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The peregrine falcon, also recognized as the peregrine and formerly as the duck hawk in North America, is a worldwide raptor in the Falconidae family. It is a vast falcon the size of a crow, with a blue-grey back, barred white underparts, and a black head. The peregrine falcon is famous for its speed, soaring up to 320 km/h (200 mph) during its distinctive hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest animal in the world.
See the fact file below for more information about Peregrine Falcon, or download the comprehensive worksheet packs, which contain over 11 worksheets and can be used in the classroom or homeschooling environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The peregrine falcon is 34 to 58 cm (13-23 in) in length and has a wingspan of 74 to 120 cm (29-47 in). The male and female have identical markings and plumage. Still, like many other birds of prey, the peregrine falcon exhibits substantial sex differences in size, with the female measuring up to 30% more significant than the male.
- Males weigh 330 to 1,000 g, whereas females weigh 700 g and females weigh more than 800 g, with females weighing around 50% more than their male mating partners not unusual. The wing chord of a peregrine measures 26.5 to 39 cm, the tail reaches 13 to 19 cm, and the tarsus spans 4.5 to 5.6 cm.
- Adults have bluish-black to slate-grey backs, long pointed wings with faint darker barring (see “Subspecies” below), and black wingtips. The underparts are banded with thin clean bands of dark brown or black that range from white to rusty. The tail is long, slim, and rounded at the end, with a black tip and a white strip at the very end, and is colored like the back but with thin clean bars.
- The black top of the head and a “mustache” down the cheekbones stand out against the faded sides of the neck and white throat. The cere and the feet are yellow, while the beak and claws are black. The top beak is notched towards the tip, allowing falcons to kill prey by cutting spinal columns at the neck.
- A young bird is much browner, with streaked underparts rather than a bar, with a light bluish cere and orbital ring. According to research, their black malar stripe exists to minimize glare from sun rays, allowing them to see more clearly.
Taxonomy and Systematics
- Marmaduke Tunstall, an English ornithologist, originally described Falco peregrinus under its present binomial name in his 1771 work Ornithologia Britannica. The scientific term Falco peregrinus derives from a Medieval Latin word by Albertus Magnus in 1225.
- Because falcon nests were difficult to access, the particular name was derived from the fact that immature birds were captured while traveling to their breeding area rather than from the nest.
- Falco, the Latin word for falcon, is connected to falx, which means “sickle,” in allusion to the shadow of the falcon’s long, pointed wings in flight.
- The peregrine falcon is a member of a genus that includes the hierofalcons and the prairie falcon. Mexico (F. mexicanus).
- This lineage most likely separated from other falcons around 5-8 million years ago, around the late Miocene or early Pliocene (mya).
- Because the peregrine-hierofalcon group contains both Old World and North American species, the lineage most likely evolved in Africa‘s western Eurasia.
- Its link to other falcons is obscured by frequent hybridization, which confounds mtDNA sequence analysis. For example, the saker falcon (F. cherrug) has a recognized genetic history that began with a male saker producing viable young with a female peregrine progenitor and the descendants reproducing with the sakers.
- Today, peregrines are frequently bred in captivity with other species, such as the lanner falcon (F. biarmicus), to produce the “perilanner,” a somewhat famous bird in falconry because it combines the peregrine’s hunting ability with the lanner’s hardiness or the gyrfalcon to make significant, strikingly colored birds for falconers to use. Although their lineages split in the Late Pliocene, the peregrine remains genetically similar to the hierofalcons.
- The Barbary falcon is a peregrine falcon subspecies that live in North Africa, from the Canary Islands to the Arabian Peninsula. There is substantial disagreement over the bird’s taxonomic position, with some calling it a variant of the peregrine falcon and others believing it a separate species from two subspecies (White et al., 2013). Barbary falcons have a thinner physique than the other peregrine falcon subspecies.
- Barbary falcons have a reddish patch but otherwise seem the same as peregrine falcons due to Gloger’s rule, which links pigmentation to ambient dampness. The Barbary falcon flies unusually, beating just the outer half of its wings as fulmars occasionally; this also occurs in the peregrine falcon, although less frequently and much less pronouncedly.
- The shoulder and pelvic bones of the Barbary falcon are thicker than those of the peregrine falcon y can interbreed. The peregrine falcon-Barbary falcon combination has a genetic gap of 0.6-0.7%.
Ecology and Behavior
- The peregrine falcon spends much of its time on mountain ranges, river valleys, along coasts, and, increasingly, in towns. It is a permanent resident in warm winter climates, and some animals, particularly mature males, will remain in the breeding territory. Only populations that reproduce in Arctic temperatures move long distances during the northern winter.
