Peregrine Falcon Facts
One of the most common birds in the world, you can find the peregrine falcon in the cold lands of the Arctic as well as in the humid expanse of the rainforests. In fact, New Zealand stands as the only country on Earth where you won’t find them. Learn more about this amazing bird with these 30 Peregrine Falcon facts.
- A peregrine falcon’s body typically measures between 34 cm and 58 cm long.
- Their wingspan typically measures between 74 cm and 120 cm from one wingtip to the other.
- Females typically grow about 30% bigger than males.
- Males typically weigh between 330 g and 1 kg.
- Females, on the other hand, typically weigh between 700 g and 1.5 kg.
- The peregrine falcon’s ancestors first evolved between 8 and 5 million years ago.
- Scientists remain divided whether or not they first evolved in Eurasia or in Africa.
- Peregrine falcons diverged from hierofalcons between 2.5 and 2 million years ago.
- Barbary falcons later diverged from the peregrine falcons at the end of the last Ice Age.
- Humans first began taming peregrine falcons around 3000 years ago, in Central Asia.
- English ornithologist, Marmaduke Tunstall, gave them their scientific name, Falco peregrinus, in 1771.
- Soldiers used peregrine falcons in WWII to intercept enemy messenger pigeons.
- Pesticides like DDT caused peregrine falcon populations to sharply decline from the 1950s to the 1970s.
- Peregrine falcons recovered by 1999, when they lost their endangered species designation.
- Peregrine falcons today enjoy “protected” status worldwide.
- With a maximum recorded speed of 389 kph, the peregrine falcon has the reputation of the fastest animal on Earth.
- On average, however, a peregrine falcon regularly reaches a top speed of only 320 kph.
- Some airports use peregrine falcons to scare other birds away, reducing the danger of bird strikes.
- The Ancient Egyptians associated peregrine falcons with the Sun god, Ra.
- In Medieval Europe, people associated princes with peregrine falcons.
Peregrine falcons have a distinctive appearance.
The feathers on their backs and on top of their wings have colors that range from blue-black to slate grey. The color shifts to pure black, however, on the peregrine falcon’s wingtips, while the feathers under their wings have a white and rusty color. They also feature bands of dark brown or black, while their tails mostly match the color of their backs.
However, the end of a peregrine falcon’s tail may also sometimes feature a white band. Their neck and throat have white feathers, which contrast with the black feathers on their head and cheeks. A peregrine falcon always has a yellow bill and feet, which also contrast with the black of their beak and talons.
They also have many different subspecies.
In fact, scientists recognize 19 different subspecies of the peregrine falcon, in addition to its main species. These include the American peregrine falcon, also known as the duck hawk, which lives over and around the Rocky Mountains of North America. Then we have the Mediterranean peregrine falcon, also called the Maltese falcon. As referenced by its name, this subspecies lives across most of the Mediterranean region. It does, however, avoid going into the Sahara Desert in North Africa.
Next, we have the pallid falcon, native to South America, which scientists have once considered a separate species. Finally, the Peale’s falcon, named after American ornithologist, Titian Peale. This subspecies lives as a native of the American Pacific Northwest, and also counts as the biggest subspecies of them all.
They live in many different habitats.
In the wild, peregrine falcons typically live in mountainous or coastal regions, with the birds making their nests in cliffs common to those areas. Unlike other birds, they don’t build nests as much as they dig them into the surface of ledges on a cliff’s face. They also have a habit of picking out places that face south to dig their nests in.
Peregrine falcons have also adapted to living in man-made areas, such as cities. In these places, they usually make their nests in places that resemble the cliffs of nature. These include cathedrals, skyscrapers, and even the towers of bridges.
They also target various kinds of prey.
That said, smaller birds make up most of their prey. These include doves, pigeons, songbirds, and waterfowl. Even birds as small as hummingbirds, which barely weigh an average of around 3 g, can become prey for a peregrine falcon. The biggest known bird prey for a peregrine falcon is a 3 kg sandhill crane found in Alaska.
