Bird of the Month

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

General description:

If there is a species that seems to have it all, it might be the Peregrine Falcon. This bird is incredibly handsome, fast and deadly.

Adults are blue-gray above with a white throat and a darkly barred chest and belly (these bars are vertical in juveniles). The head is dark with thick “sideburns”. As falcons go, this is the largest in most of the continent, standing 13-20 inches tall. It completes its look with long, swept back and pointed wings (wingspan of 31 to 48 inches) and a long narrow tail.

Behavior

Peregrine Falcons are extremely adept fliers. They catch medium-sized birds in the air with swift, spectacular dives, called stoops. While they can cruise at 25-35 miles per hour, when the chase is on they may reach speeds of 69 miles per hour, faster than a racing cheetah. During a stoop however, they have been clocked at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour.

Habitat

Peregrine Falcons prefer open landscapes with cliffs for nesting. Many cities actually fit that description, and if there is an abundant supply of rock pigeons for prey, Peregrines readily take to city life using tall buildings as defacto cliffs. Nearly 50% of the Midwest population is reported to be city dwellers.

About 50 years ago, Peregrine Falcons were in danger of extinction. At Cornell University, adult peregrines were successfully bred in captivity and this was the start of a wildly successful restoration project. After the eggs hatched they were raised for about three weeks in the lab. Then they were transferred to hack sites (artificial nesting sites) where were cared for until they could fly and hunt on their own. In all, over 6,000 birds were released since 1974 and this action is largely credited with saving the species in North America.

Many of these birds returned to their hack towers and established them as their permanent nest sites, as happened at Camas NWR. This site has produced dozens of Peregrine Falcons in the past 30+ years.

Peregrine Falcons have been documented feeding on over 450 species of birds in North America. These include birds as large as Sandhill Cranes and as small as hummingbirds. They can also be significant predators on bats. If it flies, a Peregrine may look at it as a potential meal.

Peregrines can be seen all over North America, and indeed throughout the world on every continent except Antarctica. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world.

Similar Species

Because of the wide variety of morphs and differences between the sexes and adults versus juveniles, it isn’t that hard to confuse Peregrine Falcons with three other species.

As with most raptors, males are smaller than females, so Peregrines can overlap with large female Merlins or small male Gyrfalcons. An adult Prairie Falcon is similar to a juvenile Peregrine Falcon.

Cool Fact

People have trained falcons for hunting for over a thousand years, and the Peregrine Falcon was always one of the most prized birds. Efforts to breed the Peregrine in captivity and reestablish populations depleted during the DDT years were greatly assisted by the existence of methods of handling captive falcons developed by falconers.

When and where found at Camas NWR: Peregrine Falcons can be seen anywhere on the Refuge as they hunt for birds. Look for them hunting shorebirds and waterfowl around any water source. However, during the nesting season, they will, of course, be most consistently seen near the hack tower, on the west side of the Refuge. Use a spotting scope from the west side of the loop road and watch the tower which is about two miles distant in an area closed to public entry.

Recently, Friends of Camas installed a webcam that allows you to watch the nesting and brood rearing behavior inside the box on top of the hack tower. As with many remote sites, camera function can be sporadic. The webcam seems to work best during morning hours and this is also the best viewing as the box faces east.

On this website, look in the What’s New section for the link to the live feed. If the camera isn’t working, check back a few times.

During the spring, you can also watch live video from a Peregrine Falcon nest in downtown Boise, Idaho at peregrinefund.org/falconcam.

Threatened/Endangered Status: Least Concern

“The Peregrine Falcon has slowly been recovering after populations crashed in 1950-1970 because of DDT poisoning; at this time the eastern population was extirpated and it was declared an Endangered Species. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population to be 140,000 with 17% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 5% in Canada, and 5% in Mexico. This U.S.-Canada Stewardship species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. The species recovered enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.” www.allaboutbirds.org.

Text by Terry Thomas

Photo by Terry Thomas

(Information sources: Cornell’s All About Birds website (www.allaboutbirds.org), The Peregrine Fund (www.peregrinefund.org) and The Nature Conservancy (https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/indiana/
journeywithnature/peregrine-falcons.xml)

Categories