Peregrine falcon characteristics, habitat, feeding

Abraham McLaughlin
Peregrine falcon characteristics, habitat, feeding

The Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a medium-sized, diurnal bird of prey that belongs to the Falconidae family. In the adult, the plumage on the back and head is dark gray, with two black droplet spots extending under the eyes.

The chest, the limbs and the inner part of the wings are white, with dark spots and stripes. As in most raptors, the female is up to 30% larger than the male and almost 45% heavier than the male..

Falco peregrinus

This species occupies vast areas worldwide. Thus, it exists in North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia and South America. However, it is absent in the Amazon basin, the steppes of East and Central Asia, the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, and New Zealand..

Peregrine falcon habitats are varied. These range from mountainous regions to coastal areas, located in dry and temperate climates. The populations of the Falco peregrinus have decreased, which is why the IUCN lists this species at lower risk of becoming extinct.

As for its diet, it relies on passerine birds, insects, fish and small mammals, such as bats and hares.

Article index

  • 1 Characteristics of the peregrine falcon
    • 1.1 Size
    • 1.2 Coloring
    • 1.3 The flight
  • 2 Taxonomy and subspecies
  • 3 Habitat and distribution
    • 3.1 - Distribution
    • 3.2 - Habitat
  • 4 State of conservation
    • 4.1 - Threats
    • 4.2 - Conservation actions
  • 5 Playback
    • 5.1 Nesting
  • 6 Food
    • 6.1 Hunting methods
  • 7 Behavior
    • 7.1 Migration
  • 8 References 

Peregrine falcon characteristics

The peregrine falcon has large, robust legs. In addition, the beak is strong and hooked. In relation to the body, it is compact and has pointed wings. This particularity, together with a flat head and a long conical tail, favors the bird that can reach high flight speeds..


This species is sexually dimorphic. Thus, the female is generally between 15 and 30% larger and around 40 to 50% heavier than the male..

In this sense, the female weighs from 750 to 1398 grams and measures from 45 to 58 centimeters. As for the male, it has a body mass of 500 to 994 grams and a length between 36 and 49 centimeters.


The Falco peregrinus its head, back and wings are slate gray or black. On the face, below the eye, a kind of dark blob spreads. The chin and lower area are white, however, on the chest it has brown shadows and black vertical spots.

The coloration from the mid-chest region to the extremities, including the inner part of the wings, is clear, with a pattern of black horizontal lines..

As for the legs, they are yellow and the eyes are dark brown, surrounded by a yellowish ring. The area where the nostrils meet is yellow and the tip of the beak is black.

There are variations between the subspecies, considering the habitat they occupy. Thus, arctic birds are paler, and those that live on the northwestern coast of North America have a darker coloration..

In the juvenile stage, the peregrine falcon has shades similar to those of the adult, but the upper region is brown, with many spots on the chest. Also, the beak and legs are blue.

The flight

The Falco peregrinus it is one of the fastest birds in the world. While performing horizontal flight, it can reach speeds of up to 150 km / h. Moreover, when moving through the air, it is able to maintain maneuverability.

For example, in courtship displays, the male alters the flight path, going from a vertical dive to a steep climb..

During the dive, it moves much faster, reaching speeds of more than 320 km / h. In this dive, which he performs in the shape of a bullet, the air pressure could explode the lungs of any common bird.

However, the researchers hypothesize that the set of deflectors that the peregrine falcon has in the nostrils, decrease the speed of the wind. In this way, this bird can breathe while diving

The vast majority of bird species can modify the shape of the wings, to vary the aerodynamic properties. During the dive, the peregrine falcon also molds its wings. Thus, as they accelerate the speed, they bring them closer to the body.

Stages of the immersion flight

This displacement occurs in several phases. When it flies around 190 km / h, the bird presents its wings in the classic diamond shape. Next, make a vertical fold of the wings, until reaching 240 km / h

At maximum speed, the Falco peregrinus It folds its wings fully against your body, creating an immersive vacuum. The shape of the body and that of the wing, during diving, has a V-type structure. Thus, between the tip of the tail and the shoulders, the tip is open.

Taxonomy and subspecies

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Source: Juan Lacruz, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

-Animal Kingdom.

-Subkingdom: Bilateria.

-Phylum: Chordate.

-Subfilum: Vertebrate.

-Superclass: Tetrapoda.

-Class: Birds.

-Order: Falconiformes.

-Family: Falconidae.

-Subfamily: Falconinae.

-Gender: Falco.

-Species: Falco peregrinus.


-Falco peregrinus anatum.

-Falco peregrinus tundrius

-Falco peregrinus brookei.

-Falco peregrinus radama

-Falco peregrinus calidus.

-Falco peregrinus peregrinus

-Falco peregrinus cassini.

-Falco peregrinus peregrinator

-Falco peregrinus ernesti.

-Falco peregrinus pealei

-Falco peregrinus fruitii.

-Falco peregrinus minor

-Falco peregrinus madens

-Falco peregrinus nesiotes

-Falco peregrinus macropus.

-Falco peregrinus japonensis.