- When performing the stoop, the peregrine falcon reaches quicker speeds than any other animal on the earth, flying to vast heights and then falling sharply at over 320 km/h (200 mph), striking one wing of its prey so as not to damage itself on contact.
- The air pressure from such a dive may harm a bird’s lungs, but little bony tubercles on the nostrils of a falcon allow the bird to breathe more freely when diving by decreasing the shift in air pressure.
- The flicker fusion frequency of peregrine falcons is 129 Hz (cycles per second), which is relatively rapid for an “ideal falcon.” The physics of an “ideal falcon” discovered a potential speed limit of 400 km/h (250 mph) for reduced flight and 625 km/h for high-altitude flight. Ken Franklin observed a falcon stooping at a peak speed of 389 km/h in 2005.
- Peregrine falcons may live in the wild for up to 19 and 9 months. Adult mortality is 59-70% in the first year, falling to 25-32% yearly. Aside from anthropogenic risks like collisions with artificial items, more giant hawks and owls may kill the peregrine.
- The peregrine falcon eats nearly medium-sized birds like pigeons, doves, phasianids, ducks, songbirds, and waders.
- This falcon prefers to nest on towering buildings or bridges and feeds mainly on various pigeons. Falcons are thought to prey on between 15,000 and 2,000 bird species worldwide (approximately one-fifth of all bird species).
- The peregrine falcon kills the most diversified variety of bird species of any raptor in North America, with over 300 species killed, including about 100 shorebirds. Smaller hawks and owls, mostly smaller falcons like the American kestrel, merlin, and sharp-sinned hawks, are routinely predated.
- The rock or feral pigeon is the predominant component of the peregrine’s diet in urban environments, accounting for 80% or more of the peregrine’s nutritional intake in some towns.
- Before ingestion, prey is plucked. According to a recent study, the presence of peregrines boosts non-preferred prey species while decreasing their favored target.
- The fastest recorded falcon in 2018 was at 242 mph (389 km/h). In 2018, researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Oxford University utilized 3D computer simulations to demonstrate that peregrines’ rapid speed helps them to achieve superior mobility and precision in strikes.
- The peregrine falcon reaches sexual maturity between the ages of one and three, although, in more significant populations, they breed between the ages of two and three. A couple of mates for life and return to the same nesting site each year.
- Aerial acrobatics, precise spirals, and steep dives are part of the courting flight. By mid-air, the male delivers the prey it has grabbed to the female. To do this, the female flies upside-down to take food from the male’s talons.
- During the mating season, the peregrine falcon is territorial; breeding pairs are usually more than 1 km (0.62 mi) apart and, in some cases, considerably farther, even in locations with a high density of pairs. The space between nests ensures that couples and their babies have enough food.
- Couples may use multiple nesting ledges within a breeding area; the number utilized by a pair can range from one to two to seven in 16 years. The peregrine falcon builds its nest in a scrape, usually on cliff edges. The female selects a nest location by scraping a slight depression in the loose dirt, sand, gravel, or dead plants into which to lay her eggs. Added no additional nest materials.
- The date of egg-laying varies depending on location. Still, it is usually between February and March in the Northern Hemisphere and July and August in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the Australian subspecies Macropus can breed as late as November, and near the equator, populations can nest between June and December.
- Suppose the eggs are lost early in the nesting season. In that case, females will typically lay another clutch, albeit due to the short summer season, which is exceedingly unusual in the Arctic. Generally, three to four eggs are placed in the scrape, although this might vary from one to five. The eggs range from white to buff with red or brown patterns.
- They are brooded for 29 to 33 days, primarily by the female, with the male also contributing during the day, but only the female nurtures them at night.
- The chicks (called “eyases”) are clothed in creamy-white down and have abnormally huge feet after hatching. Both the male (dubbed “tiercel”) and female (dubbed “falcon”) leave the nest to seek food to feed the young. Chicks leave their nests 42 to 46 days after hatching and rely on their parents for up to two months.
Relationship with Humans
Use in Falconry
- The peregrine falcon has been employed in falconry for over 3,000 years, beginning with Central Asian nomads. Its merits in falconry include its agility and enthusiasm to hunt and its equable temperament, making it one of the easiest falcons to teach.
- The peregrine falcon has the added benefit of circling above the falconer (“waiting on”) for a game to be flushed and then doing a successful high-speed diving stoop to grab the quarry.
- Captive-raised peregrine falcons have been effectively reared for falconry and reintroduction into the wild. Until 2004, practically all peregrines used for falconry in the United States were protected under the Endangered Species Act and from limited infusions of wild DNA accessible from Canada and unique situations.
- Peregrine falcons were withdrawn from the endangered species listed in the United States in 1999. The effective recovery program was made possible by the efforts and knowledge of falconers working in partnership with the Peregrine Fund and state and federal organizations using a method known as hacking.
- After years of collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a local harvest of wild peregrines was finally permitted in 2004. Wild peregrines have been captured expressly for falconry for the first time in over 30 years.
Decline due to Pesticides
- Because of organochlorine pesticides, particularly DDT, during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the peregrine falcon became an endangered species over most of its habitat.
- Pesticide bioaccumulation caused organochlorine to accumulate in the falcons’ fatty tissues, lowering the calcium content of their eggshells. Fewer falcon eggs survived until hatching due to thinner shells.
- Furthermore, these falcons’ PCB content varies according to age. While significant quantities are still detected in young birds (just a few months old), more considerable concentrations are observed in more mature falcons, with adult peregrine falcons having even higher levels. These insecticides resulted in thinner eggshells in falcon prey.
- Following the prohibition of organochlorine pesticides, Peregrines’ reproductive success increased in Scotland in territory occupancy and breeding success. However, spatial variation in recovery rates implies that Peregrines were also influenced by other factors, such as persecution in some areas.
- Peregrine falcon recovery teams do captive breeding. The chicks are often fed through a chute or with a hand puppet resembling a peregrine falcon’s head, preventing them from imprinting on the human trainers.
- The rearing box is opened when the bird is young. Feeding is lessened as the fledgling grows stronger, requiring the bird to hunt; the recovery teams are hacking back into the wild to release a captive-bred falcon. The bird is placed in a cage at the top of a tower or cliff ledge.
- The global recovery effort has been highly effective. The universal prohibition of DDT usage finally permitted released birds to reproduce successfully.
- The peregrine falcon was lifted from the United States Endangered Species list on August 25, 1999. Because poachers continue to prey on peregrine falcon eggs and chicks, it is customary not to publicize exposed nest sites.
- In most areas of the world, peregrine falcon numbers have recovered. In the United Kingdom, populations have recovered from the 1960s slump. Conservation and protection efforts headed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have considerably aided this.
- According to the RSPB, there are around 1,402 breeding pairs in the UK. In Canada, where peregrines were classified as endangered in 1978, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada pronounced the species no longer endangered in December 2017.
- Peregrine falcons are included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Commerce in Endangered Species (CITE), which means that international trading (including parts and derivatives) is controlled and global commercial trade of wild-sourced specimens is forbidden.
- Peregrines now breed in many highlands and coastal locations, particularly in the west and north, and nest in certain cities, feeding on urban feral pigeon populations.
Peregrine falcon Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Peregrine falcon across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Peregrine falcon worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Peregrine falcons, which are the fastest-flying birds in the world – they are able to dive at 200 miles per hour. Their name comes from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “to wander”. They are commonly referred to as the Duck Hawk.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Peregrine Falcon Facts
- Coloring Activity
- The Speed Star
- The Art of Falconry
- Stoop and Swoop
- Falcon Fun
- Weave Maze
- Short Story
- The Poet
- Quick Review
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Peregrine Falcon?
The peregrine falcon, also recognized as the peregrine and formerly as the duck hawk in North America, is a worldwide raptor in the Falconidae family. It is a vast falcon the size of a crow, with a blue-grey back, barred white underparts, and a black head.
What is Barbary Falcon?
The Barbary falcon is a peregrine falcon subspecies that live in North Africa, from the Canary Islands to the Arabian Peninsula. Barbary falcons have a thinner physique than the other peregrine falcon subspecies.
Where does the Peregrine falcon spend most of its time?
The peregrine falcon spends much of its time on mountain ranges, river valleys, along coasts, and, increasingly, in towns. It is a permanent resident in warm winter climates, and some animals, particularly mature males, will remain in the breeding territory. Only populations that reproduce in Arctic temperatures move long distances during the northern winter.
How fast is Peregrine falcon?
The peregrine falcon is famous for its speed, soaring up to 320 km/h (200 mph) during its distinctive hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest animal in the world.
How does the Peregrine falcon recover from being endangered species?
Peregrine falcon recovery teams do captive breeding. The chicks are often fed through a chute or with a hand puppet resembling a peregrine falcon’s head, preventing them from imprinting on the human trainers.
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