IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Powerful and fast-flying, the Peregrine Falcon hunts medium-sized birds, dropping down on them from high above in a spectacular stoop. They were virtually eradicated from eastern North America by pesticide poisoning in the middle 20th century. After significant recovery efforts, Peregrine Falcons have made an incredible rebound and are now regularly seen in many large cities and coastal areas.
Peregrine Falcons are the largest falcon over most of the continent, with long, pointed wings and a long tail. Be sure to look at shape as well as size—long primary feathers give the Peregrine a long-winged shape. As with most raptors, males are smaller than females, so Peregrines can overlap with large female Merlins or small male Gyrfalcons.
Adults are blue-gray above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. Juveniles are heavily marked, with vertical streaks instead of horizontal bars on the breast. Despite considerable age-related and geographic variation, an overall steely, barred look remains.
Peregrine Falcons catch medium-sized birds in the air with swift, spectacular dives, called stoops. In cities they are masterful at catching pigeons. Elsewhere they feed especially on shorebirds and ducks. They often sit on high perches, waiting for the right opportunity to make their aerial assault.
Look for Peregrine Falcons perching or nesting on skyscrapers, water towers, cliffs, power pylons, and other tall structures. If a mudflat full of shorebirds and ducks suddenly erupts from the ground, scan the skies. A Peregrine (or Merlin) is probably in the area. Peregrines can be seen all over North America, but they are more common along coasts.
Peregrine Falcon is most likely to be confused with Prairie Falcon, Merlin or the rare Gyrfalcon. Of these, the Prairie Falcon has the most similar size and shape, but it's found only in open areas of the West and is less tied to concentrations of shorebirds, ducks, or pigeons. Prairie Falcons are browner than Peregrines, with dark "armpit" patches under their wings. The average Merlin is substantially smaller than a Peregrine Falcon, with a more compact body, shorter wings, and a stockier appearance. They tend to target smaller birds and even dragonflies. Merlins lack the Peregrine's helmeted look and thick mustache or sideburn. The Gyrfalcon is bulkier than a Peregrine Falcon and is very rare in the continental United States. Gyrfalcons can take down larger birds like Herring Gulls or Common Goldeneyes that a Peregrine can’t really handle.
All About Birds blog, Not Just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species, April 29, 2014.
Donate now to double your impact for birds and conservation.
Donate now to double your impact for birds and conservation