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Recent Sighting:

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

Order: Falconiformes — Family: Falconidae

Identification

The Peregrine is a big and powerful falcon, with the larger female looking impressively deep-chested. They generally look dark above and pale below, and fly with quick shallow wing-beats. The thick black moustachial lobes aren't easy to see but the upper chest often looks distinctively white from a distance. The long pointed wings and short broad tapering tail produce a characteristic 'anchor' shape.

Ageing

Juveniles are browner above than adults, with buff feather-fringes. Their underparts are copiously streaked making dark vertical lines. The head is more streaked, with a faint supercilium and less distinct moustache. The cere is blue-grey, as opposed to yellow and legs and feet are duller.

Voice

Their calls are much deeper than those of the smaller falcons and they tend to echo menacingly around the rocky cliffs and quarries on which these birds breed.

Sexing

Sexes similar, although the female is slightly larger than the male.

Length

45cm

Behaviour

The Peregrine Falcon is said to be the fastest bird in the world. When it stoops vertically downwards for its prey it has been recorded at speeds up to 180 miles per hour.

Migration

Northern populations are migratory following their prey species south during winter, some visiting Britain and Ireland.

Habitat

Breeds on sea cliffs, mountain crags and inland quarries. Winters on moorland, marshes and estuaries.

Food

Mainly birds and occasionally mammals and amphibians.

Population trends

Populations declined during the 1950's and 60's due to poisoning by organochlorine pesticides such as DDT. The pesticides were added to seeds in small quantities but the concentration built up in the pigeons which ate many poisoned seeds and reached lethal levels in the Peregrines which ate many poisoned pigeons. Even if these poisons didn't kill the adults, they caused them to produce eggs with thinner shells which would break under the weight of the sitting female. Since the 1970's, the banning of such poisons has allowed the populations in northern Europe to recover, especially in Britain where there are now more Peregrines than ever before. However, populations in Spain, Italy and eastern Europe are still in decline.

Subspecies

The nominate race F.p.peregrinus occurs across most of Europe, being replaced by the race F.p.brookei in the eastern Mediterranean and the race F.p.calidus in the far northern tundra. F.p.brookei is darker and more rufous below, whereas F.p.calidus is larger and paler.

Population in Britain and Ireland

1 185 breeding pairs in Britain with 365 further pairs in Ireland. British and Irish winter populations are about 4 000 birds.

Where in Britain and Ireland

An uncommon resident, mainly in Scotland, north-west and south-west England and Wales. Birds usually nest on inland crags and sea cliffs, although they can nest in quarries or even on power stations! Nesting birds can be seen, without causing disturbance, on the crag above the Osprey Hotel in Aviemore, Highland and at Symonds Yat in Gloucestershire.

Population in Europe

5,600-6,100 breeding pairs across much of Europe but notably absent from the Baltic States and Belarus. Spain, Britain and Turkey have the largest numbers.

Where in Europe

Peregrines breed widely in Europe, especially in mountainous or coastal sites. Some pairs breed in 'daft' sites such as at Aviemore (Scotland) and Ronda (Spain) and others nest where observation points have been set up for the public to enjoy them, such as at Rishworth Quarries near Huddersfield, England.

Best UK Site

Symonds Yat - Gloucestershire A pair of Peregrines has nested at Symonds Yat for at least fifteen years and an information centre and viewpoint has been established by the RSPB so that the general public and birdwatchers can watch the birds at the eyrie. The site can be reached from the A40 at Old Forge. A minor road leads south from the B4229 to the observation point at Symonds Yat Rock (SO 564 160 - Sheet 162). [Taken from the book 'Finding Birds in Britain' by Lee Evans, which includes details of more sites for this species]

Nests

From April, in crevices on crags in upland habitats. Sometimes uses old nests of crows. In Finland, some pairs nest on the ground in the drier, raised parts of marshy areas.

Eggs

3-4, buff with red speckles, laid in April to June. Incubation takes 28-29 days. Young fledge after 35-42 days. 1 brood per year.

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