Habitat and distribution

- Distribution

The distribution of the peregrine falcon is very wide. It is mainly found in North America, Central America, and the West Antilles. However, it also breeds in South America and locally worldwide, except in Antarctica..


Previously, this bird was extirpated from much of its natural range, due to the use of chemicals such as DDT. However, reoccupation actions have favored the maintenance of the species.

At present, it lives especially in the southern and central area of ​​Canada and in the Midwest and eastern United States. In this country, a large proportion is located in urban areas.

Canada, Alaska and Greenland

In the west, it is distributed from the Aleutian Islands to the Alaska Peninsula. Then north to the west coast of Alaska, with local concentrations in Norton Sound, Yukon Territory, Nunavut, and in ice-free areas of western Greenland.

To the south, it is distributed irregularly and locally in Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Nunavut, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador.


The Falco peregrinus It is found in the northern United States and in the vast majority of the Mid-East and Western states. Many of these birds were reintroduced to Milwaukee, Chicago, Fort Wayne, New York, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri..

In addition, it occurs locally and irregularly in the vast majority of eastern states, such as Pennsylvania, New England, New York, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Alabama, among others..


In this country, the peregrine falcon lives in Baja California and on the islands of the Gulf of California, except on the island of Guadalupe. Also, it is located in the Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental in Sonora, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Ciudad Victoria and Tamaulipas.

Central America, South America and the Caribbean

Experts have confirmed the presence of this bird of prey in Cuba, Dominica and Nicaragua. In relation to South America, it is found in a large part of that continent, except for extensive areas of the Orinoco and Amazon river basins..

Location outside the Americas

The Falco peregrinus inhabits Fiji, Tasmania and South Africa. However, it is absent from most of Saharan Africa, central and eastern Asian steppes, Iceland, New Zealand, Antarctica, and the central Pacific Ocean..

In relation to the Palearctic, migratory populations from the north move south towards South Africa, Indonesia and the Indian subcontinent. The main breeding area is in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Africa, New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Caledonia and Australia.

- Habitat

Mother and a chick. Source: Georges Lignier ([email protected]), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The peregrine falcon inhabits from mountainous areas to coastal regions. In terms of topography, see plains, plateaus, and rugged canyons. In relation to the cliffs, select the highest ones, surrounded by open areas and water sources.

Thus, this species is located from sea level to 4,000 meters, including coastal areas, grasslands, plains, prairies, steppes and forests. Exceptionally, it occurs in alpine areas and in closed and dense forests..

The most popular habitats include riparian zones along rivers, grain croplands, swamps, and mountain valleys. The preference for wetlands, streams, lakes and marine environments is due to the fact that the vast majority of the prey that make up their diet, such as aquatic birds, live close to these sources of water..

Due to hunting behavior, the Falco peregrinus adapts more easily to partially wooded or open regions. In this regard, the Pacific Northwest populations mate and hunt in shrubs, coniferous forests, and young and mature trees..

They do not chase their prey within the crowns of dense wooded areas, but they do chase over the crowns and in the expanses between stands. Within the winter range, it encompasses mangroves, urban areas, coastal swamps, lakes, river valleys, cliffs, grasslands, and wetlands.

As for the riparian desert area, it is an excellent refuge for the fauna of the area. This is an important attraction for the peregrine falcon, since it can count on a great diversity and abundance of prey..

State of conservation

The Falco peregrinus it has a low reproduction rate. This, combined with the fact of being at the top of the food chain and the limited number of its prey, make it vulnerable to human actions..

Due to the threats that afflict this species, which have caused a decrease in its population, the IUCN considers it to be of least concern of becoming extinct..

- Threats

Young specimen in a nest. Source: Matthieu Gauvain (, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Poaching was the main threat to this species at the end of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th. In addition to this, the peregrine falcon is accidentally poisoned by consuming baits left for other animals.

Also, man-made rock climbing activities on cliffs represent a serious problem for nesting sites. This is because they affect the development of the eggs, either because they break or because the mother abandons them..

The West African peregrine falcon is especially vulnerable to habitat degradation. These ecosystems are altered by the felling of trees, excessive grazing, the burning of crops and the construction of roads..

Thus, the loss of forest species where this bird builds its nests represents a serious problem both for nesting and for the survival of the animal..

Another factor that fragments the environment is the development of wind energy and hydrocarbon pollution. In this sense, the oil spill pollutes the waters and causes the mortality of adult peregrine falcons that inhabit local populations..

Use of DDT

The greatest impact suffered by the Falco peregrinus It is the indiscriminate use of DDT, which caused, between 1960 and 1970, the population decline and the extinction of the species in large areas worldwide.

The pesticide builds up as it spreads in the environment. Thus, the concentration increases while moving up the trophic chain, reaching maximum levels in the tissues of the predators located in the last links..

The impact of this powerful pesticide went unnoticed for a long time. This was due to the fact that the adults continued to inhabit the same nesting site for many years, which concealed the decrease that existed in the juvenile population..

In this way, enough DDT had accumulated in the organisms of these birds to affect their reproduction. Thus, the chemical pesticide, which inhibits calcium metabolism, causes thinning of the eggshell. As a consequence, when the mother incubates it, it cracks under the weight of this.

By the time the devastating effects of DDT were evident, the evil had advanced enormously. This caused the peregrine falcon to become a global symbol for the environmental movement. Its drastic decline was a warning about the danger of the use of insecticides.

- Conservation actions

Previously, the peregrine falcon was listed under Appendix I of CITES. However, during a convention held in 2016, a change of this species was made to Appendix II, in accordance with the precautionary measures contemplated by said international organization..


Peregrine falcon chick. Source: Martin Lindner BY-SA 3.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 truetrue, CC BY-SA 3.0

The peregrine falcon begins to mate between the ages of 2 and 4. However, the reproductive age can vary, even within the same population..

In addition, sexual maturity may be associated with availability of nesting sites and population density. One of the factors that influences the reproductive success of this species is the climate and the abundance of prey..

Thus, variations in spring weather could delay the onset of nesting. In addition, the pairs of these raptors abandon their attempts to mate if they find themselves in situations of low food availability..

This species generally has a monogamous behavior, maintaining the same couple relationship for several years. However, the researchers, during their field work, have observed the male feeding two females and the female occupying the territory of two males..

The male is the one who selects the nesting area and builds the nest, which will be used by the couple for several years. In addition, it performs courtship displays towards the female. Some of these behaviors can be aerobatics, accompanied by some particular vocalizations.


The female usually lays four eggs. These are white, with spots of a reddish brown hue. If the eggs have any problems in the early stages of nesting, whether they are hatching or not developing, the female may lay other eggs..

The interval between the laying of each egg is between 48 and 72 hours. Incubation generally does not start until the third egg is in the nest. In relation to this, both parents could take turns brooding, but the female is the one who assumes this task most of the time..

After 28 to 37 days have elapsed, the eggs hatch. This happens asynchronously. Newborns are covered in creamy plumage. In relation to flight feathers, they tend to grow first in males than in females.


The Falco peregrinus It is a generalist and feeds mainly on passerine birds. Additionally, the diet may include voles (Arvicolinae), bats (Vespertilionidae), shrews (Soricidae), waterfowl, owls, and snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus).

Although avian prey dominate the diet, the proportion of the rest of the animals that this bird of prey hunts varies depending on the habitat where it is found. Thus, those who live in California consume around 76% of birds and 24% of small mammals.

The dams also vary according to the region. In urban areas, peregrine falcons eat passerine birds, like northern flickers (Colaptes auratus), American robins (Turdus migratorius), blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), riverine birds and rock pigeons (Columba livia).

As for the populations that inhabit New Mexico, they consume Steller's jays (C. stelleri), bats, stained band-aids (Pipilo maculatus), band-tailed pigeons (Patagioenas fasciata), sparrows (Emberizidae) and squirrels (Tamias dorsalis).

Hunting methods

The peregrine falcon hunts at dawn and dusk. This species has various techniques to capture its prey. Thus, it can hit and capture the bird in the air or it is launched from a high place and kicks the animal, causing its stun or death..

To grab what it hunted, it rises again and pounces, grabbing it with its paws. If the prey is very heavy, it will drop it to the ground, later descending to eat it.

Other methods include long-range finning, low-flying surprise attacks, low maneuvering flights, and direct and maneuvering high altitude flights. He too Falco peregrinus can perform short-range chases and attacks against flying animals.

This species uses the peculiarities of the terrain to stay hidden from prey, and then be able to attack them unexpectedly. Regarding the capture of waterfowl, the peregrine falcon chases them over the water.

For this, it uses low-level and speed flights, using the waves to hide and be able to surprise them while they swim. When he wants to hunt ducks, he does it when they are on the ground, before they enter the water or when they are in shallow areas.


The peregrine falcon is fundamentally a solitary animal, which forms a pair to reproduce. In the territory where it lives, the size varies according to the abundance of food resources. Regarding the household range, it is estimated that it is between 177 and 1508 km².

To communicate, this species uses a great diversity of vocalizations, which it mainly uses during the reproductive stage. The vast majority of calls occur between couples, parents and their offspring or in antagonistic-type interactions.

He too Falco peregrinus exhibits postures that communicate aggression or submission. When the bird wants to be aggressive, it raises its feathers. On the contrary, in order to be docile, the plumage is kept tight against the body and the animal places its head facing downwards..


This species performs a migration in spring and another in autumn, but there are some variations in terms of regions. Thus, in Indiana, the peak of spring occurs between April and May, while those of fall peak in October..

On the other hand, in central Alberta, adults migrate in the spring from May 8 to 12 and juveniles do so between May 15 and 24. As for the group that migrates to Florida, usually it arrives in September and leaves in May.

The Falco peregrinus he is a lonely long-distance migrant. However, some young people can travel together. A large part heads to North America to breed, and travels to South America (Chile or Argentina) during the winter. During this mobilization you can travel a distance of up to 12,000 kilometers.

In relation to the populations that live along the coasts and in temperate zones, the majority are residents or make short-distance winter trips. Thus, while some adults living in the coastal area of ​​British Columbia appear not to be migratory, others move up to 200 km.


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