The fastest animal alive, the peregrine falcon can dive at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. This widespread and well-known bird is found on every continent except Antarctica. There are currently 19 recognized subspecies of this bird, three of which can be found in North America: the tundra peregrine, Peale’s peregrine, and the rare American or continental peregrine.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Aves
Order – Falconiformes
Family – Falconidae
Genus - Falco
Species – F. peregrinus
Common Name – Peregrine Falcon, Peregrine, Duck Hawk
While many of the subspecies of the peregrine have variations in coloration and patterning, there are characteristics that are shared by all variants. They are dark grey above with a white or cream-colored undersides, with dark horizontal bars across the belly. Their heads feature black “hoods” with a dark “mustache” marking that extends to below the beak. The wingspan of the peregrine can reach up to 41 inches from tip to tip.
Peregrine falcon pairs stay together for their entire lives. The male performs intricate aerial behaviors to impress the female. They return to the same nesting site each year to lay their eggs and raise their young. The mating pair will defend the nest against other peregrines and bird species until the eggs hatch. Chicks are called “eyases” and will live with the parents for two months.
Peregrines are expert hunters, and they are known to feed on up to 2,000 species of birds throughout the world. They fly to great heights, and then engage in a “stoop” which is a deep dive in which the falcon may attain speeds of well over 200 miles per hour. These birds have evolved specialized features to help them endure these tremendous speeds, including adaptations in their nostrils to keep the rush of air from damaging their lungs.
Peregrine falcons are popular birds for use in falconry, and have been utilized in this practice for over 3,000 years. These birds are trained to hunt and catch wild game. In falconry, the peregrine is often selectively crossbred with other birds in the Falco genus, including the gyrfalcon, merlin, and lanner falcon, to produce birds with specific color patterns and characteristics.
Its speed and hunting prowess make it a popular symbol in many cultures through the ages, from Native Americans to medieval Europe. It is the official city bird of Chicago, Illinois and is the national animal of the United Arab Emirates.
The peregrine falcon was in decline for many years due to the use of pesticides, particularly DDT, in the mid to late 20th century. It was considered endangered throughout much of its range, but strong recovery efforts have been very successful in helping its numbers increase dramatically. Captive breeding programs allowed the bird to be reintroduced in many areas where it had been nearly wiped out or wiped out completely.
- Peterson Field Guide: Hawks, Clark & Wheeler, 2001
- The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition, Sibley, 2014