Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

A grayish falcon with white breast, large eyes with a vertical dark line through them folds its wings while flying.

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Introduction

The peregrine falcon is a skilled predator, feeding almost exclusively on other birds such as ducks, starlings, pigeons, and songbirds. At times it may even prey on birds much larger than itself!

The peregrine is arguably the fastest animal on the planet. When it stoops--dives on prey--a peregrine may reach speeds of up to 200 mph. Despite the ability to reach these speeds, a peregrine, like other birds, probably uses no more speed than what is necessary to catch up to its prey and attack it. As a result, this speedy bird only occasionally reaches top speed; most dives are closer to 100 mph.

The ability to fly this fast, however, places unusual demands on the bird. Eyesight has to be very sharp and must be able to judge distances to prey accurately to precisely intercept it in the air. The nares, or nostrils, also must regulate air intake so the bird can breathe at high speeds. (Small bony projections help slow air as it enters the nares.)

Peregrines are magnificent birds and were once considered endangered. Fortunately, although still uncommon, they have staged a comeback largely due to reintroduction programs, but these top predators also greatly benefited from the ban on DDT. Minnesota had an estimated 50 pairs that raised 93 young in 2008. Peregrines were removed from the Federal Endangered Species list in 1999, but remain on the Minnesota Threatened Species list.

Fascinating Facts

  • Once it was thought that the peregrine killed its aerial prey with a sharp blow, but it's now thought that they rake their prey with an open talon knocking it to the ground. Smaller prey may simply be grabbed in one or both talons and carried to a perch to be eaten. Larger birds are killed on the ground after being knocked from the air.
  • Peregrines have small bone projections in their nares (nostrils) to slow down air intake at high speeds.
  • They also have a special notch in their bills that allow them to sever the neck bones of prey to kill them quickly.

Identification

  • Key ID Features: Distinctly falcon-shaped with long, tapering wings in flight.
  • Present in Park: Year round with the tundra subspecies migrating through in fall and spring. Look for them around Lock and Dam 1 (Ford dam), on the BSNF railroad bridge in Prescott, WI, and along the High Bridge (Smith Avenue bridge) in downtown Saint Paul.
  • Habitat: Found near high perches, such as cliffs and tall city buildings. Often feeds on rock pigeons in cities. Look for them flying high over the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis or perched just below the road deck on the High Bridge in downtown St. Paul.
  • Voice: High-pitched "kek-kek-kek". Listen


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