learn about the peregrine falcon, the fastest raptor in the world, its characteristics and hunting prowess in this captivating article.

The Peregrine Falcon: The Fastest Raptor in the World!

GardenBy May 30, 2024

The Peregrine Falcon: The Fastest Raptor in the World!

The Peregrine Falcon, scientifically known as Falco peregrinus, is a well-known raptor recognized for being the fastest bird in the world. With its powerful silhouette, this bird of prey has captivated the attention of wildlife enthusiasts and researchers alike. Though it almost faced extinction due to pesticide use, conservation efforts have helped protect and increase its population. Let’s explore the fascinating world of the Peregrine Falcon, a magnificent raptor with incredible speed and hunting prowess.

Meet the Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon is larger than the common kestrel, measuring around 38 cm to 50 cm in length and 95 cm to 115 cm in wingspan. It weighs on average between 550 g to 1,200 g. This species exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism, with the male being about one-third smaller than the female and sometimes referred to as a tiercelet.

The Peregrine Falcon has a powerful, streamlined body with a round, black-colored head. Its cheeks feature a wide black moustache-like mark. The male has a light gray-blue plumage, while the female’s plumage is predominantly gray anthracite with a hint of brown. The underparts are chamois-colored with black streaks. The male may have a white throat, often speckled with black, while the female has a more overall reddish appearance. Its short, curved beak, which is characteristic of falcons, is yellow, like its feet.

This species is relatively silent outside the nesting period, but during courtship displays from mid-February to mid-June, both males and females become more vocal. They perch at high points and emit long, piercing cries that serve as their song.

Unmatched Speed in Flight

The Peregrine Falcon is renowned for its exceptional flying abilities. When hunting, it can glide for several kilometers, patiently scanning for prey before closing its wings and diving at incredible speeds. It can reach speeds ranging from 150 km/h to 250 km/h during these dives, but studies have shown that it can reach 350 km/h on long-distance vertical stoops!

To attract a mate, the Peregrine Falcon engages in acrobatic displays, showcasing impressive pursuits, loops, dives, and other spectacular postures. The female, being larger than the male, can exceed speeds of 350 km/h during these displays.

Habitat and Distribution

The Peregrine Falcon inhabits almost every region globally, with the exception of areas with extremely low or high humidity levels. It is absent from cold and hot dry deserts, as well as the central region of Australia.

This cliff-dwelling species prefers nesting on cliff faces, providing shelter and ideal vantage points to observe its prey. It is more commonly found in areas with rocky cliffs where its preferred prey is abundant. In France, for example, the Peregrine Falcon is mainly seen along the cliffs bordering the English Channel, along rivers, and in the Alps, up to approximately 2,000 meters above sea level. If natural nesting sites are scarce, it can adapt to using human-made structures such as quarries, cathedrals, water towers, factory chimneys, and even trees.

An Ornithophagous Hunter

The primary diet of the Peregrine Falcon consists of small to medium-sized birds that it captures in flight. Its menu includes crows, starlings, jays, thrushes, blackbirds, tits, seagulls, magpies, and pigeons. Occasionally, it may capture large insects in flight, such as beetles, or even bats. Although it occasionally consumes rodents, this remains a minor part of its diet. The larger female captures and consumes the largest prey.

The hunting technique of the Peregrine Falcon is remarkable. After spotting its prey through gliding or from a perch, it dives in a more or less horizontal trajectory, either ascending or descending, and strikes from the rear. By targeting the prey’s blind spot near its tail, the Peregrine Falcon reduces the chances of being detected. It then binds the prey by grasping it with its talons or buffets it by striking it with its talons extended forward before diving again to snatch it in mid-air. Just a few meters above the ground, the Peregrine Falcon performs an impressive upwards maneuver, accompanied by a distinct and audible whooshing sound.

Usually, the bound prey is either stunned or killed upon impact, while buffet strikes often result in dislocation. The Peregrine Falcon systematically bites the prey’s neck to finish it off. Small prey is plucked and consumed in mid-air, while larger prey is brought back to the nest. Any leftover remains may be hidden for later consumption.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Peregrine Falcon pairs are relatively territorial, with males being more attached to their territory and defending it against intruders. However, females are more likely to change nesting sites or even partners from one year to another. Typically, pairs come together in February as the weather begins to improve, and courtship activities continue until early March. Mating takes place 2 to 3 weeks before egg-laying.

The Peregrine Falcon does not build a nest in the traditional sense. Instead, the female lays her eggs in abandoned nests of other raptors or corvids, or in cavities or niches that have been scraped beforehand. The female’s abdomen swells in the days leading up to egg-laying, and she stops flying completely, relying on her partner to provide food.

The female typically lays 1 to 7 eggs (most often 3 or 4), each reddish-brown in color, with an interval of two to three days between each. If the clutch is destroyed within 8 to 12 days, the female may lay a second clutch 15 days later. During the 30-day incubation period, the female covers the eggs approximately two-thirds of the time, while the male takes care of the rest. Interestingly, the incubation begins before the penultimate egg is laid, ensuring that the chicks hatch on nearly the same day.

Upon hatching, the chicks are covered in a fine white down. Around 15 days old, the down is replaced with thicker plumage. During the first week, the mother stays with the offspring to keep them warm while the father provides food. The mother primarily feeds and dismembers the prey for the chicks.

By the age of 20 days, the chicks are still somewhat unsteady on their feet but can stand. Around 35 days of age, they become more proficient and begin flapping their wings. First flight attempts occur around 6 weeks, and they start learning to hunt and improve their flying skills between 7 and 8 weeks of age.

During June or July, the young birds leave the nest in search of a new territory. Peregrine Falcons reach sexual maturity at two years of age, although they may mate as early as one year without being capable of reproduction yet. Their average lifespan is around 8 to 10 years, although they can live up to 20 years. However, they face numerous mortality risks, resulting in reduced population numbers.

The Peregrine Falcon as a Gardener’s Ally

While the Peregrine Falcon does consume insects and rodents, it does not provide significant assistance to gardeners. Unfortunately, this species has been severely impacted by the extensive use of pesticides in intensive agriculture. Its population drastically declined, leaving only a small number in less polluted regions of France. Conservation efforts in the 1970s helped monitor nesting sites and save the species from extinction. However, the Peregrine Falcon remains at risk due to hunting, destruction of nesting sites, disturbance from climbing activities during the breeding season, and predation by the Eurasian Eagle-Owl.

Consequently, the Peregrine Falcon is protected by law in France, under the Nature Protection Act of July 10, 1976. It is also listed in Annex I of the European Birds Directive and Annex II of the Bern Convention.

Rate this post


I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.