The peregrine falcon (Falco pergrinus) is the fastest extant animal on the planet. In their signature swooping dives, peregrines have been clocked at 242 miles per hour and may be capable of going faster. Although only about the size of a crow, the peregrine falcon’s speed allows it to take prey much larger than itself, in some cases killing birds as large as bald eagles and sandhill cranes.
Peregrine falcons can be anywhere from 14-20 inches long and have wingspans that range from 36-44 inches. As is true with many raptors, adult females are much larger than males, in some cases nearly double their size. Peregrines can be recognized by their steely, blue-grey wings and white underbelly. They can be found throughout most of the world with the exception of arctic areas and the country of New Zealand. They are most prevalent near coasts and major urban areas, and those who live in northern climates do migrate south for the winter.
Peregrine falcons are avivores, meaning they feed almost exclusively by hunting other birds. The peregrine will hunt by perching on a high object or by soaring through the air at a slow speed. When the peregrine spots a flying prey bird it will fold its wings back and enter its dive, which is called a stoop. By making itself as aerodynamic as possible the peregrine can reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour in these dives. It will kill or stun its prey by striking it with a closed talon. If the prey is small enough the falcon will grab it out of midair after the stun; larger birds will be allowed to fall to earth. The peregrine always eats on land, and plucks its victims before consumption.
The peregrine falcon preys on as many as 2000 different species of birds worldwide, much depending on the falcon’s habitat. For instance, urban-dwelling peregrines prey almost exclusively on the rock pigeons that are so common in large cities, and coastal peregrines will feed an all varieties of seabirds. Peregrine falcons are also known to hunt bats in the same ways they do birds, and much more rarely will eat small ground-dwelling mammals and insects.
For mating, male peregrine falcons will typically choose several nest sites at the beginning of each season with the female picking the site from those choices. Nests are a simple two inch depression scraped out of the ground, usually in an elevated place such as a cliff edge or a tall building. They will also use nests that have been abandoned by other large species of birds.
The female will lay anywhere from 1-5 eggs which she will incubate for about a month. Once the chicks are born, they will be dependent on both parents to feed them. They fledge after 42-46 days, and live with their parents for about two months before striking out on their own. Both before and after eggs are hatched peregrines must defend their nest from a wide variety of predatory birds as well as foxes and wolverines who will attempt to make a meal of the eggs or chicks. They also have to defend against larger raptors and eagles from time to time. In the wild, peregrine falcons can live over 15 years.
PEREGRINE FALCON FACTS
- Some peregrine falcons will migrate over 15,000 miles in a year.
- They are one of the most popular birds in the world for advanced falconers.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology