Photo Credit: Don Getty
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Falco peregrinus
STATUS: Historical breeder. Fairly common in fall, and rare in winter and spring in Gulf Coast region. In other regions, rare in winter, spring, and fall. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: The peregrine falcon is a medium sized bird that is about fifteen inches long with a wingspan of 40 inches. They have long pointed wings that extend tip to tail when at rest. Adults generally have a black cap and moustache with a pale throat and breast. Their bellies are barred as are the under wings with black and white. Their tails are long and thin with gray and white bands. They have a short, dark colored, hooked beak with which they use to tear apart their prey. Females are generally larger than males.
DISTRIBUTION: Peregrine falcons can be found worldwide and mainly in open country throughout the United States and southern Canada. They live mostly along mountain ranges, river valleys and coastlines and are increasingly being found in large cities.
HABITAT: Found in open country habitats, such as coastal dunes, shorelines, marshes, grasslands, cultivated lands, and cities.
FEEDING HABITS: Although peregrine falcons will eat small mammals such as bats, rats, voles and rabbits – they feed almost exclusively on birds such as doves, waterfowl and songbirds. City dwelling individuals will feed on feral pigeons and starlings, helping to keep their populations in check. They catch their prey by soaring high above and when they identify their target they go into a steep dive which is known as a stoop. They can reach speeds in excess of 185 mph and have been recorded as high as 242 mph in the stoop position. They generally hit the wing of their prey as to prevent injuries to themselves and cripple the victim. The prey is captured with the falcons’ talons and is shredded with its sharp, hooked beak.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Peregrine falcons start breeding at two to three years of age and choose a mate for life. Nests are usually built on cliff edges, window ledges of tall buildings and on bridges. Breeding pairs will return to the same spot to nest annually. Average clutch size is three to four eggs and incubation is generally 29 to 32 days. Fledging usually occurs in 35 to 42 days. One breeding pair will only have one brood per year. The average life span for peregrine falcons is eight to ten years but there are records of them living slightly over twenty years of age.
REFERENCES: Ehrlich, P., Dobkin, D., and Wheye, D. (1988) The Birders Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc.
Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S., (1966) Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc.
AUTHOR: Adam Pritchett, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries