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Peregrine Falcon


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.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    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.

  • Color Pattern

    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.

  • Behavior

    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.

  • Habitat

    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.

Range Map Help

Peregrine Falcon Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Peregrine Falcon

    • Large, powerful falcon
    • Black hood and dark gray back
    • Barred belly, legs, and tail
    • © Erwin & Peggy Bauer
  • Adult in flight

    Peregrine Falcon

    Adult in flight
    • Long pointed wings
    • Stocky, unmarked chest
    • Powerful flyer
    • Barred underparts
    • © Steve Zamek, Oceano, California, October 2010
  • Juvenile

    Peregrine Falcon

    • Dense streaks on underparts
    • Buffy wash throughout underside
    • Dark mustache
    • Large, powerful feet
    • © Laura Erickson, Duluth, Minnesota, July 2005
  • Juvenile in flight

    Peregrine Falcon

    Juvenile in flight
    • Long, pointed wings
    • Scalloped pattern on wings and back
    • Pale crown and dark "mustache"
    • © Nick Chill, San Diego County, California, June 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult dark-morph


    Adult dark-morph
    • Similar to juvenile Peregrine Falcon
    • Much larger and stockier than Peregrine Falcon
    • Relatively longer tail and shorter wings
    • No distinct mustache
    • © Rick Kline / CLO
  • Adult

    Prairie Falcon

    • Similar to juvenile Peregrine Falcon
    • Paler underparts, with thin streaks and unmarked throat
    • Warm brown on upperparts and crown
    • Solid dark patches underneath wings ("arm-pits")
    • © Rick Kline / CLO
  • Adult male

    American Kestrel

    Adult male
    • Much smaller and more delicate than Peregrine Falcon
    • Double facial stripes
    • Barred, tan back with blue wings (female has tan wings)
    • © Michael J. Hopiak/CLO
  • Adult female


    Adult female
    • Similar to juvenile Peregrine Falcon
    • Smaller and slimmer than Peregrine Falcon
    • Pale eyebrow with no distinct mustache
    • Bold checkerboard pattern on under-wings
    • © Bob Devlin , New Jersey, November 2008

Similar Species

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.

You Might Also Like

Not Just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species, All About Birds, April 29, 2014.

Species Of The Century, Living Bird, Winter 2015.

Top 5 Interesting Nests in North America, Citizen Science blog, March 6, 2015.

Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.

The Dilemma Of Conservation Reliance: When A Species Needs Help Indefinitely, Living Bird, Spring 2016.

ID Tips for Raptor-Watching Season: Use Tail and Wing Shape, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.



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