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Peregrine

Photo: Jaiden BlumfieldPortrait of an adult Peregrine. Photo Jaiden Blumfield

Falco peregrinus

Famous as the fastest bird on Earth, with birds in mid-stoop having been recorded at over 200mph. Prey is struck at the end of the stoop and is often killed instantly by the impact.

Peregrines are large and powerful falcons, with the typical falcon body plan of long pointed wings allowing for great speed. They are a slate grey above, with darker wingtips and paler rumps. The head is grey with white chin, throat and cheeks and black moustachial markings, giving a distinctive helmeted appearance. Below, the birds are white and variously spotted with black. Females tend to be more heavily marked than males and are also significantly larger.   

Peregrines are found around much of world, with various races and subspecies represented. In desert areas they are replaced by closely related ‘sister’ species such as Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides).

VITAL STATISTICS

Size: Average 42cm, wingspan 102cm. Females (1.1kg) larger than males (670g).

Status: Resident breeding bird and winter visitor.

Population size: 1,700 pairs.

Conservation status: GREEN (least concern), downgraded from AMBER in 2009 due to stable population. Numbers in north and west falling, but numbers in lowland and urban areas increasing and balancing overall population size.

Lifespan: Average in the wild of 6 years. Adults have an 80% year-to-year survival. Roughly half of juveniles will survive their first year. The oldest known is over 24 years old (re-sighting of colour-marked bird).

Nesting: Peregrines can breed from 2 years of age. Nest scrapes are placed on rocky edges, cliffs, quarries and mountains with no nesting material, eggs being laid directly on the substrate. Occasionally birds will nest on the ground and tree nesting is not unknown. Increasingly birds are nesting on man-made structures such as industrial buildings, churches and high-rise buildings, with birds preferring to place their nests on the highest local point. Building-nesting birds will often happily take to installed nesting platforms.

Clutches are laid from end of March to mid-April and only one brood is raised a year. The female does most of the incubating, but both birds provision the young. Care is given to the chicks for several months after fledging, with adults providing food and teaching the youngsters to catch live prey.

Number of eggs: 3-4

Incubation: 31-33 days

Fledging time: 39-40 days

Peregrines are very aggressive in defending their nests against perceived danger and will eagerly attack any large birds that pass over the area. Buzzards and Red Kites are regularly targeted, with some pairs adept at grounding or even killing such large birds. There have even been records of Peregrines attacking and killing Golden Eagles near their nests

Distribution: They breed throughout Scotland, Wales, the north and south-west of England and coastal areas of Northern Ireland. They now also breed in several major cities. In winter they can also be seen along the south and eastern coastal areas of England.

Movements: Non-migratory British Peregrines are resident, although there is significant dispersal of young birds from their natal sites. Numbers of European birds winter in the UK in addition to the resident birds. Although hard to identify in the field, there have been claims of F. peregrinus tundrius (northern North America) and F. peregrinus calidus (northern Europe) subspecies in UK. 

Feeding: Peregrines feed almost exclusively on medium-sized birds, a huge variety of species are taken generally during an aerial stoop, and waterfowl and pigeons are favourites in the UK. In urban areas, the main component of the Peregrine's diet is the Feral Pigeon although collection of remains has shown a surprising range of species taken. Very occasionally Peregrines will take bats, or even terrestrial mammals, but this is unusual. Hunting takes place mostly at dawn and dusk, although urban birds use artificial light to allow them to hunt at night, targeting migrating birds moving overhead.

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