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As with other birds of prey, females are larger than males. They can reach wing spans of up to 43 inches and weigh up to 3.5 pounds. There are three subspecies of peregrine falcon found in North America: American, Arctic and Peale's peregrine falcons. All three are found in Alaska, with Peale's being the only year-round resident.
Peregrine means “wanderer”, perfect for one of the most widespread birds on the planet. They are found on all continents except Antarctica and live from tundra to tropics in remote areas and the largest urban centers. In cities, they breed and nest on tall buildings which mimic their preferred cliff nesting habitat.
Fast and Furious
Peregrine falcons hunt thousands of bird species globally. Prey vary from hummingbirds to Sandhill cranes. They strike from above in a high-speed dive or “stoop” at speeds of up to 238 miles per hour, giving them the title “fastest birds in the world”.
Masters of Migration
The peregrine falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Tundra-nesting falcons winter in South America and may travel up to 16,000 miles in one year.
Humans have hunted with falcons since 2200 B.C. in China. Falconry peaked in Europe by 1600 A.D., with avid falconers such as William Shakespeare enjoying the sport. The peregrine was always admired and reserved for hunting with royalty.
Recovery and Conservation
Peregrine falcons declined in North America by 1970 due to DDT pesticide use. DDT was banned in 1972 and falconers helped with breeding and fostering, using their skills to release peregrines as wild birds. Over 5,000 falcons were released from 1974 to 1999, with the species removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999.
Did You Know?
Peregrine falcons have outward-pointed, cone-shaped projections in the center of each nostril to slow down air flow and prevent lung damage during high-speed dives.
All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Peregrine Falcon account
Birds of North America, Peregrine Falcon account
Alaska's Peregrine Falcons by Riley Woodford, Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) publication
History of Falconry, PBS