Size: Length 15 to 18 in., weight 20 to 45 oz., wingspan 37 to 43 in.
Area: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia.
Offspring: Two to six eggs.
Predators: Great horned owl, fox, raccoon.
· The Medieval English translation of the Latin falco peregrinus is “pilgrim falcon.”
· Peregrines have extremely acute eyesight, even in dim light.
· Falconry was practiced in China earlier than 2000 BC.
Long ago, in England, a man was allowed to own only a certain type of falcon, according to his rank. Peregrine falcons were owned by earls. The term falcon actually applies to the female, while the male is called a tercel (derived from the Old French word terçuel meaning one-third, because males are approximately one-third smaller than females). Therefore, in falconry, the peregrines used are almost always females because they’re more powerful hunters than the males. In fact, when hunting, males and females prey on different species of birds, eliminating competition within a pair. They hunt and capture birds while in flight—including doves, pigeons, sparrows, ducks, etc. They prey almost exclusively on birds, although they may occasionally capture and eat a reptile or a small mammal. Peregrines are the world’s fastest fliers, clocked at speeds of over 320 kph (180 mph) on a dive.
Peregrine falcons are found in almost every corner of the world, with the exception of rainforests and extremely cold Arctic regions. They often build their nests on rocky cliffs, but have had to make adjustments in many cases due to the ever-increasing human populations, and are now known to nest high atop office towers. DDT was believed to be the main cause for the decline of this falcon. The chemical was ingested by the falcon’s prey, entering the bloodstream of the falcon in a high concentration and harming not only the birds’ ability to reproduce, but creating thinner shells in their eggs, resulting in their loss. Habitat destruction and hunting are also attributed to the peregrine’s decline. The peregrine falcon is protected under Endangered Species Acts in Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, protecting it from hunting, collecting, harassment and destruction of habitat. It is protected in varying degrees in the other provinces as well. In the U.S., many programs have been underway to protect the peregrine, including the banning of DDT, and in 1999, the bird was removed from the endangered list in the States. However, the birds are still subject to DDT in the winters when they fly south to South America, where the chemical is still in use.
Unpaired males court females in the spring by performing aerial acrobatic feats and making loud calls. Once paired, peregrine falcons stay together for life. The male shows his mate several possible nesting sites and she chooses one. The female lays one egg every other day, to a maximum of six, but usually three or four. The parents take turns incubating the eggs for the next month, although the female does most of the sitting while the male hunts for food for her. Once hatched, the white down-covered nestlings remain in the nest for another month before beginning to learn to fly. Their flight feathers first start to appear at about three weeks and by six weeks have grown in. The chicks are cared for by both parents, who are fiercely protective of their brood. The adults train them to hunt by holding prey in their talons while the youngsters try to snatch it away as they fly past. Once the young peregrines are capable of capturing their own prey, they begin to venture out on their own. The average lifespan of a peregrine is four to five years, but individuals, both in captivity and in the wild, have been known to live as long as twenty years.