All about peregrines
The peregrine falcon is a master of the air, arguably the fastest animal in the world when it dives to catch birds in flight. It has been prized for hundreds of years for falconry, but has also been greatly persecuted by landowners.
What to look for
The peregrine is a medium-sized bird of prey up to 43cm long and with a wingspan reaching 106cm. The female is larger than the male. Both sexes have blue-grey upper parts, with dark blue wings and head. The breast is pale and finely spotted and the head has bold moustache-like stripes. The wings are long, with a broad base and pointed tips, dark blue above and pale, with bars below.
Did you know?
- The peregrine falcon eats mostly birds, including feral pigeon, wood pigeon, lapwing, skylark, black-headed gull, blackbird and starling, although rabbits are also occasionally hunted. It catches its prey mainly in the air, either by chasing it and attacking from below or in breathtaking dives from above. These dives can reach up to 200 miles an hour, until it suddenly slows and strikes with its talons from below its prey.
- Peregrine falcons will re-use nest sites over many years and the pairs will perform amazing aerobatic displays when they return to them in February to begin breeding. The female lays 3-4 eggs in March – April, which hatch after she has incubated them for 33 days. At first the male does all the hunting while the female looks after the chicks, but both parents hunt when the chicks get larger. The young fly after 39 days, gradually becoming independent of their parents.
- You can see peregrine falcons in the centre of Nottingham. Look up at the Nottingham Trent Newton Building opposite the Cornerhouse during nesting season (March to July) and you’ll spot a whole family, including the chicks. You’ll get a better view by checking out our website where you can watch the live web stream of the nest. You’ll be able to watch the young hatch, and then the parents flying in and out of the nest feeding what look just like little white balls of fluff. As it gets closer to the summer, you’ll see the now brown and much bigger chicks leave the nest for the last time.
The peregrine falcon has long been persecuted in the wild by landowners and egg hunters as well as suffering greatly from certain industrial pesticides during the twentieth century. This has caused a significant reduction in the population within the United Kingdom.
In the UK, the peregrine falcon mainly lives in the North and West uplands and rocky coasts, but has recently spread to southern coasts as well. It typically prefers open country and hunts over agricultural land, marshes and estuaries. However, in recent years peregrines have shown themselves to be very adaptable and now hunt and breed in a number of towns and cities.
Where to see
Peregrine falcons are usually seen flying quickly in open countryside, using fast wing-beats mixed with long glides, or soaring high in the sky in the search of prey. Most hunting is done at dawn or dusk. Peregrines living in towns are most easily seen roosting on tall buildings, which closely match their preferred natural nesting sites on crags, cliffs and other steep rock faces.