The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
The PEREGRINE FALCON is Britain’s largest breeding falcon. At around 38-48 cm long, and with a wingspan of 95-110 cm. The female is considerably larger than the male, as much as one-third larger which is why males get the nameTiercel (from the latin meaning one third – tertius). The upper parts are dark blue-grey, and the under parts are pale with varying dark bars. The head is a black ‘hood’ with accompanying black moustache-like markings on its face. Juvenile birds are browner and heavily barred below. The Peregrine is the world’s fastest animal, capable of flying at speeds of over 230 miles per hour!
The Peregrine Falcon can be found on all of the continents apart from the high Arctic and Antarctica They will occupy a variety of habits, including wide open spaces, the coastline, woodlands and moorlands.
Peregrines also can occupy urban areas (many cities and towns in the UK now have a pair of Peregrines) and will set up nests on anything from cathedrals to electricity pylons. These locations often tend to simulate the crags and ledges of the traditional cliff nest sites. The birds are able to feed on the masses of feral pigeons that are seen as a nuisance to many City Councils.
Peregrines don’t construct nests. Instead, lay their eggs in a scrape (hollow on a cliff ledge) or directly on the surface of the nesting structure of a large bird (typically a ravens nest), The scrape is usually unlined barring small rocks and grit. 2-4 eggs are typical, however 5 have been known. Eggs are laid at two to three-day intervals but incubation doesn’t start until until the clutch is complete. Eggs therefore hatch around the same time. Peregrines can have second clutches if the first clutch fails but this is uncommon.
Laying dates will vary but they can start from late February onwards. The females incubate (in the main) the eggs for 29-32 days, and once hatched, it is the Tiercel (male) that provides the majority of the food.
Peregrines will typically pair for several years and may live up to 10 years old in the wild (with exceptions of course). It has been known for a Tiercel to serve more than a single falcon in a single breeding season (as observed by the Late Dick Treleaven on the Cornish coast)
Whereas an urban peregrine typically feeds on pigeons as they are numerous in these locations along with starlings, peregrines living on the coast or near estuaries will also feed on wading birds and ducks and an assortment of smaller prey. Both groups will have varying feeding habits throughout the seasons, as prey species change. Peregrines will hunt from the early dawn until dusk. Hunting by moonlight or by light pollution in cities are also common place, taking migrants such as woodcock, snipe, shearwater and the like. Bats have also be recorded.
Peregrines are mostly silent except at the nest, when guarding their home territory or when disturbed. Eyasses will make incredible noise at feeding time when either parent returns with a ‘kill’.
The eyesight of Raptors is remarkable compared to that of a humans. Please follow this link for a more detailed explanation on the Peregrines’ Eye
Peregrine numbers crashed in the 1960’s due to the impact of the pesticide DDT. They are again now increasing in numbers, but their recovery in some areas of the UK are still blighted by illegal persecution. The Peregrine along with many other Birds of Prey is a protected species.