The peregrine falcon can vary in size and colour depending on the region, yet like all falcons, it has long, tapered wings and a slim, short tail with streamlined feathers. The North American peregrine falcon is roughly the size of a crow, with the female being larger than the male, as is the norm for birds of prey. Falconers commonly refer to the female as a falcon and the male as a tercel. The peregrine falcon has slate-blue-grey wings, a pale underbelly and black bars on its thighs and lower breast. One of the falcon’s most distinctive features is its face, which is white with black stripes, and large, dark eyes.
The peregrine falcon’s extremely keen eyesight is one of its strongest assets, allowing it to be an effective hunter at any time of the day, even in dim light. The falcon’s hooked bill, powerful wings, large feet and sharp talons also contribute to its hunting prowess. When folded, the peregrine falcon’s wings just reach the tip of its tail.
The survival rate for young falcons is low, but those which make it to adulthood typically live an average of five years, and some have been known to live until the age of 20.
Habitat and behaviour
When not breeding, the peregrine falcon is a relatively solitary creature. Falcon nests are typically spaced about five kilometres apart, and the peregrine falcon defends its nest from predators and other falcons. The peregrine falcon’s call differs between the male and female. The male’s call is wheezier and higher-pitched than the female’s, which is somewhat coarse and raspy.
Built for speed, the peregrine falcon is a fierce predator. It preys almost exclusively on birds, including pigeons, waterfowl, grouse and small songbirds. It also eats small mammals, such as bats and rodents, and the occasional reptile.
The peregrine falcon seeks out a perch with a high vantage point from which to hunt, such as a cliff or tall tree. This enables it to quickly swoop down upon its prey from a great height in a wide, open space. Consequently, the falcon prefers non-forested areas, such as marshes, shores, valleys and tundra. Peregrine falcon nests have occasionally been found on flat ground and, more recently, on top of buildings in urban areas.
“Peregrine” is derived from the Latin word for “wandering” and is an apt name for this falcon. With the exception of Iceland, New Zealand and Antarctica, the peregrine falcon can be found all around the globe. There are 19 recognized subspecies of peregrine, three of which are found in North America. As long as suitable breeding sites are available, the peregrine falcon nests across Canada. This wanderer often migrates long distances between its seasonal breeding ranges and can travel up to 30,000 kilometres in a year.
The peregrine falcon is a huge success story in North America. After experiencing a sharp decline in population during the mid-20th century, the peregrine was afforded legal protection. It has subsequently been bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild, and its numbers have rebounded to a safer level.