In fact, scientists consider peregrine falcons as one of the most versatile bird hunters in the world, preying on at least 300 different bird species. That being said, they do sometimes show preferences for a certain prey. This proves especially the case for peregrine falcons that live in cities, where feral pigeons make up about 80% of their diet.
They can suffer from various diseases.
They can suffer from diseases, some of which they can even pass onto humans, such as Avipoxvirus, which includes monkeypox and now-eradicated smallpox. Other viruses that affect them, which can also get passed onto humans, include the Newcastle Disease Virus.
Peregrine falcons also serve as carriers for the malaria parasite, which doesn’t affect them even as they pass it onto humans. Other parasites they can carry and pass onto humans, as well, include fleas, lice, nematodes, and even tapeworms. Unlike the malaria parasite, however, these parasites can affect peregrine falcons. Fleas and lice can prove especially dangerous, as they carry various bacteria that cause serious diseases like bubonic plague, and pass them onto people.
Peregrine falcons mate for life.
Biologically speaking, peregrine falcons reach sexual maturity between the ages of one to three years. However, birds that belong to larger flocks may not look for a mate until they reach the age of two. The birds court each other while flying together, with the male showing off with acrobatics, dives, and spirals. It ends with the male trying to pass freshly caught prey to a female, which becomes their mate if she accepts. This part of the courting ritual actually causes the female to fly upside down, allowing herself to receive the male’s offering. Peregrine falcons get very territorial, even within their flocks. In fact, scientists have observed that mated pairs stay at least a full kilometer away from other mated pairs.
They tend to act very protectively as parents.
So much so, that peregrine falcons will fight bigger predators to protect their nests, eggs, and hatchlings. These predators include mammals like bears, cats, foxes, mountain lions, wolverines, and wolves. Other birds also sometimes prey on peregrine falcon nests, such as gulls, herons, and ravens. In fact, owls make up the primary threat to peregrine falcon nests, in particular, the Eurasian eagle owl and the Great Horned Owl.
Other raptors may also prey on peregrine falcon nests, such as the bald eagle, as well as the golden eagle. When a peregrine falcon fails to protect their nest, it can become very vengeful, with at least one observed case where a peregrine falcon has hunted down a snowy owl that has killed a hatchling.
Peregrine falcons can also hybridize with other birds.
This rarely happens in the wild, and more commonly in captivity. Hybrids include the Perilanner, born from a peregrine falcon and a Lanner’s falcon. There’s also the Perlin, born from a peregrine falcon and a merlin. In both cases, the peregrine falcon serves as a father, while the other bird serves as the mother.
Both hybrids also grow smaller than a peregrine falcon, and have a shorter range as well. However, they have a peregrine falcon’s hunting instinct, giving their owners a bird with a peregrine falcon’s ability, but that’s also easier to control. The perilanner also makes up a preferred bird to keep other birds away from airports, much like with what we have mentioned earlier.
They also have a place in falconry.
In particular, a peregrine falcon’s naturally athletic character, as well as their aggressive hunting behavior, make them very popular among falconers. They also tend to have a calm disposition, making them easier to train and get along with, compared to other birds.
Also unlike other birds used in falconry, peregrine falcons naturally hunt other birds, while also having the ability to attack targets on the ground. This means it takes less time and effort to actually train them, compared to other birds. Peregrine falcons also have no problem hunting prey bigger than themselves, which only further adds to their popularity among falconers.
They have a place in world culture.
Native Americans see peregrine falcons as a symbol of heavenly power, hence the custom of giving and even burying important men with clothing made with their feathers. The modern United Arab Emirates (UAE) also officially considers the peregrine falcon as their national animal. The US city of Chicago also considers the peregrine falcon as the official bird of the city. Meanwhile, Idaho minted state quarters in 2007 with a peregrine falcon in front. British writer J.A. Baker wrote The Peregrine in 1967, which critics also call as one of the most important books about nature in the 20th century.