Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon

Both the English name "Peregrine Falcon" & the scientific name "Falco peregrinus" literally mean Pilgrim Falcon. The Latin for pilgrim being peregrinus. The name comes from the fact that, in the middle ages, the birds were not taken from their nests as young, flightless birds (eyasses), but caught on their passage, or 'pilgrimage' from their breeding-place.

The Peregrine Falcon was amongst the first birds of prey introduced into falconry in the British Isles, in around the 6th century. The bird has always been praised for its hunting skills.

During the middle ages, peregrines & their habitat were legally protected. With the introduction of the gun, shooting became the preferred method of hunting, & the peregrine was seen to be an enemy & has been persecuted ever since. To protect 'valuable' game-birds (i.e. rich people will pay to kill them for fun, unlike peregrines who don't pay & only do it because they are hungry), gamekeepers destroyed nests, shot, trapped and poisoned the birds (there is evidence that this still continues illegally).

Due to the bird's rarity (& their own stupidity), egg-collectors (illegally again) raid their nests. Occasionally, less than scrupulous falconers will raid the nests for both the young & eggs to incubate.

Another group of people who dislike peregrines are pigeon-fanciers, in particular racing pigeon owners, who claim their birds are destroyed by peregrines (calling them "flying-rats" - now I ask you, put a pigeon & a peregrine next to each other & which reminds you of a rat). A recent study put much of the blame for the loss of racing pigeons on the owners themselves, as their racing season coincides with the breeding season of peregrines. Additionally, many of the racing routes are across some of the main peregrine breeding areas. Suggestions of changing the racing season by a matter of weeks & changing the routes have not been accepted by the racing pigeon fraternity.

During the two world wars, killing of peregrines was promoted by the UK government in order to protect carrier-pigeons, resulting in severe reduction of population (around 600 killed), especially along the southern coastline. Throughout the rest of the country, well away from the south coast, the two wars actually helped the peregrine population, due to the reduction in the amount of game-hunting that took place.

During 1950's & 1960's, the population, along with many other raptors, was badly affected by the extensive use of organochloride pesticides.

In 1991, the estimated UK population was around 1300 pairs (with possibly an equal population of unpaired individuals), which is one of the most important in Europe. Over the entire country, the population is at its highest since records were started, though there are still areas of the country where the population is still very low. The population in many areas of Scotland appears to be declining. The main threats to Peregrines in this country are illegal killing, environmental pollution & habitat deterioration (possibly due to over-grazing). The Peregrine is a species protected by special penalties in the UK, if kept in captivity, it must be ringed & registered.


In ''In pursuit of the Peregrine'' by R.B. Treleaven it is stated that Prof. Jim Enderson (Colorado Springs University) & Vance Tucker used hi-tech computer systems to measure the velocity of Peregrines in a stoop, and measured a true figure is in excess of 324 kph (201mph.)

Hantge, (1968) timed maximum speeds of 350 kph (220 mph) at a 45 degree angle. Orton (1975) suggests, stooping vertically for 1500 metres, 370 to 386 kph (230 to 240 mph) would be reached.

With thanks to an e-mail from Graham Vaudin.

Peregrines prey predominantly on birds in flight, stooping at tremendous speed from a great height, taking the prey by surprise. Estimates of speed at the end of a long stoop have often exceeded 240 mph. The estimates may only be speculative, but speeds of over 200 mph have been confirmed. To gain these speeds, the peregrines initially pull their wings in close to their bodies. As their speed increases one wing tends to be pushed forwards with the head tucked in to that side while the other wing is pulled back, this streamlines the bird by minimising the cross section of the bird presented to the air, so minimising wind resistance. (In the 'extreme' sport of speed sky-diving, where the sky-diver falls vertically, similar positions are used with one shoulder extended while the other is pulled back & speeds of over 300mph have been reached.) Other estimates put their maximum speed even lower & suggest that Golden Eagles may be faster in a stoop. Even at the lower estimates of speed, it has been calculated that as a peregrine comes out of a stoop, straightening out to horizontal flight, it is pulling around 25G. This increases the weight of the 1/2 ounce bell on its tail to an effective weight of over 12 ounces. Added to that, the telemetry device is also 25 times heavier than normal. So the effective weight of the additional equipment has a large effect on captive peregrines that are asked to perform such manoeuvres, often just for people's entertainment. Inside the head, the nostrils are spiralled, it is thought that this helps the bird take the large G-force without passing out.

Bonded pairs of peregrines have been seen hunting cooperatively. Peregrines have also been observed storing caught prey in a safe location for feeding on later.

Both the male & female share incubation of the eggs, though the male is only allowed short periods during the daytime. Once the eggs have hatched, the female is very protective of the nest, often to the extent that the male must leave the food that it has caught a short distance from the nest for the female to fetch & feed to the young.

Mythology & Folklore :

Falcons & falconets were types of cannon named after peregrines. (Also see sparrowhawk).

Falconry Terms :

Falcon : Female (the term falcon specifically refers to the female peregrine)
Gentle : Female (or Falcon Gentle, also see below - occasionally used for entire species)
Tiercel : Male (sometimes spelt tercel or tassel)

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

AOU Data :

Species Number : 356.0
Alpha Code : PEFA
Common Name : Pergrine Falcon
Longevity Record : 19yrs 3months

Also Called :

Blue-backed Falcon
Passage Falcon
Passenger Falcon
Pilgrim Falcon
Slight Falcon
Pilgrim Hawk
Game Hawk
Perry Hawk
Great-Footed Hawk
Duck Hawk
Pelegrine (Obsolete Spelling)
Gentle (Old English - used by Shakespeare)
Slight Falcon (Old English)
Welsh Hawk (Old English - "Wealh-havoc")
Hebog dramor
Hebog tramor
Cudyll glas
Seabhag (Hawk)
Seabhag-ghorm (Blue Hawk)
Seabhac (Hawk)
Seabhac seilge (Hunting Falcon)
Seabhac gorm (Blue Hawk)
Fabhcún gorm (Blue Falcon)
Catalan Falcó pelegrí
Danish Vandrefalk
Dutch Slechtvalk
Esperanto Migra falko
Estonian Rabapistrik
Færoese Ferðafalkur
Finnish Muuttohaukka
French Faucon Pèlerin
German Wanderfalke (Travelling/Migratory Falcon)
Hungarian Vándorsólyom
Icelandic Förufálki
Lappish (Sami) Bárbmofálli
Latvian Lielais Piekūns
Lithuanian Sakalas keleivis
Falcon pellegrino
Norwegian Vandrefalk
Polish Sokół wędrowny
Portuguese Falcão-peregrino
Romanian Şoim călător
Russian Сапсан (Sapsan)
Halcón Comun
Halcón Peregrino
Swedish Pilgrimsfalk
Inupiaq (Alaskan Eskimo) Kirgavik (also used for Goshawk)
Dominican Republic Halcon de Patos
Arabic Shaheen

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