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Peregrine falcon { Birds of Europe }

Updated on August 9, 2015

Peregrines are handsome falcons



This magnificent falcon belongs to the order of birds known as the Accipitriformes and the family Falconidae. It has been allocated the genus name of Falco meaning a falcon which derives from the Latin falcis -a sickle in reference to the hooked talons. The specific and {common name} of peregrinus derives from the Greek and indicates a wanderer.

It has a large range and inhabits various countries where it may be encountered on Tundra,Moor,Steppe,Sea coast and even cities. In falconry parlance the male is referred to as the tiercal and the female the falcon. The young birds are referred to as eyases.

Due to persecution numbers in the UK fell quite significantly and it was placed on the Amber list of conservation concern {declines of between 25-50%} during the periods of 1996-2001 and 2002-2007. Thanks to protection and the law numbers have recovered and the species isnow on the Green list of conservation concern {no current concerns}. During the summer there is an estimated 14,000 pairs in the UK. here it is classed as a resident breeder and passage winter visitor.

The numbers in the European population is estimated at between 11 and 24,000 pairs and there are no current conservation concerns. The numbers vary greatly depending on the country they inhabit for example in Austria there are an estimated 200-250 breeding pairs, Bulgaria 80-130 breeding pairs , Croatia 160-200 breeding pairs, France 1,100- 1,400 breeding pairs, Russia 1,000-1,200 breeding pairs, Spain 2,400-2,700 breeding pairs and Turkey 1,500,-3,000 breeding pairs.

They also inhabit North America where habitat requirements are met with.

The Gaelic name for the bird is Seabhag, the Welsh Hebog tramor and the Irish Fabhan gorm. in Ireland it is classed as a widespread resident.

Here we look at the species, its lifestyle and breeding habits, along with Historical Observations from past Ornithologists and other eminent writers. As always we start with a description of the subject under review.

Always alert


Description of Falco peregrinus.

This bird is approximately 42 cm { fourteen and three quarter inches} and the male weighs 670 g while the female weighs up to 1.1 kg. The marks on the side of the face are said to be invariable. The female in common with all falcons is the larger .

The iris is dark, hazel brown, they have bristly feathers at the base of the bill. The head is a greyish or bluish black. The neck white in front, divided from the bluish black of the back part by a dark streak from the bill. The base of the bill { Cere} is yellow, as is the eye ring. The breast is creamy white mottled and streaked with dark spots...... The sides are ash grey,lines and barred with greyish black.

The wings are very long and pointed and are of an ash brown colour, faintly barred. The -coverts are whitish and barred. The tail is slightly rounded, barred with dark brown. The legs are a dull yellow, feathered half way down and scaled. The toes are scaled and dull yellow, but the claws are blackish brown, very sharp and strong. the shoulders are broad and powerful looking.

The female is more brownish than the male, and the bars are less distinct.

In relation to its body size the wings are medium long the tail is medium long and the neck short. Bill is medium short, legs are short to medium. The flight is characteristic with swift winnowing wing beats, followed by a glide. Also soars and performs aerobatics. It is fond of looking out for prey from a look out on a cliff or crag, and often kills by stooping -a kind of avian power dive.

Illustration of a pair

Birds of Britain { Bonhote} 1907
Birds of Britain { Bonhote} 1907 | Source

General and historical information

In England this noble falcon proved to have a double interest for bird lovers. It was highly appreciated by our ancestors, or at least those that loved the sport of Falconry, for its extreme docility, splendid powers of flight and the daring spiral it exhibited in chase. It was equally admired for its symmetrical proportions, handsome plumage and its general striking appearance.

Like all Falconidae, the peregrine is marvellously rapid in all its aerial movements. It spends a great deal of time on the wing, and sweeps over the wood and plain, valley and hill, with an ease and buoyancy that never fails to excite the interest and admiration. When flying this bird does not 'sail' as many others of this family tend to do,but uses its wings very quickly, beating the air with them in a manner something resembling the action of the wood pigeon.

Even in Butler's time {1800's}, There was concern about persecution, in his book British Birds with their Nest and Eggs {1896-98 } he states " it is still far from rare in the British isles,although its eyries, through persecution, become every year,fewer and fewer in number"

The peregrine is the most cosmopolitan of all the Falconidae ranging all of Europe and Asia with closely allied forms in North America, and North Africa.

You Tube Courtesy of KBPS SanDiego

Peregrine on the wing


Diet of the Peregrine.

The diet of this species is birds, usually taken from the air, often after a dramatic stoop. Although by no means the fastest bird in the world in level flight, during these spectacular stoops the peregrine can attain speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour {240 km per hour}.

When in pursuit of prey the peregrine is undaunted and relentless, even in the presence of man himself, and only abandoning a chase with the greatest reluctance. It has frequently been seen chasing some unfortunate bird that has sought to escape by soaring, until the pursuer and pursued have both completely disappeared from sight in the regions of the upper air. indeed so absorbed does this bird become when following its victim, and so great the terror and confusion it inspires, that occasionally both the falcon and the fugitive are dashed against some tree or rock which are unnoticed, in the excitement, by either.

In securing its prey, the peregrine seldom clutches it in its talons, but strikes it to the earth with great violence, rising after the blow has been delivered a little in the air, and wheeling round to carry of its quarry, which in most cases is hopelessly injured or killed outright.

Its prey consists of partridges, plovers, grouse,pigeons, curlews,ducks, leverets, rabbits, rats,or indeed any similar sized bird or animal. There are past records of them visiting farm yards and taking chickens.

When gorged after a meal it will perch in a lethargic state upon some bank or rail. In this mode of relaxation the bird is vulnerable to humans that wish to do it harm, and many were shot when the bird was so perched.

