Update of post from February 15, 2014
The peregrine falcon is a medium-sized raptor living all over the world. These birds have a dark gray or bluish gray back with wings that are the same color. Their undersides, which you can’t see very well in this picture, are white with black or brown stripes. This bird’s feet are yellow, and the little bit of skin around their beaks is as well. The base of the beak is also yellow, but as it gets closer to the tip it turns gray and then black.
Juveniles can be distinguished by their browner plumage. They also have vertical bars on their chest instead of horizontal ones. One more difference between the juveniles and the adults is that the youngs’ legs are blue-gray instead of yellow.
Peregrine falcons are the state bird of Idaho, and they are even featured on the back of their state quarter!
From beak to tail tip, these birds are between 13 and 23 inches (34-58 cm) long. For comparison, crows are normally somewhere in the middle of this range.
The peregrine falcon has a wingspan that can be more than twice their length. From wingtip to wingtip they can be up to 4 feet (1.2 m)
These birds can weigh up to 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg), but they are usually about 2 pounds (0.9 kg). Females are typically larger than the males, sometimes up to 20% larger.
Diet and hunting
Other birds make up over 75% of this raptor’s diet. In the United States alone, there are over 450 species of birds that peregrine falcons are known to prey on, and worldwide this number is thought to be as high as 2,000! They eat birds as large as cranes and as small as hummingbirds.
In addition to birds, these animals will also eat bats, squirrels, rats, fish, insects, and lizards. Sometimes they will steal these foods from other raptors.
Most of the time peregrine falcons hunt their prey by swooping down from a height and capturing them in mid-air. Other prey that is not on the ground, such as birds feeding or resting on the ground or non-bird prey, will obviously not be caught in mid-air. Some of these the peregrine falcon will even chase down on foot!
If these birds are known for anything it is most likely their speed. They have been measured going as fast as 200 miles (320 km) per hour! This is made less stunning by the fact that this speed is only when the bird is diving almost straight down, never when flying horizontally. Still, this is a mind-boggling speed. These birds can go more than 2.5 times faster than a car on the interstate!
Habitat and range
While I don’t have a range map for this bird, if you were to find one and look at it, you would see that half or more of the globe is inhabited by peregrine falcons! They live on every continent except Antarctica.
Somewhat surprisingly, this birds name represents its global range. The word “peregrine” comes from an old English word which, depending on where you look, has definitions such as “foreign”, “abroad”, and “wanderer.” This last definition may refer to the habit some more northern individuals have of making lengthy migrations south in the winter.
Peregrine falcons prefer to live in open areas such as fields and tundra. More recently, they have started living in urban areas with tall buildings. There are two reasons they do this. First of all, the tops of buildings give them plenty of places to make their nests. Secondly, a lot of pigeons live in cities, so they have plenty of food all around them.
Status and threats
The peregrine falcon is classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Redlist. This is probably mostly because of their massive range. These birds used to be hunted, and people would collect their eggs as well. These practices have been outlawed, so their population has been rising.
The major human-made threat is not actually habitat destruction, as they can live in the city. Instead, it is the use of pesticides. These chemicals can be ingested by the peregrine falcon’s prey, and then transferred to the raptor’s body. This sometimes causes death, but even when it doesn’t it can cause the bird’s eggs to be extremely fragile. This makes it harder for the falcon to reproduce.
Although the peregrine falcon is near the top of the food chain, it still has many predators. These include owls, eagles, other falcons, bears, cats, foxes, and wolverines.
Reproduction and young
Peregrine falcon mating season depends on where in the world they are. In temperate regions, it most likely takes place in the spring. In tropical areas, it probably happens during the rainy season when prey is more abundant.
Mating pairs stay together for the whole year and for life. In most of the northern hemisphere, the females lay their first egg in mid-May. Over the next few days or weeks, they will lay one egg every other day. They can lay between two and six eggs.
These eggs are most frequently laid in depressions in cliffs, but there are increasingly more nests built on tall buildings or bridges. Sometimes peregrine falcons will use an abandoned bird nest in a tree, but this is rare.
For a little over a month, the female incubates the eggs. The male does help a little bit, but he spends most of his time hunting for both himself and the female. The chicks grow fast, and in just five to six weeks they are able to fly! They still depend on their parents for a few more months, but by the time they are just two years old they are ready to have a family of their own. These birds can live to be 20 years.
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