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The peregrine falcon is a medium-sized bird, with a body length of 15-20 inches, a wingspan of about 3½ feet, and a weight of 1¼-2¾ pounds.
The adult peregrine has a black mustache mark on its face, bluish gray back and wings, and whitish underparts with black spotting and barring. Its wings are long and pointed, and the feet large and yellow. Juveniles are similar to adults, but the back is brownish and the underparts are streaked rather than barred.
Both sexes have similar plumage, but females are larger and more heavily marked.
Distribution and Habitat
The peregrine falcon is one of the most widespread raptors of the world, found on every continent except Antarctica, and on many oceanic islands. It is found in a wide variety of habitats, including tropics, deserts, maritime, and tundra, from sea level to 12,000 feet.
Peregrine falcons are well adapted to living in large cities because of the abundance of tall buildings with ledges for nesting, easily accessible water sources, large populations of pigeons and other birds for food, and the presence of few natural predators.
Peregrine falcons are highly migratory in the northern part of their range; those that nest in the North American tundra, for example, winter in South America.
Habits and Behaviors
The peregrine can fly at 25-35 mph in direct flight, and can reach speeds of up to 70 mph in direct pursuit of prey, and up to 200 mph in a dive.
Peregrines usually hunt medium-sized birds, but will on rare occasions go after small mammals, reptiles, and insects. Most prey is captured in the air after a fast pursuit or rapid dive. Kills are made by biting into the neck.
The nest, which is usually a shallow unlined scrape, is generally placed near water on ledges of rocky cliffs or buildings; occasionally the peregrine will use the abandoned stick nest of another species, however.
Three to four reddish brown eggs are laid per clutch, and are incubated for about 34 days. Chicks are fledged at 5 to 6 weeks.
The peregrine falcon was once endangered due to the use of pesticides, especially DDT, which caused the females to lay thin-shelled eggs. Since DDT and other pesticides have been banned, however, the peregrine has enjoyed a comeback and has reclaimed most of its original range.
Falconers have long favored the peregrine because of its amazing high speed dives. The male is known as a tiercel, the female a falcon.
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This page was last updated on November 29, 2017.