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Species Description

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus


Species Image

Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae

Description

Most of head dark black or brown, with a dark wedge below eye; buff color on throat, extending to upper chest and partially up each side of the neck; belly, feathers covering upper legs, and tail are barred; back and wings dark; legs yellow. 41-51 cm (16-20 in) in length; 91-112 cm (35-44 in) wing span.

Life Cycle

Peregrine Falcons are able to breed at 3 years of age. The breeding season probably begins in March and extends into May. Nesting habitat is highly variable, including more traditional cliffs or trees, and man-made structures like towers and the ledges of tall buildings. The nest is usually a scrape lined with fine materials. The female lays 2-6 (usually 3-4) eggs that she incubates for 29-32 days. The incubating female is fed by the male. The young are semi-altricial and stay in the nest for 35-42 days after hatching. Juvenile birds are dependent on their parents for care for several months after they hatch.

Natural History

In more wild habitat, the Peregrine Falcon frequents open areas like marshes, fields, swamps, and tidal areas. Since its reintroduction into the eastern United States, however, the Peregrine Falcon has colonized many urban areas because of increased nesting sites (and nesting ledges being created on buildings). The Peregrine Falcon eats a wide variety of birds, including waterfowl, doves, shorebirds, and passerines. Cities have also provided a good source of food, the Rock Dove (pigeon).The Peregrine Falcon captures its prey on the wing, usually striking it with its talons and knocking the bird out of the air or killing it immediately. It can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour while diving to strike its prey.

Range

Peregrine Falcon Region Map Within the United States, this species is most common in the West during the breeding season and in coastal areas during the winter. In the Southeast the Peregrine Falcon is most common on the coasts and in Florida during the winter.

Conservation Status

In 1984, the American Peregrine Falcon subspecies was Federally listed as Endangered, and the Arctic Peregrine Falcon subspecies was listed as Federally Threatened. Ten years later, the Arctic Peregrine Falcon was removed from the list and in 1999 the American Peregrine Falcon was removed. However, this species is still listed as Endangered by every southeastern state. The Peregrine Falcon's decline was attributed to pesticides, specifically DDT, either by causing death directly or by reducing reproductive success to near zero. Since the banning of DDT and reintroduction projects, this species is well on its way to recovery.

Similar Species

In the Southeast, the two species most similar to the Peregrine Falcon are the American Kestrel and the Merlin. The American Kestrel is much smaller than the Peregrine Falcon (27 cm (10.5 in) in length) and has a rusty-colored back and tail. The Merlin is also much smaller (31 cm (12 in) in length), lacks the large black wedge that occurs on the face, and has a more boldly barred tail than the Peregrine Falcon.