Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco peregrinus | [authority] Tunstall, 1771 | [UK] Peregrine Falcon | [FR] Faucon pelerin | [DE] Wanderfalke | [ES] Halcon Peregrino | [NL] Slechtvalk


Monotypic species


Members of the genus falco are mostly medium-sized falcons, but vary from the large peregrine falcon to the small American kestrel. The wings are long and pointed and used almost continuously during flight. The bill is short, powerful, and with a distinct ‘tooth’ on each side. Most falcons of this group have a black teardrop-shaped ‘mustache’ mark on each side of the head. Falcons are fastflying birds of open country and are famous for attaining high speeds as they dive from high altitudes to knock birds out of the air.

Physical charateristics

Peregrines have a distinctive appearance. The head and neck area are blackish with a dark wedge of coloration extending below the eyes that forms a “helmet” or hooded appearance. The throat, chin, and ear patch are contrasted by white feathers. The upper body ranges from a bluish-black or slate gray to rich brown; the back, the feathers of the bird’s shoulders, and the small feathers on top of the wings and over the tail feathers have a faint cross pattern or barring, while the rump and tail feathers are more strongly barred. Wing and tail feathers have broad horizontal bars. Under parts are white to cream colored; males have a few blackish spots on the upper breast becoming horizontal bars on the lower breast and abdomen, extending to the sides, flanks and upper thighs. Females are more heavily spotted on the upper breast and become heavily barred on the abdomen, flanks, thighs, and under the tail feathers. In the adult the iris of the eye is very dark brown, and non-feathered portions of the lower leg and the feet are bright yellow.

Juveniles are more brownish-gray above, with buff feather edges and less white underneath. They also have heavier brown to cinnamon colored markings in a more vertical pattern on the breast and abdomen. The juvenile peregrine’s iris is dark brown, and its feet and lower legs are greenish-yellow.

Listen to the sound of Peregrine Falcon

[audio: Falcon.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 46 cm wingspan max.: 100 cm
size min.: 38 cm size max.: 51 cm
incubation min.: 29 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 35 days fledging max.: 32 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 5  


Worldwide oriental region: widespread


Rivaled only by the Osprey, the Peregrine Falcon has one of the most global distributions of any bird of prey. This falcon is found on every continent except Antarctica, and lives in a wide variety of habitats from tropics, deserts, and maritime to the tundra, and from sea level to 4,000 meter. Peregrines are highly migratory in the northern part of their range. Nests typically are situated on ledges of vertical cliffs, often with a sheltering overhang. Ideal locations include undisturbed areas with a wide view, near water, and close to plentiful prey. Substitute man-made sites can include tall buildings, bridges, rock quarries, and raised platforms. Traditionally, peregrines are found in regions of open habitat with tall cliffs that range from tundra, savanna, and forested river valleys, to coastlines and high mountains. The highest and steepest rock face available that provides a clear view of the surrounding area for hunting is preferred. Peregrines are usually associated with a source of water which attracts a prey base of small to medium-sized birds. Falcons roost on small ledges, and rock outcroppings on steep, bare rock walls preferably under an overhang.
Eyries (nests) are usually established on vegetated ledges where eggs are laid in a scraped-out depression in the vegetation, soil, decomposed rock or remains of prey. The tops of tall buildings are well suited to such a nest type. Beyond the formation of a scrape, peregrines do not build nests, and they some times use the nest remnants of other species.


Most peregrines don’t become sexually mature until they are two to three years of age. Pairs are monogamous, staying mated for life. Behavior of pairs during the nonbreeding season is variable and is believed to be at least partially dependent upon prey availability. Some pairs remain together throughout the winter, while others appear to separate.

Established pairs return to the same breeding territory, and often the same cliff or city building, year after year. Male falcons that have not previously bred tend to return to their natal (the area where they were hatched) site in the spring. If a territory cannot be established, the birds disperse to suitable unoccupied habitat. Male peregrines have been observed defending territories of one to two miles around their urban nest sites. Among breeding pairs, it is believed that the male usually returns to the nest site first and begins aerial courtship displays to attract its mate. Early in the breeding season the pair will hunt together and occupy the same cliff or sky scrap er while reestablishing the pair bond. A period of courtship follows, including aerial maneuvers with vocalizations by the male and the pair, feeding of the female by the male, and ledge displays by both male and female.

Eggs are laid in a scrape at the nest site at an interval of two to three days. The average number of eggs laid is four. Incubation is done primarily by the female, although the male may incubate for short periods during the daytime. Hatching occurs after 32 to 34 days. If a nest is destroyed during egg laying or early in incubation, incubation, the female will usually lay a second clutch.

Once the falcons have hatched, the female does most of the brooding of the altricial (helpless and dependent on the parents) young. Observations of city nesters indicate that some males are as active in brooding as their mates. For the first three to four days prey is delivered by the male to the female who then tears the food to small pieces for the chicks. Later, both the male and female hunt, but the female still does most of the feeding. Fledging usually occurs at 35 to 42 days. The average number of young fledged per nest is between 1.3 and 3.05.

Feeding habits

Peregrines chiefly hunt birds such as starlings, pigeons, blackbirds, jays, shorebirds, and waterfowl, but will rarely take mammals, reptiles, or insects. Peregrines may use a variety of hunting techniques, but typically prey is captured in the air after fast pursuit or a rapid dive to catch the prey.