Butler relates that one severe winter when the author was Woodcock shooting on Lundy island, hardly a couple of shots were fired before the party of guns were joined by a peregrine, and soon after, by a second. The birds keeping in close attendance, in Falconry parlance 'waiting on', above the 'sportsmen' and their dogs. And when a Cock or Snipe was flushed, if it were missed, it had next to run the gauntlet of the two birds, who between them generally secured it. Butler continues " sometimes a wounded Cock was pounced upon and carried off right in front of the shooters to whose guns the peregrine was sacred."

Often on the shore the peregrine may be observed darting down on a flock of wigeon,striking one of them with its deadly talons, eventually eating it on the sand bank. Indeed just the sight of a peregrines shadow moving across a flock of waders is enough to cause terror and confusion that will make them scatter in all directions. One of its favourite sea side birds is the comical little puffin as are jackdaws and rooks and doves, all of which make the peregrine a favourable meal.

Peregrines strike terror into the heart of its victims


Peregrines and captivity

In captivity the peregrine seems to have been remarkably docile if past records are correct. All that was needed to keep them in good health,according to one report, was plenty of water to bathe in.

A pair of falcons were kept for many years in good health in an aviary,with a small stream of water running through it that supplied the daily baths. These birds said the owner were remarkably skilled at killing rats. There is of course losses to captive birds,caused by parasites both in the feathers and the intestines.

At this time in avian history the bird was a great favourite of the King and gentry,and was therefore protected by the laws of that time. However, in the late 1800's and early 1900's the favour had diminished and the birds suffered greatly from persecution. Later in our history they also suffered from pesticides.

Peregrines were of much value when dead and was highly prized by taxidermists for their handsome appearance. The stuffed birds were sold all over Europe for good prices. There is an interesting tale conveyed by Charles St.John Esq, in his book 'Tour of Sutherlandshire' { Scotland} about the way young peregrines were procured from the nest,to be trained in captivity " a cap or bonnet" is lowered over the border of the cliff, down upon the nest. The young birds strike at it and stick their claws in to it, thus they are hauled up in triumph.

The alarm call at the nest is a sharp quickly repeated 'kek-Kek' somewhat similar to that of the Kestrel,however, the call alarm of the female is quicker still and may often run into a fierce shattering scream.

Peregrine in captivity


Nest and eggs

Both birds may be observed wheeling in circling flight above the chosen nest location The birds tend to show a remarkable tendency to some places repeatedly nesting in the same locality year after year, when not molested. In the city they will use some high flat roof top or ledge for a nesting site in such situations no nest is made. On the continent of Europe they tend to nest in tall trees.

When not built in some lofty tree the birds will commonly choose a projection or a crevice of a crag or cliff. The nest is made of sticks and roots and if in close proximity to the sea it is some-times intermingled with sea weed.It is usually lined with hairs. The female will deposit three to four eggs,which are well rounded and of a reddish-russet colour ,patched,marbled and streaked with darker shades.

The task of incubation is undertaken in the main by the female with occasional relief from the male. The parents are more fierce and courageous during the breeding season than at any other time, defending their eggs and young with an awesome intensity.

The young birds when they first hatch are covered with white down, and not nearly so handsome as the adults until after the second moult. Whilst in the nest the young are fed upon plucked and usually headless food. When very young the chicks they lie prone and motionless as long as watched, but when the new feathers appearing, they scramble about restlessly with a cheeping food call.

Once the young leave the nest { approximately forty days after hatching } they very soon become independent, and once the young have been taught the skills of hunting by their parents they are driven off their parents territory to find a domain of their own. The parent birds tend to stay in the vicinity of the nest for some time after the young have gone.

Illustration of a pair of peregrine

Courtesy of the BHL
Courtesy of the BHL


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Eddy, you are so kind. I am glad you enjoy sharing my countryside as I enjoy immensely your world of poetry. Thank you for your usual kind and encouraging comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      Oh how I love your hubs DAL. I find myself lost in your countryside and walking by your side. Keep them coming because I will most definitely carry on reading. Enjoy your day and love from across the border.I also share onto my FB pages.


    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Ann, glad you escaped the worst ,and My best wishes to all who suffered.


      Hello Deb, here in the UK they are taking to cities more and more over the last couple of decades. Red kites are becoming urbanized . Thank you for your visit and for your loyal following. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are truly remarkable birds. My first encounters were in the city of Wilmington, DE, where they will sometimes nest upon buildings. They are rather citified, like you said, nearly to the same extent as the Red-tailed Hawk.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Yes, thanks for asking. Although the floods are only a couple of miles down the road, we're fine here in town. It's terrible for those whose houses are ruined and still under feet of water! All the best to you too. Ann

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Thank you for your kind comments. Birds of prey are fascinating creatures and the Peregrine is one of the most skillful. Hope you have escaped he worst of the flooding down there. Best wishes to you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      I find all birds of prey totally fascinating. Several times the school I worked for visited the Hawk Conservancy near Andover and they have displays of many birds of prey. The Peregrine Falcon was viewed way up high, just a speck against the sky, then when given a cue for its prey it stooped at such a speed right up to the moment it landed on the handler's glove holding the meat. We were told it reaches the highest speed of any bird in the world. Such an emotional experience. I could spend every day with such creatures.

      We see lots of kestrels and buzzards down here on the Somerset Levels and the occasional Sparrow Hawk but I'd love to see the bigger birds of prey in the wild.

      This is a great hub full of brilliant research and interesting facts. Well done. Ann

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello Devika, thank you your visits and loyal follow are much appreciated. Glad to have helped with your knowledge of this bird. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I heard about the Peregrine falcon not as much as I have read in this hub. Your thorough research has increased my knowledge about the beautiful creature.


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