects and when Peregrines ate birds that had eaten the insects, they in turn were poisoned. Peregrines were less able to have healthy young and their numbers declined precipitously.
All provinces and territories provide some form of protection for Peregrines. Efforts by conservation groups, aided by professional falconers, have helped to reestablish these birds. By 1999, the species had recovered enough to be removed from the United States Endangered Species List in 1999.
It is still considered a Species at Risk in Canada. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has designated the Anatum Peregrine falcon as “threatened,” and the Peale’s and Tundra Peregrine falcons are considered species of “special concern,” though both have improved from “endangered” and “threatened,” respectively, following recovery efforts.
Information on this page compiled by Colleen Sutton.
BirdLife International. http://www.birdlife.org
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct5/index_e.cfm
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/.
Ehrlich, Paul R. 1988. The Birder’s Handbook. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Godfrey, Earl W. 1986. Birds of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Hinterland Who’s Who. http://www.hww.ca
Leslie, Scott. 2006. Wetland Birds of North America. Key Porter Books, Toronto. NatureServe. InfoNatura. http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura/