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Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Bird

Description

Peregrine falcons are quick, large predatory raptors. The falcon's strong, sharp yellow talons allow it to capture other birds, even while in flight. Peregrine falcons can be hard to identify because of their quick flight and camouflage coloring. The wings and tail are bluish-gray, while the back and head are a darker brown. Sometimes the cheeks can have a dark brown tear-shaped mark. The bird's chin and neck are white, and each eye is surrounded by a yellow circle. Dark-brown bars run across its white chest. If the wings are open, dark brown bars across the wings are also visible. Peregrine falcons are about 1.5 feet (0.4 meters) tall with a wingspan of 3.5 feet (one meter).

Range

Peregrine falcons are global birds. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Peregrine falcons can travel long distances, sometimes between continents, to get from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds. North American peregrine falcons can be migratory or non-migratory. Some live year-round in Alaska, the Midwest, the Northeast, the Southwest, and along the western coastline. Other peregrine falcons migrate from South America and the Gulf Coast to the Alaskan tundra each year. With their global range, peregrine falcons can be found in a variety of habitats, including mountains, forests, cities, valleys, deserts, and coastlines.

Diet

Peregrine falcons eat mostly other birds. They consume a variety of species—about 450 North American species have been documented as prey, and the number worldwide may be as many as 2,000. Birds as large as sandhill cranes, and as small as hummingbirds, have been consumed by falcons. Their typical prey items include shorebirds, ducks, grebes, gulls, pigeons, and songbirds. Peregrine falcons also eat bats, and they occasionally steal prey—including fish and rodents—from other raptors.

Life History

Falcons nest on cliffs up to 1,300 feet high and sometimes higher. They have even been documented along the rim of the Grand Canyon. Males usually select several possible nest locations, and the female picking the final nesting spot. Females have clutches of two to five eggs, which incubate for 29 to 32 days. A peregrine falcon can live for up to 15 years and sometimes longer.

Conservation

For much of the 20th century, peregrine falcons were at risk of being extirpated (locally extinct) in the United States and Canada. Falcons were dying off and breeding pairs were unsuccessful. The cause of their disappearance was pesticides, specifically DDT. In the middle of the century, DDT was sprayed on farmland and the chemical made its way into the food chain. Peregrine falcons are top predators and thus absorbed large amounts of DDT from their prey, such as fish and other birds.

DDT poisons adult falcons and also causes thinning of their egg shells, preventing the offspring from developing. Not only do the adults die, but their offspring cannot develop in the egg. Since the banning of DDT in the 1970s, peregrine falcons have steadily increased to the level that they are no longer federally listed on the endangered species list.

Fun Fact

The peregrine falcon is the world's fastest diving bird. The record-setting falcon was once clocked diving at a speed of 186 miles (300 kilometers) an hour.

Sources

Guinness World Records

The Cornell Lab or Ornithology

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