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  • Peregrines live from cold tundra to hot deserts, from sea level to high in the mountains. Their adaptability even allows them to thrive in cities.

  • A peregrine falcon can dive up to 200 miles an hour to capture prey in flight, striking in midair with its outstretched talons, or claws.

  • Some peregrine falcons migrate in the winter from their nesting grounds in the Arctic all the way to South America—a round-trip distance of up to 15,500 miles

  • The fast descent of a bird such as a peregrine falcon as it dives to capture a bird in flight is called a stoop.

  • Peregrine falcons in the United States were listed as an endangered species after their numbers dropped dangerously low between the 1950s and the 1970s.

  • Peregrines don't build nests. They usually just find a shallow dip in some rocks or scrape a depression in the soil on the ledge of a cliff, or even use the ledge of a building.

Fast and strong, the peregrine falcon drops down on prey from high above in a spectacular stoop. Sometimes called a duck hawk, the peregrine feeds primarily on birds. Shorebirds are commonly eaten where available but other species such as blackbirds, robins, jays and flickers also serve as prey. Near cities, starlings and pigeons are the mainstay of their diet.

The peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a medium-sized bird of prey with a body length of 15 - 20 inches and a 3 1/2 foot wingspan.  The falcon has a slate-blue back and head with distinctive black “sideburns.” The peregrine's elegant head pattern makes this species very distinctive, even from a distance. Its underparts are cream-colored and are distinguished by horizontal black barring and spotting.

Historically, the peregrine falcon ranged throughout North America and much of the rest of the world. In the eastern United States they nested from the Great Lakes and eastern Maine, south to Georgia and Alabama. Numbers were never large because each pair requires a large feeding territory centered around a suitable nesting site.

Peregrines are native to a wide variety of open habitats, including wetlands, alpine meadows, and tundra. Peregrines usually nest on high, remote cliff ledges. The nest site or "eyrie" usually consists of a shallow depression, or "scrape," in the rocks and soil, sometimes surrounded with twigs and grass. In all cases, Peregrines choose a site which has an isolated protected spot for nesting near good hunting grounds. Most of the time this is a cliff or rocky outcrop.

The size of a breeding territory varies greatly among individual Peregrines. In some cases nests may be within less than a half mile of each other, while in other places a pair will defend a territory with a radius of 12 miles or more. While several factors may be involved, it appears that food availability is the primary limitation on nesting density.

Recently, peregrines have adapted to the lack of preferred habitat by taking up nesting sites on skyscrapers and high bridges. Among the cities that have had nesting peregrines in recent years are Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus OH, Buffalo, Rochester, New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh.

People pose the greatest threat to this master of the air. Habitat destruction is a leading cause in the decline of peregrine falcons from much of their historic range. The excessive use of pesticides causes death in peregrines and other raptors. (After World War II the increased use of DDT caused a drastic drop in raptor populations.)  Feeding on prey contaminated with the pesticides causes a progressive build-up in the falcons’ bodies.  Today, the birds continue to be poisoned by toxic lead ammunition left behind in the environment by sport hunters.

Recovery programs have proven successful. The peregrine falcon was listed as endangered from 1970 to 1999.  At the time of delisting there were 1,750 pairs in Canada, the United States and Mexico.  As of 2003, their population is estimated at 3,005 nesting pairs.  In order to ensure a healthy population of peregrines, nesting and wintering habitat must be preserved through protecting land, replacing lead ammunition in sport hunting with non-toxic widely available alternatives, and removing illegal poaching activities, like capture, from their environment.

 

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