Video Peregrine Falcon


copyright: Ripfilms


This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 10,000-100,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001). Global population trends have not been quantified, but populations appear to be stable (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001) so the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
This cosmopolitan falcon inhabits open regions and forested regions as well, but for breeding it depends largely on the presence of steep cliffs. Its distribution is consequently very irregular. Southern populations are sedentary, but northern birds are migratory and those of the arctic tundra winter in tropical Africa. The populations of the European Union have undergone a dramatic decline between 1950 and 1960 following chronic poisoning with organochlorine pesticides, and the species has disappeared from many regions. During the last 20 years a comeback has been noticed, and the species has been able to colonise some regions again. In the British Isles the population is now locally even more important than before the crash. The total breeding population of the European Union is estimated at 5000 pairs, but in some areas persecution is still a problem
Peregrine Falcon status Least Concern


Migratory in north and north-east, grading through strongly dispersive to resident in south and west. F. p. brookei (breeding Mediterranean basin to Caucasus) shows least movement of west Palearctic races, though still local dispersal. F. p. peregrinus (breeding temperate and subarctic Europe) basically non-migratory, though many individuals (especially juveniles) wander extensively in autumn and winter. Such movement most marked in Fenno-Scandian and north Russian population, with northern territories vacated in winter. Autumn movements span August to early November; return to breeding areas March to early May, though immatures may linger in summer away from breeding grounds. F. p. calidus (breeding Arctic from east Finnmark to c. 130 degrees E), in contrast to nominate peregrinus, a total migrant including transequatorial element, thinly distributed in winter over much of sub-Saharan Africa. Leaves tundra territories in September, appearing in winter range in October. Departures from winter quarters begin late March or early April; tundras reoccupied in May.
Pale-plumaged F. p. anatum of North America, probably rare vagrant to west Palearctic.

Distribution map

Peregrine Falcon distribution range map


Title Variation in the quality of parental care at falcon nests in South Africa as evidence for postulated differences in food availabi lity.
Author(s): Jenkins A.R . 2000
Abstract: Parental care by Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinu..[more]..
Source: Ardea, 88(1): 17-32

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Title Genetic relationships in the peregrine falcon (
) analysed by microsatellite DNA markers
Author(s): M. Nesje, K. H. Roed, J. T. Lifjeld, P. Lindberg and O. F. Steen
Abstract: Microsatellite DNA markers were developed from a p..[more]..
Source: Molecular Ecology (2000) 9 , 53-60

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Title Migration of a Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus over
water in the vicinity of a hurricane
Author(s): M.J. McGrady, G.S. Young and W.S. Seegar
Abstract: Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus migrating over ..[more]..
Source: Ringing & Migration (2006) 23, 80-84

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Title Predator avoidance behaviour of a solitary Willet attacked by a Peregrine Falcon
Abstract: During the non-breeding season, Willets Catoptroph..[more]..
Source: Bulletin 104 August 2004

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Abstract: Samples of secondary remiges collected from nestli..[more]..
Source: The Auk 100: 560-567. July 1983

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Title Nest-site overlap and coexistence between Bonelli’s Eagle (Hiera tus fasciatus) and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) in an area of simpatry.
Author(s): Gil Snchez, J. M
Abstract: Nest-site selection has been compared between the ..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 46(1), 1999, 31-37

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Title Population size and factors affecting the density of the Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon in Spain
Author(s): Gainzarain, J. A., Arambarri, R. & Rodrguez, A. F.
Abstract: By means of bibliographical searches and requests ..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 49(1), 2002, 67-74

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Title Kleptoparasitism by Peregrine Falcons on Carrion Crows
Author(s): Zuberogoitia, I., Ir ta, A. & Martnez, J. A.
Abstract: […]. The study area was Bizkaia, a small provinc..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 49(1), 2002, 103-104

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Title Rock climbing and Raven Corvus corax ocurrence depress breeding success of cliff-nesting Peregrines Falco peregrinus
Author(s): Mattia Brambilla, Diego Rubolini & Franca Guidali
Abstract: Aims: To assess the significance of rock climbing-..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 51(2), 2004, 425-430

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Title Nest defence by Lapwings : observations on natural behaviour and an experiment.
Author(s): Kis J ., A . Liker & T. Szkely 2000
Abstract: Lapwings Vanellus vanellus are ground-nesting wade..[more]..
Source: Ardea 88(2) : 155-163

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Title Gliding flight: drag and torque of a hawk and a falcon with straight and turned heads, and a lower value for the parasite drag coefficient
Author(s): Vance A. Tucker
Abstract: Raptors falcons, hawks and eagles in this study-s..[more]..
Source: The Journal of Experimental Biology 203, 3733-3744 (2000)

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Title Curved flight paths and sideways vision in peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus)
Author(s): VA Tucker, Tucker, K Akers, and JH Enderson
Abstract: When diving at prey straight ahead from great dist..[more]..
Source: The Journal of Experimental Biology 203, 3755-3763 (2000)

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Title Gliding flight: speed and acceleration of ideal falcons during diving and pull out
Author(s): Vance A. Tucker
Abstract: Some falcons, such as peregrines (Falco peregrinus..[more]..
Source: The Journal of Experimental Biology 201, 403-414 (1998)

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