The peregrine is 16 inches long, with a wingspan of 41 inches. It has a gray back, dark head, and spotted or barred underwings and breast.
All falcons have what are called “sideburns” or sometimes referred to as “mustache.” This is a pale or very dark line that starts at the bottom of the eyes and stops at the base of the cheek or throat.
The word “peregrine” means wanderer. The peregrine falcon is found worldwide and on every continent except Antarctica.
This falcon can be found along coastlines, rivers and lakes, as well as in major cities and mountain ranges up to 12,000 feet in elevation.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to have a peregrine in my Nob Hill neighborhood in Albuquerque. I heard an unfamiliar bird call and noticed the falcon perched high in a neighbor’s elm tree. Every day I watched it fly away and return later with prey.
The peregrine falcon’s diet consists mainly of birds. Up to 450 bird species have been documented as prey for the peregrine in North America. This falcon will eat birds as large as sandhill cranes and as tiny as hummingbirds. Their food of choice is rock dove, more commonly known as pigeon.
Peregrine falcons are able to thrive in many metropolitan areas due to the availability of pigeons as an abundant food source.
Peregrines nest 25 feet to more than 1,300 feet high. Nest sites include cliff ledges, farm silos, electric towers and in cities, skyscrapers. The male selects several sites and the female chooses which site is most suitable.
People called “falconers” have trained falcons for hunting for thousands of years. The peregrine falcon is considered the elite falcon among falconers. It is an especially strong flier. It is believed to be the fastest bird in the world with cruising speeds from 25-35 mph and up to 67 mph when chasing prey.
Peregrines do what is called “stooping.” This is when the peregrine drop down on prey from 300-to-3,000-feet high in the sky above with wings closed. Speeds when “stooping” can reach up to an impressive 200 mph.
Declining peregrine populations from the 1950s into the 1970s due to pesticide use put them on the endangered species list. Pesticide bans and efforts by conservationists and falconers helped to increase the peregrine’s population and in 1999 the peregrine falcon was removed from the endangered list.
Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”